like brian, blur featured very early on in my music journey – i’ll write about that some time in future, to give fuller credit to the first band whose discography i obsessively hunted down, cd by cd. but since we’re on this topic of musical milestones, i thought i’d talk about one band that opened my eyes like none other has.
it was in 1998, and i remember reading several reviews for mercury rev’s deserter’s songs. having never heard them before, i was intrigued by how each one marveled at how wondrous and magical this album sounded, especially in light of their darker, noisier past. at the end of the school term, i finally picked up the cd from tower records at pacific plaza after saving up the cash for it (S$26.95, if you must know), and spent countless days of my holidays listening to deserter’s songs over and over again. this was my musical disneyland, made of stuff that was ornate and intricate without ending up whimsical. yet, knowing that this wasn’t how they’ve always sounded, i couldn’t help but start digging up their earlier work, just to hear for myself how noisy this lovely band could have sounded.
many consider see you on the other side (1995) as the bridge between their past and present, with the introduction of much more elaborate arrangements. however, their debut yerself is steam (1991), while sprawling in its epic lo-fi chaos, already showed glimpses of that orchestral affinity. this is evident right from album opener “chasing a bee”, which juxtaposed original vocalist dave baker’s psychotic mumblings with jonathan donahue’s thin, wispy harmonies. and while the meandering noise that so characterized this recording must be regarded an unmistakable highlight, the song would have been incomplete without suzanne thorpe’s recurrent flute, as i was reminded when i recently listened to the rev’s recent peel sessions album, which features a stunning 1991 performance of this song. enjoy! – dan.
mercury rev’s peel sessions may be purchased from the john peel store.