A few months ago I had woken up on a Saturday or Sunday having had maybe one or two too many beers... I've been good lately, but occasionally there are weekend nights like that, those are hard to avoid when you're hanging out with a friend in the metaverse who lives on the other side of the world. It doesn't help if you both are capable of drinking several beers without losing the ability to carry on a conversation, and then the evening just takes you away. Being engaged in conversation and talking about things you enjoy--we each have similar favorites when it comes to music. Our tastes are very much the same in a lot of regards, so we like to share music with one another. A few songs here and there, and then another beer, some more songs or different bands come up in conversation, etc.
One of the things that I have always enjoyed is sharing music with friends. Obviously the internet has changed the landscape, so music that wouldn't have otherwise been commercially viable from the mid-to-early 2000s and before have a new way of finding it's audience, and for word of mouth to travel. I thought for sure the YouTube algorithm had got me.
When I woke up after our long evening of several beers and musical circulation, I casually drifted through my video feed in a hungover state trying to find some sort of solace and decided to click on a video with Herman Li from Dragonforce, he was doing a reaction video to Polyphia's "Playing God."
Probably a week later, after having listened to all of Polyphia's albums--at that time, this was before Remember That You Will Die had dropped--I jumped in our Discord and messaged my friend. His response was classic, and funny:
"Jesus dood, how drunk were you? Yes, of course I like them, I was the one who turned you on to their music!"
He proceeded to shoot a few links into the chat; that's when it all came flooding back to me. Holy shit! He's right. I do remember these songs. To my friend's credit (as well as my own), he had been sharing Tim Henson's videos from the band's official YouTube, which, in promotion of the new album coming out were basically acoustic versions of their new material. I imagine they were specifically meant to market the coming of the new album, and to showcase the artistry of their new songs. Genius too, the acoustic versions allow the listener to fully appreciate the technical prowess in advance of hearing the produced album. I think this was done intentionally for a number of reasons, but it hadn't occurred to me that the two were the same until I made the the connection that they were the same song even; the acoustic performances that my friend had shared with me, and the music video versions of the song that YouTube was trying to feed me.
In preparation of sitting down to write this post, I was thinking that I would definitely need to get myself ready and listen the two most recent albums back to back, but then my friend messaged me and asked me what my top three favorite songs on the new album were... When I take a look at my Spotify year-in-review for 2023, I wonder if Remember That You Will Die will be there. I think it will, but that really depends on what other great albums drop next year. Right now, this is a phenomenal album. I'm not listening to them on rotation as much as the new Elder album (with the exception of tonight), but I knew for a fact that I was going sit and listen to them--preferably with a couple of beers--to be able to write down my thoughts about the new album. So let's get down to it.
The technically-proficient music is definitely very well represented on this album, there are also fairly large pop and jazz components as well.
The first song is called "Geneisis." Definitely the genesis of a newer sound. It's almost as if the Polyphia guys are here to let you know that this is more than another great album to listen to, but that they are trying to contribute something to the landscape of popular music. It's a level of understanding of music composition which considers modern pop and hip-hop methodology--and even a level of understanding about distribution and sales--the business side of things--in the modern landscape of the music industry. How musicians and performers get paid these days is not through a traditional record deal. They're still somewhat beholden to a beast (and there are still middlemen out there), but now it's about brokering a deal with Amazon, Spotify, Apple, or YouTube to promote your music if that' the road you want to go down. There are a bunch of alternatives and people are finding new music in a variety of ways. My own personal connection to their music was via word of mouth, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I would have been immune to finding their music eventually. It's not all about MTV or radio play any more, but the digital analogs of those forms of promotion have changed considerably. Personally, I'm a big fan of Band Camp, but that's besides the point and outside the scope of my analysis of this album.
The second track on the album is the single that I was first exposed to as an acoustic version. "Playing God" is a bit like their last release, New Levels New Devils, but way more classically inspired. It still has that hard drum and bass going on as well. I think Herman was right, the message of the song is that they've gotten to a point where they can be a bit softer and more refined with their style, but still have that heavy backbone. The use of acoustic-electric guitars was brilliant. I've always loved the the sound of those particular guitars. I think Incubus may have been the first band that I listened to who used them in a way that I really liked, and Polyphia does that here.
Fairly quickly we move into "The Audacity." Again, this jazz over EDM-inspired beats, a lot of runs and scruzzy bass riffs. Don't worry, your eyes are not deceiving you, scruzzy isn't a real word, it's a word that I'm making up... And if someone else has used it before, I wouldn't know what it means to them. In this context it refers to the way the bass strings metallic vibrating guttural tonal quality to them. To me, the term scruzzy adequately describes that sound, but you might disagree, I'm open to comments where you give me your best term to describe that.
The fourth track is "Reverie" and it does a good job as both a stand-alone track and a bridge for the first ear candy of the tracks. Durring the last few bars it lulls you into a sense of slowing down.
Vocals are rare for Polyphia seeing as they done have a seing, so "ABC" almost comes as a bit of a shock. Sophia Black does have a good voice--the song is still distinctly Polyphia--but it is also an interesting blend of some K and J-Pop elements with their distinctive grooves. I'm not mad at the track. I love pop female vocalists. It would be nice to hear other stuff that Sophia Black does. More than anything the song is just kind of catchy, it utilizes the pop formula to a great deal of success I would say. The fact that it has "La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo" in the lyrics is a win.
