The place the Lips had been clearly a product of traditional rock, psychedelic, and punk traditions, Mercury Rev had 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 usually 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 choose a movie or piece of music that we personally strongly disliked, and write about it in a really optimistic method,” Mackowiak would reminisce to NPR following Conrad’s 2016 passing. “Then the following week, we had been to do the other, decide one thing we preferred and completely trash it. That was an incredible 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 people artwork/people music and the ‘classics’ had 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,” he would inform the L.A. Instances in 1993. “An affect could possibly be a automobile 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 appeared 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 might chase the darkish clouds away along 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 fully completely different bands of their minds, singing like “Syringe Mouth” sound like a kindergarten circle-time sing-along being held in the midst of a Butthole Surfers live performance.
Given the group’s piecemeal origins, the members of Mercury Rev had been all the time 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 mentioned, “We’re not making an attempt to make radio-friendly hits and if there are these track constructions there, nicely, 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 in the end a testomony to Mercury Rev’s innate melodic fortitude.