Although it took me awhile to discover it, Mercury Rev's last album Deserters Songs became one of my favorite albums of that year and convinced me that the group had finally hit their stride after a couple of fairly non-descript releases that had potential but just didn't really seem to go anywhere. After that last release mentioned above, the group seemed to completely drop off the radar, until they finally surfaced with All Is Dream newer this year. Excited at first by the group continuing what they'd done on their last release, I found myself doubting whether I should get the release after hearing some less-than-excited press about it.
After some hounding by different people that I knew and trusted, I finally broke down and purchased the disc and although there are moments of greatness on the disc, I have to agree with those reviews I'd read that gave it less-than-amazed reviews. Perhaps I'd set my standards too high after their last disc, but part of my feeling after listening to it makes me think that the group themselves set their standards too high and instead of going with more subtlety, they went with more sound.
Produced by Dave Fridmann (who's gained much acclaim over the course of the past couple years producing not only the aforementioned Deserters Songs by Mercury Rev, but also the great The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips), it's another rich musical affair, but there are times when I simply find myself cringing (like on the almost garish orchestra swells of the first track "The Dark Is Rising") at things. Granted, that track is also offset with some quieter piano moments, but the loud moments feel so rock-opera that it offsets everything else the track creates.
Another simple production technique on All Is Dream that simply sort of turns me off from most of the release is how high the vocal levels are mixed. I've already come to accept the fact that lead singer Jonathan Donahue has a vocal style that is sort of an aquired taste, as sometimes he sings in a whiny, nasal tone, while at other moments he actually offers up quite beautiful sounds. On this disc, though, both of those two former qualities seem to be put on display as much as possible. On tracks like "Chains" (where both the vocals and flaming guitar solos are cranked up high), it just makes me want to skip to the next track quickly.
That said, there are some very nice moments on the disc, as I mentioned above. Both "Nite And Fog" and "A Drop In Time" feel like those slightly off-kilter fairy-tale-esque tracks that the group is so good at, and "Hercules" is a slowly-building, epic album closer that puts a solid cap on a fairly inconsistent effort. I think at a base level, it's a good album (and has many people that think the same), but the problem for me is that instead of branching out into the areas that I enjoyed about the group, they amplified the things that I had problems with in the first place. I'll consider it a mis-step, though, as their last disc is great and this one still has some moments.