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Mercury Rev - Deserter's Songs CD (album) cover


Mercury Rev

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Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Widely acclaimed by critics and most fans as their best album, although I disagree. It is still a great album and the introduction of bow saws make for some weird sounding psychedelia. If anything Deserter's Songs set the mood for the epic All Is dream follow on. ' Holes' is a great starter to the album with the usual trippy, symphonically weird Donahue and Grashopper setting the moods.If anything I would say this is the most ' un prog like' album from Mercury Rev as they enter the realm of easy listening at times on catchy tunes like 'Goddess on the Highway' and ' Hudson Line'. Highlights for me would have to be the opener ' Holes', ' Opus40' and the disturbingly haunting ' Funny Bird'. Excellent overall and highly recommended.
Report this review (#46156)
Posted Saturday, September 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars Only after several listens do the ghosts of "Deserter's Songs" past start to appear: the hallucinatory Syd Barrett- like lyrics, Suzanne Thorpe's ever present flute, and the occasional weird noise that initially doesn't sound all that weird, like a musical saw or a harp or a theremin. It's a lush release of strange and interesting sounds blended together sometimes rather symphonically into 12 songs that will seep into your head and have you subconsciously singing right along. Instrumentally this album covers a nice wide range hitting multiple genres along the way. There's cuts of opera, jazz, synth'd out enjoyment, fairytale soundtracks, all established as works created by MERCURY REV themselves. The vocals are simple, saddening, dreamy and quite pleasant. Overall a very cool album with some excellent dream state music for your mind to mull over. A very creative album .
Report this review (#46666)
Posted Thursday, September 15, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars There are very few albums that can be called "a soundtrack of a lifetime". "Deserter's Songs" by Mercury Rev, wins this title easily about my own. An album who fits my life story like a glove, and manages to excite me every time. I must say that it is one of my best purchases of CD's that i did in the last month.

"Deserter's Song" is, by far, one of the most special & unique albums i've ever heard. The instruments (including ones that i never heard of before...) & the arrangements made on the album, gives a special atmosphere when listening to it, and some kind of entrance to a whole new world. Although some people would deny it's connection to prog music, but i simply disagree with that. there is some of the prog music in the album, and in my opinion every band that uses classic instruments, special techniques and generally - everything with is "outside of the box" is a progressive band, in a way.

I've got two favorite tracks on this album: first, there's "Holes" - which is not very complicated, but there's a certain magic in the simplicity of this song. The other one is "Upos 40" - which is well produced & orchestrated. In my opinion, the last one is one of the best songs of Mercury Rev.

So, I will give this album 4 stars, because it's simply one of the best albums of the 90's.

Report this review (#82221)
Posted Thursday, June 29, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Their second album without manic frontman David Baker sees this indie rock collective maturing into quieter, more contemplative realms. Like The Flaming Lips (who swapped members David Fridman and Jonathon Donahue), the band has mostly abondoned ear splitting noisedelica in favor of Brian Wilson influenced vivid songcraft. Donahue's vocals creak above a bed of keyboards and chamber pop arrangements. "Holes" leads the album off fittingly with a passage which blurs distinction between rock band and orchestral ensemble before going into a bittersweet melody which carries the song to its buzzing conclusion. At times childlike and nostalgic, the album is highlighted by the monumental "Opus 40" a track both epic and earthy. The climax soars off weightlessly as crashing chords accompany the lyrics "tears in waves/minds on fire/nights alone by your side" before guest Levon Helm (yes that Levon Helm) adds a loping beat that adds just the right amount of Americana to this otherworldly tune. The several dissonant interludes add to the strange atmosphere of this disc, which is like walking through an abondoned hallway and listening under doors to the conversations of strangers.
Report this review (#120320)
Posted Tuesday, May 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Deserter's Songs is the fourth full-length studio album by US experimental rock act Mercury Rev. While the two first albums by the band Yerself Is Steam (1991) and Boces (1993) held a lot of promise with their psychadelic alternative rock style it wasnīt until the third album by the band See You On The Other Side (1995) that I understood why people hold Mercury Rev in such high regard. That album saw the band develop a more melodic and orchestrated sound and fortunately thatīs also the direction theyīve decided to follow on Deserter's Songs. Thereīs a three year gap between See You On The Other Side and Deserter's Songs which ( as far as Iīve been able to find out) is because of the lurk warm reception that See You On The Other Side got when it was released. Lead singer/ guitarist Jonathan Donahue alledgedly went down with a depression because of it and on top of that it probably took some time to recover from the commercial disappointment.

This time around the music is even more melodic and the orchestral parts are much more integrated into the songs than they were on See You On The Other Side. You can say that the circle is closed in terms of completing Mercury Revīs new sound. Thereīs still a few psychadelic leftovers in the sound which is great for the diversity and does give the music a progressive touch. Donīt be fooled into believing that this is a very progressive album though, there is a reason why this band is placed in the prog-related catagory. This is basically a melodic alternative rock album with orchestral parts. And a very good one at that I might add.

The musicianship is excellent. The smooth and pleasant vocals from Jonathan Donahue suit the music well. The rythm section is tight and itīs hard not to be impressed with all the vintage keyboard sounds, piano, Bowed saw and flute that colours the music. The orchestral parts are really good too and gives the music its special identity.

The production is excellent. Warm and pleasant.

