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Mercury Rev
The Secret Migration
V2 Records

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.

-Gareth Bowles

Track Listing:
1. Secret for a Song
2. Across Yer Ocean
3. Diamonds
4. Black forest (Lorelei)
5. Vermillion
6. In the Wilderness
7. In a Funny Way
8. My Love
9. Moving On
10. The Climbing Rose
11. Arise
12. First-Time Mother's Joy (Flying)
13. Down Poured the Heavens

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