Polyphonic Exophilia – Be Fine – EP Review
“…probably our most ambitious release so far.”
There are a couple things I really liked about reading that statement from Polyphonic Exophilia. First & foremost, it’s clear they did what they could on their end to push themselves creatively…you can infer that from the quote, and you can hear that in the music as well. Secondly – I like that it’s written from a sure-but-unsure standpoint…”probably” – I always say that we should at the very least FEEL like the best music we’ve made is the music we’ve currently just finished working on. Hopefully, if you’re doing things right – that IS the way you feel – you SHOULD be stoked about every single new release you put out there, and pretty much feel like it’s the best one you’ve ever recorded for us to hear. That being said, it’s only with the gift of hindsight that we ever know how it all shaped up in comparison to the rest of a catalog…the only way to know that is really with the passage of time & eventually looking back on it.
While many of you are undoubtedly familiar with the name of Polyphonic Exophilia here at our pages by now, or from being featured on the SBS Podcast, or from them winning our annual search for the Best New Sound at sleepingbagstudios last year & still being our reigning champions – you’re also quite likely familiar with the ever-morphing sound that the PPXP collective possesses as well. In the case of this Be Fine EP, they’ve gone in a much more decisively jazzy route for ya – and it’s a style they tend to flourish within. Ultimately, with the instrumentation found inside of this band, there’s always a jazz-like presence inside the music to be found somewhere, but it’s probably fair to say you’ll find it’s much more pronounced here on Be Fine than you’ve heard it typically in the past. They’ve enlisted Lil Kyo XR to do the co-writing with them, they’ve got the London-based Brazilian artist Emanuel Venancio working with them as well…they’ve added in the woodwinds, they’ve made the saxophone more of a star of the show too in this lineup – essentially, just as you’d likely expect, there’s a whole lot of awesome stuff goin’ on.
Because that’s how the PPXP crew rolls y’all. You know to expect the unexpected – but you also know there’s a supremely great chance of finding truly adventurous & exploratory music within what they do.
From the splash of keyboard piano & smooth saxophone vibes starting up the EP, you can feel that this particular lineup of songs plays like a genuine experience – and from the words you’ll hear at the start in the “Intro,” you can hear that it’s been designed like a unique show…like you’ve been invited to an evening on the town with Polyphonic Exophilia layin’ down music for the soundtrack to your night out. “Intro” doesn’t attempt to be too much in that regard, which is playing it smart in my opinion – it’s still strong enough to stand on its own as a quality cut, but at the same time, it really only does serve to introduce us to the instrumentation & vocals you’ll find on Be Fine without giving it all away. “Intro” has that kind of natural sound you can’t help but be enticed in by…it sounds like the start of something that you want to sit, listen, and devote your attention to, revealing the audible promise of more to follow.
Kicking into gear, “1201” slides you into the smooth jazz atmosphere, and gives it just enough of an R&B touch supplied by Lil Kyo XR to add a bit more crossover sound to it. All-in-all, this works really well – there’s not a whole lot more that could be done with it other than what you’ll hear in the sense that, if what you discover is ear-catching to ya, then right on – PPXP did what they came to do – and I’d imagine most people listening past the intro would be inclined to agree. As far as any hooks are concerned, that’s where things get a bit trickier for them…it’s tough to say that there are many to be found here in the typical sense of the definition…to me, the main hooks you’ll find stem from the song itself being an interesting one to listen to, with “1201” having a very artful approach & creatively inspired sound. Lil Kyo XR does well to navigate his way through that kind of an atmosphere, but it’s admittedly tough terrain to necessarily thrive within, you feel me? So you’ll find the vocals end up sounding more akin to an extra instrument or layer inside of the melody, more-so than anything you’d be able to readily sing along with – make sense? Ain’t nothing wrong with that – it’s just a matter of knowing what to expect and what you’re in-store for…the more you set your mind to thinking of a track like “1201” almost as an instrumental, the better shape your ears will be in to accept it overall. Together, they’re all collaborating on a high-level…I like the subtle blend of atmospheric sound into the music & everything in the mix sits perfectly. In those moments where Lil Kyo XR is absent, you can hear a few spots of what sounds like more questionable choices in the instrumentation from the sax & the bass at times…the vast majority is completely solid stuff, it’s just the occasional bizarre tone or short note that might seem a bit out of place in comparison to others along the way…but that’s kind of to be expected within the avant garde methods and anti-typical way that PPXP tends to create their music as well. Like I said, for the most part, “1201” comes out as a pretty smooth listening experience that no one will object to or protest coming through their speakers…it’s tougher to judge whether or not it gives the masses enough of a reason to return…but in general, that’s the harder part to assess in just about everyone’s music.
