Hard to believe it's more than 15 years since Mercury Rev
first burst onto the scene with Yerself Is Steam and the
wonderful single "Carwash Hair" (recorded with Dean
Wareham of Luna, and available on the CD reissue of
Yerself in a used bin near you). They've progressed spectacularly
from freeform psych-outs to a style all their own that sounds
quite traditional on the surface, but has many strange delights
to enjoy when you dig beneath the shiny facade.
The Rev started what's commonly considered a creative renaissance
in 1998 with the release of Deserter's Songs, followed
in 2001 by the equally lush, but much darker, All Is Dream.
The Secret Migration is something of a return to the light,
and a continuation of the previous two albums' progress in many
ways. But, it also differs in aspects such as the more stripped
down, piano-led instrumentation, and the fact that it seems like
something of a (gulp) concept album, with most of the lyrics musing
on relationships that develop while travelling on a long, strange
journey through unfamiliar territory.
One of the things than can put off first time listeners is singer
Jonathan Donohue's unusual, high pitched voice. On recent
albums he very much resembled Neil Young in his higher
ranges (think "Borrowed Tune" from Tonight's the
Night, one of the most desolate, man-alone-at piano tunes
ever recorded), but on The Secret Migration he's a little
more controlled, even bringing to mind 70s wailers like Jon
Anderson of Yes or Supertramp's Rick Davies
(but, never fear - with little of the prog-rock bloat of those
bands). Once you're over the shock, Donohue's singing meshes very
well with the atmospheric ensemble playing of the rest of the
group and the shimmering production, again by the group with bassist
Dave Fridmann taking the lead. Fridmann's production credit
is a real mark of quality these days, having been applied to such
sublime records as Mogwai's Rock Action, Luna's
Romantica and The Delgados' Hate, as well
as recent offerings from stylistic cohorts the Flaming Lips.
The songs here are consistently strong, but it's worth pointing
out a few highlights. "Secret For ASong" kicks off the
album with an ominous swirl of keyboards that gives way to subtly
pounding piano, bass and drums, as Donohue takes his companion
"off on a dark country ride". "Diamonds" is
a hymn to the sun and the rain as they flood over the leaves of
a forest; keyboards and percussion mimic falling raindrops, while
sudden swells in the music evoke sunlight bursting through the
clouds. In "Vermillion", the narrator urges his companion
to follow him down an unfamiliar path, while the music drives
the song like a headlong rush through open fields. Then there's
my personal standout, "My Love", a heartbreaking plea
for a former lover to spend one more night: "I never left
with too much ... I could have given you my love ..."
As the last song draws to a close, The Secret Migration will
leave you with the feeling of just having been on an entrancing
journey through new landscapes; you'll want to rest only a little
while before going on to make new discoveries.
1. Secret for a Song
2. Across Yer Ocean
4. Black forest (Lorelei)
6. In the Wilderness
7. In a Funny Way
8. My Love
9. Moving On
10. The Climbing Rose
12. First-Time Mother's Joy (Flying)
13. Down Poured the Heavens
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