Artist Spotlight: Mercury Rev


Note: As is de riguer for much psychedelia, some of these videos may contain visuals which are ill-advised for epileptics, migraine sufferers, and your workplace.

There’s a persistent urban legend that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon can be synced seamlessly to visuals from The Wizard of Oz.

I’ve never tried it, myself, but it’s a safe bet Buffalo’s Mercury Rev probably has; over the course of their career, they’ve taken the sort of spacy psych rock that Floyd pioneered in a brightly-technicolored, cinematic direction.

When they started out, they were sometimes loosely associated with the shoegaze scene. While there is a certain logic to this (a shared fondness for Spectorian overload, instrumental layering, and louder-than-loud guitars), Mercury Rev was really more indebted to Dinosaur Jr.’s insight that you can make classic rock or country music into punk rock, if you play it loudly and shambolically enough.

MR then applied this same insight to soundtracks (their original demo as well as their 1998 masterpiece Deserter’s Songs were both mastered to 35mm magnetic film, and Tony Conrad was an academic mentor), Syd Barrett, and Sgt. Pepper’s.

MERCURY REV – Chasing a Bee

Mercury Rev is sort of the lesser-known sibling of the Flaming Lips; elfin Rev singer Jonathan Donahue used to play guitar in both bands, and founding Rev bassist (and now in-demand influential producer) Dave Fridmann has worked nearly all Lips releases from 1990 forward.

While we’re namedropping, Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500, Luna, Dean & Britta) helped out with this one:

MERCURY REV – Car Wash Hair

Over time, the Rev’s unstable nuclear guitars got turned down, and everything else got thrown into the mix: choirs, orchestral strings, horns, flutes, singing saws, what-have-you.

MERCURY REV – Something For Joey (NSFW!)

I generally don’t listen to headphones music like this for lyrics, but Mercury Rev has always managed to get in some lines that stick with me.

Sometimes, they’re just silly, like the wordplay of their debut album name (taken from the chorus of “Chasing a Bee”) Yerself Is Steam – say it out loud.

Or the stoner-bumper-sticker chorus of this one:

MERCURY REV – Downs Are Feminine Balloons

But sometimes, it’s really striking or strangely-moving imagery – the mythopoetic Americana of “Distant gods and faded signs” (from “Holes”, at the top of the post), or these lines from “Opus 40”:

Well she tossed all night like a raging sea
Woke up and climbed from her suicide machine

Catskill mansions, buried dreams
“I’m alive”, she cried, “but I don’t know what it means”


After the departure of founding member David Baker after sophomore album Boces, their songs got less and less chaotic, and more and more orchestral and theatrical.

Like the weightlessly-gossamer “Endlessly”:

MERCURY REV – Endlessly

To be honest, MR have kind of lost me for the last couple albums (when you’re putting bunnies and butterflies on the album covers, you’ve probably strayed a little too far from your rock roots for my taste).

But for a while there, that impulse to make soundtracks for imaginary films alchemized into something both deeply personal and yet universal, resulting in heartbreaking stunners like this:

MERCURY REV – The Dark is Rising

I dreamed of you on my farm
I dreamed of you in my arms
But dreams are always wrong
I never dreamed I’d hurt you
I never dreamed I’d lose you
In my dreams, I’m always strong

I have my suspicions
When the stars are in position
All will be revealed
But I know that until then
Unless the stars surrender
All will be concealed

I dreamed that I was walking
And the two of us were talking
Of all life’s mysteries
Words that flow between friends
Winding streams, without end
I wanted you to see

But it can seem surprising
When you find yourself alone
And now the dark is rising
And a brand new moon is born
I always dreamed I’d love you
I never dreamed I’d lose you
In my dreams, I’m always strong

Bonus Track:
MERCURY REV – Frittering