New Haven folk rock act Mercy Choir is the musical outlet of singer-songwriter Paul Belbusti. Since the inception of his project in the mid-2000s, Belbusti has been exceptionally prolific with his main act (never mind his work as one-half of the experimental group Rivener), releasing at least eight albums that dabble in various genres like Americana, baroque pop, and lo-fi experimentation. Recently, Belbusti announced he will be releasing yet another full length, Upturned in Everest, out on on Dead Language Records.
Even considering Belbusti’s prolific catalog of releases, Upturned in Everest is Mercy Choir’s finest moment and strongest release to date. In contrast to the short-termed spontaneity of many of his other works, Everest was meticulously recorded over a year and a half, and it shows. In contrast to the minimal acoustics and rugged orchestration of Fair Games and Like a Fountain Stirred, the new record not only collects the New Haven artist’s strongest overall collection of songs, but also most diverse and best sounding.
While Mercy Choir has dabbled with arrangements beyond a traditional rock setup, the music of Everest often moves past standard guitar music both rhythmically and atmospherically. Recorded and mixed by Belbusti, there is a subtle shimmer to its complementary percussives and sonic palette. Nearly every track reflects a different and expanded aesthetic for Belbusti. To be honest, nothing here other than early single “Do You Know What I Mean?” really strikes as a rock song. Instead, the album is unique mishmash of acoustic guitars, 80s synthesizers, atmospheric found sounds, and scattered production techniques.
As a singer and lyricist, Everest also finds Mercy Choir at the height of its powers. Anyone familiar with the band knows that Belbusti has a Dylanesque knack for continuous and unconventional rhymes. On this record, his aesthetic wordplay seems a little less freewheeling, a little more thematically focused, but also from a stranger and more mysterious place. The album also features some of Belbusti’s best singing, with the songwriter expanding past his raw verbiage to breathy and melodic subtleties.
Still, even with the instrumental, vocal, and aesthetic developments combined, there is an ineffable component of Upturned in Everest that is still hard to pin down. In his interview with CT Verses, Belbusti claims that the title means “triumphantly confused” to him. This confusion translates into a bizarre deal on the peak of the figurative mountain: On album closer ‘My Own Sort of Bargain”, with its ominous finger pickings and dissonant vocal harmonies, one listener is left to wonder exactly what knowledge is hiding in that deal. Early in the record Belbusti asks “Do You Know What I Mean?”, but even with repeated listens, that question becomes harder to answer.
Upturned in Everest features contributions from Erik Elligers (Goodnight Blue Moon), Lys Guillorn (Lys Guillorn & Her Band), and Kierstin Sieser (Tiny Ocean). Aside from contributions from those mentioned above, the 12 track album was written, performed, recorded, and mixed by Paul Belbusti in his home studio in Guilford, CT. It was mastered by Todd Tobias (Guided By Voices, Circus Devils).
Listen to Upturned In Everest by Mercy Choir on Bandcamp and Spotify below: