Daniel Pearson's sophomore effort is captivating and assured. It's a commanding showing from a strong new voice.
Daniel Pearson sounds experienced, confident, and fully in command of his craft. That's somewhat of a surprise considering Mercury State is only his second record. More surprising, it sits comfortably alongside folk and americana classics while bringing some non-traditional genre elements to the mix, most intriguingly an unexpectedly tasteful garage influence. Aided by longtime collaborator Jeremy Platt, he manages to let every genre peacefully coexist, none overshadowing the others. While the two-man operation's live-recording minimal overdubs approach could have made that near-impossible to achieve, it sounds effortless. Realizing how well-rounded and fully formed Mercury State is doesn't take much though, it's evident from the outset with opening track "Factory Floor" establishing a lot of groundwork.
"Factory Floor" is a brilliant opening track, showcasing Pearson's lyrical talent and outstanding vocal presence, while also demonstrating an enviable knack for tactful arrangements within the duo's minimal limitations. It's a quiet stunner that uncoils slowly and grips the listener from start to finish. Pearson doesn't wait around very long to get some teeth-gnashing in though, following it immediately with the garage-crunch of "Promises". Some soulful organ work punctuates the garage feel while an unceasing bass drum pattern drives it along. With that one-two punch of songs, Pearson aptly demonstrates both his range and command of craft. It's a thrilling start to a record that's better than it has any right to be.
While the record's only other song to hit that upbeat tempo is four tracks down with "Temptation", it doesn't lose that sense of adventurous variety in its midsection. "I Still Believe" is a tale of an all-too-familiar harrowing struggle to maintain consistency. Wrapped up in the everyday-style trappings, it's difficult not to be at least somewhat moved by or connected to the track which is another area of strength for Mercury State; it's completely utterly relatable. All throughout the record there are no moments of outlandishness or inspired inventiveness, there's a constant warm and welcoming sense of familiarity which lends itself to the mood, atmosphere, and feel of the songs which, in turn, elevate them to their fullest potential. It's brilliantly constructed and awfully complete for the bare-minimum set-up Pearson and Platt were working with.
Though Mercury State's mid-section helps establish the identity of both the record and the artist (while retaining an important sense of variety), it does lose the record's pace a little and acts as the only real hindrance there is to be found on the record. While the songs are still consistently compelling, they don't add too much to the record outside of acting as a bridge for the first and last acts of Mercury State. However, they each offer some memorable moments internally, whether it be the piano and organ over the chorus/post-chorus sections of "All Is Not Lost" or the beautifully arranged electric guitar adornment on "Rat Race", which is easily the best of the three and keeps Mercury State from going too far off the rails.
The uptempo stomper "Medication" kick-starts some fire back into Mercury State and Pearson sets himself up for a thrilling finish. That thrilling finish never really comes, with "Old Friends" acting as perhaps the most representative track on Mercury State. It's an odd sequencing choice after the relative ferocity of "Medication" but it acts as a beautiful bridge between that song and the brief but gorgeous closing song, "Lights". "Lights" is Mercury State's final indicator that Pearson is undoubtedly capable of crafting a classic record but Mercury State only manages to come admirably close to that status. However, it's a strong enough showing to suggest that we probably won't have too wait too long for that to happen.