I've never been particularly fond of Mercury Rev's loud but static brand of psychedelic rock: tossing in the kitchen sink never seemed like a good substitute for writing decent songs. But last year the band released its best album yet, Deserter's Songs (V2), which picked up where its last and most focused previous effort, 1995's See You on the Other Side, left off. (Perhaps not coincidentally, See You was also the band's first album without cofounder David Baker.) I still can't condone the frothing that's going on in some critical circles over the new one, but the songs are hummable, if not quite memorable, and that's a step in the right direction. Jonathan Donahue's wisp of a voice fights through arrangements that are as dense as ever, but now all of the components seem to work together instead of piling up into self-indulgent chaos. There's a notable shift away from electric guitars and big rock rhythms, a la Van Dyke Parks's classic Song Cycle, but Mercury Rev has rock in the blood: "Tonite It Shows," for example, builds an elaborate orchestral swell around Phil Spector-style drums, but there's a brightness to the performance that reveals how accustomed the band members are to playing loud. And when they attempt a little nonrock melodic pilfering, in "Endlessly," the best they can do is nab a line from "Silent Night." I haven't seen them live in years, but reports suggest that they still tear it up onstage. Wednesday, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steve Gullick.