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Mercury Rev - Yerself Is Steam CD (album) cover

YERSELF IS STEAM

Mercury Rev

 

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3.24 | 19 ratings

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TCat
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The first full album by Mercury Rev does not sound anything like what most people think Mercury Rev sounds like. First of all, the lead singer is not the same. Second, the music is completely different, in that it varies from soft noise rock to a full on wall of noise and distortion. The vocals are quite paranoid sounding also, adding to the strangeness of this album. The first three albums are a lot like this in fact, in varying degrees. And even though it is so different from the later sound of the band, I still love it. The timing of the tracks listed on the outer package is incorrectly noted and this, for some reason, was done on purpose, probably to contribute to the uncertainty of everything.

This album is considered to be one of the 50 greatest Shoegaze albums of all time, but it is so different from typical shoegaze music. There is a lot more to this music than just fuzz tones, there is chaos, even in the quiet passages, there are dynamics all through the album, lots of distortion and a feeling of being locked into something you just can't get out of. But even with all that, you want to hear more of it, because it is so different from everything else. Since two of the groups founders are also from "The Flaming Lips", a lot of people compare the two bands. I have heard some of The Flaming Lips albums, but as of yet, I haven't heard anything like this from them, unless maybe it is on their earlier albums. I will have to get better familiar with them if it is anything like this.

This album proves that there is beauty in noise and in chaos. But don't think this is all just a solid mass of noise, because it isn't that either. There are plenty of passages that are quiet, but still unsettling at the same time. The vocals constantly feel like someone just on the edge of sanity, either almost there or just barely tipped over onto the other side. The music matches the vocals too, everything fits together perfectly. Of course, those familiar with the more recent music by the band, know they are usually very mellow, but still very different and still full of emotion. In this debut album, the emotion is there, but it is not typical, as nothing about this is typical. Lyrics are strange, vocals are off kilter, instrumental passages are not typical, and it all fits together amazingly well.

The album name, "Yerself is Steam" is a lyric that keeps popping up on the first track and is a misinterpretation of the phrase "Your Self-Esteem". It is a study of contrasts throughout it's seven minute runtime. Loud and chaotic, soft and dissonant. "Blue and Black" has some deep vocals and remains the same throughout, not loud but definitely not peaceful at all either. "Sweet Oddyssey..." builds until it is taken over by fast paced drums and the guitars that combine to almost give it a gothic feeling, especially towards the last part of it. "Frittering" actually starts out with acoustic guitars and treated vocals that are given a far-away sound. Even here during a quiet moment, there is that sense of unease. At the 2 minute mark, drums kick in and so do the psychedelic sounds of guitars, building a wall of sound, the vocals becoming locked into the entire mix, not standing out, but not completely buried within either. It becomes more dissonant as it continues, then suddenly the wall is dropped and it's just acoustic guitar, but then it builds back again quickly. Guitar forms a melody just barely over the background noise.

"Very Sleepy Rivers" is a 12 minute track about a serial killer that uses a river as an analogy to how his moods can change so quickly from peacefulness to a sudden tendency to "snap". It is mixed at a subdued volume, vocals are again trapped in the mix, and totally psychotic sounding. The lyrics are very creepy but mostly indiscernible and the song is very dark, building in volume and intensity. Vocals also include some howling, but deep in the mix. This goes on a little too long in my opinion, and this works against the entire album unfortunately. This track is more of a shoegaze sound than the rest of the album. On the CD edition, there is also a hidden bonus track called "Car Wash Hair" which was released as a single as a follow up to the album. This is probably the most conventional song on the album, mostly because the vocals are easy to understand and mixed more to the front of everything. There is a nice combination of conventional and unconventional going on in the instrumentals behind the vocals that keeps things very atypical, and not very "single" sounding. When the guitars build their dissonance during the instrumental break, there is nothing conventional about it at all, but some sanity returns for the last verse, but loses control by the time we get to the end.

Not a lot of people will probably like this, especially if you are expecting something like the albums "All Is Dream" or "Snowflake Midnight", but I find that I keep coming back to this and that I actually enjoy it. It took me a few listens to get it, but it stirred my curiosity enough to want to understand it, so I kept listening until I grew to appreciate it. It's not perfect though, there are places where things fade out too quickly and other places where things go on for too long, but overall, I love the feeling of uncertainty, that feeling of going back and forth over the thin line of sanity/insanity. This is very interesting music, and it has a lot of emotion and dynamics, but is just not quite good enough to be considered a masterpiece, and I almost get the feeling that was the intention. Anyway, I consider it an excellent addition to my collection, and suggest that if you like Mercury Rev already, maybe you should venture into their earlier music and see if it suits you also.

TCat | 4/5 |

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