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The Mercury Tree

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5 stars The Mercury Tree- Permutations

I don't even know where to start here. Microtones, 3 and 4 part vocal harmonies (sometimes more?), angular riffs that don't sound like copies of the 2000 math rock/metal bands that exist already, odd approaches to songwriting, vocals that sound just a little bit like Bob Drake? Heavy sections that bring to mind a desperate alien soul trapped in a human incapable of understanding any of the thoughts created by her mind? Why am I ending these sentences with question marks? Where am I?

I am a dog, tied to a park bench. My owner left me there, hoping that someone would take me home, as he decided to kill himself. He couldn't stand the thought of leaving me alone in that apartment for several days to eventually feast on his dead body. Dogs might be the most loyal animal but even they get hungry. What brought him to this point? It couldn't have been me. As I sit on the park bench, no one comes for me. There's been an outbreak. An attack? People are fleeing the city, frightened. I chew through my leash to get away and sniff the air for my owner. I miss him. I find his body and mourn my loss, but feast anyway. A lost animal in a dead city. There might not be any hope but there is freedom.

This is music that will make you question things. I have never listened to the Mercury Tree before, but this makes me interested to hear anything Ben Spees and company have ever touched. Ben, the guitarist, vocalist and keyboardist, mixed the album himself and deserves some credit for keeping everything sounding organic and clear. The mastering job is surprisingly nice as well. Nothing is over compressed but it still feels loud.

I guess the closet comparisons I could find would be 5uu's, less chaotic PoiL moments, or early Thinking Plague with Ex-Girl style vocal harmonies at times, but this isn't as immediately off-putting as any of those groups. (Though I usually love the off-putting.) In fact, as complex and strange as this album might be, I never find myself thinking that they went too far, and when listening to this entire album it seems apparent that this music could only exist right now. Each over-the-top expression feels justified and never tiring, each influence necessary to create the end result, but far removed from those sounds. There are plenty of moments of reserved beauty, especially towards the end of the album. There are also sections that will leave you without reference points other than to consider odd combinations in your brain. Just stop it. Listen to it.

This is my favorite album of the year so far.

Report this review (#1548760)
Posted Wednesday, April 6, 2016 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Quite different and refreshing syncopated prog in the OCEANSIZE and quirky TODD RUNDGREN/STEVEN WILSON and even TOBY DRIVER vein of song and melody construction, this is very interesting and refreshing music to listen to, to study. The enigmatic lead singer can sound as dissonant and chromatic as avant/RIO singer ELAINE DI FALCO or he can burst forth into his death metal growls or he can sound as pure of voice as TEARS FOR FEARS' Curt SMITH. I really like this!

1. "Symptoms" (6:59) opens the album with an edgy weave of instrumental sounds and rhythms--though there is a bit of a djenty base to it all. Once the vocal's odd melody and odd sound enters and establishes its place, the song takes off in a PROGHMA-C kind of full-speed ahead way. Heavily distorted guitars, heavily echoed vocal, this could be straight off of a KAYO DOT album. The rapid fire guitar and keyboard arpeggi in the fifth minute are replaced by a new section of Bill NELSON-like quirky-odd vocal melody. The two sections alternate into the sixth minute, shift key and scales, taking on somewhat more of a DEVY TOWNSEND sound and feel through to the end. Unusual, perhaps even unique song. (8/10)

2. "Exhume The Worst" (4:56) is a very odd sound and feeling "love song." PORCUPINE TREE would have loved to created this one. Some interesting and odd almost BEACH BOYS background vocals end the chorus section before the song returns to a chunkier bassed version of the opening. At 2:30 we here the vocalist's first scream/growls. The multiple guitar leads interwoven in the fourth minute's instrumental section are fascinating--so unusual! Odd, edgy song that I'll probably end up loving more than I do now. (8/10)

