Bands like Alt-J and Imagine Dragons have brought experimental foundations into the mainstream. Now Oliver Nickell’s project Tree tweaks the path further, using a skewed mix of rap and singing while clouding the palate with glowing production. At 20 years old, Nickell displays an impressive set of chops, whether he’s experimenting through DJ programs or reinterpreting philosophy on his debut EP, Demons.
A key element to these instant pleasures is Nickell’s youth, which manifests in his snarling and antagonistic tones combined with mature lyrical themes. “Demons” travels into a reality that is clouded with the evils of his past lives. This frightening realization is multiplied by obscure vocal harmonies and modulated percussion. As chimes like a ticking clock creep in behind his vocals, both his patience and sanity are tested.
Things begin to blur as Tree dives into “Rabbit Hole”, a trip-hop fantasy that borrows from the likes of Baths and Tricky. Similar to “Demons”, Nickell ascends multiple layers of flourishing instrumentation without being overbearing. Even when he delves into more minimal jaunts, he stays innovative by combining these simple paths into a wealth of exploration as the track progresses.
While Tree shows professional maturity, his juvenile tendencies are still evident. His closing cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” drags with senseless oversinging and remixes its structure in a messy fashion. Even here, though, he struts over lyrics like, “Must I remind you that the minuscule amounts of energy found in a fraction can lead to quite a powerful, counting reaction,” and his lively production saves it from being entirely skippable. The cover is a safe move for a debut EP, but it fails to impress.
The sequel to Demons could be great if Tree continues the ambition of his more experimental moods sans awkward covers. As Tree confesses that “sometimes it’s easier pretending to be someone that you’re not” on “Demons”, his doubts are what hold him back.
Essential Tracks: “Rabbit Hole”, “Demons”