Music Review: Mercer, "Mercer" EP
Release Date: March 1, 2008
· Official Site
by Paul Schultz
Published: September 30, 2009
Mercer has been an off-and-on mainstay of the Minneapolis music scene for a few years, and their self-titled debut EP showcases what you might expect if you catch them live. It's a bit all over the map musically, and yet it's that diversity that hints at the potential for greater things should their output continue.
Brian DeRemer (guitar, vocals) wrote all five songs on Mercer and has been the long-time nucleus of the group with high school pal Mark Hinsz (bass, organ, backing vocals). Garth Anderson (drums, organ) rounds out the trio. A political undercurrent runs through the material, and alt-country is the base from which it branches off into eclectic territory.
|1. The Goldmine Between My Ears (2:44)
2. Street Fight (2:55)
3. Cuba (4:54)
4. Humming (3:13)
5. Alligator Skin (3:28)
The opening track, "The Goldmine Between My Ears," is as lyrically obtuse as its title which, according to the liner notes, was inspired by a short film by Nathan Lyke. Perhaps viewing its influence goes a long way toward appreciating the song, but in the meantime, I have no idea what he's talking about. Musically, it changes tempo several times, meaning you can't even dance to it without hurting yourself. Still, the electric guitar riff fairly swings during the verses and it features a chorus sung in appealing minor keys.
Lyrical incomprehension is something I encounter often, but that doesn't necessarily deter from enjoyment. "Humming" has a distinctive Jayhawks (also hailing from the Twin Cities) vibe, with an effervescence punctuated by ethereal background vocals. The record ends on a heavy note, with "Alligator Skin" offering a fuzzy guitar backbone.
"Street Fight" starts with pensive staccato guitar, then evolves into an almost lush acoustic ballad that slowly builds the tension. It has the semblance of being about beating up a prevaricating senator in a wintry alley, which seems to me like a fine topic. Sandwiched in the middle, and a highlight of the disc, is the meandering Americana of "Cuba," about a political prisoner missing his family while awaiting the inevitable, despite pleas to the media, the President, "and all the Kennedys, I guess." The shimmering organ and echoed vocal tweaks give a haunting ache to the lament.
Mercer is impeccably produced (although a couple of the tunes could stand to be longer) and features an abundance of melodic hooks, while DeRemer performs a situational change up of vocal styles that keeps the set continually intriguing. The band displays plenty of talent, and a bit of lyrical clarity would help refine their identity favorably.
For more of Mercer, you can check out their submission to Minnesota Public Radio's "Songs from Scratch" ("Where Are You Driving?") or glimpse performances from Lee’s Liquor Lounge ("Alone Together," "Accidents Happen") while work on their full-length follow-up proceeds.