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Snowflake Midnight

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Album Review

Mercury Rev are as at one with nature as ever on Snowflake Midnight, an album whose title reflects its delicately frosty electronics and late-night meditations perfectly. Jonathan Donahue is still an unabashed romantic, empathizing with a snowflake's plight on the album opener "Snowflake in a Hot World," finding deeper meaning in its fleeting beauty and individuality. Even though its exclamations ("You're not the same!") are a little over the top, the wide-eyed lyricism the band attempted on Secret Migration finds more focus and restraint on this song and throughout Snowflake Midnight. Instead of piling on more and more sounds and sentimental lyrics like they did with their previous album, here Mercury Rev simplify and let the music suggest moods, rather than making it too obvious how these songs should make listeners feel. "October Sunshine"'s Eno-esque synth washes capture a waning sunbeam so clearly you can almost see the dust particles hovering in it, and though "Senses on Fire" is little more than the title repeated over and over while beats and riffs surge and float, its in-the-moment joy makes it one of Snowflake Midnight's brightest highlights. A more minimal Mercury Rev is still pretty widescreen, though: "Butterfly's Wing" layers fluttery textures, masses of vocal harmonies, and children's laughter into something as majestic yet personal as anything on All Is Dream or Deserter's Songs. However, there are only a handful of epics on Snowflake Midnight, including the nearly eight-minute "Dream of a Young Girl as a Flower," which moves from dark electronics and to vibrant rock like night into day. While there are few stumbles — "People Are So Unpredictable (There's No Bliss Like Home)" gets dangerously close to being overblown, and "Runaway Raindrop"'s oddly gurgling bass distracts from the rest of the track — as a whole, Snowflake Midnight works as a soothing, gently inspiring song cycle, the likes of which Mercury Rev hasn't made since See You on the Other Side.

Biography

Formed: Buffalo, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

From their beginnings as avant-pop pranksters to their evolution into purveyors of rootsy, majestic psych-pop, Mercury Rev weren't so much a band as a long, strange trip. Formed in Buffalo, New York, in the late '80s, the band originally featured vocalist David Baker, vocalist/silver pickup guitarist Jonathan Donahue, guitar shaper/single-exhaust clarinetist Grasshopper (born Sean Mackowiak), rooster-tail bass flutist Suzanne Thorpe, bass explorer Dave Fridmann, and mojo stick drummer Jimy Chambers....
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