With the release of their second album Freeze in Phantom Form in 2012, Portland’s The Mercury Tree showed hints of a promising and new force in the modern progressive rock landscape. A fairly mellow affair, the record was nonetheless quite complex, as its intricate arrangements were complemented by surrealistic melodies and organic tones. Interestingly, its successor and the band’s newest offering “Countenance” comes as more ambitious and adventurous effort, resulting in a slightly more accessible yet inarguably more layered experience.
The Secret to The Mercury Tree’s success on Countenance is the way the band incorporates prophetic experimentations and various influences (Yes, Rush, Tool, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd) into standard genre templates. The result is among the freshest and most invigorating sounds in the genre in 2014. Thematically, The Mercury Tree are no strangers to psychological turmoil, and Countenance is not different, save for the fact that both its concepts and compositions are noticeably more spacey. Guitarist and lead singer Ben Spees describes it thus:
This album is stylistically all over the map, even to the extent of having two different bass players alternating over the tracks. There are some of the softest and jazziest songs we’ve done, and also some of the most aggressive. The epic-length “Otoliths” is a good example — that song is kind of a microcosm of the diversity of the album as a whole.
Interestingly, Countenance explores cosmologically vast and unknown with its production techniques just as much as its lyrics, making listeners feel these effects with or without words. In some way, this album is for music what Paul Thomas Anderson is for cinematography.
Countenance is a great entry in The Mercury Tree’s discography. It’s arguably their most elaborate and striving recording yet, and the emphasis on alternative rock, psychedelia and jazz experimentations makes it feel sufficiently different from its predecessors. Not only is it a fine addition to the band’s catalogue, but it’s also one of the best progressive and forward-thinking releases of 2014. Do yourself a favor and check it out.