Polyrhythms have been ruining my life. It probably started with Talking Heads. There was something about David Byrne’s lust for strange rhythmic patterns that set my brain on fire and got my feet pumping. For the uninitiated, the standard definition of a polyrhythm is “the simultaneous combination of contrasting rhythms in music” (Merriam-Webster). You know them when you hear them. If a song makes it hard to tap your foot, boggling to sing, or maddening to track with, there’s probably a polyrhythm lurking somewhere in the track’s structure. This week, I’m highlighting three new additions to KVCU’s library that use polyrhythms to create interesting, unconventional songs.
First and foremost, our March CD of the month is the resplendent “Drunk” from Thundercat. If you aren’t familiar, Thundercat is a Grammy Award-winning, classically trained jazz musician who’s worked with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. “Drunk” is a strange ride, a nonstop journey through topics both mundane and heavy without reprieve. Thundercat approaches lyrics in a very peculiar way. Sometimes, his words are simple and easily digestible; other times, he drops little thought-bombs. Throughout the record, he pairs his lyrics with his jazz background, changing mood and time signatures as frantically as his train of thought.
Polyrhythms are all over “Drunk.” Every instrument grooves in its own time, weaving through the throng of gorgeous sounds. I’m really excited about this release from Thundercat. The record demonstrates that just because something has serious capital backing, huge names involved and a high-profile marketing campaign doesn’t mean that it’s not creative or interesting. “Drunk” is definitely a different choice for our CD of the month, but one listen and you’ll be grooving along with us.
Speaking of groove, if you’re more into a frenetic dance state than a mellow chillout, definitely check out the band Ponytail. In terms of modern polyrhythmic rock, Ponytail were definitely ahead of their time. They hail from Baltimore, and their three studio albums — “Kamehameha,” “Ice Cream Spiritual” and “Do Whatever You Want All The Time” — have been heavily dissected since their respective releases. Ponytail blends ecstatic rock music with joyous, almost a-verbal lyrics for a cacophony of splendid noise. They aren’t a new band by any means, but I’m choosing to add them back into rotation for a couple weeks. If you tune in, you’ll understand why.
Finally, I’m going to spin Hellier Ulysses’ “Prime Example” on heavy rotation in the coming weeks. This was one of my favorite releases from 2016 and truly takes polyrhythms to the next level. You can definitely hear elements of Ponytail and Guerilla Toss in their sound, but while both bands hold onto an idea for a while, Hellier Ulysses swings from frantic to smooth at an ADHD pace. They sound like a remix of rock ‘n’ roll — what happens when you take rock history and cut, copy and paste it into a distorted Photoshop document. Their sound clearly isn’t for everyone, and it might drive you insane after listening, but it’s definitely an experience everyone should try.
Radio 1190 is about to sound a lot more polyrhythmic. Join us on this maddening ride. Tune in on 98.9 FM in Boulder, 1190 AM in Denver, or online at Radio1190.org
Jarocki is Radio 1190’s music director. Read more reviews: coloradodaily.com/columnists