With a lineup of guitar, double bass and drums, you might think Barcelona trio Phicus were a jazzy affair. A nice band for a wedding, or a summer party, maybe? But this free improvising group are about as close to jaunty Django Reinhardt jams as root canal surgery is to your summer holiday in the Dordogne. “They speculate with silence, pull the noise out of joint, rearrange the timbre”, their website says, which is a pretty good summary of what Ferran Fages, Alex Reviriego and Vasco Trilla conjure up on records such as 2017’s ‘Plom’. In the Phicus universe, enigmatic scuttles and scrapes burst out in caffeinated spasms, woody bass thrums cast hypnotic mantras, and jerking cymbal rattles snuggle up to motorised, needling whines.
Intonema label founder Ilia Belorukov slots into this aesthetic with no bother, providing astringent saxophone breaths and whirring, clattering electronics to accompany the group’s explorations. These four tracks, recorded on Phicus’s home turf last summer, see the quartet marking out a suite of sparse and glistening territories, their individual contributions knitting together for 40-odd minutes of parched, low-key sound-making.
‘K(nо́)t’ works best when the group transforms into a hive-mind of creaking vibrations. In ‘Gordian Knot’ – the track is well-titled – it is almost impossible to disentangle who’s doing what in a heaving mass of twitches and shudders, like some ancient mechanical structure on the point of collapse. Not that you’d want to unpick individual contributions. The synergy is the thing, after all.
In such an egoless environment, restraint is a determining factor. Things rarely get loud here, but the lack of pay-off results in a palpable air of tension at even the quietest points. In ‘Endless Knot’, silvery clangs and muted scuffs are held back from prettiness by vexed saxophone hoots (think John Butcher on downers) and deadened, pissed-off guitar plucks. That it retains an edge even while coalescing helps to subvert the groupthink often manifested in gatherings of this type. Sure, things get a little twinkly towards the end, as the bell-like harmonics and shimmering chimes of ‘Solomon’s Knot’ ease us towards the exit. But then things cut out and I’m left in bare, empty space, like some rube on the street after a shakedown, trying in vain to find my wallet.