If you are going to make a concept album about the interconnected ecosystems of fungi, you’ve got my attention. Considering the name of Stephen James Buckley’s project, Polypores, I imagine there’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek there, but I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to plant-inspired music (long live Oregon Painting Society). Regardless of concept or intention, Shpongos is a mesmerizing exploration in modular synthesis. I also have to note the visually stunning cover by Christophe Gilland.
Buckley’s music is complex, multiple arrays and different layers moving in a seemingly endless number of directions. And yet, it sticks like sap, lurking in the back of my mind long after I’ve turned the record off. Effervescent pop melodies are dotted throughout Shpongos, ready to get stuck in your head for hours. Those elements make this record sing. He makes music that is not just compositionally elaborate, it’s also fun and joyous.
“Fairy Rings” bounces playfully, electronic blips rising in hypnotic arpeggios while a hopeful sonic mist floats beneath. There’s a childlike nostalgia at play here I can’t quite pin down, but as the piece washes over me I drift back to sunkissed summers in my grandparent’s field. Buckley excels in this space, using precise timbres and major notes to dig into these auspicious emotions.
I don’t know if this album really is meant to be about fungi, but for me it connects in ways that tug on the emotional response that timeless memories and experiences hold over us. The title track plods along rhythmically while rich saw waves steal sideways glances, a quick wink, and maybe a smile. Reminders of our innate humanity where we viscerally relate to each other, where we long to find connection. Each piece builds on that idea. Majestic warmth of the first rays of sun at dawn emerge on “Slow Fruiting”; formless tonal shapes sputtering and breathing to life call to mind afternoons spent staring at clouds. It’s all there, encapsulated in these short aural vignettes, a collection that shapes a life.
Whether it’s an underground, intertwined complex of fungi, towering modular synthesizer systems, or simply the poignant banality that binds us, Polypores’ Shpongos is like the soil that holds it all together. When album closer “Exopheromones” fully blooms into a deep, beaming joyride, everyone is back together and singing into the dusk. It’s a celebration of the unexpected connections we find, the sorrow and joy that keep us going, and the promise that just beneath the surface, if we take a small chance and reach out our roots, we’ll find each other again.