There are times when life, work or love can incite a special kind of hunger, something savage and structured at the same time, a need for the mind to flail loose and expel energy and rage, while somehow maintaining control and following very precise patterns. I might just be trying to describe focus in fancy terms, but somehow I feel there’s more to the feeling than that – it’s a sort of narrow fury, a high-frequency meditative state, the mind in overdrive. If I’m not making any sense, just give this album a listen and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.
Polymath is an instrumental trio from Brighton, producing some of the most intricate and dynamic math-rock I’ve heard this side of the Mats/Morgan Band, thankfully without delving into the same delirious pattern insanity. Yes, their music is angular, fast and overwhelming, but it never strays from memorable grooves, it never forgets to “rock” in favor of the “math”. As their remarkable album cover suggests, their songs are rather accurate musical representations of Escher’s convoluted and confusing, but always human and humane graphics.
RELEASE DATE: 16 February 2015 LABEL: Lonely Voyage Records
“Reptiles” is their debut EP, but not their first release, having been preceded by a number of singles meant to raise interest and showcase their formidable proficiency both from a compositional and instrumental perspective. Unleashed in last year’s August, this EP is as close to a concept-album as I’ve ever heard a math-rock band come to – hence their very inspired label “prog-math”. Lacking a lyrical layer to tell the story, it’s more difficult to say what exactly makes it sound so much like a concept album – nevertheless, it is very obviously just that. The razor-sharp focus binding the songs together, the fantastic stylistic coherence of the riffing and production, not to mention the feeling that the entire EP is akin to a sonata or some other highly structured classical music form, in which themes are presented, experimented upon in dazzling variations and the reprised, eventually forming a sort of musical Moebius strip, all of these factors make it clear that this is an album on a mission, a musical blueprint of a singular and tremendously dense 4D object.
One gets the feeling, while listening to a The Mars Volta album for example, that the music is a medium for a unique story, or at least that the record is a gateway to a coherent narrative universe. I use the vague term “feeling” because Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics are anything but clear and concise, so the music has just as much heavy lifting to do as the words in this construction. Something similar is happening with Polymath, except that the story feels more like an equation, a complex formula describing an exotic object. Doing away with lyrics completely, they’ve reached a pristine space, in which rhythm rules supreme. The band seems completely possessed by rhythmic patterns, engaging in a furious celebration of counting. This joy of shifting sequences comes across most clearly in a small but ravishing moment, in which the band seem to drop their instruments for a two-second clapping session, as though they don’t have enough limbs to tap different rhythms with, as though the primitive act of stomping and slapping your chest will not be denied, regardless of how much virtuosity may be attained with musical instruments.
This music is primal humanity bursting through the technological carapace, an ethereal embodiment of the thrill of jumping over a fire, even if the fire has long since become a sophisticated hologram. It is this contrast between bandwidth and brutality that truly makes the music stand out. I would even go so far as to speculate that the EP title is a very veiled reference to this – we might live in an augmented reality, we may transfer more and more of ourselves into silicate shells, but at the base of everything, there’s a reptilian brain firing signals, a forked tongue flicking in and out of our increasingly fictional world and connecting us to a basic, abrasive, concrete reality.
If there’s anything negative about this album, it’s that the influence exerted by The Mars Volta is perhaps a little too obvious. Not so much in the composition, although nods to Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s distinctive disharmonic aesthetic are definitely abundant, but rather in the sonic textures, in the effects used, in the overall color palate of the record. However, there is more than enough personal fire to counterbalance this influence, and it is after all a debut EP, so there’s plenty of time to grow in future releases. Until then, I’m not even sure if it’s appropriate to highlight this perceived flaw, as I was and am a huge fan of The Mars Volta, and since their glory days have long since passed, it’s actually a lot of fun to hear a band perform similar sonic acrobatics and explore similar, although more jagged, territories.
The production of the record is simply excellent – every note highlighted and balanced, every texture made vibrant, hitting that sweet spot between organic and sophisticated, never sloppy but never overproduced. The fact that the tracks blend into each-other is another plus, as the record truly feels like a journey, like a single breath taken, held and exhaled, making it next to impossible for me to single out a track as “more” or “less” impactful than the others in any way. The record flows from one fantastic spiral to the next seamlessly and with great gusto, which is as much a composition achievement as it is a feat of proper production.
By all means, immerse yourselves in Polymath’s rhythmic onslaught! For me, it’s one of the most refreshing and engaging albums I’ve heard so far in 2015.