16th February 2015 - Lonely Voyage Records
05. V: Metamorphosis I
06. VI: Metamorphosis II
For the number of members in instrumental bands, the general rule is ‘the more the merrier’, however Brighton outfit Polymath have stuck with the bare minimum of three – supplemented, no doubt, by a bewildering array of effects pedals, their new EP shows that the trio can kick out a sound as dense and rich as a quintet or sextet.
If there was an award for Most Appropriately Named Band, then Polymath would also be very strong contenders for the title. Their twisting, jagged tracks carry all the hallmarks of the cream of the math-rock crop. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their approach to time signature – beats dropped in one bar pop up in another, whilst pregnant pauses and off-kilter stabs are sprinkled liberally through the 22-minute run-time.
In terms of touchstones, perhaps the most concise comparison for Reptiles would be Battles meets Dub Trio. Polymath take the quirkiness of the former and somehow weave it into the loose, bass-led grooves of the latter’s less reggae-oriented moments. It’s an intoxicating brew.
This recipe is particularly apparent on the first track proper of the EP, “Babel“. After slightly wrong-footing the uninitiated following the brief introductory title track from which it segues, it launches into a towering riff peppered with just the right proportion of tics and jerks that keep the track interesting without sacrificing its groove or forward momentum, setting a standard that Polymath maintain throughout Reptiles.
As one might expect, the musicianship is exemplary, but all three Polymathians contribute equally, with no obviously dominatant party. What’s more, this quality is more characterised by a deft lightness of touch than anything brash or showy. This is the sound of three musicians operating as a single unit, and the result is a sound far more powerful than the sum of its parts.
Perhaps due to the relative brevity of the release, or maybe the simple fact that there’s just the right amount of colour and dynamic to the tracks – like the sudden drop in tempo during “V: Metamorphosis I” – the absence of vocals hardly registers. Indeed, in Reptiles, Polymath have delivered a collection of instrumental songs, rather than purely intellectual exercises. This is no mean feat.
Whilst there is plenty in Reptiles to surprise and delight the hungry math- or tech-heads, Polymath’s balance should also give them a much broader spectrum of appeal as well. It’s a potent cocktail that will undoubtedly be utterly enthralling in its live performance, and speaks of a bright future ahead. Sometimes, it seems, less really is more.