For the follow up to the startlingly good "Deserter's Songs" Mercury Rev held back on a lot of its spacey orchestral grandeur. There's more of a clarity of voice in the lop-sided narrative of "All Is Dream", despite not arresting the ears in quite the same way. And the musical flair here is good enough that in its simplicity, and, of course, dreaminess, the album often scales the heights of its predecessor.
The synthetic orchestral swells of "The Dark Is Rising" seem too deliberately-placed. But they're swept away to reveal a tenderly simple piano ballad, intimately honest in its repetition of the word "dream". The twisted storytelling character of the album is typified by "A Drop In Time". This has a wide-eyed Beatlesy musical perkiness, pizzicato blips and all, but there's echoes of Syd Barrett in Jon Donahue's often disturbing lyrics and the intimacy of his delivery. On "Little Rhymes" he seems to apologise for the likes of "holes, dug by little moles", explaining "they would make no sense to you", over a floaty but propulsive tune.
The height of creepiness is reached on the dark psychological riddle "Lincoln's Eyes". One single arching refrain is enough to sustain this song for seven compelling minutes. After the dusty distorted vocals of the opening, the refrain swells in the middle to a Pink Floyd-sized blast of pomp guitar solo. And when you think the song is finally finished, the fragments of that tune are still hanging in the air, and the quivering bowed saw joins in for a gut-wrenchingly delicate fade out.
"Spiders and Flies" shows how much can still be done with the simple piano ballad, fourty years after McCartney songs such as "Fool on the Hill". It succeeds admirably by just doing less - its naggingly good tune is mostly on one note. Finally, in the place of "Delta Sun" we have the epic "Hercules", stretched out with a spankingly good guitar theme. Its lofty climax brings a unity to the album, exclaiming "...All is dream". Well, it certainly is, and we heard it.
April 24, 2005