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Mercury Rev - Yerself Is Steam CD (album) cover


Mercury Rev

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Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Yerself is Steam" is the debut full-length studio album by US rock act Mercury Rev. The album was released through Jungle Records/Columbia Records in May 1991.

The material on the album are psychadelic rock with loads of noisy and distorted fuzzy sounding guitars. The atmosphere is bleak, claustrophobic, and generally sounds like a heroin dream gone bad. But on the other hand the band also produce more mellow and laid back songs and there´s even a goth rock influence heard on a track like "Blue and Black". Many of the compositions are hypnotic/repetitive in nature but there are always some strange sounds and effects to make the music interesting or some tranquil flute playing to break the cacophonous layered distorted guitar noises. The 12:15 minute long "Very Sleepy Rivers" which closes the album is a great example of the psychadelic rock music on display here and the great opener "Chasing a Bee" with it´s strange interrupting sound effects is another good example. Lead vocalist David Baker hasn´t got the most interesting or distinct sounding voice, but the passion and intensity of his performance make up for it.

The sound production lacks a bit of bottom and warmth, and considering the loose, jamming, and organic nature of Mercury Rev´s music, the material could have prospered from a more bass heavy and less trembly sound. This is an album for fans of noisy, organic, and psychadelic tinged rock. Although most songs feature some sort of vers/chorus structure, it´s not easy music and it´s generally quite noisy and challenging on the ears (to some it may even sound chaotic). A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

Report this review (#202930)
Posted Monday, February 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars David Baker era on lead vocals so Jonathan Donahue kind of taking a back seat and helping The Flaming lips at the same time. A different album but not at all bad. Psychedelic, frenzied and manic experimental rock sums up the album as a whole. But it is a good debut from this Buffalo band. David Baker either got fired or disappeared after this release and his fate is not known to this reviewer but his voice was very distinct and different to Donahue's. Overall highlights for this album would be the dark and scary ' Blue and Black', not for the fainthearted as they stretch all notes to the max. ' Chasing A bee' is excellent as is the experimental and cleverly titled ' Very Sleepy Rivers'. IMO this album is better than the highly acclaimed Boces ( Not sure what all the fuss is about there) and it makes for pleasant listening. Avoid trying to nod off to sleep though with this album because it has too many eery and weird hooks that will prevent any rest recovery with Morpheus. Three stars as it is a good start for a solid outfit.
Report this review (#204263)
Posted Wednesday, February 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Mercury Rev's debut is an early nineties psych album. It's very much of its time but in a good way. In the mid-90's I found a cassette of this left in an old house, took it home and gave it some listens. It might be incomprehensible at first and leave the listener slightly winded with it's cacophony of psychedelic noise. I felt that way to be honest and didn't hear anything of band again until they released Deserter's Songs in 1998. I revisited this early stuff recently though and now I quite like it.

The opener "Chasing a Bee" is quite a powerful song beginning with a light acoustic riff which progresses to epic proportions. David Baker's voice is very deep compared to the more higher-pitched singing of Jon Donahue.

"Syringe Mouth" has some brutal guitar feedback whilst "Blue And Black" is lighter with some meandering piano. The lyrics are very odd and twisted throughout. With "Coney Island Cyclone" the band demonstrate their appreciation for sweet melodies but not without a chaotic climax. Conversely, Very Sleeping Rivers is a whirring disturbed track of much greater length and ambience.

This is Mercury Rev at their most weird and whimsical. For me, it isn't the most wonderful thing they have ever accomplished. Their later sound is a lot better. But this is still interesting. 3 stars.

Report this review (#427379)
Posted Monday, April 4, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars The debut Mercury Rev album sounds like a grab-bag of late 1980s Flaming Lips B-sides. This makes absolute sense when you consider the close links between the two bands, but the Lips do this sort of material better and the passage of time has made this feel increasingly dated. It'll be particularly jarring if you came to Mercury Rev after hearing the smoother, gentler sound they provide on latter-day releases like The Secret Migration. That said, if you cannot get enough early Flaming Lips, it'll probably tickle your fancy and keep you reasonably entertained, even if it won't knock In a Priest-Driven Ambulance off its perch any time soon.
Report this review (#1559182)
Posted Thursday, May 5, 2016 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars The first full album by Mercury Rev does not sound anything like what most people think Mercury Rev sounds like. First of all, the lead singer is not the same. Second, the music is completely different, in that it varies from soft noise rock to a full on wall of noise and distortion. The vocals are quite paranoid sounding also, adding to the strangeness of this album. The first three albums are a lot like this in fact, in varying degrees. And even though it is so different from the later sound of the band, I still love it. The timing of the tracks listed on the outer package is incorrectly noted and this, for some reason, was done on purpose, probably to contribute to the uncertainty of everything.

