The Mercury Program
A Data Learn The Language
Tigerstyle
2002
C-

the devil is in the details. Midway through the opening song on their new disc, the Mercury Program’s rhythmic accompaniment starts to become crunchier and crunchier. It’s a small sound that doesn’t even appear to be related to the drumkit, but upon close listen it becomes almost hypnotic if you listen to the minute change that it makes throughout the song. It’s a tiny aberration among the essentially smooth flowing song that appears to go just about nowhere. And it might have even been a mistake that the group missed in the production of the album. Something so small that it didn’t make a difference to anyone’s ears. Unfortunately, that is what the listener must listen for on the group’s third full length. Why must you listen for it? Because the songs run even closer together than any of their previous releases- making a cohesive, yet non-distinctive listen.


It’s not like the group isn’t making beautiful music. They are. The thing about the beauty of the music, however, is that it isn’t tempered by anything, there is no contrast. Melodic lines flow by, harmonizing guitar fades quickly, the drum beat rides the same beat until its conclusion- whenever that may be. It’s perhaps post rock at its most banal. Nice to listen to at the time, but ultimately a forgettable experience. And it’s unfortunate for the band, as the line between beauty and boredom is easily crossed when referring to post rock. The ebb and flow of Mogwai’s guitars frequently border on the interminable, but just as often reveal an immense release of epic proportions. The same here goes for the Mercury Program’s vibraphones. Each song seems to follow a similar pattern of build up- instruments add their particular melodic counterpoint or harmony- and then the song either contains a short or extended second part, involving either a dramatic shift or a fervent continuation of the same pattern expounded earlier.


This same conceit was explored to glorious effect on the group’s previous album, All the Suits Began to Fall Off which remained entirely acoustic, compared to the small amount of electronics employed on this release. The main difference in the two releases, however, is the effortlessness contained on All the Suits.... Here on A Data Learn the Language, the crescendos and breakdowns almost seem obvious and forced- as though it was something that was planned out beforehand, rather than something that mutated naturally. This obviousness reminds of the old adage about a hip hop artist who gets lazy. “If you know exactly how the line is going to end, then it isn’t worth listening.” When we know exactly where the rise and fall are going to occur, why bother listening?


On this release, the Mercury Program have taken a step down from their previous work All the Suits Began to Fall Off and have crafted a pleasant, yet non-essential listen. Perhaps this would be best served as an appetizer until the next Tortoise album. If their recent progression towards the more accessible is any evidence towards future projects, then it should fit the bill nicely.


Reviewed by: Todd Burns
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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