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The New Cool: Polyrhythmics present new music for a quarantined planet

Photo by Megan Matheson
Polyrhythmics in more social times at the Aladdin Theater in Portland.

It can take several months to make an album, from writing to recording, mastering and all the other behind-the-scenes details. Of all the luck, the new Polyrhythmics album release date, May 8, finally rolled around in the middle of a nationwide pandemic shut down. Now what?For starters, the Polyrhythmics will celebrate online. They're throwing a virtual listening party for Man From the Future on Friday night at 7 p.m. on and their Facebook page. You can join a Q&A with the band on Zoom after each song and get all the gritty details.

Here are just a few, so you'll be prepared to ask some killer Zoom questions.

For Man From the Future, Polyrhythmics made a second group trip to an isolated location to compose music. Three days near the Skykomish River in snowy Barring, Washington, resulted in more than an album's worth of music. The band refined these pieces on stage over a few months led to eight songs on this new release.

The trademark Polyrhythmics grooves are there, of course, but they're bringing a different collection of instrumental settings for the band members to explore new directions.

An early single, "Yeti, Set, Go," begins the album by introducing a "quest through the space-time continuum," as the band says. Spaced out 21st century futurism meets the retro-modernism of groove masters from the 60s and 70s.

Synthesizers play a more prominent role, and the band embraces a more cinematic film-scoring style on this exciting new release. Each song is ripe territory for creative short filmmakers and modern videographers. The vibrant sounds within Man From the Future really deserve the lush treatment of Industrial Light and Magic.

The album's first single, "Digital Cowboy," finds the band in a deep groove, staccato guitar and horn stabs lead to a more easy flowing chorus before returning to the sharper soundscape.

Recently released third single "Chelada" has a familiar Polyrhythmics-style worldbeat flavor, but deeper listening reveals a split from tradition. The rhythm section remains in the forefront of the mix with the horns in the background. It's a subtle difference, but a major one, that pays off nicely.

A favorite of mine, and a song you'll hear on The New Cool this Saturday afternoon, is the album's title track. "Man From the Future" begins with long keyboard lines, almost as in a church service. A disco-lite rhythm kicks in, and we might be in a 70s sci-fi-western.

Then, a beautiful and slightly mournful solo from trumpeter Scott Morning lays out a beautiful theme.

As that trumpet dies away, a hard-driving funk groove creeps in to take over. The song's second half turns more "action movie" with punchy soul horns over a classic Ben Bloom "chicken scratch" guitar riff leading to a cool Pee Wee Ellis-class sax solo from Art Brown. It's classic Polyrhythmics in a brand new mood.

As percussionist Karl Olson puts it, listeners "want to search for a mood rather than an artist when they’re listening to music these days." Polyrythmics are moody in the best way on Man From the Future.

Polyrhythmics were scheduled to salute the new album with a performance at Neumos on Saturday night, and the band is taking the cancellation about as well as their fans. They're frustrated, but also hopeful and eager to return to the stage.

I asked Grant Schroff, the band's co-leader and drummer, what they'd like to tell their fans.

He admits, "this is our first pandemic. On one hand, we are super bummed that we can't play the release shows we had scheduled. We definitely all miss playing music with each other and playing for the fans. On the other hand, we feel fortunate that we do have some great new music to release into the world right now. With everyone in isolation, content is king now more than ever. People need new music to listen to while they're sitting at home!"

That's your cue. You can grab a digital copy from their bandcamp page in less than a minute. I did. I'll probably also pick up the limited vinyl edition from Color Red Records. I'll let you know, as soon as I know, when the band knows when and where the triumphant return gig will be.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.