Like many other artists, I simply put off buying Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs because I'd heard only a select few songs by the group and wrote them off as someone I wouldn't care for. Even after reading the stellar reviews for the disc and hearing several different people praise the group, I still didn't go out and buy the album until nearly 2 years after it came out.
I was stupid.
Deserter's Songs is a great album, flat out. It's a lush release of strange and interesting sounds blended together sometimes rather symphonically into 12 songs that will seep into your head and have you subconsciously singing right along. Like some of the best 'rock' releases of recent years, it's one that branches off into all kinds of different arrangements, making use of nearly 20 different instruments, including a bowed saw, a flugelhorn, a harpsichord, and chamberlain reeds among many others. Of course, all those things would be just a mess of sound if it weren't arranged well, but fortunately the group has done a great job in that department as well.
Starting off with the track "Holes," the group give an idea of things to come with a gentle string and keyboard intro while singer Jonathan adds his wounded-sounding vocals. The instruments sweep along behind, and eventually swell up into a well-balanced flourish of layered instruments before things fade out and into "Tonight It Shows." Starting out with a harp and some synth strings, the is the perfect epitomy of the first line of vocals "Into a dream/I took a turn/and promised a return." It's a light, pretty number, and although things pick up a little with light percussion later in the song, it never loses that hazy quality. Nearly the same thing applies in the very next track "Endlessly" when a high female chorus and reeds again punctuate lyrics with the first line of "Standing in a dream/weaving through the streets." Really, much of the album has almost a fairy-tale quality to it with light sounds and vocals that drift you along in very capable hands.
One of the more standard songs on the album "Opus 40," still manages to have a strange bit of quirk injected into it by use of different little accents of different instruments and a very light feel. Things change up a bit with the saxophone-drenched "Hudson Line" when the group uses a different vocalist, and things go even more strange on the 2-minute instrumental "The Happy End(The Drunk Room)," which sounds like parlor music gone awry. The album ends on a very solid note with the excellent "The Funny Bird," the sad instrumental "Pick Up If You're There" and the harpsichord-flavored (and probably most rollicking song on the disc) "Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp." Overall, it's a great album by a group who I probably should have paid more attention to earlier on. If I had to make comparisons, I'd say they're sort of like a less-feedbacked version of the Flaming Lips with a touch of Radiohead. If you're interested in more experimental rock music, it's a must have.