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Mercury Rev - Strange Attractor CD (album) cover


Mercury Rev


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3.27 | 9 ratings

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4 stars Mercury Rev is one of those bands that I have been very fascinated with. They have this thing about releasing albums simultaneously, though not always readily apparent as they have been known to use pseudonyms, including 'Harmony Rockets'. That was not so much the case with the digital album 'Strange Attractor' which was released as a free download at the same time as the physical album release of 'Snowflake Midnight', which was released in the traditional 'brick and mortar' store manner. Many times, the style of music on these simultaneous releases can contrast quite a bit, as much as their separate albums do. The fact that in one instance, they can release a psychedelic, noisy album, at the same time, they release a lush, dream pop album. It is for this reason that I am so attracted to their music. And the most interesting thing is, even with this contrast of styles, I end up loving them in the end, even when I absolutely hated them in the beginning, for example, with 'Yerself is Steam'. My first foray into their music was with 'All is Dream' which has become one of my all-time favorite albums, and I loved it from the beginning, but when I heard 'Yerself is Steam', I hated it. But it grew on me. A lot.

So, this issue with 'Strange Attractor', released in 2008 alongside 'Snowflake Midnight' These are not necessarily companion albums, per se. Strange Attractor never was intended to be a popular album, and it was released with very little notice. It is an album of all instrumental tracks, mostly moody, dreamy and somewhat ambient, yet rich and full. It really is no wonder that this band can be so unpredictable. It was originally formed to produce soundtracks for films. In fact, many of the songs in their first album were derived from unused soundtrack music. Also, the head person in the band is Jonathan Daniel Donahue, who also was a member of 'The Flaming Lips' for some time and played on a few of their albums. Those who have any knowledge of The Flaming Lips know how quirky their music can be. Another main contributor to Merury Rev's sound was David Baker, at least during the first few albums. He has since left the band, and the overall sound of the band has changed since, but it is all still very unique and original. Grasshopper (Sean Thomas Mackowiak), guitarist, is also a regular band member of Mercury Rev and the side project Harmony Rockets.

The album starts with 'Love is Pure' (6:54) which is a beautiful track using a repeating processed piano loop, layers of strings and atmospheric, dreamy effects made by various instruments. Percussion comes in at 3 minutes, and the track builds with layers of sound produced from guitars, electronics, percussion and synths. Things suddenly break down at 5 minutes and music shimmers in and out as it all cools down. This is a beautifully orchestrated track that comes off as one of their best. 'Taken Up Into Clouds'' (1:43) uses tonal percussion and lush synths to create an eargasm of beauty. 'Pure Joie de la Solitude' (2:51) uses a low register, oscillating sound for the foundation and a high pitched, melodic synth to begin. A percussive loop gives an anchor to the sound and guitars and synths create some soft layers of sound and music.

'Persistence and the Apis Mellifera' (3:52) uses sustained synths for a foundation that ebb and flow while a strange effect warbles over the top. A shimmering keyboard gives more depth to the sound and little snippets of brassy notes echo around everything as more sounds and textures, all musical, come and go. This sounds a bit like some of 'Ulver's' soundtrack instrumentals. Very nice, a bit unsettling, and textural. 'Fable of a Silver Moon' (1:14) is a short, melodic piece using synths with woodwind effects and guitar loops. This one is too short and sounds like it could have developed into something nice. 'Loop, Lisse, Loop' (4:27) has a slightly more upbeat sound, with a bit of a spy soundtrack sound to it. Pizzicato sounds and spacey sounds swirl around together and sudden eruptions of heavier, almost orchestral hits, pop up giving it all a dramatic feel. This one definitely has the 'lovely-yet-slightly-off-kilter' feel of a lot of Mercury Rev's later works with some 'Yello' style electronics added in for flavor. Orchestrated loops create an exciting and interesting track.

'In My Heart, A Strange Attractor' (5:27) puts a guitar through a processor to create a hollow, metallic tone and spacey sounds. This all develops into a more lush sound as acoustic guitar and synth build orchestral sounding layers. Sustained string effects come in later, the music glitches off for a pause, and then returns with a soft percussion moving it all ahead at a faster rate. There are some very nice textures and tones that will keep you listening, wondering how they are created. 'Incident on Abeel Street' (2:15) uses high pitched electronic notes seemingly at random, but still creating an almost melodic feel.

'Af den Fader Kommer den Sol' (2:36) is also made up of electronic tones and synth layers for a softer and more lush sound than the previous track. 'Because, Because, Because' (3:26) feels a little more traditional as far as popular music goes with a soft percussive sound that later speeds up while sustained synth chords play along, similar to an electronic soundscape produced by Tangerine Dream. 'Nocturne for Norwood' (5:39) is made up of ebbing and flowing layers, but this is taken over by an actual melody played on a processed piano with a lot of reverb. Spacey vocals effects that are almost operatic come and go through out the track. Calling this a nocturne is very justified as it is peaceful and relaxing. Spoken word vocals, probably a field recording, it seems from some sporting event, come in halfway through, but they are mostly indiscernible as they are fairly soft while sustained and floating synths continue to the end.

These instrumentals are exquisite and beautiful, full of lush layers, and each one as it's own personality and feeling. When I listen to this band, I find I am almost always taken by their music, and always wondering where they will go next, but, only with a few exceptions, they seldom disappoint. While their music as of late has been quite otherworldly and dreamy, it still has attractive qualities to it that seem to speak to something deep inside. As long as they make music, I will be exploring it. I often wish that this band could be more popular on this site, because they have some amazing music, but then, I know it's not always for everybody, but I do know that it is music that I love, at least for the most part. This album is no exception. It has some lovely soundscapes and textures and I find that I always enjoy it every time I hear it, discovering something new each time. Highly recommended to all, especially those that love textured electronic music.

TCat | 4/5 |


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