polica – shulamith review

Poliça have only existed as a band for two years and they’re already dropping their second album after coming off of a year and half long tour.  Yesterday I left the house to take out the trash.  So props to the quintet from Minnesota for not only being prolific, but also making a damn good album in the process of being so great.  Their sophomore effort, “Shulamith” (2013) is very solid; imagine New Order but with a sultry female vocalist.  The album fluctuates between generically upbeat pop sounds (which somehow sound better than most generic upbeat pop sounds) and fluid, lazy, lethargic (and other slow and smooth words) rhythms.  The band’s Wikipedia entry lists one of their genres as “R&B” and it’s not hard to see why, the band has two drummers.   That’s double the amount of rhythm.  It’s not actually noticeable at first but upon realizing this I went back and listened to the album all over again to a much more interesting effect.  The multi-layered drumming is there, it’s important; but it doesn’t overshadow the cohesion of each band member’s efforts.

For example on the first track of the album “Chain My Name”, Ben Ivascu drums with one drumstick and uses his other hand for a maraca – which serves double as extra groovy drumstick when used for drumsticking.  For such an upbeat, disco-inspired song the rest of the album is actually far more relaxed.  This is a song that gets the listener amped and seems a little out of place at the beginning of the album, or anywhere on it actually.  That doesn’t make it a bad song; it just retracts from the overall structure of the album.  The synthesizer is so damn catchy though, so I can’t complain.

The second track “Smug” is a better indicator of what the whole album is about.  A slower beat, more blues than rhythm especially due to the nature of the lyrics.  Vocalist Channy Leaneagh has stated that her lyrics are akin to diary entries for her and “Smug” reads like the entry of anyone who has ever experienced feelings before.  The sincerity in this song, “It’s really quite confusing/You’re pushing me away and then you’re pulling/You wear smug so very well” relates to the theme for several songs on this album. In words documenting the theme of “Tiff” that song is “a portrait of a woman as her own worst enemy”; a theme present throughout the slow-moving, bittersweet sound of “Shulamith” as a whole.

Speaking of the song “Tiff”, the video is presenting quite some controversy on the youtube comments section (which if you are not aware, is serious business).  The video features some violent torture enacted by Channy on (spoiler alert) another version of herself – be it an alter ego, or the side of her that she despises the video is a legitimately shocking visual metaphor for beating oneself up and a lot of people don’t like it.  Youtube user ‘dresdamanx’ so aptly states “Well it’s official, women truly hate themselves….” proving that this guy at least missed the entire point of the video.  It was Channy in the video, and her lyrics and emotions fueling the album but the message for all to listen to if they so desire.  The album’s title stems from radical feminist Shulamith Firestone, whose book “The Dialectic of Sex” essentially posited that in an ideal world all biological indicators of a women, essentially the ability to birth a child is what the patriarchal structure is build upon and would fall if this particular function was available for all sexes; essentially rendering gender differences null.  You don’t have to know all this to grasp the sense of the album but it adds another layer which is my favourite part about albums that have been thoroughly thought out.  Yes, the music video is violent but it makes you think about why it’s violent – why that level of violence was necessary for that particular song and for all of the youtube users saying they watched it with their five year old (“Oops”) there’s a reason youtube issues warnings for graphic content.

But back to the album: “Vegas” and “Warrior Lord” stand out as the most fluidly melodic songs.  It’s a shame that they’re so early on on the tracklist as both are without a doubt the cornerstone of the album and could have done with being spread out over the album a little more.  While “Vegas” utilizes both drummers to create a rollicking, rolling refrain complete with keening synthesizer and rowdy drumbeats, “Warrior Lord” is just straight up beautiful, a veritable soft pool of light of a song that warms you up with its softness.  The only thing that bothers me about the album is such a petty thing I’m not sure if it’s even worth mentioning it but, hey it’s my blog. Penultimate song “I need $” uses the lyrics “I need money” not “I need dollar sign” – and yeah, that annoys me.



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