3. "Permutations" (10:42) Opens with some vascillating keyboard notes and "tuneless" guitar notes before the vocal talks to us. Acoustic guitars and spacey keyboards enter and establish an odd rhythm and pacing before layered voices contribute a kind of rondo of the repetition of a lyrical phrase. At the two minute mark plucked strings bring in a dissonant series of rising and falling arpeggi while an almost punk-like bass and GG vocal harmonies sing over the top. Djenty lead guitar solo ends and leaves us in a vacuum into which the "tuneless" guitar notes return. Vocals. At 4:30 we actually hit a very beautiful section--vocally and soft minor key instrumental weave--which builds and builds into a very violent crescendo at 5:30 and is then sustained for 30 seconds before returning to the "beauty" melodies of a recapitulation of the "vacuum section." Interesting section with reversed lead guitar at the end of the seventh minute leads into heavy weave over which a more dissonant vocal harmony is sung. The djenty rhythm section is danced within by the rapid-fire "plucked strings arpeggi until at 8:53 everything quiets down into a MAUDLIN OF THE WELL-like acoustic section with breathtaking beauty, both vocally and melodically. Gradually electric walls of sound build around the falsetto vocalizations before playing out to the song's end. Wow! What an odd, interesting ride! (9/10)

4. "Ether/Ore" (4:08) has such an odd electro-pop percussive foundation over which treated and untreated vocals, saxes, keys and guitars play--an odd weave--kind of early TODD RUNDGREN-esque while at the same time being again somewhat near the Bill NELSON/BE-BOP DE-LUX zone. Brilliant but odd as [&*!#]! (9/10)

5. "Placeholder" (4:32) familiar piano and bass chords give this a bit of a jazzy feel but the vocals are so TOBY DRIVER-like! I am thinking that this is by far the most accessible yet psychedelic of all songs thus far. A really cool, odd, yet gorgeous song. Gabriel RICCIO (THE GABRIEL CONSTRUCT) would love this one. The yelled near-rap in the final minute sung over the long drawn out angelic vocals in the background are awesome. (10/10)

6. "Unintelligible" (5:06) has some ZA!/OCEANSIZE feeling to it. (9/10)

7. "Sympathesizer" (4:42) has some cool full-wall of sound foundation (not unlike those used by Terria-era Devin Townsend) over which all kind of odd and creative sounds and instruments are added. (9/10)

8. "Seek And Release" (5:46) shows some RADIOHEAD influence. And OCEANSIZE. Again, yeat another song that develops in a hitherto uncharted territory, unpredictable and utterly surprising and exciting. (9/10)

9. "Prometheist" (9:00) has a Post Rock-with-oriental-instruments sound with Bill NELSON like vocals and, later, angular, djenty bass and guitars. This could be a KARNIVOOL or VOTUM song! Absolutely awesome guitar and bass parts in the sixth and seventh minutes! The last 90 seconds play out in a kind of spacey, latent-power play--one is never sure whether or not the band is going to leap back out into dynamic decibelia! (9/10)

10. "Deep Five" (10:32) employs some King Crimson basics that have become widespread throughout prog world in the last 30 years over which a deceptively emotional, beautiful and understated vocal establishes itself. This singer is a special force! And the vocal harmonies are equally amazing. The polyphonic instrumental weaves in the fifth minutes are quite wonderful--as is the keyboard and bass'n'drum section that follows. Gamelan like percussives and buzzing synths and synth water sounds play in the soundscape over the steady, insistent drums and bass. This is heaven!! What an awesome way to close out this revelatory album. Brilliant!! (10/10)

Even though I am blown away by this fresh new music, I have a feeling that this is a real grower--that it will climb in my esteem with each and every listen. Really cool stuff! Heavily recommended to all prog lovers. This is one gift that will keep on giving for a long, long time! Check it out! THis one is pushing the envelope! In all directions!

Already a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music; soon to be cherished as an eternal masterpiece.

