2013 has been a golden year for the synthpop fanatic with a wealth of new records on release for their listening pleasure. Bands like The Pet Shop Boy’s, Chvrches and Austra have all released albums of note, but can Polica‘s ‘Shulamith’ cut it in this already saturated market?
Though they’re only three years and two albums old, Polica have honed a distinctive style, their sound unique enough to be instantly recognisable. Channy Leaneagh’s highly autotuned, often distorted, multi-layered vocal is primarily responsible for this. The ex-Roma di Luna member is joined by Ryan Olson on production duties to complete the Minneapolis duo’s recording line-up, though they draft in additional members when they take to the stage.
Their debut album, ‘Give You the Ghost’, was a bit of a sleeper record. However, when the fire started to burn, they quickly secured buzz-band status. The album was lauded as one of the greatest of 2012 by fans and critics alike.
‘Shulamith’ is no great departure from their debut. It’s another collection of highly polished, complex compositions driven by percussion with Leaneagh’s ethereal vocals floating above it all. Like ‘Give You the Ghost’, it’s a grower, with enough going on to warrant repeated attentive listens. The album takes its name from the recently deceased feminist writer, Shulamith Firestone, who Leaneagh names as her “muse and mentor.” Thematically, much of the album is a discussion of the many shades of womanhood.
Chain My Name is a very worthy album opener. Its appeal is instant. This is Polica wholly embracing their pop sensibilities, in sync with Chvrches, Haim and their peers who court the synth-led 80s pop trend du jour. By far the lightest track on the album, it eases us gently into proceedings. Vegas and Torre see them take up the mantle of Portishead of the USA as they groove through the quirks of these trip-hop inspired tracks.
Recorded in Justin Vernon’s studio, lead single Tiff features backing vocals from the man himself. Though it’s a great centrepiece, it feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity as it makes minimal use of Vernon’s signature falsetto. Very Cruel and Spilling Lines, tracks dominated by ominous chugging basslines, see the band expose their darker disposition.
Sure, there are multiple highpoints to ‘Shulamith’ but we couldn’t help but notice that this album is lighter on hooks and earworms than ‘Give You the Ghost’. The otherworldly nature of Leaneagh’s highly autotuned vocals shrouded in reverb might have been their unique selling point, and it feels like they’ve lost some of that this time round by taking a straighter, more subtle approach. ‘Shulamith’ is not quite as compelling as it’s predecessor, but it’s still a hugely impressive record.