One of the biggests assets on Deserter's Songs is that it is an instantly likable album but that might be its biggest flaw too though. After 10 listens thereīs not many surprises left but if that doesnīt bother you and you just enjoy melodic alternative rock with orchestral parts this is a recommendable album. After the first couple of listens I was gonna give this album a 4 star rating but my enthusiasm has cooled a bit after repeated listens and I will give the album a BIG 3 star rating. A great album though and a good place to start if youīre new to the band.

Report this review (#211338)
Posted Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Deserter's Songs was highly acclaimed in the UK on its release in 1998 and was even named NME Album of the Year, although it seems to be little known on ProgArchives and has only received a handful of reviews here. I always feel as if I'm at the movies when I listen to kooky indie rockers Mercury Rev, which maybe isn't that odd as their early recordings were created as soundtracks for experimental student films. There are three instrumental tracks on Deserter's Songs that sound as if they could have been composed for the likes of David Lynch's Eraserhead, and ENDLESSLY sounds like backing music from Edward Scissorhands. This is a typically quirky song with weird celestial choral effects and a Silent Night flute motif. On the subject of instrumentation on the album, the list of personnel reads like a swinger's lil' black book and features numerous guest appearances including contributions from members of The Band. Every instrument known to man seems to get used on the album, including one or two improvised ones such as bowed saw.

Overall, Deserter's Songs is an album of the middling sort although there are a few outstanding tracks such as the soaring pop ballad GODDESS ON A HIWAY that features clever homonymous word play. The ghostly-sounding HOLES is a densely orchestrated song about little moles. Ahhhh! If I may borrow from the song's own lyrics it's a 'big blue open sea' of a song, and is as beautiful a piece of music as you'll hear anytime soon. TONITE IT SHOWS reminds me a little of Barclay James Harvest's Moongirl, which in its turn sounds a bit like Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds I suppose. OPUS 40 shows a clear Pet Sounds influence and it contrasts sharply with the screaming guitar of the heavily psychedelic THE FUNNY BIRD. Lead singer Jonathan Donahue's vocals are treated with phasing or some such on the latter song and his natural singing voice is a bit of an acquired taste. Mercury Rev is a band that's well worth checking-out, but bear in mind that the mp3/stream here on ProgArchives isn't all that representative of the music on this and later albums.

Report this review (#283984)
Posted Saturday, May 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars This was the start of the Mercury Rev I like best. It's dreamy, unworldly and strangely beautiful. I always found that Donahue's high pitched vocals also play a big part in setting their extraordinary mood.

I'd agree with others that this is probably the most accessible of thier albums and also not so progressive, but wouldn't be a bad start for checking them out. Deserter's Songs marked the beginning of a slightly new style that the band would work deeper on later. It's a lot less experimental than some earlier albums by the band and more symphonic. "Holes" is a great starter, with some very surreal lyrics. "Tonite It Shows" and "Endlessly" are favourites of mine and are just perfect examples of the new flavour. These tracks include some bowed saw to add to the psychedelic weirdness.

"Goddess On A Hiway" was the most well known of the tracks at the time. I quite like "Funny Bird" and even the warped "Pick Up If You're There. The Happy End (The Drunk Room) is a short, slightly irritating moment but it does have some character.

The success of this album came as a surprise for the band who were otherwise sure to split after it's release. There was a disappointing lack of success with previous albums. Well it's a good job they didn't spilt because the next album was even better and darker than this one. 4 stars.

Report this review (#343231)
Posted Sunday, December 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars The wall of dissonance and chaos came down somewhat on the previous album "See You On the Other Side" but still remained to some extent. The recording procedure for Mercury Rev up to this point had been to record the bare bones of the song and then add layer upon layer of mostly guitar driven dissonance so the sound was chaotic, yet by the 2nd album, they had learned how to make the chaos work for the music and created some very original and wonderful music. On "Deserter's Songs" however, things change in that instead of so much guitar induced sound, the layers are created by orchestral sound and keyboards. This give a much lusher sound to the music and is so much easier to digest. The guitar is still there and an electronic saw keeps things psychedelic in some places on the album. This is a beautifully done album and it was a big step towards the next album which is a masterpiece. In the meantime, this is a great album that shows the progress made towards that masterpiece.

However, this lovely lush layered sound came about after a lot of hard times. This album was supposed to be their swan song. Since the previous album had sold so poorly, the plan was to disband after this album was recorded. However, unseen help from The Chemical Brothers who helped push this album, time spent recording in the Catskills and help on the tracks "Opus 40" and "Hudson Line" from both Levon Helm and Garth Hudson (both from The Band) helped them get their heads together and got them to focus on making this album become the best they could put together at the time. Thank goodness for this outside help, because without it "All is Dream" would never have been created.

So, the loud chaotic sound from before was completely changed making for a more lush, beautifully orchestrated wall of sound, sometimes still dissonant, sometimes harmonic, it all works together to make a nice soothing and at times a little harsh sound. That contrast works so well throughout the album, but would work even better on "All is Dream" This album is definitely worth listening to and it is easy to see how the technique would get even better to produce the masterpiece that would come next. Still this is a lovely recording full of great prog moments and original sound. This album is definitely an excellent addition to any prog collection. Original, beautiful, at times vulnerable, harsh overtones but not enough to put you off, this is an album that should be explored and it has more progressive elements than what you might expect. Great stuff and a foreshadowing of even better yet to come.

Report this review (#1326956)
Posted Sunday, December 21, 2014 | Review Permalink

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