Monday, March 10, 2008
Kelley Polar--I Need You to Hold on While the Sky Is Falling (2008)
Album-I Need You to Hold on While the Sky Is Falling
Release Date-Mar 4, 2008
Genre/Style-Left-Field House Club/Dance
Review-"At the top of the mountain, there is a special sensation at the centre of your body, and you can feel the earth moving underneath your feet. In the deepest part of the ocean, there is a cool and special place that is good for thinking. It happens to all of us at the same time. A feeling of the All-Thing."
If you were to come across that blurb on a back cover during a random bookstore browse, you'd hot potato it to the back of the display table. But that's exactly what emanates in faintly recognizable vocodered waves, line by line and time-delayed, from the flowery but strangely alluring intro to Kelley Polar's flowery but strangely alluring second full-length, I Need You to Hold on While the Sky Is Falling. Like a grisly opening scene in a slasher flick, that extravagantly over-the-top curtain raiser sets the parameters for what's to come next. An unashamedly earnest record full of with waterlogged synths, classics references (Greek, not Kraftwerk), and above all else a sense of theatre, I Need You is an album which, for its many conceivable annoyances, genuinely doesn't sound like anything else before it.
Sonically, there is a lot to like. A talkative mixture of fizzy electronic timbres, soft disco strings, tumbling harmonies, and smart rhythms, the music isn't really that far removed from the fulsome and verdant template that Polar, a Juilliard-trained violinist, established with 2005's minor breakthrough Love Songs From the Hanging Gardens. But where that debut found the then-unknown musician in mostly timid voice, I Need You depicts him, one album under his belt, as a bolshier and far more assertive presence. The change is most plainly evident in his singing, where the unassuming, rounded off sweetness of his former vocal style has been replaced by a breathless, compulsively enunciative delivery. At times, as on "Zeno of Elea" and "A Dream in Three Parts", he sounds almost possessed by his own wonderment; the effect is so pronounced that at first, you suspect he's play-acting as much as he is singing.
And then you realize: Actually, it feels more like he's play-imagining. From the frequent references to ancient Greek philosophers and Greek cities to the physics and science-leaning asides to Polar's constant spiritual assertions (in a nutshell: everything in the universe is connected), I Need You feels like a soundtrack for an alternate universe of his own creation. Much like his dialed-up vocal presence, the change in this regard is every bit as dramatic-- Love Songs certainly never wanted for the occasional proggy inflection; this practically demands a footnoted lyric sheet.
The highlights come easy and often. The aforementioned album opener "A Feeling of the All-Thing" turns that churning spoken-word passage into the skeleton for a celebratory sliver of symphonic electro; "Roseband" opens on a set of string trills before blossoming into a brisk, stuttery bit of disco; the throbbing "A Dream in Three Parts" rests on a gooey analog synth and Polar's even gooier delivery; and the sumptuous, string-drenched boy-girl duet of "Entropy Reigns (In the Celestial City)" is one of the best of the year so far.
Never mind that all that hokum isn't actually so hokey, that the ideas that form the backbone of the album's intro sequence-- that mind/body divide-- have functioned as dance music critic catnip for the better part of the last 15 years; by working them into a strain of music that walks the tightrope between that divide, Polar's managed a neat rhetorical track. More than anything else, it's really Polar's willingness to extend himself beyond dance music's often frustrating, low-risk, low-reward tendency towards po-faced seriousness that excites. Regardless of how you square with his overly-besotted singing style, his new age proselytizing, his occasionally agonizing earnestness-- and make no mistake, some people will hate this record-- it's hard to debate the artistic impulses that led him to make it. After all, if the sky really were falling, what more could one person do than set out to make a new one?