This record continues the chamber pop direction Mercury Rev had found in the late ’90s but it’s arguably a little bit closer to their original sound on some tracks, certainly as compared to the pervious album, Deserter’s Songs.
As usual, there are tons of catchy songs here. And, as with their previous record of two, those melodies are no longer hiding in extremely long jams or freak outs or hiding behind a wall of noise. Whether or not that’s a good thing likely depends upon how much you liked the earlier version of Mercury Rev or, if you’ve never heard that, how much you like dream pop. But a lack of catchy material has never really been this band’s problem.
As usual I don’t mind the lyrics but they’re normally not why one listens to Mercury Rev. Still, when I pay attention, I’m okay with them.
The arrangements find a middle ground somewhere between their original, extremely psychedelic sound and their chamber pop direction of the late ’90s. I find it slightly closer to the earlier psychedelic sound than a lot of other reviewers but, honestly, there are way more electric guitars on this album than on Deserter’s Songs (where there barely any). That means there’s more distortion. Yes, the distortion is mixed way lower (especially as compared to the strings and other instruments) but it’s there.
Donahue remains a bad singer and an acquired taste. But there are plenty of singers like that in the rock world and, if you can get over it, you can probably enjoy this. (Or just check out the David Baker part of their career which is nosier, sure, but also features a better singer.)
For me, the biggest criticism I have is that the band have stopped evolving. The songs are still good but here they have one foot in the past and one foot in the present. It’s almost like it features the production and restraint of the present with a bit of the band of the past.
I like it but I know they have better records. A bunch of them, actually.