POLIÇA’s fifth album ‘When We Stay Alive’ portrays a shifting, emotional transition, the highs and lows of the human condition accentuated to the nth degree. For this, the band and their stalwart Ryan Olson have teamed up with Kevin Koko, Dustin Zahn, Taskforce and Psymun to forge a unique soundscape that fuses POLIÇA’s indietronica with late-90s Bristol downtempo and bass-heavy Berlin techno. If the discordant ‘Music for the Long Emergency’ had touches of Henryk Gorecki and Krzysztof Penderecki, ‘When We Stay Alive’ takes its cues from Marcel Dettmann and Massive Attack.
Living up to its title, much of the album’s strength is drawn from vocalist Channy Leaneagh’s personal experiences - a recent accident left her with a smashed vertebrae and battered spine, and a long road to recovery both mentally and physically. Perhaps ironically, it's this experience that seems to provide the project’s songs with a solidity and strength occasionally absent from previous albums.
“Snow falls on the tip of my tongue / Tasting blood of the violence to come”, begins opening track ‘Driving’, a chilling recollection of Channy’s ordeal. There’s a sense of the vulnerability and emotional rawness specific to a life-changing moment in ‘Be Again’ - it’s like watching someone’s plight from the safety of a psychotherapist’s chair. Pushed into a corner by a pounding four-to-the-floor, with only ascetic rhythmic elements to hold on to, her wavering vocals refuse to give up: “My hands belong to me / My thighs belong to me / My heart belongs to me / My thoughts belong to me”.
But whenever hell is round the corner, catharsis isn’t far behind. Always an emotional barometer you can trust, Channy’s vocals indicate a major turning point at the start of mesmerising ‘Little Threads’, gradually fading in as if we were meeting her for the first time: a 38-year-old mother of two on the road to recovery. “One of these days / We’ll be brave / Gonna lock the guards away / Keep my eyes down / Don’t wanna appear insane,” she sings on ‘Blood Moon’, filled with hope.
In this context, upbeat country song ‘Steady’ and power pop ballad ‘Forget Me Now’ feel a step too far in terms of sentimentality, somewhat diluting the essence of what ‘When We Stay Alive’ is about: we are much more than the sum of scars we carry in us.
Ultimately, this album is a timely, much-needed, reminder of the fact that while suffering is inevitable, so is our resilience in the face of hardship.
Words: Eero Holi
- - -
- - -
Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.