New Music

Mercury Rev
All Is Dream

Never keen on restraint, Mercury Rev turn out another dramatic opus that begs phrases normally reserved for Spielberg films—"a sweeping epic!" "a heart-wrenching tale!" After the album's opening crash of cymbals and soaring violins, in fact, it's hard not to glance around for a teary Meryl Streep or Tom Hanks, an IV drip in one arm and a box of chocolates under the other. Instead, you'll find a few stock characters, such as the jilted lover, and several off-kilter musings from the cobwebbed recesses of singer Jonathan Donahue's mind. He filters them through vocals that conjure every high-pitched heavyweight—from the threadbare strains of Neil Young to the deliberately off-key warble of Thom Yorke. This works to great effect in the album's austere and eerie "Lincoln's Eyes": "What is dark like a birthmark and pulls like a magnet, male and female and covets like a dragon?" Shiver-worthy stuff. On the sunnier side is "A Drop in Time," sweet as honey and nearly as sappy. Most of the album, though, is a mixture of the two and a fitting follow-up to 1998's Deserter's Songs—exquisitely and intricately produced, melancholy and melodic. The dissonance of drunk-and-disorderly '90s offerings like Yerself Is Steam and Boces has all but evaporated. In its place are more strings than a shop full of marionettes, singing saws that quiver like ghosts, romantic orchestral swirls, and keyboards from the parlor of Edgar Allan Poe—ethereal reminders that the album's title might not be far from the truth. (Kristin Fiore)


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