Poliça - Shulamith

Poliça: Shulamith [Review + Album Stream]

Words by Tim Onslow.

Poliça return with second album, Shulamith, a further instalment of the heartbreak electro funk and sinister grooves that define their sound.

The publicity since their feted 2012 debut, Give You The Ghost, has focused on singer Channy Leanagh‘s personal history, her emergence in Poliça incarnation following the end of her marriage and her former band, Roma di Luna. Brooding emotion, anger and pain continue to mark the band’s lyrical and thematic style.

‘Chain My Name’ erupts in to immediate life as a bouncy and driving force of agile bass, synth-disco handclap beats and sinuous melody, its tempo and lithe stridency describing a perfectly sculpted party starter. This brisk and assured tone belies the deep sadness lurking within the lyrics. If you’re unfortunate enough to be in the market for a soundtrack to a post-divorce party catharsis, this song could both assuage and amplify your bewildered blues.

The pace slows for ‘Smug’, murky organs layered dream-like over what sounds like some kind of underwater wurlitzer, the lyrics a lethargic meditation upon a cheater’s crime. Next stop is ‘Vegas’, bent klaxons, detuned radio fuzz and drum freakout flourishes taking a tour of an unhappy honeymoon.

‘Shulamith’ is named after Canadian feminist writer and academic, Shulamith Firestone, who died last year. Wikipedia tells me that Shulamith Firestone was an advocate, among other things, of “the use of cybernetics to carry out human reproduction in laboratories” and wrote that pregnancy is “barbaric”, likened to “shitting a pumpkin”. The title tribute may, if looked at cynically and superficially by a lazy music journalist, appear to provide a clue as to the concerns being addressed thematically in this album. Almost every lyric could be said to interrogate gender roles, explore relationship power dynamics; expressing anger, frustration and a kind of bitter grace.

Broken love is this album’s obsession. Every song is haunted by infidelity, insecurity, jealousy, regret, revenge, bitterness, hatred, loss, memory, confusion, tenderness. It is a recording of a kind of calm chaos, of hard-won acceptance and defiant declarations of independence. Through it all, a strength and grace shines through in Channy Leanagh’s phrasing, each track is a composed and confident decoding of both a personal and a collective bad dream.

Channy Leanagh‘s voice, filtered always through emphatic and signatory auto-tune, balances a tonal line between fragile anguish and steely, bittersweet confidence. She sings with an understated beauty, power derived from that which is held back, occasionally soaring to echo sublime. ‘Torre’ is a scene of noirish romance, obstinate resolve, “Eleven pit bulls at your door/You can’t have me anymore” breaths Leanagh in wandering, indistinct whispers.

Folk/electro adventurer Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) has been Poliça‘s most press-friendly vocal champion (“they’re the best band I’ve ever heard”) and appears very briefly here on on ‘Tiff’, harmonising against its sensual, plodding funk, laid under a mood of simmering resentment, clattering drum echo and mournful strings.

‘Spilling Lines’ is fuelled by a warped, thumping beat, barrelling briskly along as Leanagh ruminates on addictive and corrosive lust, the track distinguished by its beautiful descending spirals or organ melody. ‘I Need $’ (my favourite track) has a resigned beauty to it, a song of strategic philosophy, being alone and relying on your own resources, shaking off dependence on a relationship but acknowledging the bleak reality of a personal situation (“I need money, I need money/It’s taking me too long for this debt to drop/And if it comes to it, I’ll be dancing down the table tops”).

On Shulamith, Poliça have not redefined their sound or radically departed from the dark magic of their debut. Rather, they have distilled their brooding essence further with another work of starkly melancholic and persuasive beauty.

Rating: ★★★

Pick up a copy of Shulasmith now from iTunes.

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