Mercury Rev: Deserter’s Songs

deserterssongsI know you all have been waiting on pins and needles to find out what the second album is that I was referring to in this Lisa Germano review:

This album is one of two in my current queue, both courtesy of Dig Me Out, where I’m first and foremost struck by the fact that the given artist has an artistic vision that is (i) fully formed, (ii) niche and often off-putting, and (iii) completely unique.

Well here we are with the other: Mercury Rev’s fourth album, Deserter’s Songs. I’m a pretty well-traveled musical listener, and I’ll put the diversity of my collection up against anybody’s, but I’ve never heard anything quite like this.

Lead singer Jonathan Donahue, formerly of The Flaming Lips, sings high-pitched, sing-song melodies over a variety of instrumental accompaniments. There is theremin played as Jimi Hendrix would on “Endlessly” and “Pick Up If You’re There,” a soulful bass line and a powerful Pink Floyd guitar riff that drive “The Funny Bird,” and sound collages on “I Collect Coins” and “The Happy End (The Drunk Room).” Wikipedia also lists flutes, musical saw, and flugelhorns, each as instruments manned by one performer, making this probably my favorite album with flugelhorns, but I don’t know.

And somehow, through all this diversity, it all holds together as a theme. The obvious common element is Donahue’s fragile, wavering voice. But furthermore you’ve got the fact that almost all of these songs sound like they’re the last song on the album or, possibly, the penultimate song with something else coming in afterwards to tie everything up. It’s all, or mostly all, got that feel of exhaustion and post-catharsis cleanliness you get at various points of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

I don’t know if there is any underlying concept here–it sounds as if it was almost a found concept, with the album getting its name after much of the songs were written and/or recorded. But it feels like a concept album. There isn’t a lot that’s really radio friendly here, but when it’s presented as a whole, it’s wonderful.

Mix: “The Funny Bird”
Really Like: “Opus 40,” “Goddess On A Hiway,” “Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp”
Like: “Holes,” “Tonite It Shows,” “I Collect Coins,” “Hudson Line”
Meh: “Endlessly,” “The Happy End (The Drunk Room),” “Pick Up If You’re There”
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. Holes – “Plans, those funny little plans, that never work quite right”
  2. Tonite It Shows –
  3. Endlessly – some heavy duty theremin in here. harp, or is that piano? def piano, maybe both? I don’t see harp on Wikipedia, but I don’t see theremin there, either. This is only meh, but that’s more of a listening-on-shuffle preference, because it fits really well here
  4. I Collect Coins –
  5. Opus 40 – It’s like the first four songs were all leading up to this. Feels like an arrival.
  6. Hudson Line – it’s got this lounge-y Glenn Frey type sax cheese thing going on up front but it totally works
  7. The Happy End (The Drunk Room) – sound collage, it’s a pretty harsh start. might be a prepared piano.
  8. Goddess On A Hiway –
  9. The Funny Bird – sweet bass line. really gets worked up
  10. Pick Up If You’re There – another one that’s meh but very good. A bit sound collagey, with some phone sound effects that recall The Wall
  11. Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp – plus hidden track, which is great

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