Swirling atmospherics and mantra-like lyrics abound on Mercury Rev's newest work ''Snowflake Midnight.'' Recorded almost exclusively in the band's Catskills, N.Y. laboratory, ''Snowflake Midnight'' sees MR continue experiments with laser harps, ad-hoc computer programs and random note generators resulting in a record that moves with grace between avant garde and traditional pop sensibilities. Standout tracks ''Butterfly's Wing'' and ''Senses on Fire'' exhibit the emphasis on letting the music define itself, as free as possible from human interference. Zooming in at nearly any magnification, ''Snowflake Midnight'' appears to be a resplendent fractal folding in upon itself, into something continually new, unpredictable and spontaneous, and yet so subtly self-aware, that it never fails to resemble itself as a whole.
As a bonus, both the CD and the double LP of ''Snowflake Midnite'' come with a download card for ''Strange Attractor'', a full-length instrumental companion album.
When they emerged from upstate New York in 1989, pundits proclaimed that Mercury Rev were neo-psychedelic guitar gods on par with the Flaming Lips--with whom they shared numerous ties. Snowflake Midnight
, Rev's seventh full-length, is an electronic record. Filled with references to forest creatures, it represents more of a change in tools than direction. Longtime associate Dave Fridmann (the 'Lips, Sleater-Kinney) handles the production reins. While all nine selections ebb and flow in volume, like a shortwave radio half-heard in a dream, a few maintain a steadier motorik-meets-disco pulse. Tracks like "Snowflake in a Hot World" and "Runaway Raindrop" could be compared to New Order or the Pet Shop Boys, with a dose of Thoreau. Snowflake Midnight
proves that a veteran band can re-write themselves without losing the plot. --Kathleen C. Fennessy