Electro-pop outfit Pollyn have been cutting their teeth in the Los Angeles’ underground for over two decades, so it should come as no surprise that with four albums now under their belt, the trio have undoubtedly mastered the unruly nature of their witchy electronica. Bristling with vintage samplings, propulsive marches of synthetic percussion, and Genevieve Artadi’s ethereal monotone, the band’s latest project — Distress Signals — is a faithfully constructed period piece of the melting pot that was 80’s Los Angeles. While sticking the landing somewhere between the hypnotic experimentalism of Portishead and edgy restlessness of the Talking Heads’ dynamo of beats, the broad strokes of Pollyn’s cut-up and heavily layered tracks make it dangerous to try and fit them into a genre defining mold. Artadi, like her female contemporaries in Little Dragon and Metric,might’ve found her niche as the trio’s lead singer early-on–but the subtleties of her voice, which range from ominously smoky to sublimely euphonious, still hold an ability at completely reshaping the atmosphere and soundscapes of entire songs.
But Distress Signals is a group effort, one that begins and culminates with Adam Weissman’s glazed-over sampling and retro drum machines, not to mention a consistent haunting of groovy synths–while alongside are the colored in textures of Anthony Cava’s guitar and Artadi’s trimmed cries. On the album’s synth embellished opener, “Don’t You Want My Love,” the trio’s combined tones result in a pulsing parade of glittering electronics, blips and bleeps, which swirl around the Atradi’s coy inquiries. Moving toward the murkier atmospherics that dominate much of the album, “Too Late to Change the Past,” a bewitching remix of Linda Perhacs‘ “Intensity,” sees Artadi’s magnetic vocalizations on the cusp of catharsis as she unburdens herself of regret.
Playing hard on ambient cuts from the 90’s, songs like “Dark Tokyo” and “Liar Cheaters” rely on Artadi’s trance-like intonations as much as Weissman’s drum machines to maintain their alluring accelerations–but the real bliss emanates from the tracks’ bipolar skips between melancholic turbulence and sleepy delirium. While Pollyn’s cuts would feel no doubt at home in the Angelino-filled, neon-laser lit clubs downtown, the trio’s introspective undercurrent makes Signals the go to CD (because there’s really no other way to listen to nostalgia-ridden beats) for midnight drives through the inner-city, staring out your rolled-up window at the soundless nightlife that moves outside, bathed in fluorescent lights.
Rather than relish in the synthetic glow of the night, Artadi’s soul yearns for daylight’s release on the album’s eponymous track, her ghostly howls transformed into searingly dulcet wails, “Broken hearts cry it’s a cold, hard world/And I believe it more now than ever before/As new mornings come to increase the sound/Will I keep getting up without breaking down.” Channeling the abrupt staccato nature of techno, the jarringly mechanical “Automatic Response” bursts forward on the heels of frenetic synth buzzing; while the stylized dance-pop track “Broken Record” winks at early Madonna with its sugarcoated hooks and Artadi’s lightning quick soprano delivery. Baby-voice croons cut like ice through the oscillating reverb of “More Wanting” as Artadi examines her own blatant insatiability, just as Signals descends towards the noisy electronics of its finale, “Start the Fire.”
Four albums in, Pollyn should be hard-pressed at concocting up any surprises, but the eclectic tastes of its trio provide an evocative bedrock for Weissman’s frantically groovy lessons in retro electronica. Throw in a few choice remixes, a reliably addictive percussive backbone coupled with Artadi’s entrancing lulls, and you have an album that brilliantly reminisces on the antsy apprehension that simmered within music near the end of the 20th century. Signals ultimately refuses to devolve itself into an explicit admission of love songs, instead, through the organic tissues of its architects and Artadi’s mood-pivoting vocals, it prefers to graze blushingly along the curves of its anxious romanticisms. It’s a delightful oxymoron, one that allows the swell of its artificial atmospherics and synthesizers to fill in the blanks with its listener’s own flesh and blood.
Words: Steven Ward
Distress Signals is out now via Pollyn. Stream it below.