The Mercury Tree is a progressive rock band that finds its roots in Portland, Oregon. Founded by Ben Spies; vocalist, guitarist and keyboard player. The band did have a reasonable amount of changes in the lineup, but drummer Conner Reilly has been on board for some time and for the band's third album Countenance, bass duties are split up between previous bass player Aaron Clark and their current; Oliver Campbell.
Musically The Mercury Tree create a very pleasant sound between progressive rock, some jam band influences and even minor elements of space and post rock together in a recognizable style of their own. The opener Pitchless Tone sounds as if Haken's vocalist Ross Jennings joined a Widespread Panic style jam band. A very interesting composition is the outcome. When you listen to the following song Vestigal, the smoother vocals parts do have some Ross Jennings resemblance at certain points. During this composition these softer vocals are accompanied by rough outbursts of power, almost screams. Personally, I am not fond of the way the refrain goes; singing alongside the guitar melody does not do the trick for me, but towards the end of the song this mixed feeling totally has been blown away, despite the weird sound that continuous in the background. As a surprise, Otoliths opens as a sweet tune, ready to find its way to the local radio stations, but when the atmosphere shifts to the darker side of progressive music, a smile appears on my face. Ok this one will not get airplay in the USA, because of the brutal intensity, which will certainly scare off half of the listeners. This is an absolute highlight, played perfectly with great interaction between the instrumentalists and kudos for the amazing guitar sound and fretless bass. Mazz Jathy slowly passed by; a mixture of soft post rock and jam band, blended with a Geddy Lee bass sound and intriguing keyboards. To Serve Man puts you back on your feet again; power meets subtleness, softer passages walk hand in hand with Radiohead and powerful guitars in math/post rock style. When you listen to Countenance you notice the atmosphere gentle shifts during the album; post rock seems to take over, like in The Ellsberg Cycle and Artifracture, the latter, completely over the top in roughness and inventiveness when it comes to songwriting creating something that could be labelled as dark progressive death post rock. In between these two songs we find a nice melody that is called False Meaning, which is more focused on the vocal parts, but nevertheless has plenty of impressive instrumental outbursts. For the first time since I've written reviews I guess I don't have to go into the composition that is next, the song's title just says it all: Jazz Hands Of Doom. Use your imagination and multiply times two. The final song on the album, Rappel starts as an intimate song gently gaining intensity and power, Rappel basically stands for what kind of music you can expect when you attend one of their live concerts.
Countenance perfectly represents what The Mercury Tree stands for; progressive music with a twist-a twist that comes from the wide variety of influences that have come together on this album all impressively played with great enthusiasm. Some parts of the lyrics, especially the 'popular' sounding parts, are too apparent. That should be the only negative I could come up with, listening to this fine album.
**** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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