Some of you may remember the review I did of PHB’s Abraxical Solapse in February. At that time, I said it was essential listening, but I didn’t have the whole picture. That track came from the EP I now find in my Spotify list, in the shape of Horizons/Rapture.
In no way is this EP a disappointment. It takes some major balls to open your release in the manner of ObeliskMonolith, all splattering drums and cathedral reverb. For the first 40 seconds, the star shudders, unable to contain itself. Finally unleashed, the band settle into that groove that made …Solapse so listenable. Complex but composed, unfettered but conscious, even the straightforward sections bristle with palpable tension. One imagines that the very idea of putting vocals into this maelstrom would be regarded as foolish.
Having encountered their ‘cover’ of Good King Wenceslas on the YouTubes, I was prepared for the band to go to ambienttown, and indeed they do, to full extension on Hollow Mountain. Chiming Eno-esque interludes, terse ghost-notes, sombre reflections, wordlessly caressing the air around them. As Teratology begins, the oscillatory extravagance is deftly tempered to a lilting, delicate riff, the drums undulating beneath. Easily the most diverse and adventurous track on Horizons/Rapture, the song changes tack and direction every 20 seconds or so, so much that later sections feel like different tracks entirely.
It is in this context that the production is tested fiercely, the twists, turns and dynamic leaps making for a truly engaging experience. As the song enters its second phase, there is a palpable feeling of the band being totally at ease with themselves as players, totally aware of how far they can push their music rhythmically while still retaining the listenable constructs of melody and songcraft. The drumming is remarkable, as is the bass work, which sounds for all the world as if it’s being played on taut steel rope, constantly plunging and juddering.
The relief that comes in penultimate track, The Spectral Beyond, says more about The Physics House Band than any other part of the record. A minute and a half of beautiful serenity, it seems to have been inserted to give the listener time to reflect on all that came before it. Power is nothing without control, after all, and it takes a great deal of skill to fly so close to the sun without burning. To have the courage to write a track with so little content, but so readily possessed of feeling and weight, when all around it is so turbulent, is commendable.
As it segues into Titan, the listener is given time to steel themselves before that Zombi-esque riff rips in, and we’re off again into deep, deep space. Inflections of jazz, krautrock and prog jostle for space until the heavily effected riff emerges, suddenly visible in all directions like a message from another world.
And just like that, it’s over. When the record ended, the feeling that struck me was one of walking an extra step at the bottom of a staircase, when there is no step to take. The music was barrelling along so fiercely, that when it ended I wasn’t ready, and had to go back and start the whole record over again.
In many, many ways, this is a great record. Complex, well-written, surprising, lyrical, expertly played, melodically astute and by no means long enough, it has all the hallmarks of a band on the cusp of delivering something truly exceptional. Throughout, the band are in control of a being of immense knowledge and power; they’ve somehow managed to get a bridle on it, and are riding it for all they’re worth. If you haven’t experienced this yet, do everyone a favour and get this album, and check the boys out on tour.
Watch the video for Abraxical Solapse:
Follow The Physics House Band