Poliça’s fourth studio record When We Stay Alive was forged in the face of practical adversity, after lead singer Channy Leaneagh suffered a serious back injury after falling off her roof clearing ice around 18 months ago. The regular Poliça sound is intact, but the record is much richer, and features contributions from a wide range of fellow musicians, from The National’s Aaron Dessner to Bon Iver.
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POLIÇA’s ‘When We Stay Alive’ is a really commendable record. The band consistently try out very cool stuff with their production here - things their contemporaries certainly wouldn’t attempt, let alone pull off. From opening cut ‘Driving’ to the contemplative closer ‘Sea Without Blue’ POLIÇA fill their songs with colourful quirks that often come, for what is essentially a modern indie-pop group, from quite far out of leftfield - I’m detecting a fair bit of UK Drill in the way 808 kicks lurch around the low-end on ‘Driving’ and ‘Fold Up’, for instance.
At points you wonder if POLIÇA could have paid a similar amount of attention to the song craft as they do the production here. Some of the tracks are a little slight, while others are over-long - ‘Feel Life’ and ‘Be Again’ could wrap up at least a minute earlier than they do. It’s also up for debate whether some of Channy Leaneagh’s vocal lines here serve to create evocative atmospheres or are simply a little uninspired, particularly in the album's slowie-heavy second-half.
Leaneagh is generally best-served by ‘When We Stay Alive’s sparer moments. She carries ‘Feel Life’, a synth-ballad that has me thinking, impressively, of both the Maxwell’s and Kate Bush’s versions of ‘This Woman’s Work’. ‘Forget Me Now’s power-pop turn also suits her well. Then there’s ‘Be Again’, the album’s most abstract track and also possibly its best. The instrumental is an industrial synth-pop thing, driving and moody but also hazed by a greyscale mournfulness that seems to draw from trip-hop. As opposed to pushing her way to the front with vocals that follow verse/chorus structures, Leaneagh instead muses in the background here, her vocals wending away behind the beat. As well as providing a change of gear in 'When We Stay Alive's mid-section, 'Be Again' is also the moment here where POLIÇA's unusual approach to production is met by compositional innovation.
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