Polymath are an audacious band. To start with, their name comes from the word meaning “a person with high levels of knowledge in many fields” – a title which wouldn’t work if they had the intelligence of the average Gallagher or the ambitions of Clean Bandit (remember them?). Fortunately for everyone, one listen to Melencolia is quite enough to dispel these ideas.
Their Facebook page describes them as an ‘Instrumental Prog-Math band from Brighton’, but the debut album from Polymath shows that this is only half the story. This is as much Slint as well as And So I Watch You From Afar. This music is spacious not sunny, and the heavy parts are paranoid, not triumphant. Joyful summer listening this is not, and a bad album this is certainly not.
The closest contemporary comparison that can be made is to Three Trapped Tigers, because, fairly paradoxically, it’s extremely difficult to pigeonhole either band. However, while TTT mellow out with Aphex Twin-like ambient electronica, Melencolia’s comedowns are less predictable.
Sometimes it’s the spacious post-rock of Slint, other times it’s The Mars Volta gone insane, there’s even the prog-jazz of King Crimson on ‘Ekerot’! Melencolia is more mad science than maths from the Brighton trio.
Melencolia continues this scientific theme by validating Newton’s Third Law – that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. On rare occasions (when the mood lifts slightly), we get the bombastic math-riffing of And So I Watch You From Afar, although for every cheerful part there is one that is equally unsettling, like the ending of ‘The Temptation of the Idler’. Its German spoken word passage sounds like a horror film score, increasing the dark cloud hovering the album’s existence.
The talent and audacity showcased on Melencolia borders on ridiculous. Very few groups can make such lengthy pieces so gripping all the way through. And this is their debut album for God’s sake! It’s actually quite worrying thinking about what they might be doing in ten years from now, although we should be safe as long as they stay well away from Rick Wakeman’s costume chest…