Mercury Rev is an American indie rock band formed in 1989 in Buffalo, New York. Original personnel were David Baker (vocals), Jonathan Donahue (vocals, guitars), Sean Mackowiak, known as “Grasshopper” (guitars, clarinet), Suzanne Thorpe (flute), Dave Fridmann (bass) and Jimy Chambers (drums).
With their early records, Mercury Rev offered experimental, psychedelic rock, which gradually shifted to a melodic, ornate sound. Mercury Rev is often compared to The Flaming Lips, and in fact share close ties: soon after the band’s formation, Donahue also joined the Flaming Lips as second guitarist and appeared on two of their albums; and since the 1990 album In a Priest Driven Ambulance, Dave Fridmann has co-produced every Flaming Lips studio album to date except 1993’s Transmissions from the Satellite Heart.
Despite considerable critical acclaim, their early releases never gave Mercury Rev more than cult popularity, though they appeared on the smaller second stage at some 1993 Lollapalooza stops. Baker left after their second record, Boces (1993), citing musical and personal disputes; he later recorded an album as Shady. With his departure, the thematically darker and musically experimental features of the band began to disappear.
The band’s first post-Baker album, See You on the Other Side (1995) contained a variety of styles, including a sprawling psychedelic opening track and noise rock numbers like Young Man’s Stride (for which a music video was released), but also more melodic songs, such as Sudden Ray of Hope.
The same year the group also recorded and released the album Paralyzed Mind Of The Archangel Void under the moniker “Harmony Rockets”. This album features a single forty minute track of mostly instrumental psychedelic improvised music. It was rated four and half stars, out of five, by AllMusic. The group performed it again in the Don’t Look Back concert series in 2009.
The 1998 release of the acclaimed Deserter’s Songs (which featured appearances by Garth Hudson and Levon Helm of The Band) made Mercury Rev unexpected pop stars. In the UK, NME magazine made Deserter’s Songs their Album of the Year. Donahue’s earnest, high-pitched vocals and concentration on relatively concise, melodic songs gave the band’s material an entirely new feel and much increased popularity (Deserter’s Songs spawned three UK Top 40 singles). All Is Dream was issued in 2001. It included, “The Dark is Rising,” which reached No. 16 in the UK Singles Chart.
Mercury Rev’s The Secret Migration was released on January 24, 2005. This was followed up in 2006, by a compilation album, The Essential Mercury Rev: Stillness Breathes 1991-2006 and the film soundtrack album Hello Blackbird. More recently, the band released a pair of albums on September 29, 2008: Snowflake Midnight, and a free MP3 album of instrumentals, Strange Attractor.
The Light in You was released on October 2, 2015 through Bella Union, their their first studio album in seven years. Mercury Rev’s most recent album, “Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited”, was released in February 2019. It includes versions by Mercury Rev and singers like Norah Jones or Margo Price.