Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
The Mercury Tree - Spidermilk CD (album) cover


The Mercury Tree

Heavy Prog

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Bookmark and Share
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars What a creepy, unsettling album cover! I hate spiders!

What an amazing, yet unsettling album! I love it!

"The Mercury Tree" comes from Portland, Oregon and is a Heavy Prog band that has been around since 2004. They have gone through a few line-up changes through the years and have had some changes in their overall sound through their 5 full length albums that they have released to date. Their latest album is called "Spidermilk" and it boasts the use of a 17 note microtonal scale. That in and of itself sounds intriguing. This album was released in April of 2019 with the following line-up: Ben Spees on vocals, guitar and keyboards; Connor Reilly on drums; Oliver Campbell on bass; and Igliashon Jones on guitars. Tony Mowe also appears as a guest on alto and baritone saxophones. There are 11 tracks on the album ranging from just under 2 minutes to just over 7 minutes.

The sound of this album is quite unique. There are the microtonal scales that give it the unique and maybe a little alienist sound. The guitars go from a jangly sound to a heavy progressive sound in many of the tracks, and you even get a sense of later King Crimson style arpeggios and chord progression, but add in that sound of the microtonal harmonies and you can add a good amount of dissonance in there too. The vocals, in contrast, are not as dependent on the microtonal scale, so you get this almost pop sound in the vocals (not melody-wise, but tone-wise) and a completely non-commercial sound in the instruments. It's actually a cool sound, kind of jazzy in an abrasive way, yet totally progressive and unique. I love it! But then I tend to love the quirky stuff as long as it is done smartly. When the vocal harmonies come in using the 17-note scale, that is when things really get interesting. That must have been tough getting those tones right.

When you listen to "Arc of an Ilk", you will really notice the odd harmonies. Starting out like a jazzy riff, things go south fast when the vocals start, because this time, the melody is in half tones, and that should completely throw you off. Just wait until you get to the part where the synth plays the repeating atonal chord. By using microtones, it may seem the guitars or vocals are sliding into position giving you the feeling that things are slightly out of tune, but they are not. This all makes sense, and it is something that may not sound right when you first hear it, but if you give it several listens, you'll start to understand how genius this whole thing is.

The song "I'll Pay" is a masterpiece in it's own right with some nice dynamics, changes in tone, crazy bass riffs and totally off the wall passages. Later in the track, the band moves very smoothly into Kayo Dot territory. Yes this is Heavy Prog, but the band's sound definitely moves deep into Avant-Prog territory with this wonderful album.

The instruments were all purposefully tuned to this microtonal scale which give it the unique, yet very nice texture and sound. The album also took 2 years to completely create, and much of that time must have been learning the harmonies and perfecting the sound. I know this is definitely not going to be to everyone's liking, but you can't deny the sound is unique, challenging and groundbreaking, and above all, 100% progressive. Those that love that kind of music will love this, and lovers of RIO/Avant-Prog will love it too, not to mention lovers of progressive jazz. I know this much, I love it! And with the genius behind this music makes it a must have for those that want to be on the cutting edge of progressive music. 5 stars without hesitation!

Report this review (#2190088)
Posted Friday, May 3, 2019 | Review Permalink
1 stars It is rare for me to venture as far as writing a review on this site, so I guess it shows just how much this album pissed me off. As much as I appreciate Mercury tree's innovation and good intentions (I really do!), for me the end result is practically unlistenable.

Before anyone would want to throw rocks at me, I want to start this review by saying: I obviously AM aware that this album was written using a 17-note microtonal scale and I am not opposed to jazzy progtunes such as Seven impale, King crimson, as well as some of the other Mercury tree albums. So even though I must admit that I had some doubts when sitting down to have my first go at this album, I did still want to believe that I will be the right audience for this wicked idea and tried to keep an open mind.

Unfortunately the first listening proved me wrong right off the bat, as simply speaking I could not even finish it. I did get further into the album with the second and third listens, however it did not change either my rating or my opinion that it is a flawed idea to build a whole album on the concept of a 17-note scale. In my view there is a REASON why an octave is split in 12 equally-spaced notes. It sounds right, it sounds more natural, the human ear is much more used to it. I really appreciate the idea of a few musicians going against this flow though (gosh, how difficult it must have been to learn such cord progressions!), however listening to the end result feels more like buying a beautiful car without wheels. I can go out to the garage every once in a while to rest my eyes on its beauty, however a car is for driving, so if I cannot do that then why buy one?! In other words, Spidermilk is great musicianship and excellent talent mixed with innovation, yet many "traditional" proglovers will consider it to be more like a fail, a musical experiment gone wrong, because for them it will just sound dissonant noise that hurts the human ear when taken in big doses. So unless you are seriously into avantgarde / progressive jazz and have a stomach for weird stuff, you may find it very difficult to get a grasp on Spidermilk and find ANY melodies to hook on to in this serious amount of chaos rambling straight on for 50 minutes. Two more things to add would be that the drummer at least is trying to save what he can (luckily there are no scales for him to follow), but what the singer does (singing using a 12-note-scale for 17-scale-songs) again achieves the opposite for me. If it did not sound dissonant enough by then, this throws me off even more.

Maybe if I had not listened to so much "traditional" prog before my ears would not bum so hard now? Maybe that is true. And so kudos to everyone who gave this a five-star-rating. I understand why and I really envy you guys. Yet I am landing firm on a 2-star-rating for the first time on this site.

