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)

6 Responses to “Digital Vinyl #2: Ultra Vivid Scene – Mercy Seat”

  • Max Says:

    Ultra Vivid Scene and The Mercy Seat – a stunning, standout example piece of 4AD was about. I can remember this being one of a number of songs I put on SO many compilation tapes I made for several years for both my own and friends’ listening pleasure. I just burn it onto CD now instead! It’s shimmering, fuzzy yet achingly beautiful guitar, thudding bass, punching snare drum and Kurt Ralske’s lazy almost honeyed drawl blends into an utterly perfect six and and a half minutes.
    It evokes memories of the mighty Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, Velvet Underground, House Of Love and Galaxie 500 among others.
    A well deserved first posting of 2008 – here’s to the next 11 months – Ledge, I salute you!

  • tim Says:

    a quality tune mate.Well Done

  • Paul Says:

    Nowadays bands/record companies hand out ‘free’ MP3’s, but back in the days of Ultra Vivid Scene, they used to give out free 7″ singles. Unbelieveably, Ultra Vivid Scene released a single (entitled ‘Something To Eat’ B/W ‘H Like In Heaven’) on 7″ (cat no. AD 908) which was given away in ‘Chain With No Name’ stores COMPLETELY FREE!!

    As there was no ‘Chain With No Name’ store near to me at the time of the release, I asked my girlfriend (at that point in time) to toddle off to a CWNN store in Liverpool (now sadly a designer clothes store!) to pick me one up, which she kindly did.

    In keeping with the record’s cost-free exclusivity, the label included the text ‘This record is a gift from Ultra Vivid Scene, available free of charge, via 4AD. Anyone who takes money for this record is no friend of ours’.

    Now how good is that…???

    Anyway, I love ‘The Mercy Seat’. During that period (mid 80’s to mid 90’s), 4AD Records really couldn’t put a foot wrong – you could pretty much buy a 4AD artefact and know it was going to be good simply because it contained the word ‘4AD’. What’s happened to them since then? They certainly don’t seem to be as prolific as they once were.

    Anyway, I’m ranting. However, for anybody who’s interested in checking out 4AD, have a look at Throwing Muses – ‘House Tornado’, Pixies – ‘Surfer Rosa’, Dead Can Dance – ‘Realm of a Dying Sun’, Clan Of Xymox – ‘Clan Of Xymox’, Cocteau Twins – ‘Blue Bell Knoll’, Lush – ‘Scar’, Pale Saints – ‘Barging Into The Presence Of God’ and of course Ultra Vivid Scene – ‘Ultra Vivid Scene’. There are many, many more quality items like these but you’ll only end up with a bad back carrying them all back from your local CD store (or the postman will!!). Either that or a very large overdraft 🙂

  • Max Says:

    Paul – cracking taste in music buddy!

  • The Ledge Says:

    Thanks for the input, guys, Mercy Seat is certainly a lost indie classic.

    Yes, 4AD pretty much ruled in the late 80s / early 90s, Surfer Rosa is probably my favourite album of all time, and House Tornado was the Muses at their best. I’d also recommend the Red House Painters’ Down Colorful Hill and Rollercoater albums. 4AD are still putting out plenty of good stuff like Beirut and Mountain Goats but the concept of the “4AD band” is definitely a thing of the past.

  • mighty no 9 kickstarter page Says:

    To Deep Silver, please continue to support the Metro franchise and the amazing guys at
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