Though I didn't come to grips with it until, oh, two hours ago, my
disappointment with Mercury Rev's previous album, 2001's All Is
Dream, stemmed from its subtlety. Having followed Mercury Rev from their
debut a decade ago, hooked from that first bit of outer-space noise and
acoustic strum of "Chasing a Bee" onwards, even as the group continually
altered its lineup and sound (losing a lead singer after the second album,
watching bassist Dave Fridmann evolve into one of the hottest producers in
all the realm, embracing the opportunity to begin anew after the
transitional third album pushed them through to the other side from
psychedelic rock to sophisticated pop), I'd previously found the band to be
rather immediate, despite the enigmatic air they surrounded themselves with.
But …Dream delivered a paucity of panache, too few hooks and too many
So there are a host of reasons why The Secret Migration should be
expected to instantly win over a hook-happy, sonics-loving simp like me. Not
a single song runs to the five-minute mark, as the lengthy instrumental
passages have been replaced by a newfound economy and willing embrace of the
standard verse/chorus/verse structure. Largely gone are the strings,
theremin, xylophones, bells and other analog tones that have marked Mercury
Rev's last few efforts, replaced by layers of more obviously synthesized
sounds and Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper Mackowiak's reinvigorated
guitars, which haven't been featured so prominently on a Mercury Rev album since
their second album, Boces.
Also new is an abundance of natural imagery; scarce are the songs on which
Donahue doesn't dwell upon the passing of the seasons or catalog the flora
and the fauna. Yet in stripping things back Mercury Rev suggest that in their case more actually was more, that bereft of the digressions and
expansions they're just another band with a nasal, naïve-sounding singer,
a way with a hook and a penchant for using the studio as an instrument.
There's got to be a place in the middle for Mercury Rev. They found it on
their finest album, 1998's ethereal, dreamlike Deserter's Songs.
Here's hoping that the mystical voyagers pull out of the valley and
ascend to such heights again.