If you tuned into the last episode of the SBS Podcast, you’ll find the song “Try No More” played at the end of the show – and I think I’m pretty much ready to declare this as THE choice to have made, and quite likely one of my favorite cuts from the entire catalog of tunes that Polyphonic Exophilia has created to-date. Songs like “Try No More” have real blood in their veins – this is as ALIVE as music can truly get, and equally ambitious at the same time…the real blueprint on how to move their sound/style into the future going forward from here in many ways. With the absence of vocals here, the benefits to the music become more prevalent – ears easily understand what the hooks are & where they occur, and aren’t as susceptible to assuming it’ll be the vocals that’ll provide them, make sense? On “Try No More” you get that good-good instrumentation pouring out of your speakers without any competition for your attention – and in terms of the inventive & innovative way that PPXP tends to play, that can be a really damn amazing thing when it comes right down to it. That’s no knock against Lil Kyo XR when he’s on the songs he’s on – it’s simply a comment that speaks on behalf of how Polyphonic Exophilia is able to thrive as an instrumental band when they choose to go in that direction as well – there are clearly benefits to having music with & without vocals in what they create overall. To me, “Try No More” is as straight-up EXCITING as a song could ever be, displays brilliant uniqueness in the musicianship & the ideas, sounds entirely unpredictable for the first several spins through it, and then as you get more familiar with it, the more you’ll find you actually get out of it as well. It’s tracks like “Try No More” that’ll surprise you with just how much you begin to recognize and identify what you hear in the music & instrumentation, even without them using a single word along the way – and that dear readers, dear friends, is priceless, 100%. Probably a bit harder to argue that the saxophone doesn’t steal the show on this cut overall by a little, but make no mistake, there’s plenty of awesomeness happening in the guitars, bass, and drums to be found too. It’s adventurous, it’s spirited, it’s seriously inspired, and a tremendously satisfying listening experience from start to finish that’s stunningly memorable on the inside of the instrumental realm.
A track like “Take The World” might be where I’d advise a bit more caution…I can hear the potential in the idea here, but this could very well be interpreted as one of those moments where less could yield more. At its most full, “Take The World” is actually pretty overwhelming in terms of what it is that our ears are capable of taking in all at once – but to be fair to the ol’ PPXP, that’s not always the case inside of this song…there’s plenty of spots that have more space in it too, and those tend to be the moments that stand out & shine the most. When everyone’s playing at once, that’s genuinely what it feels like – like we stumbled into a room where everyone was jamming it out for a second & trying to find that spot where they fit into this tune…and when things start to drift out or get their own moment in the spotlight, that’s when the idea itself starts to come more towards the surface and we can absorb the real meat that’s on the bone here. “Take The World” is a short tune at just 2:18 – it’s almost surprising how much sound is actually packed into it, and it’s front-loaded in that regard…you’ll likely find the latter half to be more engaging to listen to, because there’s that much more of an opportunity for our ears to filter & absorb what we’re hearing. What I tend to like most about “Take The World” is the spirit in the sound itself…it’s an uplifting tune, it’s got bright energy to it, and ultimately, it’s the sound of a whole bunch of musicians feelin’ the groove and having some good ol’ creative FUN with the process of creating art for us to listen to. Probably a bit on the uneven side as an experience overall in terms of how the bulk of what we experience in the instrumentation is all packed tightly into its first half with the vocals as well…but in general, “Take The World” pumps out a lot of pleasing sound to be found, and I’d have to assume that its sunny & welcoming vibe is going to find a way to convince listening ears to dig it.
