By: Eric G.
Mercury Rev’s first two records, Yerself Is Steam and Boces, were free form, psychedelic explorations of the boundaries of pop music with a lot of feedback and a little bit of harmony and melody thrown in for good measure. The band’s third album, See You On The Other Side, marked the departure of leader David Baker, who went on to form Shady, leaving guitarist Jonathan Donahue to man the post. This Buffalo, New York sextet’s latest offering strips away much of the cloudy feedback of past releases in favor of a clearer, more nuanced approach to its meandering song structures.
Deserter’s Songs plays like a long lost soundtrack to a bizarre epic film from the sixties. The band utilizes dramatic string arrangements coupled with mellotrons, harpsichords, flutes, woodwinds, and the standard bass/guitar/drums set up. Jonathan Donahue’s whiny voice resembles Doug Martsch of Built To Spill, particularly on the lazy opener “Holes.” The production is a grand affair as evidenced by the soprano female choir effect used on “Endlessly.” The order of the songs is important because the album flows as a whole, slowly building to a climax with “The Funny Bird” and then slinks off again.
Mercury Rev has always been haunted (or blessed?) by comparisons to The Flaming Lips, but Deserter’s Songs manages to shake that image until the final few songs when its rock roots start to show. “Goddess On A Hiway” reveals the band’s intuitive pop sensibilities in true Flaming Lips singsong tradition. “The Funny Bird” transmutes itself from a languid meandering into a blistering shard of blissful chaos anchored by aggressive bass lines and sheets of guitar. Mercury Rev’s uncompromising approach to songwriting makes Deserter’s Songs an engrossing and original album.