Mercury Rev - Snowflake Midnight
On Snowflake Midnight, Mercury Rev really do sound like they're lost in a dark forest; but this time not in a good way. Best described as their electronic album (echoing Radiohead's Kid A in not being completely electronic), this, sadly, isn't a look that flatters them.
Snowflake Midnight only ever hints at the beauty of Deserter's Songs or All Is Dream; albums steeped in history, atmosphere and eeriness. Much as they attempt to continue in the same otherworldly vein, the keyboards and beats here can't really compete with the traditional instruments they've dabbled with previously. Opening track, Snowflake In A Hot World, is a good example of this. They conjur a certain sense of wonder and poignancy, and Jonathan Donahue's vocals immediately declare it a Mercury Rev song. But as it moves from delicate birth-like beginning to running away with keyboards and beats, you can’t help but think it sounds poppily familiar in a way that Holes or The Dark Is Rising do not. The same could be said for Butterflys Wing. Sometimes, such as on Runaway Raindrop, the squidgy electronics just sound ugly; not that dissimilar to the direction that has made recent Bjork releases unlikeable.
Another problem is, with all this newfound electronic trickery, tracks often seem unnecessarily crammed at the expense of a tune. People Are So Unpredictable is perhaps the worst offender, a mishmash of a song which includes at least one section Pink Floyd may have dumped for being too pompous and daft.
It could be argued the jump off point for this misadventure is Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp, although nothing here is that good. You're ultimately reminded that Mercury Rev are at their best when keeping things relatively quiet and simple. Snowflake Midnight is the victim of its own inquisitiveness, a rather awkward transformation.