Mercury Rev is coming home.
Local admirers of the acclaimed Kingston-based psychedelic/experimental collective will have a rare opportunity to experience the group’s cinematic sonic explorations up-close on December 4 at the Bearsville Theater.
The show is the latest way station on an international tour in support of the band’s latest releases, the ethereal Snowflake Midnight (V2, 2008) and the self-released, all-instrumental, Strange Attractor, the latter of which is free-to-download on the band’s Web site.
Snowflake Midnight embodies the bands peculiar brand of romanticism, with sentimental lyrics backed by instrumentation ranging from glacial electronic soundscapes to the minimal repetition of krautrock. As with much of Mercury Rev’s work, the album is richly textured, with accoutrements such as layered vocal harmonies and the odd sample of children’s laughter. Strange Attractor is an all-instrumental companion piece of intricately ambient tracks.
For a group that spends about half the year touring the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, and points in-between, living in the Hudson Valley offers Mercury Rev a contemplative space to recharge its artistic engine.
“There is a peaceful quality to the area that allows us to work without the same type of distractions that would surround us in someplace like New York City,” says multi-instrumentalist Jeff Mercel.
The music of Mercury Rev, like its travel itinerary, is anything but static. Since forming in the late 1980s in Buffalo, the group’s output has included forays into lush pop orchestration, distorted guitar romps, and romantically poetic lyricism. The group has consistently challenged its listeners to reconsider the traditional conceptions of rock music. Band influences run the musical spectrum from minimalist composer Terry Riley to George Gershwin.
On Snowflake Midnight Mercury Rev again took a step into the unknown, using sounds created by its cadre of devoted fans throughout the world. Employing Reaktor, an open-source software application that enables users to create new instruments and effects, the band incorporated the innovations in the studio to broaden its sonic palette.
According to Mercel, the most exciting part of utilizing new technology is going down the rabbit hole without know where it will lead.
“There is always a learning curve when you’re dealing with a new piece of technology, whether it’s software, a new instrument, or what have you. Sometimes, the most interesting results come in that early stage, when you’re not exactly sure what you’re doing with it. We’ve got a million different programs in the studio that we half understand, or old synths that work only half the time. I think it’s the unpredictable nature of it that we most enjoy. It’s not always about the mastery of technology. We like to be surprised.”
In recording its most recent work, the band altered the internal dynamics by shedding some of the tools accrued during a long career and in the process growing a sort of second skin.
“During the making of Snowflake Midnight and Strange Attractor we ended up moving our studio—twice. We’ve ended up with a much smaller room than the one we once had, and as a result, we were forced to get rid of a lot of the equipment we weren’t really using. I think this purge was critical to the new records. It was good to cast off some of the old weight. It really set the tone for way we would proceed by breaking old habits and changing the way we work together,” said Mercel.
Mercury Rev will perform at the Bearsville Theater on December 4 at 9pm. Dean and Britta will open. Tickets are $25. (845) 679-4406; www.bearsvilletheater.com.