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POLIÇA and s t a r g a z e – Music for the Long Emergency

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American pop meets German orchestra in interesting debut album.

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(Transgressive Records, out Fri 16 Feb 2018)

In today’s age of global communication, what’s 4,000 miles between collaborating artists? Minneapolis electronic poppers POLIÇA and Berlin-based chamber orchestra  s t a r g a z e  have put aside their different time zones and musical genres to release their debut cooperative effort Music for the Long Emergency, presumably available from music outlets on both sides of the Atlantic from February 16th.

On paper, it sounds like the most bizarre experiment; the two bands crossed paths via the Liquid Music project in Minneapolis, though their first in-person encounter wouldn’t come until February 2016 when the American pop outfit popped by the house of  s t a r g a z e’s  conductor André de Ridder. From thereon, they communicated via email and Skype, with the occasional physical meet-up thrown in for good measure.

Surely a backstory this interesting will result in an album of similar intrigue? Well, Fake Like gets things off to a pretty innocuous start, with the orchestra element reinforcing the poppy-go-lucky aesthetic of the track but not adding a huge amount to it. It’s pleasant stuff, but no socks are likely to be offed in the listening. Second track Marrow is a different animal; from the distorted, distressed opening vocal salvo to the jarring crescendo of strings, there’s a meat and menace that was completely absent on the opener.

Both Speaking of Ghost and Agree get off to promising starts, with the foregrounding of the orchestra giving the songs a laid-back, trip-hoppy vibe. However, they both fall back into a similar trap as the first track, as Channy Leaneagh’s vocals are a melodic but slightly unoriginal return to standard pop territory. Up next is Cursed, an energetic, grimy, drum’n’bass number which seems entirely out of keeping with both the mellow pop and elegant stringwork seen on the album up to this point, but which does inject a bit of pace into proceedings.

This urgency is sapped from the record with the most politically-charged song on the album, How Is This Happening?, which begins as a crestfallen eulogy to the state of modern politics and devolves into an ever-creepier collection of industrial noises and rhythms. Finally, the closing title track reverses this process by starting out with a slow and slightly eerie instrumental section, before developing into an upbeat celebration of the prospects of tomorrow rather than the emergencies of today.

All this makes for an album which is at times a little disjointed and sonically abrasive, which you might well expect from a collaboration between two such dissimilar artists. The pair are at their best when the orchestra is given the elbow room to add more to the poppy rhythms than mere sheen, and it’s certainly an interesting mish-mash of styles that hints at the progression it seeks without fully embracing it.