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Mercury Rev

It's tough to reconcile the Mercury Rev we know today with the one that once was. This band has definitely come down a long and very bumpy road to become the astonishingly good kaleidoscopic pop-rock ensemble we know and love today.

Late '80s Buffalo, New York (also known for being the starting place of Ani DiFranco and the Goo Goo Dolls) is where the wacky group originated. Their first loose recordings were soundtracks to experimental student films, and that might have been the extent of their recorded output, had their demo tape not found its way into the London office of Rough Trade Records. By this time, core conspirator Jonathan Donahue had left Buffalo to become the lead guitarist for the likeminded and oft-compared Oklahoma group The Flaming Lips. With Rough Trade interested in signing the band, Mercury Rev reconvened, and after a series of recording sessions rife with intense personality conflicts, eventually produced their debut LP, Yerself Is Steam.

That came out in 1991, but Rough Trade's American arm soon went under, so it barely saw the light of day until Sony picked up the band and re-released the album a year later. Yerself Is Steam and the subsequent Boces showcased the band's highly original, prismatic, obtuse, modern psychedelic aesthetic in its germinal stages: unfocused, sophomoric, full of goofball profundity, often willfully abrasive. At this time, Mercury Rev's life as a band was similarly chaotic, filled with infighting, bizarre episodes of violence, and haphazard, ill-prepared live performances of the sort that got them kicked off the 1993 edition of the Lollapalooza tour.

In 1994, singer and chief prankster David Baker parted ways with the group with Donahue assuming the full-time vocal duties. In the wake of Baker's departure, Mercury Rev began to move towards a shimmering, emotionally expansive new sound, first displayed on 1995's See You on the Other Side and later, in superb form, on 1998's highly regarded Deserter's Songs. Gone were the buzzing volcanic white noise eruptions of their earlier recordings and in their stead were surreal, symphonic lullabies filled with lovely and powerful swells of strings and intelligent, wild lyrics. This isn't to say that the weird noises, unexpected instruments, and sprawling arrangements that dominated Mercury Rev's earlier albums had become extinct, only that the band had become more subtle and sophisticated in their execution.

Their follow-up, All Is Dream, was in some circles, the most anticipated album of 2001, and it is, without question, a fully realized aesthetic triumph, which, if anything, improves upon the creepy, symphonic textures of Deserter's Songs. This album sees Mercury Rev start out in a somber, almost ominous mood before the clouds over the music seem to lift and the songs turn sunny. The spooky-beautiful, heavily orchestrated "The Dark Is Rising" opens the record.