Asbury Park-based The Mercury Brothers’ sophomore LP, “II,” features another batch of well-crafted, edgy roots-rockin’ songs.
Wow! This is a great record, and Dan Apy is a fantastic songwriter whose bittersweet subtleties easily can be missed within the raucous party that is their live show. So if you’ve seen The Mercury Brothers, do yourself a favor and get their new sophomore LP, simply called II. The follow-up to last year’s In Retrograde debut features another eight well-crafted roots-rockin’ songs that blend country and blues elements of early ‘70s Rolling Stones with the edgier approach of alternative and garage rock. The results are, surprisingly, more earnestly enlightening than entertaining, yet certainly more artistic than just another rock ‘n’ roll band from Asbury Park.
“Lightpol,” an anthemic, soul-searching alt-roots rocker that combines the well-founded edge of Roadside Graves with the hot-rod appeal of Jan & Dean, kicks things off. Strong verses by vocalist-lyricist-guitarist Apy include “Cruising by a broken beach on a black summer night, I heard the wild winds whisper to me, ‘Hey,’ in a lonely sigh, and my mind went cold, like an old soul looking to kill. I saw my mamma in the street. She told me I was going to hell.”
They are followed by a neat underwater-sounding solo by Mike Mazza on a guitar that flirts with surf throughout while riding the thunderous waves of drummer Luke McKenna and bassist Ryan Lascelles.
“Clean Sheets,” a funky, jangly Spin Doctors-like nugget about a lonely fella who has trouble with linens, leads into the standout “East vs West.” The Stonesy Exile-like track is about a misunderstood drifter who’s been coast to coast without a car and away from his Eastern shore home so long in the wake of a suicide of a childhood friend within a group of stoner/surfer buddies, he can’t distinguish the idyllic wasteful days of youth from the false comfort of a bar. I love the gorgeously harmonic lyricless vocal bridge between harrowing kick-ass verses that serve as a refrain for the chorus-less song, whose construction also is reminiscent of such great songwriters as Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon.
“Wanna Dance,” which is featured in a forthcoming video by Mercurys manager KL Martin, references ‘80s dance pop such as The Go-Go’s, alongside the accessible garage rock of The Strokes and Jet. It should be rager at The Mercury Brothers’ record release party on Sept. 8 at Asbury Lanes.
Dichotomously upbeat-sounding, optimistically expressive anti-love song “Little Bridges” also will get the crowd going as it observes burning bridges as an opportunity to persevere. I love the opening lines, “Never had a bed, never dressed in time. Never wrote a song about love that I liked.”
The tone and mood of the remainder of the record shifts back into introspection and confession starting with the staccato, REMesque stabs of “For Show,” about an artist who feels stuck in self-promotion and the struggle to maintain a romantic relationship. Fans of Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown will enjoy “Till I End,” a country-blues rocker that recalls and sometimes laments a first love. The phantom closer, “Song About a Tree,” commences about 30 seconds later without a track or listing of its own. Apy’s solo acoustic tune about the complexities of life and songwriting simplified by a sun-loving, leaf-shaking tree is touching in its ragged Paul Westerberg-like beauty.
Speaking of beauty, the lovely Rachel Ana Dobken will share the bill at the Lanes with The Mercury Brothers, playing tunes from her forthcoming LP When It Happens to You, which hopefully will be reviewed here soon. Also performing on that all-star evening will be acclaimed singer-songwriter Emily Grove, psychedelic indie rockers The Double Negatives, and The Mercurys’ brothers of other mothers, The Burns, whose main singer-songwriter, Joey Henderson, recorded most of II at Cedar Sound Studios in Oceanport. That’s where he also recorded The Burns and Dobken. Electric Sensei drummer Joey Papa ably produced II, while veteran scenester Bruce Tunkel mastered in his Beanland Studio, where he’s made many a record for himself, James Deely and others. The Cranford-based Papa-Tunkel team also produced and mastered The Mercury Brothers’ equally impressive In Retrograde, which was released at this time last year.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.