Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mercury Rev & The Haunted Album

Today, I'm going to tell you a ghost story

Deserter's Songs is a pretty important album. It marked a massive sea change for its creators; where Mercury Rev's first few albums had been psychedelic and fuzzy, this release had swooning strings, musical saws, and songs that your parents could tolerate. It was the band's big breakthrough moment, the album that introduced them to a much wider audience and established them as a major force on the alternative circuit.

It's also haunted.

The album's final track is a jaunty summertime anthem called Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp. It was the second single (after Goddess on a Hiway), and it serves an upbeat and slightly goofy conclusion to Mercury Rev's magnum opus.

Except that's not the end of the album. Shortly after Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp's blissful fade-out, another song arrives, and this one is much, much weirder. It's basically just a bunch of cartoonish orchestral noises, seemingly generated at random; at one point, though, this scattershot madness gives way to a tense droning sound with a man calling over it:

"Hello? Hello?"

That part gave me the creeps when first I heard it. Who was this man? Whose attention was he trying to get? Was he lost in the wilderness, surrounded only by alien strangeness?

I've got a lot of questions about that hidden track (and I've never managed to find any answers online), but that's actually not what I wanted to talk about. The really weird part comes after the hidden track.

(At this juncture, I'd like to point out that I can only speak for my own copy of Deserter's Songs. I've no idea if the following applies to every copy, or if I just got a CD that was possessed by The Devil.)

Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp is Track 11, okay? And while the hidden track is separated from DSBS by a short stretch of silence, it doesn't occupy its own track on the CD - when you're listening to those eerie hellos, you're still listening to Track 11.

But then there's Track 12. It's not listed anywhere on the disc or its packaging, but it's there, and unlike the crazy cartoon hidden track, you can skip straight to it because it's not attached to any other song.

And what treasures did the Rev squirrel away on this super-super-secret extra track? Uh, four seconds of silence. Seriously. I used to use Track 12 as a separator in my playlists when I wanted to put a slightly bigger gap between tracks (don't ask why I would bother doing that - I was a strange child).

Bizarrely, the Wikipedia entry for Deserter's Songs suggests that this four-second blank was only supposed to be available in Japan:

I've no idea what Ragtag is - it certainly doesn't appear on my copy of DS - but Underture sounds suspiciously like it might be my Track 12.

Okay, so none of this is particularly frightening, but I haven't told you the last bit yet. The weird thing about Track 12?

Sometimes, it isn't just silence.

At least once, the four-second track at the end of Deserter's Songs has come out of my speakers as four seconds of white noise. For some reason, that miniscule hidden song is occasionally a short, sharp burst of static instead of just a small stretch of silence. Why? I can't be sure, but I have some theories:
  • Quantum physics.
  • Ghosts.
  • Witchcraft.
Actually, a fourth potential explanation has just occurred to me now: one of my speakers might have been unplugged. Perhaps the supposedly 'silent' Track 12 is actually two bursts of perfectly opposite sound cancelling each other out and creating four seconds of perfect quiet. When I listened to the track through only one speaker, it was rendered as noisy static because the other lump of noisy static wasn't there to silence it.

Personally, though, I think it was ghosts.

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