The Mercury Tree – Countenance

The Mercury Tree - Countenance

The Mercury Tree are a progressive rock band hailing from Portland in Oregon. It started in 2004 as a solo project of Ben Spees (vocals, guitars, keyboards), but soon expanded to a full band when Alan Johnson (bass) and Connor Reilly (drums) joined forces in 2010. Shortly after the release of the act’s first effort in 2011, Alan Johnson was replaced by Aaron Clark and the band released their second album in 2012. Now for Coutenance, their third release, the line-up remains the same as on the previous record, yet newly hired Olivier Campbell now shares the bass with Aaron Clark. On this new effort, the band shows a strong penchant for melodies and grooves.

Often regarded as an experimental band, one can see The Mercury Tree more as a versatile act, that can unexpectedly turn enthusiastic and serene ambiances bearing cheerful vocals to alarmed atmospheres supported by tormented voices (Otoliths is the song that illustrates the best this contrast).

The appetite of the band for dizzying rhythms is obvious in the latine dance-oriented opening track, Pitchless Tone, and in the groovy To Serve Man. And what’s better than jazz-rock as a playground to highlight their rhythmical obsessions. The two electric piano-driven instrumentals are indeed pushing the band in this direction. First comes Math Jazzy with its mesmerizing guitars, then Jazz Hands of Doom with its hallucinated keyboards. Both tracks retain a strong flavour of the burgeoning jazz-fusion of the seventies.

The ethereal ethnic folk of The Ellsberg Cycle with beatlesque vocal harmonies shows yet another facette of the band. Together with the balad that follows, False Meaning, which could have been written and performed by Ty Tabor of King’s X, it marks a welcome pause in the flow of giddying rhythm patterns.

Some swirling and scintillating sounds, akin to the ones offered by musical boxes or lullabies, provide an enchanting side to the whole. I mentioned above the electric piano on the jazz-rock tunes, but keyboards and glockenspiel in general, as well as touch guitars, are in this league, and participate further in the versatility of the band, where touching and enchanting elements interlock with the frantic chops of drums and agressive guitars.

Mixing cleverly enchanting and frantic elements, cheerful and tortured vocals, The Mercury Tree is the epitome of the versatile band. Besides, with a strong emphasis on melodies and astonishing rhythms (something that a band like Simple Minds was able to deliver on their amazing Sparkle in the Rain), as well as excursions in the realms of jazz-rock, pop and folk, they are not just another progressive rock band. Let’s hope that they will develop further these features in the future. For now, it’s a very promising band that deserves a lot of attention.


01. Pitchless Tone (5:27)
02. Vestigial (5:30)
03. Otoliths (10:55)
04. Mazz Jathy (6:47)
05. To Serve Man (5:28)
06. The Ellsberg Cycle (5:12)
07. False Meaning (4:29)
08. Artifracture (4:05)
09. Jazz Hands of Doom (6:04)
10. Rappel (3:26)


* Ben Spees – guitar, keyboard, vocals
* Connor Reilly – drums
* Oliver Campbell – bass (1, 2, 6, 8, 10), vocals
* Aaron Clark – fretless bass (3, 4, 5, 7, 9), vocals


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