Words by Matt Phelps.
Four years on from their debut record ‘Horizons/Rapture’ the genre-defying Brighton experimental three-piece of Samuel Organ, Adam Hutchinson and Dave Morgan are back with another mind-altering collection of new music.
Much like their first album, ‘Mercury Fountain’ is intended as a single half hour listening experience in nine parts, rather than nine separate songs. In Adam’s words: “The record is like a journey through the mind-space and astral plane using the analogy of diving into the Mercury Fountain – that’s the name of a sculpture that I randomly came across in Madrid. I was immediately taken by the way it looked like an alien insect spaceship looking over a pool of reflective mercury. It was a beautiful image and the record developed from there; the idea of going on this insane hallucinogenic journey through fury, violence, madness and bliss.”
It’s always pleasing when a band’s name fits perfectly with their music, and that’s certainly the case with the Physics House Band; their endlessly eclectic compositions bring to mind chemical reactions, nuclear fusion and cataclysmic cosmological events. In fact, this record would probably be a very fitting soundtrack to the whole body and mind experience of hurtling through space in a tiny capsule at five miles per second, I would imagine.
Opener ‘Mobius Strip’ sets the scene with a drone of buzzing synths and a distorted bassline emerging out of the ether before a more clear synth hook leads into Dave Morgan’s first explosive drum outburst of the record. It’s that fusion of Samuel’s synths and Dave’s often frantic drumming that really defines the Physics House Band’s sound throughout much of this record – and indeed their whole back catalogue – with Adam’s bass the warm glue that holds it all together, no matter how chaotic it sometimes seems.
Lead single ‘Calypso’ is a classic PHB dizzying rollercoaster of time signatures with as much instrumentation and as many ideas crammed into its three minutes as possible; the bell synths and electric pianos over distorted rhythms at times bringing to mind Japanese math-rockers Toe.
The thrashing drums and guitars, arpeggiated synths and jazz flute solo (yes, really) on ‘Impolex’ represents the band at their most unbridled; I envisage the space capsule really starting to burn up at this point. As ‘The Astral Wave’ drifts in in dreamlike fashion though we are allowed a moment to breathe and enjoy the ride. For a few moments you wonder if we are heading into an out-take from The War of The Worlds; the one when Jeff Wayne took too much acid. Before long though total frenzy is unleashed again, the drums and guitars are ramped up to eleven only this time with added strings and a saxophone solo. A fitting crescendo on a record that is bewildering and exhausting at times but never short of brilliant.
Many bands have tried and failed to capture on record the raw energy of their live performance – which is no mean feat when it’s as intense as PHB’s – but it’s fair to say the band in question have more than managed it here. There’s a beefier production here than on ‘Horizons/Rapture’ that really makes you feel like you’re up close and personal with the band in the sweatiest of tiny gig venues. Incidentally, if you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing their incredible live show then make it top of your list of priorities next time they tour.
Half an hour of non-stop prog-tinged psychedelic jazz math rock may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea but this record has to be heard to be believed. It’s a place where anything goes, and it usually does. Don’t just take my word for it though, here’s a parting line from Stewart Lee (yes, that Stewart Lee) on what he makes of the record: “It’s a two black Americano experience that makes me wish I still had pin-sharp hearing to lose.”