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The Mercury Program

The Mercury Program creates dark and hypnotic songs that are by turns angular, droney, and jazzy. Starting with a fairly conventional rock setup, the quartet makes aurally pleasing mostly instrumental music with a strong jazz cast. Much of the time, the Program sounds more influenced by Sergio Mendes and Herbie Hancock than, say, Sonic Youth. That is, except for brief interludes when big rock guitars kick in. For the most part, the Program is distinguished by their pleasant, shimmering atmospheres of vibes, electric piano, light, exotic percussion, and gently bubbling bass.

The Gainesville, Florida outfit started out in 1997 as a trio with Dave Lebleu behind the kit, Sander Travisano on bass, and Tom Reno playing guitar and singing when needed. The band released its debut full-length, on Boxcar Records in 1999, before adding Whit Travisano to play vibes and piano. Soon after, in early 2000, they recorded their sophomore album, From the Vapor of Gasoline, with Andy Baker (Macha/The Causey Way), which yielded the beautiful "The Sea Is Here." The song's rhythmic opening gives way to delicate guitar work and muted vocals which occasionally rise from the swells of guitar and bass. Through it all, the cymbals shimmer insistently, adding a sense of roiling urgency and uncertainty, like a clouded sea after a violent storm.

The busy band issued another release, this one a five-song EP called All the Suits Began to Fall Off (2001), on which they continue to develop their ephemeral vibe-happy atmospherics. The title of the album's first song "The Secret to Quiet," momentarily seems like an unintentional comment on itself (i.e. "The Recipe for Sleep"), as it opens with a light guitar riff and gentle bells that sound like wind chimes lulling you toward dreamland, but then the guitar bursts into driving, complex mathy riffs not unlike some early June of 44. Later it's joined by a velvety cello part. The song showcases The Mercury Program's mercurial songwriting approach (if you'll excuse the pun), which exquisitely balances jazz, rock, and ambient influences into a moody, dynamic instrumental sound. With 2002's A Data Learn The Language, the quartet continued with this delicate and jazzy instrumentation, recalling Macha and Tortoise's older albums.