According to Wikipedia, the Goo Goo Dolls have two days honoring them in Buffalo, NY, yet Mercury Rev lacks even a single one. Perhaps the city was just waiting for them to release something thematically appropriate, such as the weather-themed Snowflake Midnight, their first new studio album in four years. Like a Buffalo snowstorm (and as a native, trust me, I lived through a few of them), it's not just bluster, but cold and lonely, layered and dynamic, shifting and moving and altogether unpredictable. It's also difficult to nail down, drifting about somewhere between progressive, dream pop, hot ac and space rock, an ethereal drone somewhere between The Flaming Lips, Spyro Gyra and My Chemical Romance's softer side. Except not quite.
The album leads off with "Snowflake In A Hot World," a song that sounds like its title suggests: ethereal, delicate, transient, crystalline reverb melting away under Donahue's quirky alien vocals, big fat drops throbbing a baseline, cymbals crashing like snapping logs as the flakes fall big and fat and thick into the blaze. "Senses on Fire" starts with the thaw, a slow melt, building into a synthesizer squeal like the howl of a wolf as the title of the song is repeated over and over like a mantra along with "Ready or not, here I come," driving away the winter chill by will alone. Of course, winter's return is inevitable, and "October Sunshine's" eerie instrumental ambience reminds early that winter inevitably returns, leading straightaway into "Runaway Raindrop," a cold electronic rain dripping down awkwardly beneath a chilling, eerie bass growl as Donahue both sings and warns of wolves, no doubt circling the dying embers of that fire, waiting for the snow to fall, "To Build a Fire" set to music.
Of course there's more here than meets the eye, for those snowflakes are not made of snow, but flesh and blood? "Melting into something... bigger than you / Melting into someone... someone new." The chill here is not literal, but figurative, the chill of loneliness and isolation, of the dull gray of goodbyes, of messy hair strewn across an insomniac's pillow ("Butterfly's Wing"), of strangers stealing curious kisses in the middle of the night ("People Are So Unpredictable (There's No Bliss Like Home)"), of young star-crossed lovers with the painful power of choice ("Dream of a Young Girl As a Flower"). Yet in the end it all comes back to chill, and cold, and snow, and "A Squirrel And I (Holding On... And Then Letting Go)," with nothing but silence, the "sound of the falling snow," change, and hope, and fear all mixed together like snowflakes on the wind.
Snowflake Midnight was released alongside a companion album of all- instrumental tracks, Strange Attractor. The latter is available as a free download on the band's website.
Favorite Track: "Runaway Raindrop"