Album Reviews: Secret Migration by Mercury RevMercury Rev cast an enduring spell over fans with Boces and Deserter's Songs, albums that earned them a place in the psychedelic dream-rock pantheon, a kindred spirit of bands like The Flaming Lips (the bands even share a longtime collaborator, producer David Fridmann). For whatever reason -- possibly age, possibly oversaturation from kindred bands, possibly the mid-'90s departure of David Baker -- Mercury Rev has failed to climb those heights in a long while. The Secret Migration isn't a bad album, but it is a predictable and disappointing one, especially set -- as it inevitably will be -- against its predecessors. The wizards may have lost their magic.
They can still churn out some good pop music, though, and The Secret Migration is full of proper components -- singer Jonathan Donahue's charismatic quaver, Fridmann's fertile orchestrations, and a pervasive childlike sense of wonder. Donahue is not cowed or embittered by age or by his band's tumultuous trajectory. If anything, the tunes have never been happier, from the Elephant 6 stomp of "In A Funny Way" to the sensitive, McCartney-esque piano ballad "First-Time Mother's Joy (Flying)." There are some real clunkers on the lyric sheet, though, so sometimes it's best to avoid the words and focus instead on the emotion unabashedly washing through.
Typically, the denser songs tend to overreach, crowded with effects for the sake of effects, all given a heavy production gloss. Simplicity, oddly, seems to suit The Secret Migration best, although stately tracks like "My Love" can sound enchanting on one listen and like lite-radio on the next. - Adam McKibbin
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