In this case, the Lansing indie rock quartet’s newest album functions as a sonic potion drenching listeners in soothing waves of vibrant folk-influenced dream pop.
“We knew that was the kind of record we wanted to make. Michael Boyes and I had done a lot of acoustic shows together, or rather where he played acoustic and I played electric,” said Tommy McCord, Drinking Mercury’s guitarist and vocalist, about the band’s latest release out today via GTG Records.
“We had focused on embracing that sort of finger style-like folky guitar playing and bringing that in with more textural and psychedelic stuff. From there, it was a matter of filling in the arrangements, but we all knew we wanted to have the vocals be really prominent and arranged on the album.”
Soaring vocal harmonies intertwined with slow, thumping drumbeats, driving basslines and gentle acoustic and electric guitars abound on the band’s striking follow-up to 2011’s alt-folk debut, “Orcades.”
Recording Drinking Mercury, Split Album with The Soods
To create the album’s laid-back feel, McCord invited longtime friends and bandmates Boyes (guitar, vocals), Timmy Rodriguez (bass, keys, vocals) and Kevin Adams (drums) to his family’s 60-year-old rustic cabin in Bitely last July to record new material.
“It’s like the cliché of getting back to nature to write your masterpiece. My grandpa and some other guys built this cabin in the early ‘50s, so I’ve been going there my whole life. I had thought in a daydream it would be cool to record an album up here,” said McCord, who co-formed Drinking Mercury nearly 20 years ago with Adams while growing up in Ionia.
“It’s not like it’s a big acoustically awesome space. It’s just a pretty simple cabin, but it’s in a beautiful area, and the atmosphere is really relaxed, and your cell phone doesn’t work there, and there’s no internet.”
Immersed in an idyllic northern Michigan environment, Drinking Mercury recorded 14 new tracks in one weekend and tinkered with the material over the next year in their respective home studios. Rodriguez added keyboard parts and layered vocals while McCord stitched the tracks together at the GTG House.
Earlier this summer, the band reconvened at McCord’s family cottage to record three additional tracks for two different projects. With 17 new tracks, Drinking Mercury used five for a split album with Grand Rapids indie pop-rock collective The Soods and 12 for their own second full-length release.
“Drinking Mercury/The Soods” dropped in September on GTG Records and features dreamy folk rock mixed with shimmering indie pop. The split album fulfilled a longtime artistic goal McCord set while listening to different artists on Friction Records.
“They’d do like two-way or four-way split albums where it would be like a collection of EPs, but presented as a whole from two, three or four different bands,” said McCord, who named the band after a lyric in “Ava Adore” by The Smashing Pumpkins. “I always thought that was a cool model. You can check out everyone in theory.”
For Drinking Mercury fans, the split album served as a promising sonic preview of the new full-length project to come. McCord credits an eclectic mix of artists, including Calliope, The National, Beck and Tame Impala, with inspiring the self-titled album’s overall folky, dreamy sound.
“We took our time getting the arrangements together, and we knew that was the record we wanted to make,” McCord said. “It was something that could sit alongside a Neil Young album and a Flaming Lips album.”
Listening to Drinking Mercury
Packaged with northern Michigan photos taken by Boyes, “Drinking Mercury” opens its 12-track folk sonic journey with “Man Without A Name” featuring National-esque moody guitar chords woven with lo-fi vocals and dreamy textures – a truly gorgeous introduction.
Another standout track, “Catching Up to Me,” includes snippets of blowing wind interspersed with vibrant acoustic guitars and lush Fleet Foxes-like harmonies – “I can feel the wind catching up to me/It’s gonna let me do whatever I please.”
“It’s a song that Michael wrote, and it’s one of my favorite songs that he’s written. The guitar melody is so nice, and the group vocal arrangements really tie it together,” McCord said. “That was one of the more ambitious ones that we had to get right. I’m really happy with the way that one turned out.”
McCord also cites another album favorite, “Stay Home,” which includes pounding drums, poppy guitar riffs, dreamy harmonies and a mashup of Tom Petty and Beck-like vocals – “Can’t you just stay around/Can’t you just stay for a while/If we are one/There’s no home.”
“Compositionally, it’s simple and catchy, but we had a good kind of atmospheric arrangement for it. That’s where you hear more of the Beck thing a little bit,” said McCord, who provided lead vocals on the track. “It’s a labor of love, and we’ve been working on it for a year and a half. It feels weird to be done with it.”
The album’s illuminating final track, “The Bright Side,” places listeners on a sunny island filled with ukulele riffs and a need to escape everyday troubles – “There’s a bright side to these words you play/Today’s drifting leaves us time to think.”
Drinking Mercury will celebrate their new album with a Saturday release show at The Robin Theatre, a 100-seat listening room in Lansing. Bangor, Maine alt rock duo When Particles Collide will open the show.
“We’re going to start off with a few songs we put out in the last couple years, and then we’re going to play the album all the way through,” McCord said. “We’re working with a local lighting artist named Britt Paul, and he’s working on accenting our set. Timmy has been working on a film reel of countryside footage for an audio visual presentation.”
With two new releases out, Drinking Mercury plans to host a holiday hometown show in Ionia next month and book more Michigan shows into 2020.
“2020 is really what we’re focused on. We’re talking with a couple of smaller music festivals in Indiana and Illinois for the summertime,” McCord said. “We also intend to put this album out on vinyl in the springtime, so we’ll have another push for it. Next year is going to be our busiest year yet.”
Doors 7:30 p.m. | Show 8 p.m. Saturday
The Robin Theatre, 1105 S. Washington Ave. in Lansing