One of the bands to come out of Chicago’s Progtoberfest with some buzz was Portland, Oregon’s The Mercury Tree.
A three-piece that formed in 2006, the group seem to be hitting their stride with their latest release Countenance, a collection of Mars Volta and King Crimson influenced prog with just the right amount of memorable hooks. The band was formed by guitarist and vocalist Ben Spees, and includes Fretless bassist Aaron Clark and Drummer Connor Reilly, who joined in 2010. The band have released a number of EPs and albums in a short amount of time, and Aaron attributes their intense work ethic to band founder Spees: “Ever since I’ve known Ben, he has been a relentlessly fast paced human being. In the Mercury Tree he is not only writing constantly, but he is constantly learning how to use new, very complex gadgets like looping systems and space age computer keyboards, which seem to really inspire him to write all of these very complex polyrhythmic compositions at breakneck speed. On top of all of that, he records and mixes all of the albums himself. I’ve always said that the work three people can do in a week, Ben can do in one day.” The hard work seems to have paid off with the response to Countenance, says drummer Connor: “We have gotten significantly more attention for this release than we have for previous efforts, and pretty much every review we’ve seen online has had nothing but good things to say about it. Really glad all the work paid off, and that people get what we’re going for.”
The album is a collection of frantic jazz, pop sensibilities and metal, which can all be experienced on the album’s epic track, the 11-minute Otoliths, which bridges an alternative rock chorus with a 6 minute instrumental explosion. The instrumental Mazz Jathy packs more notes into one song than many bands would into an entire album. The band are not afraid to show off their chops which are on full display throughout the album. While they been on the road of late in the US, they hope to play outside of the US very soon, according to Ben. “We’ve been on the road a lot this year! We’re also planning another short West Coast tour in the spring of 2015, and a longer nationwide tour in the summer. We would love to make it to Europe at some point if we can figure out the logistics.” The band work together to come up with their eclectic material. “Some songs were jam-based, but I think most of them were based off of loops Ben came up with, whether during or away from practice. Sometimes he’ll email us half a song, as was the case for Mazz Jathy and Rappel, and sometimes he’ll come into practice with a riff or two he wrote at home and we build from there.” Ben also sees promise for the music scene as the band continues to write material for their next album. “We have been seriously inspired by so many of the bands we have played with on the road, and at the Progtoberfest and SeaProg festivals this year. There is so much talent out there in the progressive music scene right now it’s ridiculous. It’s just not getting the kind of mass attention it really deserves. We are constantly discovering new music that excites and inspires us.” http://themercurytree.bandcamp.com/