As Mercury Rev began recording their eighth studio album in autumn 2013, when asked what people could expect, co-pilot Grasshopper responded, "Steel Resonator Mandolin. Timpani. Sleigh Bells. All sorts of electric guitars....." He subsequently added, "It is the best stuff we have done in a long, long time. Gonna be big sounding!"
Two years on, The Light In You more than lives up to its billing. The record is filled with wondrous and voluminous kaleidoscopic detail, but also intimate moments of calm, and altogether stands up to the very best that this notable band of maverick explorers has ever created. Its ecstatic highs and shivery comedowns also reflect a particularly turbulent era in the lives of Grasshopper and fellow co-founder Jonathan Donahue, of calamities both personal and physical, but also rebirths and real births (Grasshopper became a father for the first time in 2014). There's a reason for the seven-year gap since the band's last album, Snowflake Midnight.
As well as The Light In You being the first Mercury Rev album with Bella Union, it's also the first with only Jonathan and Grasshopper at the controls, as scheduling conflicts and travel between the Catskills and Dave Fridmann's Tarbox studio became too great to overcome. On The Light In You, Jonathan and Grasshopper decided they were best served being based at home in the Catskills for once. Surrounded by longtime friends such as engineer Scott Petito and bassist Anthony Molina, Jonathan and Grasshopper quickly found their stride recording themselves in their own basement studio as well as venturing out into the daylight to record tracks at some of their old haunts like NRS and White Light Studios. The two even found time to arrange backing vocal harmonies and record with Ken Stringfellow at his studio Son du Bl̩ studios in Paris.
Yet from its title down, the album clearly reflects the core relationship between Jonathan and Grasshopper, best friends since they were teenagers, who accompanied each other through the musical changes, band fractures and exulted breakthroughs that has marked Mercury Rev's career since they emerged with the extraordinary Yerself Is Steam in 1991.
The album's track-listing follows a similar trajectory, from the opening slow-build cascade of 'The Queen Of Swans', through the epic lonely beauty of 'Central Park East' and the album's half-way peak between 'Emotional Freefall' and 'Are You Ready' before the closing sequence, with the exhilarating pop beacons of 'Sunflower' and 'Rainy Day Record' sandwiching the more tranquil 'Moth Light'. The light is reflected both by the album's brilliantine colours and imagery drawn largely from the elements and the seasons, creating a world as only Mercury Rev know how. "It's like taking a drug, but not actually taking a drug," Grasshopper reckons. "Just sit back and enter and immerse yourself."