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The Mercury Tree — Self Similar
(Bandcamp no#, 2023, CD / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-11-02

Self Similar Cover art

Self Similar sees The Mercury Tree further refining their craft, exploring the application of microtonal scales to rock music. They’ve been working in this area for several years now, and the experience is producing more coherent and enjoyable results than ever. One way of looking at it is that when you have 17 (or 34 or 68) notes per octave to choose from, there are just a lot more choices to be made when writing and arranging a song, and the more you do it the more you’ll learn which choices work and which are less successful. Of all the microtonal albums I’ve heard, this is one of the most appealing — it’s impossible to eliminate the factor of my own growing familiarity as a listener, but these nine tracks all work really well. Some of my favorite moments are when crazy guitar arpeggios are built on top of high-energy riffs, like on “Similar Self” and “Dreamwalking.” The unconventional intervals lead to fascinating tonalities, keeping the ears continually off balance, metaphorically. For those unfamiliar with The Mercury Tree, they bring together aspects of modern heavy progressive rock (along the lines of Porcupine Tree), math-rock, and post-rock with a strong sense of melodic songwriting. Ben Spees is responsible for lead vocals, guitars of various kinds, and keyboards; Connor Reilly plays drums, both acoustic and electronic; and Oliver Campell handles bass and secondary vocals. This time out, Damon Waitkus of Jack o’ the Clock contributes a variety of acoustic instruments on two tracks, Nick Prol sings on one, and another track features Gabriel Riccio (vocals), Tom Shad (piccolo bass), and Deja Indigo Yerger (guitar). Superb musicianship is one of the band’s calling cards, and all of the tracks are super tight and pack a huge punch through the layers of complexity. Spees’ melodic singing holds the band down to earth, providing a relatable hook for listeners to latch onto in the midst of the dense arrangements. It’s so refreshing to hear a band really reaching for something new and nailing it so firmly. Microtonal rock music may never make inroads in the mainstream, but albums like Self Similar show that there’s room in the rock world for more than twelve tones.

Filed under: New releases, 2023 releases

Related artist(s): The Mercury Tree, Nick Prol / Proletarians

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