"Memento Mori" and "Fuck Around and Find Out" are basically two songs that are the sensible variations on the pop format and formula expressed with a male singer and/or a rapper. The former starts off sounding as if it's going to be really memorable, but the way the lyrics and vocalization end the song don't really do it for me. I'm not sure sure what I would have different from a production standpoint though. Honestly I could have done have without the vocals, there's a way to make the song sound interesting without the lyrics. I think because there isn't anything really of substance to go along with the heavy connotations behind the phrase momento mori, it falls a bit flat. Killstation doesn't really have much to say that I really care about. They lack heart and a connection to the music, which sucks because I do like the way his voice sounds. The later is sort of in the same category, I like the idea behind the concept, and it's executed well, but I just don't connect with the lyrics. A different style of MC would appeal to me more when paired with Polyphia's music. I think someone like Black Thought would be absolutely killer on top of a Polyphia track, but $NOT doesn't land with me personally. Not that the way he's rapping is bad necessarily, his lyrical delivery on top of the beats sounds good, but what it is that he has to say just doesn't resonate with me.
Eighth track on the album is a short interlude that doesn't get enough time to breath, it's a track called "All Falls Apart." If this were a progressive rock album, that track would have lead into a thirteen minute epic journey, but since we're listening to Gen Z Grooves... Gengz? I like that term--then we're almost immediately dumped into a track called "Neurotica" which is most definitely the next song.
(As a small aside, my niece is hilarious. I remember driving her home one night, and just as I was about to drop her off, the realization that we were still listening to the same TOOL song kicked in and she just couldn't comprehend it.)
I've seen clips of Polyphia shows where the kids are singing along to the guitar sounds that Tim Henson is putting out. It's fucking incredible, because that's what I do in my own head. "Neurotica" is an homage to their early albums. It's just a song to let everyone know, hey, you might not have liked the last two or three songs, but we're still here for you. But hold the fuck on because we're not quite done yet. It's the jam that I want, it's just not the jam I expected to come out of "All Falls Apart."
"Chimera" is exactly that. It's fucking flemenco heavy metal! Finally Herman Li's influence is starting to show through and they decide to take it in an entirely different direction. I do really like it. It's the reason that Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Band were popular in the 60s and 70s. Latin flare mixed with the unexpected. The second half lurches into another rap-hybrid flavor track. I don't mind it. But it isn't something that really appeals to me personally. Do I appreciate it for what it is, absolutely, I really want them to do more hip-hop inspired tracks, or songs that are written specifically so that someone can rap over them. But I just don't connect with the style of the rapping or the lyrics. Honestly, I could be too old. OR, I'm just not high enough. It's possible that being really stoned makes the second half of the song sound absolutely amazing. 😉
They do not disappoint with the next track though. I kind of spoiled it for myself when I was skimming to the track listing before actually listening to the album. I had to convince myself that I didn't actually see that it said Chino Moreno was on the song. GTFO of here! Seriously?!? Polyphia really fucking delivers on this one. Chino is a great vocalist to have on your music anyway, that's the way that he writes his lyrics. They're written to the music first, and there don't have to fit to a specific theme or motif, he let's the song wander a bit and fits his lyrics to the way he feels. If they got Maynard James Keenan on the next album--and if the song was actually good--I don't know what I would do... This was kind of a shocker, I didn't expect Polyphia to even consider working with someone like Chino so they instantly gained my respect with this song, and seeing Chino's name in the credits may or may not have gotten me through the prior ten tracks... Look at it this way; if the album had been complete garbage (which it obviously isn't) Chino would have gotten me through. Thankfully that's not the case and this song is just a cherry on top of the desert for us old fogies.
I suppose they saved the best for last, because "Ego Death" features Steve Vai. If you're into pure rock guitar, Steve Vai is a name that you know. Tim Henson gives Vai the credit that he deserves for paving the way for musicians like Polyphia. Even when Steve Vai was contemporary music, instrumentally driven music wasn't looked as as a mainstream style that would sell enough records to satisfy the producers and publishers. Vai is obviously well revered in the music community, but not necessarily a house-hold name for some people.
Alright. After a 6 pack, top 3 tracks from the new Polyphia album, in order: 1) Bloodbath, 2) Chimera , 3) Playing God. I stand behind those picks and I'm almost done with my review of the entire album. That's all the new post for my blog is going to be. Still pretty long-winded though... All Falls Apart needs to be fucking longer though. That's a jam waiting to happen and they just fucking abandon it in the middle of the album.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my review of Polyphia's new album. I'll continue to blog about music, but it might be a few entries in between music updates. That is, unless you tell me otherwise. Whoever happens to be reading this, I would love to hear your opinion, otherwise I'll just continue writing random content for my own amusement.
My next entry might have something to do with coding or web/frontend development. A fellow classmate of mine and I are going to try and crank out a game over winter break (the next two weeks). I want to use TIC-80 because I think it'll be a good way to limit our scope and be able to get a lot done in only two weeks. We'll see... If nothing else I'll probably start refining some of my projects from class and sharing those as a way to revisit the code and exercises that we've done already, remembering the steps to get there. I think It'll probably be fruitful.