Review Summary: Plata o plomo?
'Polysemy' is an odd name for an album with exactly zero lyrics. I googled it for you: Polysemy is the association of a word or phrase with multiple meanings. Mastermind Javier Reyes seems to be giving us a hint at what he's trying to achieve with this album. His is instrumental music that strives to evoke an emotional response from the average listener without tying it to any particular lyrical content. In the greater context of today's lyrically over-saturated music this is not easily accomplished. And additionally, within the smaller scope of Reyes' musical niche it is important for him to set his music apart from similar musical act. Not least of course from the musical output of the other progressive metal band Reyes is a part of - Animals As Leaders. However, for the most part 'Polysemy' pulls this off effortlessly.
Reyes' most powerful weapon in creating a unique, engaging sound is, without a doubt, his songwriting. Throughout the album it often becomes quite obvious that he made songwriting choices with only his guitar in mind. Listen to the exposition of the song 'Mt Pleasant' and you'll be able to imagine him sitting alone with his guitar, working himself into a frenzy combining melody and harmony, riffs and licks, bass and guitar technique. This makes for some incredibly charming musical ideas of the kind you wouldn't encounter on an AAL song, as those often feel infinitely more calculated. This characteristic Reyes pairs with heavy grooves that are miraculously addictive, despite – or maybe because of the sometimes unconventional time-signatures. 'Gentle Giant', the very first song, is already a prime example for this. He also succeeds in arranging these songs nicely, allowing for an accessible, easy flow. Unfortunately, Polysemy's songs sometimes suffer from lack-luster mid-sections and the near total absence of latin vibes, which you might have expected from this album if you've been listening to the 2012 EP 'Basal Ganglia'.
However, this is not necessarily a short-coming in terms of songwriting, but rather of unimaginative instrumentation. What is entirely lacking from this album is the brass-section that was so prominent on 'Basal Ganglia'. This absence is mainly responsible for the perceived absence of latin vibes, and arguably the few mediocre mid-sections on songs like 'Eclipse' and 'Mt Pleasant'. These could have been much improved by the introduction of additional instrumentation to provide some highlights. There are in fact some synth's being sparsely used in some of the songs. However, they're consistently extremely low in the mix. And if you do make the effort of seeking them out actively, you'll find them invariably to be sonically bland and basically obsolete. These factors combined lead to a more metal, less jazzy or latin listening experience than on the EP 'Basal Ganglia'.
On the other hand, the guitar work on this album is, without fail, excellent. Reyes utilizes a heavily saturated guitar sound throughout much of the album. For the most part this works out fine, especially considering that his guitar playing often emulates the more or less inaudible bass. Sonical territory unoccupied by the aforementioned absent instruments are effortlessly filled by layers of guitars. Despite the strong focus on guitars, there is hardly an abundance of variety in guitar tones. When Reyes does switch it up and goes for a cleaner sound, it often has a tinny ring to it. On the track 'Paloma' Reyes misses an easy opportunity to shine as he chooses not to use a warmer, more welcoming sound that would complement his soft playing better. This does not greatly diminish the enjoyment derived from listening to 'Polysemy' though. Reyes alternates between up-beat and dark motives in his tunes and manages to keep the experience compelling; not least by means of his virtuose and technically flawless playing. A highlight is Guitarists Mario Camarena and Erick Hansel's (of CHON) appearance on 'Pura Vida'. Both are skillful guitarists who operate in a similar realm of progressive music. Their interpretations add color to the song and provide an alternation as they bring their signature sound and distinctive playing to the table[listen for the small pauses interspersed in the improvisation starting at 0:32; classic CHON].
AAL-bandmate Matt Garska meanwhile does an admirable job on the drumset. His agenda seems to be to underline and support the guitar-driven songs as effectively and creatively as possible without ever stealing the spotlight. The album's production accentuates the drums appropriately, by giving the bass drum a satisfying kick and keeping the crash cymbals from becoming overbearing when Mestis settle into one of their heavier grooves. Unexpected percussive elements, such as the cowbell on 'Eclipse', or the claves(?) towards the end of opener 'Gentle Giant' contribute to the memorability of the songs. Reyes could not have hoped for a more skillful and supportive drummer to accompany him on this album. In any case, it is clear that the two of them have a bright future ahead, with Mestis, AAL, or any other project for that matter.
All this being said, this is a truly beautiful album. I put this review together during the first 4 or so times of listening to it, so at the time I believe I still had a measure of objectivity. Every time I've been listening to it since, I've found that I've become a little more enamoured with it. Listen to this now!!!