Sometimes, a band will learn to run before it learns to walk. This is the story the members of Polytype found themselves living.
A mere six months after the Provo-based group’s lineup solidified, Polytype (formerly Soft Science) was the opening band for The Moth & the Flame’s CD release show in November 2011 at Velour. Afterward, producer Nate Pyfer approached the group and suggested they record an album.
“We only had four songs at the time, and he wanted us to go into the studio two months later,” Mason Porter says with a laugh. Usually, a band will have an entire catalog of songs ready before entering the studio, but Polytype decided they were up for the challenge.
At this point, according to Jason Gibby, the band had two serious questions to ask itself: “Do we have it in us to make an album? Are we good enough to make an album?”
A year later, Polytype had recorded Basic//Complex, due out Feb. 1.
“I think that the position we were in was great,” Scott Haslam says after a recent practice. “I’m glad we didn’t go into it with a bunch of songs that we already had, you know? We kind of just took a few ideas that we had and just grew with it.”
Lounging in Haslam’s basement, the four young men of Polytype—Jared Price rounds out the lineup—take a moment to muse on their year spent recording. The learning process, they agree, was invaluable. Speaking about the time, effort and funds required for a full-length album, “We look at it like our tuition, like going to college, because we want to make a career out of music,” Porter says. “It’s a huge bargain.”
The result of this learning process is an album that feels breezy and natural. Even on the heavier tracks, like album opener “Cyclone” and the funky, growling “Devils Out,” Porter’s vocals are relaxed, even distant. Fans of contemporary electronic indie will find Polytype’s off-kilter rhythms and sustained, layered vocal melodies reminiscent of Toro Y Moi and The xx. The album feels like a record for late nights and low lighting. Tracks like “Needs” possess an eerily soothing quality, despite strong, propulsive beats. Lyrics are often vague and convey more feeling than actual meaning. Polytype extends an open invitation to the listener to interpret and explore the music, free from concrete significance.
The ambiguity in Polytype’s music is deliberate. “We’re here just to give [listeners] a canvas to work with,” Gibby says. Porter agrees, saying the band wanted to make music that can “mean something different to everybody— something special to everybody.”
According to Porter, the group knew one thing for certain: “We wanted to make something with a high re-listen value—a record that got better the more you listened to it. I think we accomplished that.”
Polytype’s sound has a newness, an organic quality that comes from the fertility of young musicians trying something completely novel. The songs evolved from Porter’s original concepts, mostly written for acoustic guitar. “Usually what would happen is that we would try working on one of my songs, and then we’d make changes here and there, and all of a sudden it would be a completely new song,” Porter says.
“Every part [of the album],” Haslam says, “went through a severe cleansing process.”
That doesn’t mean the band didn’t have to perform a magic trick or two. The album’s first single, “Refract,” and “Gunmetal” were written just weeks before the final mixing in a manic last-minute drive to finish the album. The latter was a pastiche of ideas Porter had recorded casually. “I didn’t hear the chorus or anything” before the final mix was sent back, Haslam says. When he did hear the track, “It just blew my mind.” The whole band agrees that these tracks are now among their favorites.
After a year of hard work, steep learning curves and, in Haslam’s words, “growing up,” Polytype says they’re ready to take the next steps: a western tour and, hopefully, an EP release sometime in 2013. “It’s kind of funny,” Porter says. “By the time we finished the record, we felt like we had a good enough grasp of our instruments to actually write the music that we wanted to write.”
CD Release Show
w/ Lake Island, Mideau
135 N. University Ave., Provo
Friday, Feb. 1, 8 p.m.