Three years after their last EP and nearly seven years after their first, the production powerhouse duo KOAN Sound unveil their most ambitious and lucid music to date; Polychrome. Stuffed with 11 fully developed compositions, KOAN Sound’s first full-length LP is an aural odyssey that presents itself with taste-making vision. It represents a next step in the production theory behind the neuro sound and style progenated by KOAN Sound themselves. This pioneering tag team has been deep in the alchemical mindscape of sound design and audio engineering, and the result is a revamping of their personal flair and a beyond advanced understanding of stereophonic sound.
Alongside the likes of Culprate, Kursa, Disprove, Skope, and others, KOAN Sound had a strong hand in developing and refining the amorphous, phased-out umbrella genre of “neuro” music. Characterized by time-based warping and glitching, highly compressed percussion, multi-band frequency splitting and processing, and mid-tempo arrangements, neuro has become a ubiquitous and infectious influence among the incoming generation of bass music producers the world over. While the quest to emulate the unique design and form of music native to KOAN Sound and their contemporaries can beget encouragement and excitement, part of what made this musical offshoot so enticing in the first place is how utterly meticulous and left-field it’s Promethean parents are. Polychrome stands tiers above the general landscape of eclectic, broken-beat music, as one should expect it to.
To consider what makes this album so enriching for the ears, start with the mix down. The sheer volume of tones, textures, and saturated frequency space requires a well-choreographed dance and blend of stereo depth, panning, compression, EQing, and one hell of a set of ears (or two) to dial in such utter fidelity. “Cobalt”, the first track on the album, creates balance between the bevy of digital instruments at play. Characteristic of KOAN Sound, the song is busy but this does not muck over the articulate glitches, arcs, and crescendos that populate the upper frequency spectrum. Likewise, the brolic distortion and re-sampled texture of the bass reverberates just enough to have a full body, but is instantaneously cut with each down beat through juiced-up volume ducking and compression algorithms.
If the crystal clear mix-down can be described as the album’s “presentation”, then the “ingredients” are inherently the composition, arrangement, and emotional intent of each track. “Chalk It Out”, a collaborative jazzhole with Bristol-based multi-instrumentalist Chalky White, allows KOAN Sound’s linear, progressive songwriting abilities to shine. In a music culture sometimes saturated with two- or three- minute tracks and build-drop-build-drop structures, a full composition like this one, that has proper room and license to flourish, is a breath of fresh air. Fizzy production and tactile synthesis merge intuitively with organic instrumentation, morphing into a potpourri of harmonies and graceful dialogue. Each measure gradually introduces subtle changes to existing tonal elements while new musical phrases mesh and meld in and out of the mix.
While all 11 tracks within Polychrome are characteristically KOAN Sound in nature, they cross a variety of tempos, rhythms, and attitudes, displaying years of experimentation finally brought together under a single release. “Virtual Light” feels reminiscent of earlier, melody-driven KOAN Sound works which capitalized on the particular notation of high-octane neuro synthesis. Symmetrical stutters and glitched-out turnarounds form the ambiguous boundary lines of a self-contained orb of fundamentally freeform music. Folds of liquid low-end wrap around stabs of rounded alto notes, creating an arrangement with the physical quality of non-newtonian fluid.
At its absolute peak of intensity, the album explodes in a righteous firestorm of primal DnB. Channeling the undeniable power of England’s favorite flavor of aggressive music, “Hydroplane” unleashes bass weight with a vicious roar, concentrating the total firepower of KOAN Sound’s extensive years of production wizardry into a single shot. Extreme amounts of reverb and saturation color the synthetic textures with an oceanic exuberance, causing the track to pulse like a newly formed quasar. Earlier this year, KOAN Sound debuted this track for fans old and new on a monstrous Hennessey Sound System during the evening hours at Psychedelic Sleepover. The raw force with which it ripped through the speaker cones warrants a moment of a silence for what surely became a few ruptured eardrums.
It is by no means without precedent for artists and musical projects to go dormant for some span of time while they begin their next creative endeavors. All throughout the last three years, KOAN Sound performed sparingly at boutique festivals and one-off musical events, choosing instead to focus the majority of their time on polishing their comprehension of production. The enduring patience of their supporters has given way to a brilliant maturation of their musical vision, and it goes without saying that all good things come in time.
Polychrome has done what many similar post-breakout endeavors fail to do; it captures the listener by immersing the senses in a unique interpretation of nostalgia and inexperience. On the heels of such a remarkable endeavor, it is safe to say that we are all holding our breath for the arrival of an equally sought-after tour. As 2019 approaches, a new album coupled with a new year just might be enough to put KOAN Sound more directly in line with our future selves.