Through the years, Mercury Rev's music has always had a sense of wonder, but it has rarely sounded as purposeful as it does on The Light in You, Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper's first album since 2008's gently introspective Snowflake Midnight. During the seven years between these albums, the duo experienced some major life changes and challenges, and emerged with some of their most powerful music yet. Though this is the first Mercury Rev album missing longtime collaborator Dave Fridmann's input, The Light in You is just as lavish as their work with him. Donahue and Grasshopper take their cues from late-'60s and early-'70s orchestral pop as well as their own See You on the Other Side; while more rootsy works like Deserter's Songs made their sound and moods more down to earth, their flowing emotions and imagery have always felt more at home in psychedelia. The gorgeously lysergic "Autumn's in the Air" captures the season's bittersweet spirit as it nods to prior greats like "It Was a Very Good Year," "The Windmills of Your Mind," and "MacArthur Park." "Central Park East" channels Jimmy Webb even more intently, as Donahue muses on the stories surrounding him on a walk through the park ("Everywhere you turn/Someone's letting go/And someone else is hanging on") while strings, keyboards, and traffic drift past. Though The Light in You isn't strictly a concept album, it covers the full circle of loss, healing, and joy; "The Queen of Swans" begins the album by comparing love's arrivals and departures to a bird's migrations. Meanwhile, songs such as "Amelie" flicker like candles between hope and despair, with the contrast between Donahue's fragile voice and the vastness of the music sounding especially poignant. But even the album's darkest moments sound like they've been sprinkled with fairy dust, and the optimism only gets brighter as it unfolds. Not surprisingly, Donahue and Grasshopper find salvation in music itself, whether they're buying and playing a new LP that makes them fall in love with music all over again on "Rainy Day Record" or dancing to the Rascals and the Pretty Things on "Are You Ready?," which manages to use a children's choir without sounding corny. Indeed, unabashedly heartfelt songs such as "Moth Light" border on sentimental, but the album's emotional sweep carries listeners over the occasional awkward moment. As The Light in You's title implies, Mercury Rev are seeking life's brightest moments, and they find them -- along with some of their most satisfying music in many years.
The Light in You
(Digital Download - PIAS #PIASDIGITAL598)
Review by Heather Phares