Planes Mistaken for Stars is a band largely unknown outside of the circles of screamo fans in the late 90’s and early 90’s who got a chance for a bit more exposure when they got signed to Abacus recording, a subsidiary of Century Media.
Alongside labelmates such as Ion Dissonance, a chaotic metal band that made the word The Dillinger Escape Plan sounds like the Beatles, Swarm of the Lotus, an incredible combination of early Mastodon and Burnt by the Sun and Radiation 4, a variation on the theme of early Mister Bungle, they stood out easily by releasing a fantastic album of emotional Grunge. Not really the flavor of the month, to say the least, in 2006 (Nickelback had released their breakthrough album, Silver side up, in 2001 and quickly become the worst band and the planet, burying Grunge with their success). The jump from one style to another didn’t work very well and despite the critical acclaim of Mercy, the band disbanded in 2008, becoming effectively a cult classic among many, leaving behind them a fantastic final album. Now that Deathwish has re-released on vinyl Mercy and that main songwriter, singer, and guitarist, Gared O’Donnell has written ten new songs for a new album, it’s time for Mercy to have a second chance.
Although it’s easy to draw lines on paper between Screamo and Grunge, Planes Mistaken for Stars didn’t really switch from one to another but instead slowed down their music, invoked the spirit of Mudhoney and the Melvins, and switched from a nasal singing to a raw delivery. Trembling, on the verge of collapse during the concluding minute of the aptly named Keep your teeth, the voice leading the song bears more resemblance to Texas is the Reason than to the yarling of the Seattle scene.
Furthermore, even if the rhythm section slows down for the melody to breath, there are enough pulsations recalling the electric dynamic of Screamo in the buzzing sound of the bass and the staccato cadence of the drumming, even on the soulful and scorching Never felt prettier, one of the remarkable song on the album.
Finally, the melody retains some of the punk rock of the early years but seem to have been dipped on the sourest whiskey in the bar. Mercy is an album inhabited by bitterness where the raw emotions of each instrument push you closer to the bar to order another round for you, yourself and your regrets. This emotion is well known to listeners of Outlaw country, Grunge, Sludge and melancholic songwriters like Tom Waits. What made Mercy so unique is how personal the album at the time and even years later. Unlike many bands who would have stuck to their guns upon signing to a bigger label, Planes Mistaken for Stars took a big look into the void and jumped. They had something to say and they did eloquently, with a uniqueness and honesty reserved for confessions made in a church or a wall of tears.
Now that they are giving another go at releasing music, it would be foolish to expect another album like Mercy. It’s much better to expect only honesty and good songs but in the case of this band, it’s doubtful they are capable of offering anything else.