Fates con­spire

Mer­cury Rev and spe­cial friends tune into Wood­stock space rock.

Mojo (UK) - - Filter Albums - By John Mul­vey.

Har­mony Rock­ets ★★★★ Lach­esis/Clotho/Atro­pos TOMPKINS SQUARE. CD/DL/LP

FIFTY YEARS af­ter Mu­sic From Big Pink, and 20 from Mer­cury Rev’s De­serter’s Songs, the lure of Wood­stock as a bu­colic re­treat re­mains po­tent. These days, the lo­cal at­mos­phere is of­ten more gen­teel than outlaw, as well-heeled ex-hip­pies queue along­side prints of Dy­lan and The Band in ar­ti­sanal bak­eries. But still, a cer­tain maverick spirit sur­vives, which comes to the fore on a be­atific new set from the Har­mony Rock­ets. When Jonathan Don­ahue and Sean ‘Grasshop­per’ Mack­owiak left New York af­ter the fail­ure of Mer­cury Rev’s third al­bum, See You On The Other Side (1995), they also mostly aban­doned the freestyle weird­ness that had in­vig­o­rated much of their early work. From De­serter’s Songs on­wards, Mer­cury Rev’s mu­sic has tended towards a Dis­ney­fi­ca­tion of the Amer­i­can wilder­ness; at its best con­jur­ing cham­ber rock won­der, at its worst pirou­et­ting into whimsy. Covertly, though, Don­ahue and Grasshop­per have con­tin­ued to dab­ble in more outré ex­per­i­ments, via the Har­mony Rock­ets project be­gun in 1995. The past decade has seen two low-key sets, The Crawl­ing Jour­ney Of The Ser­pents Starry Night and An­gels Are Spir­its, Flames Of Fire, which re­con­nect with the bil­low­ing space rock that il­lu­mi­nated those early Mer­cury Rev al­bums. Lach­esis/Clotho/Atro­pos is a much more aus­pi­cious re­lease, plant­ing that ad­ven­tur­ous im­per­a­tive squarely into the Catskills ecosys­tem. Don­ahue and Grasshop­per’s fel­low trav­ellers are crit­i­cal: Sonic Youth drum­mer Steve Shelley; Wilco’s gui­tarist Nels Cline; Wood­stock luthier Martin Keith on bass, and Peter Walker on acous­tic gui­tar. Walker is es­pe­cially well versed in the cos­mic po­ten­tial­i­ties of roots mu­sic, hav­ing been a ’60s fel­low trav­eller of John Fa­hey, Karen Dal­ton’s con­fi­dant and, for a time, the “Musical Di­rec­tor” of Dr Ti­mothy Leary’s LSD events. The line-up gel beau­ti­fully on these three long in­stru­men­tals, named af­ter the Greek fates. Lach­esis be­gins with the drones of a morn­ing raga, Walker doo­dling im­pres­sion­is­ti­cally, while Grasshop­per and Cline warm up in the left and right chan­nels re­spec­tively. Shelley kicks in with his evolved Dinger beat, but the piece re­tains a misty im­pre­ci­sion, like an am­bi­ent read­ing of the Grate­ful Dead’s Dark Star. Clotho has greater ur­gency, Cline’s needling lead high­light­ing an affin­ity with Wilco’s mo­torik showstopper, Spi­ders (Kidsmoke). But it’s Atro­pos where Walker re­ally shines, his tan­gled flamenco strums in­ter­twin­ing with Cline’s em­pa­thetic jazz tones and Grasshop­per’s del­i­cate phas­ing. It’s here, too, that a way for­ward for Mer­cury Rev presents it­self. If Don­ahue and Grasshop­per can chan­nel more of this an­tic cre­ativ­ity into their main­stream work, then Mer­cury Rev’s records might yet re­cap­ture the thrills of the ’90s; a new syl­van psychedelia to match the mad­ness of Yer­self Is Steam.

Har­mony Rock­ets (from left) Jonathan Don­ahue, Jesse Chan­dler, Peter Walker, Martin Keith, Grasshop­per, Steve Shelley, Nels Cline.

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