Release Date: Sep 30, 2008
Record label: Yep Roc
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Ten years after Deserter's Songs became a gorgeous Americana classic, Mercury Rev have made another masterpiece. The subjects of this album are drawn from the same sweetly sinister world the band always inhabit, but ambitious electronic textures push their sounds further. Senses On Fire meshes the giving heart of early Brian Eno with a keen Krautrock pulse, Dream of a Young Girl As a Flower is like Michael Nyman on acid, but People Are So Unpredictable is the real heart-stopper, a song that twists platitudes about the uncertainty of life into a seven-minute epic full of bells, groans and spine-chilling harmonies.
Mercury Rev are even less pigeonholeable than usual on Snowflake Midnight, no mean feat for the avant-garde-inclined trio. This collection is crammed full of sonic weirdness, from the Philip Glass-evoking, fartynoise- featuring ”Runaway Raindrop” to ”Dream of a Young Girl as a Flower,” which sounds like Yes remixed, rather nicely, by the Chemical Brothers. The results are uneven but rarely dull, and ”Senses on Fire” is a twisted, hummable synth-pop classic.
Mercury Rev are as at one with nature as ever on Snowflake Midnight, an album whose title reflects its delicately frosty electronics and late-night meditations perfectly. Jonathan Donahue is still an unabashed romantic, empathizing with a snowflake's plight on the album opener "Snowflake in a Hot World," finding deeper meaning in its fleeting beauty and individuality. Even though its exclamations ("You're not the same!") are a little over the top, the wide-eyed lyricism the band attempted on Secret Migration finds more focus and restraint on this song and throughout Snowflake Midnight.
Borrowing from Curved Air and Brian Eno's Another Green World, Snowflake Midnight crashes cosmic rock into the arty end of electronica, not always convincingly. Beautiful yet detached, the music often bursts into life but more frequently simply drifts, all too willing to fall hypnotised under its own spell. And 'Runaway Raindrop' sounds like the Beloved .
Over the years, Mercury Rev have repeatedly asked their fans to follow them around some unexpected corners into new neighborhoods. Certainly, 1998’s epic Deserter’s Songs wasn’t an album anyone saw coming. Its gorgeous melancholy, offered within some hybrid form of experimental Americana, was far from the band’s earlier psychedelia. The album deserved its accolades, but following that landmark, Mercury Rev fans found themselves sadly adrift in albums seemingly more concerned with form than substance.
God, this is depressing. And no, we’re not talking depressing as in mood or tone, but that a band such as Mercury Rev could release something as wretchedly insipid as Snowflake Midnight. (Even the title causes involuntary nausea.) Forever destined to be looked down upon as the Flaming Lips’ wayward cosmic cousins from the Catskills, this is a band that gave the world the frazzled brilliance of 1991’s Yerself Is Steam, the freewheeling, boundary-breaking psych-pop thrills of 1995’s See You On The Other Side, not to mention the Jack Nitzsche-conducts-choirs-of-angels wonderment of 1998’s Deserter’s Songs.
Having long since run out of decent song ideas, Jonathan Donahue, Grasshopper and Jeff Mercel figured they'd have a crack at some electronic soundscapes, thus saving themselves the trouble of writing verses, choruses and bridges. Instead, they've set their laser harp on "snooze" and come up with a yawn-inspiring set of digital whoosh over which to chant some nonsense that at best resembles the Chemical Brothers at their worst. You don't even want to know about the parts where they try to recreate their favourite Buggles bits.