Seattle-based, groove-focused eight-piece band, Polyrhythmics, have a trick. And they learned it from the famed Nigerian musician and activist, Fela Kuti. The musical mysticism begins with the bass line. It’s deep, hefty and continuous. Like the pocket watch on the end of a chain, it sways. Soothing synths, nimble guitars and pulsing percussion enter the picture. When you’re mesmerized, that’s when the horns drop. The spell has been cast. The music leads you like a cartoon finger around the corner. For Polyrhythmics, it’s all about the trance. And these techniques are on full display on the band’s new record, Man from the Future, out today.
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Polyrhythmics, which will also celebrate the release of the new 8-song record tonight via a live stream at 7 PM on their social channels, is a captivating group on stage. The full band fills the room with an impending mood. Something is always just about to happen. And this vibe is supremely evident on the group’s new LP. Like the methods the band gleaned from Fela Kuti, hypnosis and surprise make up the sonic foundation for Polyrhythmics’ songs.
“The idea has always been to take the groove and make it the focal point,” says the band’s front man and lead guitarist, Ben Bloom. “Fela would do these single bass lines for, like, 20 minutes and get the audience real tranced out. Then he would start talking, singing his messages and bringing you in to tell you the story. He would put you in a trance to deliver the ideas to you.”
But Polyrhythmics is different from Fela Kuti in at least one major way: the band has no vocalist. Polyrhythmics, despite the many members, is an all-instrumental group. So, Bloom says, the messages the band offers are simply its melodies. Their spell, therefore, is bereft of politics or spoken philosophies. Instead, the music is meant to accompany the listeners, as if the soundtrack to their lives, like one’s own personal Pink Panther theme song (see: the band’s latest single, “Chelada”).
“We didn’t want to write a song about a boy and a girl, for example,” Bloom says. “Instead, we wanted to say, ‘Here’s a song, make it what you want to make it.’ We felt that would be the most powerful.”
Over the past five years, Polyrhythmics has been an in-demand touring band. The group has played to large audiences, performed at Phish after shows and stayed on the road for more dates than the members could likely remember. But staying this busy means there is little time to sit still and record. Bloom says the band would come up with pieces of songs, interesting jams and grooves during sound checks and in other spare moments. But it wasn’t until the group made a concerted effort to record that Man from the Future began to come together.
The group rented a place outside Seattle in the woods and got to work. All eight members contributed to the writing, arranging and performing sides of the record. It was a true “democratic” collaborative effort for Polyrhythmics, which includes three horn players, guitar, bass, drums, percussion and keys. It’s a group that Bloom helped assemble over a decade ago in the Emerald City with Polyrhythmics drummer, Grant Schroff.
Bloom, who began playing guitar at nine-years-old, attended college in Boston. In high school, he’d played music with friends as much as possible, both in the school jazz band and in a quartet outside the classroom walls. In college, he continued. No matter what anyone told him, music, he knew, would be his life’s work. Later, Bloom moved to Seattle. The city was known for grunge music but he’d met some funk and fusion players from Seattle on the east coast and the Northwest intrigued him. He honed his skills with bands in local clubs, eventually forming Polyrhythmics with Schroff in 2009.
“Our only goal was to make a record,” Bloom says. “We wanted to make 45’s.”
Eleven years later, releasing Man from the Future during a global pandemic is a challenge, Bloom says, especially for a band that has come to be known for a mesmerizing live set. But, Bloom notes, because the original goal of Polyrhythmics was to produce albums, to be more of a soundtrack than a live show, the band is poised to continue conjuring up songs. The members want to be ready to record once the pandemic has passed and social distancing is over.
“I’m proud of our new album,” Bloom says. “But I wish we could go on tour for a year with these songs and then record a live record and see where were at, see how the songs have changed. We’re mourning those losses but, at the same time, we know we will continue to make more music. That’s our focus.”
MAN FROM THE FUTURE
Arrives on May 8th from Color Red