Archive for the 'kurt ralske' Category

Digital Vinyl #2: Ultra Vivid Scene – Mercy Seat

Almost exactly a year ago I posted Digital Vinyl #1 in the sincere hope that it would become a regular feature and that by now, many of my old vinyl rarities would have been made available to you in shiny modern mp3 format. This has obviously not been the case; but then, a new year, a new beginning? Maybe.

Mercy SeatUltra Vivid Scene was the musical nom de plume of one Kurt Ralske, a New Yorker who married programmed drums and synths with anaemic, fuzzed-out guitars and his own fey vocals to create a brand of indie pop that was dark and catchy; often dreamy, occasionally twee. It’s no surprise, then, that he signed to the burgeoning 4AD label in 1987, releasing an eponymous debut album in 1988. It was a good album, but one track stuck out like a sore thumb: “Mercy Seat”, with its propulsive, overdriven bass line and glistening guitar parts, was an instant classic, my favourite track of 1988, if memory serves. Coincidentally, 1988 was also the year that Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds released their Death Row epic “The Mercy Seat”; almost identical titles but the similarities end there.

In 1989, “Mercy Seat” was re-recorded and released as a 12″ single, along with an excellent cover of Buffy St. Marie’s “Codine”, a new song called “H Like In Heaven”, and the original version of the lead track. The new version of “Mercy Seat” was augmented by a long, languid intro that almost doubles the track’s length. It is a beautiful piece of music with Ralske’s guitar snaking around celestial voices and organ, and THAT bassline, the genius of its simplicity, stripped of the distortion that defined the original yet losing none of its authority. It takes three minutes for the intro to resolve itself, when we reach the point at which the original version began, when we realise that this wonderful three minutes of music has served its purpose to maximise the impact of the beginning of the song proper. It is a glorious moment and the rest of the song plays out as a more laid back version of the original, with a more expansive sound, more space between instruments, but lacking wall of fuzzy guitar that helps to make the original so compelling. Both versions have their considerable merits and its difficult to say which is the better.

Ultra Vivid Scene made two more albums: Joy 1967-1990 (1990) trod the familiar ground of the debut but was a big improvement in terms of songwriting and sound, while Rev (1993) featured a full band and was a marked departure from the earlier material with longer songs, plenty of acoustic guitars and a darker, more intense sound. It was a promising new direction, but that was the last we heard of them.

Ultra Vivid Scene – Mercy Seat (extended version)

Ultra Vivid Scene – Codine

Ultra Vivid Scene – H Like In Heaven

Ultra Vivid Scene – Mercy Seat (LP Version)

Posted by The Ledge on 26th January 2008 at 1:15 am | comments (6)
File under Digital Vinyl,kurt ralske,mp3,Reviews,Single Reviews,ultra vivid scene.