Moody, majestic, and unpredictable, All Is Dream plays like Deserter's Songs' evil twin, polarizing that album's gently trippy, symphonic pop into paranoid and exuberant extremes that range from the eerie lullaby "Lincoln's Eyes" to the giddy show-tune-in-search-of-a-musical "A Drop in Time." Starting with the symphonic grandeur of "The Dark Is Rising," the album's ambitious, self-indulgent vibe recalls '60s and '70s psych and prog rock concept albums as well as the band's own expansive body of work. The first half of All Is Dream journeys through the group's dark side with songs like the brooding "Tides of the Moon," which pits Jonathan Donahue's spooked, singsong vocals against appropriately unearthly theremins, glockenspiels, and organs, while the second half's "Nite and Fog" and "Little Rhymes" sound twice as sunny compared to the preceding weirdness. The contrast between the album's halves is so sharp that it seems designed for vinyl; flipping this record over would be immensely satisfying. Though nothing on All Is Dream is as immediate as Deserter's Songs' "Goddess on a Hiway" or "Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp," this album may be stronger as a whole, moving gracefully from singer/songwriter ballads like the beautiful "Spiders and Flies" to guitar-driven epics like "You're My Queen" and "Hercules." An unashamedly self-indulgent and earnest album, in its own personal, insular way, All Is Dream is another triumph for the band.
[The deluxe 2019 edition of All Is Dream bundles the album with a trove of bonus material. Perhaps most exciting for die-hard fans are the B-sides, outtakes, and other studio rarities. Nearly twice as long as the album itself, this part of the reissue includes illuminating covers of the classic country song "Streets of Laredo" and Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" (which sounds like it could be from a lost Muppet movie) that celebrate Mercury Rev's love of songcraft at its finest. Their version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is almost uncanny, yet they do an even more striking Beatles impression on the outtake "Back into the Sun (You're the One)." Many of the tracks that didn't make it onto All Is Dream are just as strong as the ones that did: "The Brook Room," a rocker about the power of music, and the rhapsodic "Cool Waves" and "Mr. Moonlight Will Come" are all standouts, though considerably lighter in mood than the final album. A session for the French radio station France Inter and highlights from the All Is Dream tour -- including a rousing cover of David Bowie's "Jean Genie" -- round out the set, which gives a complete portrait of Mercury Rev at the time and is a must for any fan.]