This album is considered to be one of the 50 greatest Shoegaze albums of all time, but it is so different from typical shoegaze music. There is a lot more to this music than just fuzz tones, there is chaos, even in the quiet passages, there are dynamics all through the album, lots of distortion and a feeling of being locked into something you just can't get out of. But even with all that, you want to hear more of it, because it is so different from everything else. Since two of the groups founders are also from "The Flaming Lips", a lot of people compare the two bands. I have heard some of The Flaming Lips albums, but as of yet, I haven't heard anything like this from them, unless maybe it is on their earlier albums. I will have to get better familiar with them if it is anything like this.

This album proves that there is beauty in noise and in chaos. But don't think this is all just a solid mass of noise, because it isn't that either. There are plenty of passages that are quiet, but still unsettling at the same time. The vocals constantly feel like someone just on the edge of sanity, either almost there or just barely tipped over onto the other side. The music matches the vocals too, everything fits together perfectly. Of course, those familiar with the more recent music by the band, know they are usually very mellow, but still very different and still full of emotion. In this debut album, the emotion is there, but it is not typical, as nothing about this is typical. Lyrics are strange, vocals are off kilter, instrumental passages are not typical, and it all fits together amazingly well.

The album name, "Yerself is Steam" is a lyric that keeps popping up on the first track and is a misinterpretation of the phrase "Your Self-Esteem". It is a study of contrasts throughout it's seven minute runtime. Loud and chaotic, soft and dissonant. "Blue and Black" has some deep vocals and remains the same throughout, not loud but definitely not peaceful at all either. "Sweet Oddyssey..." builds until it is taken over by fast paced drums and the guitars that combine to almost give it a gothic feeling, especially towards the last part of it. "Frittering" actually starts out with acoustic guitars and treated vocals that are given a far-away sound. Even here during a quiet moment, there is that sense of unease. At the 2 minute mark, drums kick in and so do the psychedelic sounds of guitars, building a wall of sound, the vocals becoming locked into the entire mix, not standing out, but not completely buried within either. It becomes more dissonant as it continues, then suddenly the wall is dropped and it's just acoustic guitar, but then it builds back again quickly. Guitar forms a melody just barely over the background noise.

"Very Sleepy Rivers" is a 12 minute track about a serial killer that uses a river as an analogy to how his moods can change so quickly from peacefulness to a sudden tendency to "snap". It is mixed at a subdued volume, vocals are again trapped in the mix, and totally psychotic sounding. The lyrics are very creepy but mostly indiscernible and the song is very dark, building in volume and intensity. Vocals also include some howling, but deep in the mix. This goes on a little too long in my opinion, and this works against the entire album unfortunately. This track is more of a shoegaze sound than the rest of the album. On the CD edition, there is also a hidden bonus track called "Car Wash Hair" which was released as a single as a follow up to the album. This is probably the most conventional song on the album, mostly because the vocals are easy to understand and mixed more to the front of everything. There is a nice combination of conventional and unconventional going on in the instrumentals behind the vocals that keeps things very atypical, and not very "single" sounding. When the guitars build their dissonance during the instrumental break, there is nothing conventional about it at all, but some sanity returns for the last verse, but loses control by the time we get to the end.

Not a lot of people will probably like this, especially if you are expecting something like the albums "All Is Dream" or "Snowflake Midnight", but I find that I keep coming back to this and that I actually enjoy it. It took me a few listens to get it, but it stirred my curiosity enough to want to understand it, so I kept listening until I grew to appreciate it. It's not perfect though, there are places where things fade out too quickly and other places where things go on for too long, but overall, I love the feeling of uncertainty, that feeling of going back and forth over the thin line of sanity/insanity. This is very interesting music, and it has a lot of emotion and dynamics, but is just not quite good enough to be considered a masterpiece, and I almost get the feeling that was the intention. Anyway, I consider it an excellent addition to my collection, and suggest that if you like Mercury Rev already, maybe you should venture into their earlier music and see if it suits you also.

Report this review (#1946752)
Posted Sunday, July 8, 2018 | Review Permalink

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