Though Polychrome is KOAN Sound’s first proper album, it functions more as a career retrospective. The Bristol duo came into their own just over 5 years ago, when they expanded their repertoire from neck-snapping dubstep and glitch-hop into a more diverse array of sonics. While always excellent producers, they really left their mark once they started letting their more maximalist and frenetic impulses, and their instrumentally knotty compositional sense, inform their music — as on transcendent, genre-bending tracks like “7th Dimension” and “Tetsuo’s Redemption.” Four years ago, however, KOAN Sound suddenly dropped off the map, leaving only a free EP on Bandcamp behind, while they cloistered themselves in their studio to work on their debut full-length. Finally, the duo reappeared last month — with their new album finished, and its lead single released online. The resulting eleven tracks of Polychrome are, if not an unprecedented leap forward, a pristine encapsulation of the group’s last four EPs, before their years-long silence.
Recaptures what worked best about KOAN Sound’s earlier work, while still fleshing out the details and improving the quality of the production.
Polychrome is at its best when the duo marries their Snarky Puppy worship with their mosh-pit predilections. Standout single “Chilli Daddy” is all whirling bass and chunky power chords, whiplashing from overloaded jazz to brutally physical half-time drop with the effortlessness of a 300-pound defensive lineman blowing by his blocker on his way to a sack. It, like most of the album, effectively reimagines these producers’ earlier work (“Infinite Funk,” in this case); it, like most of the album, also recaptures what worked best about that earlier work, while still fleshing out the details and improving the quality of the production. Polychrome does certainly traverse new ground as well — the angular synth stabs of “Virtual Light” see the producers channeling their inner Glitch Mob, and the kinetic drum and bass of “Hydroplane” is far more skittishly hyperactive than anything they’ve done before — but, by and large, this release is consistent with what’s always made KOAN Sound so captivating. The moody, otherworldly garage of “Viridian Dream” and the infectiously funky mechanical bounce of “Prism Pulse” are to “Introvert” and “Sly Fox,” respectively, what one iPhone model has been to the next: essentially similar, but with tweaks and reworkings that make the new version a bonafide upgrade. Evolution with precedent is evolution nevertheless, and Polychrome both breaks new ground and confirms that the ground it already staked is still fertile.