Report this review (#2248461)
Posted Wednesday, September 4, 2019 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars These young virtuosi from Portland, Oregon, under the determined leadership of microtonally-captivated Ben Spees, have progressed further from "normal" musical traditions than any prog band I know with the possible exception of veteran guitarist Dave Fiuczynski. Whereas their earlier music was more immediately accessible, they are now in the territory of TOBY DRIVER/KAYO DOT where the listener has to "work" in order to familiarize and get used to the unfamiliar musical constructs perpetrated by explorations and use of microtonal scales.

1. "I Am a Husk" (4:48) offers a toned-down introduction into the band's new sound. A kind of display of KAYO DOT plays THE WHO. (8.25/10)

2. "Vestments" (4:39) opens with fast moving "Discipline"-like multi-instrumental weave before several guitar tracks begin to display their atonal microtones. Virtuosic, to be sure, but enjoyable to Western ears? It will be a challenging scenario--one that I fear will not bode well for The Mercury Tree's fan base (though many hard core experimental musicians will appreciate and love this). The vocals and more comfortable bass and drum lines help make this one more easily accessible and, perhaps, enjoyable. (9/10)

3. "Arc of an Ilk" (6:35) an amazing composition of angularities pulled off with jaw-dropping dexterity and flawless team timing. The problem is, that it's not "pretty" or very engaging. It is entertaining from the vantage point of watching and appreciating virtuosi at work. (8.75/10)

4. "I'll Pay" (6:22) fascinating and incomprehensibly complex there are some nice vocals and melodies (especially in the repetition of the title in the background vocal chorus) here above the and great musicianship. (9.25/10)

5. "Interglacial" (1:45) feeling quite Asian in its melodic sensibilities, this brief instrumental is surprisingly pretty. (5/5)

6. "Superposition of Silhouettes" (3:43) aside from the chromatic chords, this one has a pretty, accessible sound and structure--quite like a pleasant TOBY DRIVER song (and the closest thing to old Permutations-era TMT). (8.75/10)

7. "Kept Man" (3:15) microtonal PORCUPINE TREE anyone? (8.25/10)

8. "(Throw Up My) Hands" (2:59) pure TOBY DRIVER discordant minimalism and beyond! (8/10)

9. "Disremembered" (7:07) what starts out as a stark Ben Spees solo effort turns into a 60s-ish surfer song la Dick Dale with a totally twisted modern approach to it, then back into the stark motif of the opening section, before turning into a KING CRIMSON-esque exercise in odd tempoed polyrhythms. Stunning construction and performance. I just wish it were a little more enjoyable from a melodic sense. (13/15)

10. "Brake for Genius" (3:32) The song that gave me the Jane Siberry comparison. (8/10)

11. "Tides of the Spine" (4:33) The almost normal acoustic guitar work makes this song partly accessible. (8.75/10)

This album--The Mercury Tree's ffith of this decade--often has a Ben Spees solo album feel to it--especially the middle four songs of the album, "Intergalcial" to "(Throw Up My) Hands." Aside from the aforementioned Toby Driver, the only other artist I can compare Ben's singing style to--an artist who uses such unpredictable and often angular melody lines--would be Canadian muse JANE SIBERRY. My rating for this album might be higher if I could hear and make sense of the lyrics, but, alas! I am "blocked" from comprehension of sung words by a lifelong learning defect. While I am mentally blown away by the skill, dedication, practice, and mental dexterity that goes into being able to play, write, work collaboratively with such experimental musical scales, my own ability to enjoy myself while listening to music like this is challenged to a point that I am sad to admit is beyond my control. No matter how hard I try to distance myself, to chose a different perspective to come at this music from, I just can't seem to find pleasure in the experience. It's work. The musical harmonics on display are even, at times, repellent to me. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge--I've spent over seven months with this album now--and have from the beginning truly appreciated the genius involved in creating such music, but, in the end, I find myself feeling exhausted and dejected by it. Reviewing this album has been so challenging by the fact that I found myself having to choose to rate each song according to likability and accessibility rather than skill and virtuosity. Usually, I am able to incorporate consideration for both of these very important elements of art, but here I felt cursed to actually have to choose between the two. I guess my reasoning is two-fold: I'm seeking internal resolution to my personal feelings for the work and I'm trying to offer accurate and true commentary to others as to whether or not they might enjoy seeking out this album for their listening pleasure. I highly recommend that each and every one of you take this album for a spin for your self to see what you think. I'd actually be interested to see comments of your reactions.

Four stars; a remarkable display of progressive progressive rock music--one that certainly pushes boundaries (as well as buttons). I'm not sure this album will be everyone's cup of tea but it is certainly recommended that you try.

Report this review (#2266422)
Posted Saturday, October 5, 2019 | Review Permalink
3 stars This is needed to break up the boredom of your normal sonic sounds. The Mercury Tree are new to me but this is their 6th? album. Microtonal music (google it, cause I can't splane it) that will repulse the common folk. I can picture the sour faces when hearing this music for the first time. And the why can't they tune their instruments remarks? This release shreds dissonance and weirdness in the face of pop and is a joy to listen to. Destroying the rules of music, not that I know what they are, this is mesmerizing and a must listen for any music fan. Music beyond my simple mind. After first listen it was killer, with multiple listens it just gets better. Highly recommended.
Report this review (#2338872)
Posted Thursday, February 27, 2020 | Review Permalink

THE MERCURY TREE Spidermilk ratings only

chronological order | showing rating only

Post a review of THE MERCURY TREE Spidermilk

You must be a forum member to post a review, please register here if you are not.


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.