Piotr Kurek Polygome

[Hands in the Dark; 2019]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: musique concrète, drone, modular, minimal, anti-matter ditty, bedroom avant chamber music
Others: The Pickle Factory, Mamman Sani, Yasuaki Shimizu, Colleen, Spencer Clark

There has always been a fair share of structured cave-ins happening with avant-garde electronic music, wherein the sound is fighting with itself and we ostensibly are to find purchase in this tension and engage. Sometimes these works elude us, and sometimes they simply alienate us from friends, thereby imperceptibly de-prioritizing the material. But Piotr Kurek has given us the sort of gem here that feels special enough that you wanna keep it to yourself, rather than potentially taint it with an inescapably witty, glib outside assessment. Kurek may’ve long moved past the more accessible jazz samples in the nonetheless curious Heat, but the artist has only refined his particular approach to snapshot-stressed confection.

Much like the artist’s fantastic 2015 album with Heroiny, there is a playful spirit at work on Polygome, with as much flair for the dramatic (the Naked/Henry Fool score-tinged sour lurch of “Lacomb”) as the compellingly airless (the stumbling, nauseous arpeggiations of “Tuxedo”). The opener stares at you blankly in lieu of a greeting, like you caught Kurek on the water in mid-row, making steady, churning paddle strokes on glittering water. The repetition thickens up to some extent but ultimately fades out a flat slice of routine. It’s not an altogether uninteresting track, however; it oddly plays down the transfixing melodic and textural riches that make up the rest of the listen.

Along with the wondrous title track (recalling the ocean reveries of early Pram without resembling them), “ESQ Vox” is a high point. Its five and a half minutes whip up a soft, rustling whirl, with extra padding for the resulting headswim topple. Kurek achieves a sustain tone here so radiantly warm that you can almost forget it’s in service of this composed, orderly, and methodical atmosphere of panic. The rote two-note bass line feels oddly upfront at first, but off emphasis is the current running through all eight of these muted, ambling, but carefully charted processions.

Even after repeated acclimations, the stark simplicity of Polygome can suddenly alienate you. It can veer into this dissociative static, along the lines of a synthetic performing human error, while the human doggedly hammers out machine-precise action. This impressively subtle disruption, particularly with such spare parts, gives the album a curious, oblong charm. Whatever element you latch onto gradually slides off in the centrifuge, even if the pace is light. The movement is often akin to the too-tired-to-think act of endlessly pressing reset on a device until a crude rhythm emerges. But while this hermetic packling of artisanally warped conveyor belt short-distance transport may rage opaque on occasion, time and again you’ll find yourself happily awash in verdant, dirty pastel doom and bloom energy. The sound will fray off on you, but your ears learn to affix to the sturdier strands, allowing your consciousness to fray off in loopy loping kind.

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