Graded on a Curve:
Trees Speak,
PostHuman

Tucson, AZ’s Trees Speak draw from a deep pool of complementary styles. As their name suggests, the brothers Diaz, Damian, and Daniel Martin, share a psychedelic inclination. They also have a motorik groove thing happening, along with other Germanic sensibilities (e.g. kosmische). Bonding these aspects together is a cinematic aura, rich in vintage keyboards and synths, that recalls prime soundtrack action from the 1970s-’80s. There’s even a hint of non-toxic prog in the mix. And with one notable exception, PostHuman retains Trees Speak’s non-vocal orientation. It’s out now via Soul Jazz Records.

Although the assorted styles listed above are all worthwhile, they are also not difficult to locate in the grand musical scheme of things. In terms of quality, Trees Speak, on their fourth full-length (like the prior two, issued on vinyl with a bonus 45), persists in beating the odds. To elaborate, crummy psychedelia outnumbers the good stuff by a substantial margin. The same is true for outfits tapping into filmic vibes and/ or launching from Krautrock foundations.

PostHuman follows the release of Shadow Forms in late October of 2020 as OHMS hit stores in March of last year (Trees Speak’s self-titled 2LP debut came out in 2017 on the aptly named Cinedelic label). The recent burst of productivity is impressive and becomes borderline miraculous when considering the magnitude of assembly that shapes the brothers’ oeuvre.

To be frank, a lot of psychedelia is not especially disciplined. In the right situations, this can be part of its appeal. Additionally, bands exhibiting Krautrock tendencies (either motorik or kosmische or some combination thereof) are known for zeroing in on their zone and then locking into autopilot. And likewise, prolonged repetition can be a pleasant scenario, but PostHuman’s 16 selections (not including the 45) dish variety and impeccable flow.

Or better said, their specialty is interconnectedness, with the new record unwinding as a continual progression rather than as a standard collection of individual songs. It’s this quality that really validates the comparisons I’ve read to Pink Floyd, though I’ll emphasize that the similarity mainly derives from the heightened construction and through Trees Speak’s ability to deliver passages, and indeed, entire tracks that are highly memorable.

Prominent amongst the highlights is the aforementioned track with vocals, “Quantize Humanize,” though the voice, run through effects with a clear nod to the robotic, is retrofuturistic (Moroder did enter my mind) and a smidge atmospheric. Working in tandem is big rolling electric bass (the kind preferred by Leon Michels), crisp drumming, an infusion of mellotron (and something resembling a harpsichord), plus a proggy keyboard flourish in the back end.

“Quantize Humanize” is PostHuman’s penultimate cut (again, not counting the 45), segueing seamlessly into “Gläserner Mensch,” which establishes an almost “Careful With That Axe…”-like mounting tension complete with sustained orchestral textures and sci-fi injections, and then, instead of all hell breaking lose (as in Zabriskie Point), the progression plateaus and then gradually winds down.

But a whole lot transpires on the album before the combo punch of “Quantize Humanize” and “Gläserner Mensch.” Opener “Double Slit” offers vintage keyboard tones reminiscent of mid and low-budget ’80s action flicks, but it’s not until side two’s “Steckdose” that the feeling of popping a tape into a VHS player reaches its apex.

It could be ninjas. It might be cyborgs. It’s possibly even vigilante law enforcement. It definitely conjures up thoughts of a mustachioed John Carpenter clad in a tight black muscle shirt. But the track’s slower paced second half reinforces Trees Speak as being a few steps beyond mere imitation. And the No Wave underpinnings of “Double Slit,” which I’ll confess took me numerous listens to fully ascertain, push them toward the head of the class, as well.

The impact of Krautrock remains at the forefront. It’s heard in “Glass,” coupled with deep space ambience, acid guitar and even some mellotron teetering on the precipice of being backward masked, and also during the pulsing, chiming, synth splattered tension of “Scheinwelt.” Interestingly, “X Zeit” takes the Krautrock angle to the brink of the Neue Deutsche Welle (where it mingles with those lingering fumes of No Wave).

But Trees Speak branch out quite a bit across PostHuman.  Minus the throbbing guitar menace, “Incandescent Sun” could pass for an excerpt of prime ’70s experimental electronics, and by extension, “Amnesia Transmitter” sounds like a byproduct of an extremely hyperactive day at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. “Magic Transistor” hits the halfway point between electro-experimentation and kosmische. And the faux flutes at the beginning of the title track suggest a boat floating down a river in Greece holding a disheveled Dirk Bogarde as he slowly bleeds to death from a gunshot wound.

“Chamber Of Frequencies” and “Divided Light” are a study in jazzy contrasts, the later landing in modal mode enhanced with vibraphone, the former postulating a meeting of Dickie Landry, Steve Lacy and Terry Riley. But if all this background is shaping up as formidable, that’s not really an accurate representation.

Let me reemphasize the album’s flow and add that PostHuman’s longest track is a tidy 3:55. I’ll close by mentioning that during a few stretches, visions of a prog-Kraut-electronic-soundtrack obsessed (and vocal averse) Robert Schneider crossed my mind. But from start to finish, Trees Speak continue to thrive.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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