The place the Lips have been clearly a product of basic rock, psychedelic, and punk traditions, Mercury Rev have been constructed atop a philosophical basis greater than a musical one. At SUNY, Donahue studied beneath Robert Creeley, the celebrated post-modernist poet whose minimalist, evocative work typically embraced the non-linear logic of jazz. Mackowiak studied beneath avant-garde filmmaker Paul Sharits and composer Tony Conrad, whose early-’60s drone explorations would lay the groundwork for the Velvet Underground, and whose classroom teachings instilled Mercury Rev with new views on creating artwork. “One of many first assignments he had the category do was to select a movie or piece of music that we personally strongly disliked, and write about it in a really optimistic method,” Mackowiakfollowing Conrad’s 2016 passing. “Then the following week, we have been to do the other, decide one thing we appreciated and completely trash it. That was a tremendous train in opening the thoughts as much as questioning: ‘What’s high-brow? What’s low-brow? What is nice artwork and what’s dangerous artwork?’… the distinctions between folks artwork/folks music and the ‘classics’ have been erased.” Baker, in the meantime, didn’t even suppose in musical phrases in any respect. “It’s extra emotion that influences us than music,” in 1993. “An affect might be a automotive backfiring, chocolate, intercourse, or deprivation of intercourse.”
In eight songs, Yerself Is Steam uncorks a flood of sounds and sensations, leading to an awe-inspiring, nerve-racking expertise, floating within the liminal area between childhood innocence and grownup anxieties. That volatility is mirrored within the dynamic between the group’s two vocalists: In Baker, you had a singer who seemed like a malfunctioning tape recorder, randomly pitch-shifting between voice-cracking glee and gothic gloom, generally within the span of a single line; in Donahue, you had a stoner crooner who may chase the darkish clouds away together with his starry-eyed serenades, whereas tapping deep veins of sorrow. When their voices seem collectively, they’re not a lot taking part in off one another as fronting two utterly completely different bands of their minds, singing like “Syringe Mouth” sound like a kindergarten circle-time sing-along being held in the course of alive performance.
Given the group’s piecemeal origins, the members of Mercury Rev have been at all times fast to downplay any grand design on their half. Talking in regards to the band’s inventive course of to the L.A. Instances, Baker stated, “We’re not attempting to make radio-friendly hits and if there are these track constructions there, properly, it’s not intentional.” No track marketed that anti-pop manifesto as proudly as “Very Sleepy Rivers,” the place Baker freestyles madcap Dr. Seuss-like couplets (“I sensed a brand new scent, so harmless and bent/I sense a brand new scent that is harmless and spent”) in his creepiest register, whereas the band’s seasick groove oozes and churns for over 12 unsettling minutes. However even at its most confrontational, Yerself Is Steam is finally a testomony to Mercury Rev’s innate melodic fortitude.