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Mercury Rev
The Light In You Hannah Ehrlich , September 28th, 2015 14:34

Dolphins swimming, swans crooning their final song, moths flying towards the light. For their eighth full-length studio effort, Mercury Rev have amassed an impressive arsenal of metaphorical fauna. Elegance and delicacy seem to be the intended effect, as well as intelligence, both innate and hard-won with time (aside from "all the [other] dolphins out there swimming" on 'Coming Up For Air', 'Central Park East' makes reference to an encounter with a "wise old horse with scars"). There's a clear glacial colour scheme in there too, which meshes nicely with the soft-focus seasonal portrait on the record sleeve. Alternatively, you'd be forgiven for ignoring the lyrics altogether.

'The Queen Of Swans' presents itself with an enormously satisfying tripartite build-up and release. The twinkling acoustic intro leads giddy ascension into orchestral floods overlaid with a delirious high-pitched moan, which, upon close inspection and consultation with a few musician friends, appears to be a human voice. 'You've Gone With So Little For So Long' replicates this winning formula twice over, then steadily plateaus into the echoing unreality of the aforementioned 'Central Park East', replete with wise old horses and other surreal embellished visions of New York.

It begins with typical late Mercury Rev fare – soft, symphonic psychedelia that enchants you whether you like it or not, with All Is Dream and The Secret Migration as its closest back catalogue correlates. There's a twist, though – for the first time in Mercury Rev's history, former bassist Dave Fridmann is absent from the producer's chair. Combining childlike awe and innocence with extravagant walls of sound, Fridmann has a knack for weaving hypnagogic fairytales from everything he gets his hands on. The Light In You suggests that the spirit of Fridmann is inextricably tied up with the spirit of Mercury Rev – even in his absence, the dream lives on.

But this is more than just another Secret Migration. At times in the past 15 years, the band seem to lie concussed by their own wooziness, neglecting the playful experimentation that gave them their initial edge. Fortunately, The Light In Yous final few tracks simmer with renewed curiosity – and crucially, a curiosity unafraid of failure or embarrassment 'Sunflower' is a frenzy of comical, amphetamine-stoked 60s throwbacks – imagine, perhaps, playing Primal Scream's Screamadelica at 45rpm. The album fades out with 'Rainy Day Record', a paean to the thrills of finding a perfect record, complete with galloping percussion and ecstatic chanting. It's hard not to wonder whether this is a declaration of self-love, an affirmation of the band's ability to come back into their own after a little time away from the studio.

In any case, Mercury Rev certainly deserve to be embraced. The band's evolution has been long, continuous and littered with accomplishments. Many of these have been achieved in the face of personal trauma, sudden line-up changes and musical disagreements. This, if anything, is the common link between their beautifully chaotic debut Yerself Is Steam, mid-period comeback album Deserter's Songs and The Light In You – a simultaneous defiance and channelling of difficult circumstances. With so much raw personality and so many hearts worn on sleeves, it's no wonder they're still making the best of a bad lot.