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Mercury Rev - See You On The Other Side CD (album) cover


Mercury Rev


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3.92 | 22 ratings

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5 stars After two albums, Mercury Rev had only been able to gather a cult following with their noisy and experimental sound and David Baker ended up leaving the group. Jonathan Donahue ended up slowly taking the reigns as the band leader as he had by now left 'The Flaming Lips', and the music started to move away from the noisy style to a more mellow psychedelia. Not certain how that would go over with the fans, the band also started recording albums under the name of 'Harmony Rockets', which is where the more experimental and psychedelic improvisations would go. This move to a somewhat more accessible sound would see the band move to a more successful sound.

'See You on the Other Side' would be the album that would mark this transitional period. There are still echoes of the band's noisy past here, but there would also be more melodic tracks in there too. These tracks would feature the signature orchestrated sound with their lush arrangements. All of the other band members would remain the same for this album.

'Empire State (Son House in Excelsis)' starts it all off sounding a lot like something that could have felt right at home on the band's previous album 'Boces' as it evolves into a fairly noisy and dissonant number as it continues along increasing in intensity. By the time you get halfway through the 7 minute duration, it turns quite chaotic with squeaky brass and flute, the beat picks up and the instruments sort of iron themselves out by the ending as the tempo speeds up and the flute plays an infectious melody while the background continues generating layered noise. This eventually leads into 'Young Man's Stride' which begins with a surprisingly heavy guitar riff. Donahue's vocals keep a sense of uneasiness to this track, and the sound keeps a rough edge to it, making it all seem quite a bit on the edge of sanity, ready to tip over at any time.

Things get a little smoother on 'Sudden Ray of Hope', the music is softer approaching an avant-pop sound, still a bit noisy on the chorus, but the verses have a nice, sunshiny feeling, very much like some of the off-kilter music of 'The Flaming Lips' of the time. The flute continues to be the factor in the music that seems to have a bit of sanity, but when the sax and noisy guitars come in, it gives the music that feeling that everything is still riding the edge of sanity. Almost 4 minutes in, a happy strummed guitar riff takes the music to a different place, but by the time all of the other instruments come in, everything clashes again, yet you just want to keep listening to this joyous noise. 'Everlasting Arm' moves more to the sound that the band was going to explore in later albums. There is a sense of 'Roxy Music' in there, with happy whistling and sassy sax working hard to hold it all together, but underneath is that psychedelic uneasiness and dissonance among the musical layers that continues to threaten to topple everything into chaos again.

'Riding the Tide' continues along the same style. The music is definitely softer than previous albums. However, there are still the slightly off-kilter layers of instruments that make it all sound so original, especially for the time. Where as most of the tracks up to this point seem to go from soft to loud, this one reverses that pattern, ending with a nice trumpet solo that takes the track into 'Close Encounters of the 3rd Grade' which features some wordless, almost middle-eastern improvised vocalizations sung by guest Carmen Quinones swirling around the trumpet. 'A Kiss from an Old Flame' has a cool tropical piano riff twinkling along with Jonathans odd vocals and strange bowed saw sounds. In the meantime the happy sounds of the flute and trumpet work totally against each other making for some interesting textures. 'Peaceful Night' ends most albums with a slow and nostalgic track, one that would normally be quiet and bluesy on most albums, but this has that underlying off-kilter sound going on created by piano, sax, oboe and other things playing in what seem to be microtonal tunings. The Japanese version of the album has an additional track called 'Cartwheel', a 7 minute track that is more similar to the first part of the album, more noisy and layered. If you love the music on this album, then this track definitely adds to the overall album, and it could have easily been put on the album since it needed to extend its time a bit longer anyway.

I really love this avant-experimental edge to the music that the band had during this part of their history. The unpredictable and somewhat un-hinged sound is really appelaing to me. Some might call it a bit messy, but it's supposed to be that way, and it is the thing that gives it the charm, albeit a bit dissonant, but there is always so much going on in those layers of sound. Yes it is more lush than before, but it still has a heavy psychedelic sound to it at this point in their history. The music is quite original and a bit strange, but if you know their previous albums, then you probably expect this. But this time, where the music isn't so heavy, it is sometimes even more unsettling than before. Anyway, the album is an excellent array of sounds and textures that at the time, was not a common thing in the sound of alternative music. For the next album, a lot of the music will come more into focus, but there will always be that thing that sets the band apart, the thing that always keeps the music a bit unsteady, and that is what sets it apart. There is always that level of art-rock attached to it. As for this album, it is the perfect marriage between the past sound and the upcoming style that the band would explore. It has become a favorite of mine, and is easily a 5 star album for its balance between clarity and chaos.

TCat | 5/5 |


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