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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Mercury Rev
The Secret Migration
V2 Records

Rating: 6/10 ?


June 1, 2005
The devil that appears on my shoulder from time to time considers The Secret Migration to be nothing but sentimental New Age drivel; he presents a convincing argument. The latest from art-pop pioneers Mercury Rev is inundated with lyrics that overdose on Tolkien fantasy and mushy, overwrought keyboard melodies that somehow feel as false as Hollywood scenery.

Fairy tales about people living in the core of the earth - see the starry-eyed "My Love" - and white horses coming to the rescue of damsels in distress, like in "Black Forest (Lorelei)" make for good bedtime story fodder, but we're not children any more. What happened to the spaced-out psychedelica of Boces and the funny sonic pranks they used to play? What about the goofy eroticism that made early Mercury Rev works such a naughty delight? Was all that avant-garde noise exploration for nothing?

It seems so, though the angels of my better nature would disagree. Floating down from heaven, dressed in white robes and strumming harps, they unabashedly adore the new Mercury Rev. To them, the gossamer instrumentation and sweet fairy tales of The Secret Migration are a welcome diversion to the litany of news stories of war, disaster, corruption and amber alerts. Here are men willing to be heroic while copping to weakness and admitting they're "not that strong," on "Across Yer Ocean," as the rich piano grandeur sweeps you away. And though all of this smacks of escapism and avoidance, what's really going on here is a beautiful expression of sorrow and pain - probably the result of a broken relationship - and an aching search for healing. To see it, all you need to do is read between the lines.

The devil is still unconvinced. He accepts that "Across Yer Ocean" is a work of shimmering beauty and that Dave Fridmann's bass is hypnotic, but he argues that it sounds a bit too much like the The Flaming Lips, only more earnest. And then he launches into a diatribe about how Mercury Rev should be above the sort of awkward prog-rock phrasing of the worst the Moody Blues or Yes has to offer, but there it is in the verses of "Diamonds" and "The Climbing Rose." Then he turns his venom on the plodding, tacky wedding march arrangement and needy, pleading vocals of "My Love" and wonders aloud if Jeremy Enigk might be behind this.

Undeterred, the angels offer the opener "Secret for a Song" as evidence that Mercury Rev hasn't lost it. The track talks about taking someone on a "dark country ride" into the night, where what you fear most is waiting. It catches you in the strong, mesmerizing undertow of Fridmann's bass, then floods the sky with radiant keyboard light, as if searching for whatever distorted guitar emitted that harrowing cry you hear in the background. And as for "Diamonds," those ungainly verses lead to a heart-rending chorus that overwhelms you with emotion.

What's more, the angels say The Secret Migration is not the self-indulgent daydream the devil makes it out to be. It unearths real questions of faith in the modern age, asking about the "unseen force behind the turning of the leaves" in the lush, piano-based ballad "Vermillion." Then there's "In the Wilderness", which skillfully uses the metaphor of the forest to talk about how modern people are afraid to walk into through the thick blackness of the unknown to confront our deepest terrors. It sounds hackneyed, but in Mercury Rev's hands, it's not. Neither is the surprising Zombies-style orchestral pop of "In a Funny Way", with its soaring, operatic background vocals and that filmy 1960s production that makes everything, including the shaking tambourine and rushing guitar water, sound distant and haunting like The Shins' debut.

Waving my arms, I shoo them all away and decide that The Secret Migration falls somewhere between heaven and hell. It doesn't have the experimental ambience or the ambition of Paralyzed Mind Of The Archangel (which the band recorded under the pseudonym Harmony Rockets); somewhere along the way, they've lost the laboratory giddiness that made their playful debut, Yerself Is Steam, such a breath of fresh air. In the place of this is a sense of childlike wonder and magic.

The Secret Migration has the power to cast a spell over you with its dreamy, wraithlike keyboards. Many won't fall for it, though, and will undoubtedly find them too melodramatic. You can get lost in the sweet, dewy air of the melody of "Black Forest (Lorelei)" and smile at the dragonflies spinning around your head that the song talks about.

On other hand, you may argue that it's full of fluff and lacks substance. It's that kind of uncertainty that The Secret Migration will undoubtedly fuel among true believers. Battle lines will be drawn over this one. It will be derided by some as ineffectual and weak-minded. At the same time, it will be praised for not succumbing to the toxic cynicism that runs rampant in the indie rock community. In the end, I see a hung jury in the court of public opinion over The Secret Migration and because there won't be a verdict, the bloom will be off Mercury Rev's rose in the minds of many. But this is America, where our memories are short and redemption is just a critically acclaimed record away.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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