I felt like “Jazz Me Away” kind of confirmed what I was talking about with “Take The World” – there’s that much more space in “Jazz Me Away” that, even though there’s still a whole lot going on, we can process it all as listeners from start to finish. As far as Lil Kyo XR is concerned, I felt like this is my favorite performance from him in this set of songs, which draws a lot on the naturally endearing and sincere sound of his voice to lead the way through the melody. I don’t know if I’m ready to necessarily say that it’s entirely THE match made in heaven you’re gonna hear this year…I have times where I’ve spun through “Jazz Me Away” and still felt like it’s nearly two separate ideas happening in the music and vocals that just happen to conveniently link up together in a few spots…but by that same token, it’s not like I found any moment in this tune that wasn’t enticing or straight-up beautiful to listen to either. So even though it seems like the music & vocals aren’t necessarily always on the same page as opposed to like, kind of competing for the crown as the main feature on “Jazz Me Away,” you’re still essentially in good position to enjoy everything you’ll hear. Spots like around the thirty-eight second mark, and later on around 1:38 mark, bring out some of the very best of Lil Kyo XR’s vocals, and reveal the specialness in his sound that makes him such an extraordinary element to add to the music of PPXP. Let’s be real here – with so much uniqueness continually happening in their music from record to record, it’s never going to be an easy task for a featured guest to become that much more of a noticeable feature in the songs they create; it’s performances like you’ll hear from Lil Kyo XR on “Jazz Me Away” that prove it’s possible to stand out amongst such extraordinary creativity. All-in-all, I’d probably put this particular track right up there with some of the best from Polyphonic Exophilia overall, just a bit behind how much I enjoyed “Try No More” earlier on perhaps, but undoubtedly a quality cut on the Be Fine EP people will truly love.
With their title-track at the end, “Be Fine” comes out with a more curious sound than perhaps the usual confidence you find in Polyphonic Exophilia’s music as the dominant trait. They play this one with a bit more caution than you usually find, and for the most part, keep “Be Fine” relegated to a spacious design that wanders a bit more than some of these other tracks by comparison, but in a fairly concise way. As in, yeah, it sounds like it’s a bit more on the unsure side of their sound, which is to be somewhat expected when you’re heading into what’s considered their “most ambitious release so far” – but it’s not like it feels like “Be Fine” doesn’t have an idea, it’s just spread out that much further than most songs are. Love the sound they get out of the drums on this song and how subtle they still remain in the mix overall…powerful, bold, but yet, not too dominant that they take over everything else – really well played. The keys are great too…saxophone as well…guitars and bass have their moments here & there, and Lil Kyo XR also has some bright spots too…basically, it’s like the opposite effect of how “Take The World” came out earlier on. So rather than have everyone competing for the top spot, on “Be Fine” it almost seems like there’s no one really willing to step up and grab the reins to steer this track to the victory it probably should enjoy, as opposed to a less decisive direction seem to let this cut meander a bit more than it might have if someone took charge. So don’t get me wrong…chances are, no one’s really going to object to what they’re hearing on “Be Fine” – but it’s also kind of hard to conceive of anyone out there ranting & raving about it either…it’s right in the middle of the ether of art somewhere. The main positive in this final song, and the EP at-large overall, is that once again, Polyphonic Exophilia have tried out many new things, found extraordinary new achievements, and tested the waters of their sound, style, and capabilities in many new directions – all that stuff, over time & experience, continues to lead them into new moments of uniqueness, innovation, and art within the music they’re making. As the PPXP keeps exploring all avenues of what’s possible with their skills & creativity combined, they’ll keep flashing real moments of sonic brilliance along the way, and undoubtedly release on truly killer full album one day that’ll play like a greatest hits record by the time they settle into their very best material.
Find out more about Polyphonic Exophilia at their official website at: https://ppxp.no
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