Minnesota Music Review: Polica-Madness
Minneapolis-based electropop outfit Poliça have always recorded in adventurous, often troubling
territory. They make complicated music built for both dark dance floors and late-night headphone sulk sessions.
Madness, the seven-track album released in June, sees Poliça continue to explore the technological edges of pop music by plunging deeper in the computer-manipulated sonics of sadness. It’s a harrowing record, filled with heartbreaking pain, dissatisfaction and a mind breaking down.
Yes, it’s a hard listen - but is there any hope? Any redemption found along the way? Perhaps the answer is in the music’s artificial intelligence.
Led by vocalist and lyricist Channy Leaneagh and her husband, producer Ryan Olson, Poliça uses bass and synthesizer techno-tricks to build an impressive wall of sound. Olson then fills in any cracks with an eerie, AI-enhanced invention he developed in the studio. The production tool generates beeps, echoes and waves. It takes Leaneagh’s striking Irish call, magnifies it like a distant star, bends it like red liquorice and sends it off into a wind storm.
On the opening track, “Alive,” Leaneagh sings through the production tool like she is buried in a box. In the verses, a mind revolts, fingers can’t feel and sex is unsatisfying. “So tightly woven, tense and broken, rats are roped in, who can I trust?” she asks.
Big, super-sized Depeche Mode beats, computer hiccups and washes of synthesizer carry away the chorus. Leaneagh breaks through the nightmare and assures listeners there is life. The energy is unmatched on the rest of the record and provides its biggest spark.
Other songs dwell on the misery of depression, empty love and lost youth. The song “Madness” hits the hardest. Slow-motion, unearthly electronics wash over Leaneagh’s distorted, haunting vocals as she questions sanity and mourns: “Do we even love at all?” A stunning violin solo - the album’s only instrument untouched by a computer - weeps for two minutes as the song fades into oblivion.
Leaneagh says in a Facebook post she wanted the record to have the “saddest sounding songs (we) ever made.” The group has succeeded - perhaps a little too much. The computer-enhanced music delivers sorrow and distress in fascinating ways but it has difficulty finding life.
The record has a weak heartbeat. At times the music feels like it was created for a lost-in-space horror movie. The drumless “Fountain,” for example, floats like a nightmare beyond sad and into more frightening places.
Polica has delivered big energy to difficult subjects like self-doubt, loneliness and tragedy before - the 2016 release United Crushers is a standout. But Madness comes too close to wallowing in misery and provides no lift. At just 31-minutes, perhaps material could have been added to give the record more life and at least a pathway out of all the sadness