Hitting play on a Polypores album is like opening a door and you find yourself staring into a black hole. Or an alternate dimension where reality is rewriting itself in front of your eyes. The modular synth world of Stephen James Buckley is this magnificent madness in circuital form. Sounds emanating from patch cords, envelope filters, and an umbilical cord attached to the universe’s womb, feeding us vital information and lighting our brains like a 50,000 volt Lite-Brite.
I’m late to Buckley’s Polypores, but it seems the key worked and let me in anyhow. My first deep dive was last summer and the track “Foil” off the immense Portals compilation(courtesy of Behind The Sky.) That’s the point where the door creaked open and infinite light began sneaking in. Then there was The Strange Worlds of Stefan Bachmeier(courtesy of Spun Out Of Control.) That record with a glass or two of single malt scotch on New Year’s Eve and I was levitating between this plane and wherever Bachmeier’s essence currently resides.
This leads us to Polypores’ latest opus, the grand and prickly Chaos Blooms. With the concept of randomness and chaos in composition, along with a heady dose of Sun Ra, Pharaoh Sanders, and Miles Davis at his most far out, Stephen James Buckley set out to make an album of controlled chaos and random happy accidents. The results are an album of dense experimentation and deft sonic magic.
The modular synth, to me, is a magic box. Patch cords pulled and plugged while nobs are twisted and sound waves manipulated into aural shapes. Of course it’s circuits and boards and oscillation that are man made; wood nailed and glued to form a box of wired and soldered delights. But there’s still a kind of universal magic happening there. The man controls it only so much before sonic ghosts step in to guide us to a symphony from beyond. The sounds of space and time relegate us to hearing those sounds that echo in our skulls just before sleep. It’s the beginnings of dreams, nightmares, and our greatest and worst selves. It’s an open door to otherworldly delights.
I do find it hard to describe the songs here. They range from swirls of electronic glee, to low key resolve as if melting contently into the universe, to chaos plundering into more chaos. “The Computer”, for example, opens the album like entering some thoughtful, grand landscape. Bubbling notes and buzzes welcoming you into a new and intoxicating reality. A certain madness at bay, just barely. I feel like I should be at Adler Planetarium off the shore of Lake Michigan learning about the “Big Bang” as darkness envelopes me and my seat recedes back, the ceiling glowing a synthetic Milky Way. To counter that busy exchange, “Angel Away” ascends into the heavens with a slow, ambient glow. There’s a peace in this song; like finding yourself coming to a calm reprieve after anxiety held you in its grasp.
And that’s just the first two tracks.
There’s the caustic madness of “Machine Jazz”, which sounds like Morton Subotnick in a sonic blender. Chaos and random stabs of tuneless notes dropping from the ether on your pretty little head. “Moontangle” feels euphoric and epic. A vast openness laid out before you; space and time insignificant as your head fills with infinite light. I quite love “Dense Periodic Orbits” as well. It’s as if your Pong game from 1978 became self aware and is having a conversation about the meaning of life with a dusty old Simon. And “Destroyer” feels just on the cusp of spontaneously combusting. There’s a method to the madness, but barely.
Chaos Blooms does a fantastical thing in taking the random nature of modular synth and giving it an emotional structure. Stephen James Buckley lets the machine talk about what it feels like talking about, while still steering the conversation into a direction we can understand and relate to. But not enough to demystify the magic of what’s happening. Polypores rewires our brains, and I feel we’re all the better for it.
8.5 out of 10
‘Chaos Blooms’ is available now. Buy it here.