Since the release of their debut record Horizons/Rapture in 2013, The Physics House Band have been spoken of in hushed reverence amongst connoisseurs of psychedelic, experimental math-rock. One of a deluge of bands that have benefitted enormously from the exposure granted to them by the UK’s premier celebration of avant-garde riffgasm-wizardry ArcTanGent Festival, The Physics House Band have amassed a dedicated, loyal army of followers committed to mastering the art of dancing to an 11/8 groove. That they’ve achieved such adoration with a mere 1,462 seconds of original music to their name is testament to the quality of their output thus far, and after 4 years, the unhurried trio are back with their second record Mercury Fountain. Released through Small Pond Records on 21st April, the record is available to stream in full three days before its official release below.
Guitarist Samuel Organ, bassist Adam Hutchison and drummer Dave Morgan met whist studying music in Brighton. The trio were initially jamming as part of a five-piece (with a vocalist and an additional guitarist) but it soon became clear that the quintet’s musical sensibilities were at odds with one another. ‘The three of us were listening to some very experimental stuff at the time and wanted to explore that route,’ explains Organ. ‘The purpose was to have no boundaries, to be able to fully explore creativity and have a project that can facilitate that and push it to its limits.’
Mercury Fountain fulfils the brief the trio set upon in their early days exquisitely; a cataclysmic, cyclical odyssey that spirals in and out of kaleidoscopic pockets, serene ambience and frenetic, apoplectic wig-outs, all in the space of half an hour. There’s a very free-form nature to the music that The Physics House Band create, with the bulk of material being written and arranged on the fly in the studio. Considering there’s no master plan, it’s astonishing that the band managed to make the music on Mercury Fountain sound like one long cohesive piece. ‘I struggle to listen to a full instrumental album that’s broken up into 12 separate tracks,’ says Organ. ‘I think it’s easy to get a bit lost, I often struggle to find a narrative through-line. But if you have a longer arrangement that's split up into different sections which all come together, it can achieve its own narrative rather than trying to fill that that space with a vocalist.’
There is a narrative thread that underpins the record however, a spaced-out hallucinogenic journey that encompasses parallel universes, the astral plane and an allegory of emerging from the titular Mercury Fountain only to dive straight back in again (if you play the record on repeat, it loops back on itself seamlessly). Organ and Morgan confess that the majority of these ideas emerged from the mind of the absent Hutchison, mainly as a means to form some sort of cohesion from the madness.
‘Adam definitely has stronger ideas about a narrative through-line than we do’ says Organ. ‘It’s something he came up with around the mid-point of recording, almost as a way to affirm the arrangement in his mind. We never work out those sorts of things in advance; I think writing to a brief would be too limiting because we’d have something to achieve then. If we’re going into a studio with the aim of making weird sounds, that’s a goal we can attain instantly by just plugging in a guitar.’
Despite the length of time between Horizons/Rapture and Mercury Fountain, the songs on both began to form rapidly. Some of the band’s best-loved early material was hastily written to accommodate various spots on bills in and around Brighton. ‘We had an impromptu gig that got booked and we literally had to write songs on the spot there and then’ says Morgan. ‘Titan came out of one of those frantic writing sessions, it was done and dusted pretty quickly, maybe in an hour or two.’
‘That song sounds completely different to anything else on that record’ Organ picks up. ‘If you put it side by side with a song like Abraxical Solapse, it sounds like two completely different bands and that diversity has dictated how we've moved forward. We’ll have a three minute ambient track one moment and then go into something that sounds like some young guys who listen to The Dillinger Escape Plan. The goal moving forward very much is to release whatever we want.’
Seemingly, the first rule of The Physics House Band is there are no rules. This attitude extends to composition and how the songs are malleable, constantly being rearranged and revised for the live environment. ‘We're quite restless as musicians,’ says Morgan ‘Once we get used to something, we want to change it. The songs aren’t necessarily going to stay the same way that you hear them on record.’
Despite the band’s outlandish idiosyncrasies, they’ve garnered praise from a vast array of places, including an unlikely endorsement from critically acclaimed comedian Stewart Lee. Writing a review of Horizons/Rapture for The Sunday Times, he wrote of the band, ‘this youthful Brighton trio’s debut offers ugly-beautiful instrumental progressive rock that aging King Crimson fans think no-one can play anymore.’
‘It’s a cool review’ Organ says ‘it’s constructive and it was a really good read. It says something along the lines of we exist in our own realm and pay no attention to anything else that is going on, which is a fine compliment from where I’m sitting. It was very short, only a couple of paragraphs but it has always stuck with me. It's nice to have patronage from someone who I feel does whatever he wants to do when approaching comedy and writing. I feel like that's what we want to do musically, so to have someone who gets that and reflects that is perfect really.’
Mercury Fountain undoubtedly takes the formula laid down on Horizons/Rapture and cranks everything up to achieve interstellar levels of virtuosity. It’s a well-worn music cliché that a band’s second opus will attempt to take bigger, brasher and bolder steps than their first, but often so many fall short. But where others have faltered, The Physics House Band have excelled.
‘I think we want to achieve a step up in every record we make going forward,’ says Organ. ‘We want people to put on the latest Physics House Band on and say, ‘What the f**k is going to happen on this record?’ It’s important we continue to experiment with different instrumentations and broaden the dynamic range further with each release. I think it’s important to push those boundaries every time we do a new record. Who knows what we’ll do next; we often say that maybe 5 years down the line, there'll be 12 members of the band. We don’t want to put any limitations on ourselves.’
Mercury Fountain is released on 21st April via Small Pond Recordings and is available to pre-order now. The band begin a UK tour in support of the record in Darwen on 7th May.
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- The Physics House Band
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- Mercury Fountain
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- The Dillinger Escape Plan
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