Combining the vision and scope of prog rock with the urgency and energy of math, Poly-Math are set to release their debut mini-album, Melencolia, via Superstar Destroyer on the 8th of April and The Independent are exclusively streaming it a week before release. Pushing the progressive elements of their sound into even more unusual territory than their 2015 EP Reptiles, Melencolia represents a cosmic leap forward for the dynamic, demented trio.
Poly-Math formed in Spring 2013 as a side-project and outlet for Tim Laulik-Walters to play guitar. He’d been playing drums for the ambient post-rock outfit Monsters Build Mean Robots, but when that band’s vocalist went travelling for an indefinite period, Tim seized the opportunity to let loose on a more chaotic enterprise. ‘The initial idea was for this to be something with no boundaries. In our previous bands, we’d always written to certain briefs. With Poly-Math, we went with whatever idea splurged out.’
Together with Chris Woollison on drums and Joe Branton on bass, the sound that splurged out channeled a frantic Santana furiously noodling through a psychedelic wormhole. Naturally, the reaction was rabid. Just six months after they formed, Poly-Math were asked to play the inaugural ArcTanGent festival, a hallowed mecca for those who like their music to go from A to B via routes X, Y and Z. It was only their fourth show. ‘We were the first band on the first full day of the festival, so we thought it would be your classic midday festival slot and nobody would be there’ says Chris. ‘Halfway through the first song the tent was full and there were crowds outside trying to get in.’
At this point, Poly-Math only had one song to their name, but despite the lack of familiar material, the ArcTanGent crowd lapped up their variable time signatures and off-kilter, glitchy guitars. The band credit the rise in popularity of math rock to the festival, even if they don’t see themselves fitting neatly into the genre. ‘Math seems to be the new term for anything that is experimental or complex,’ says Tim. ‘If we’d been around 30 years ago, we would have been lumped in with prog.’
Whatever genre they fit (or don’t fit) into, Poly-Math are certainly pleased that events such as ArcTanGent and Strangeforms in Leeds are bringing together lovers of the unusual and niche. ‘It's probably the most anti-popular music,’ says Joe. ‘I've often wondered if this sort of music is the next punk movement. Because punk rock is now so embroiled in pop, it's become accepted by the masses, and you think of what punk was in the 70’s, it was a reaction against everything else.’
New punk movement or not, Melencolia is certainly the product of a band doing whatever the hell they want. 3 songs running at 35 minutes and 40 seconds is not the usual route to winning the support of a music culture with its collective finger persistently jabbing the ‘skip’ button. But Poly-Math’s ambitions are far grander than the majority of progressive bands, who are, by and large, a pretty ambitious bunch. ‘We wanted to expand on what we did with Reptiles’ says Tim. ‘That EP was 20-odd minutes of in-your-face, relentless riffing. Melencolia is our first attempt at creating a bigger record and we wanted to have so many more peaks and troughs. It was the second time we worked with producer Lee McMahon (…And So I Watch You From Afar, Dry The River) and he was able to expand the range of sounds that we had to work with. If we had done something that was the same as Reptiles it would have put us in a box. We want to expand on different elements whilst at the same time have them all fit under the Poly-Math umbrella.’
The artwork and song titles for Reptiles were inspired by Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher, famous for his mathematically inspired lithographs and impossible drawings. Poly-Math have continued this theme, appropriating titles and artwork inspiration from another artist for Melencolia, this time courtesy of German renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer. ‘We look for artists whose work feels in line with the sorts of things we create’ says Joe ‘and then it’s about finding appropriate pieces of art for the sorts of ideas we have.’ In this case, the songs Melencolia I and Temptation of the Idler both borrow titles from engravings by Dürer. ‘We were looking for a progression from Escher, who’s quite an obvious choice for what we do. We wanted to find another artist that used maths in art. The clincher was the magic square (seen in the top right of the Melencolia I etching above). Every number adds up to 34 and we thought we could use that as part of the artwork.’
There is one track without a Dürer connection however. Joe explains, ‘The single Ekerot is named after the actor who plays Death in The Seventh Seal (the classic cult 1957 Swedish film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman). The writing of that song preceded the rest of Melencolia, so it felt like that one had to have a slightly separate title because it came before the Dürer connection. That one was more shoe-horned in.’
In addition to the 3 songs on Melencolia, there is a fourth song with a title borrowed from Dürer that the band have kept back, a 14-minute epic two-part odyssey called Knight, Death and the Devil. ‘It was actually all of the riffs we didn't use,’ says Joe, ‘There were 2 or 3 other songs that were never completed and it took us a few months to realise that we could probably just splice them all together. The main problem was we wrote it in two different tunings, so it's actually quite tricky to play live.’ Tim picks up, ‘It didn't really come out the way we’d hoped. All the other songs felt complete and this one just didn't. I quite like some of the ideas in it, it's moving into some different territory for us. The second half of it really feels like something we haven't done before. It's very atonal and disjointed in parts and I think that pushes us in a different direction. If you touch on something like that, it opens up more doors for the future.’ ‘We wrote it at least half a year after the Melencolia sessions and if it's a sign of things to come, then it's very proggy’ says Joe. ‘It's definitely the least palatable we've ever been.’
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But Poly-Math’s aspirations don’t end with attempts to push the boundaries of palatability as far as possible. Ideas the band are throwing around include a Spanish folk album, an ambient record as well as introducing an organ and two drum-kits into the mix. ‘It’s all about adding different textures and not staying stagnant,’ says Tim ‘and not having the same trip over and over again.’
Melencolia is released 8th April via Superstar Destroyer Records. Poly-Math play selected dates in the UK through-out the year.
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