Report this review (#1549099)
Posted Thursday, April 7, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars The Mercury Tree, the Portland, Oregon, math rock trio of Ben Spees (vocals, guitars, keyboards), Connor Reilly (drums), and Oliver Campbell (bass), returned in March with its fourth studio album Permutations. The latest album follows upon the magnificence of Countenance, which came out in September 2014, with an even more massive wall-of-sound.

Call it noise-rock suspended and then smashed in the atmosphere, or dream-rock propelled off a cliff and hitting the ground, the sonics The Mercury Tree crafts crams the headspace with agitated unrest and strung out rapture, amply displaying the raging and fervent fire that exists at the heart of the beast known as The Mercury Tree.

Album-starter 'Symptoms' is actually one of The Mercury Tree's best tunes, running on restless drum rhythms, an ominous bass line thrum, majorly warped guitar lines, and hazy, androgynous-sounding vocals. The powerful guitars fire on all cylinders, swerving off the road, then realigning themselves before picking up the pace and skidding around the bend. A noisy conflagration of sound hits the middle and end sections of the song with abrasive and more delicate notes colliding and spinning out of control.

Next number 'Exhume the Worst' is immersed in lurching guitar burn and a ponderous drum beat and is a test to the less intrepid eardrum.'Spees hovers sweetly and lightly over the noise, leavening the harshness with his pleasantly mild vocal tones.''Permutations' revels in its staticky, fuzzed-up ambience that's cut with loops of warped, tape recorder-like sounds.'It is one of the centrepieces of the album which easily showcases the band's trajectory on their way of progress. 'Ether/Ore' comes on like an experimental barrage of serrated guitar jags and a dynamically propulsive drum beat.'Spees' vocals rise from the deep, and are still indecipherable.'The song's spine, with its recognizable verses, is pop in construct while the chorus arrangements slay with blazing guitar pyrotechnics and effects.'The song features guest appearance from saxophonist Tony Mowe, who adds another dimension. Its claustrophobic ending makes it sound quite a blast!

This burns out into the smoldering embers of comedown 'Placeholder' with the drawn out piano section fading away amid the brighter sparkle of slowly chiming guitar-bass interaction.'It's a delightful respite from the aggressive fury that preceded it.'This lull turns into the full-on narcotic sway of another style-changer 'Unintelligible.''Spees pulls out his gently soporific vocals amid the twiddle of gleaming drum beats and delectably woozy guitar grind.'But this beginning is a deceit because mid-way through, the sonics amp up in intensity with the rhythmic churning of bending guitar distortion and a more kinetic drum beat.' By the end of the song, the guitars and drums are voraciously consumed by an all-encompassing devolution of immolating noise.

'Sympathesizer' is probably the most catchiest song on the album. It varies in speed ranging from an almost drone to a more fast- paced prog piece. Tony Mowe once again provides his saxwork, but this song also features the former member Aaron Clark who does some guitar work.

The remaining three songs wrap around 25 minutes of music which goes from Porcupine Tree-inspired 'Seek and Release,' to a well- control and balanced 'mess' on one of my favourites 'Prometheist.' The closing epic 'Deep Five' just confirms the prior allegations that 'Permutations' is the band's most progressive record out to date. It was hell of a task to beat 'Countenance,' but they did it. And they did it with style.

Report this review (#1566817)
Posted Wednesday, May 18, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars A genre-bending prog rock mashup of styles, replete with influences that mostly sound extremely modern (there's a high-quality post-rock and math rock foundation to a lot of their music) but with some interesting diversions here and there. (In particular, opener Symptoms has this pulsating, rhythmic style which feels like it's taken from prime zeuhl.) The fact that it's credited as being recorded at "The College of Wizardry & Bongo Fury" is a hint to the band having a good sense of humour, but the music here is serious and smart, offering a technical tour de force with quality compositions that don't ever descend into aimless noodling or waste time with filler.
Report this review (#1589690)
Posted Friday, July 22, 2016 | Review Permalink

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