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Polica
Shulamith Charlie Frame , November 11th, 2013 09:41

Poliça's debut album Give You The Ghost languished in my 'listen later' folder, (one that doesn't get checked on as much as it ought to), until one crystal-clear morning in early summer a chance encounter with the shuffle button threw-up the song 'Form', and I found myself hooked. Pity that Shulamith happens to come out in autumn, just as the nights are drawing in. Against this backdrop Poliça sound almost too much at home. They disappear into the night like streetlights in fog; Channy Leanagh's autotuned burble sounding neither alien nor human enough to make a significant impact beyond frustration.  

Give You The Ghost was a true creeper, a haunter, an unfurler. Not an instant classic mind you, but certainly a classic as far as this writer's concerned. So it's with caution that I say this follow-up falls ever so slightly short of the mark. Shulamith starts promisingly, the single 'Chain My Name' heralding-in a bolder, more confident Poliça. This is Poliça at their most immediate, an energetic dance track showcasing what a tight, rhythmic outfit they can be, all urgent 16ths and squelchy basslines.   

Leanagh's vocal stylings remain indecipherable, a half-enunciated murmur awash in layers of reverb. Still, there's a marked toning-down of the trademark autotune effect that threatened to smother the majority of tracks on Give You The Ghost. Strangely, I find myself missing this. Untainted by autotune's ugly contortions, Leanagh loses that distinct 'trapped in the machine' frailty that has come to define the Polica sound. What was once jarring and remarkable is now a pretty watercolour – pleasant, appealing and blandly perfect.   

The string of downtempo workouts following on from 'Chain My Name' are denser and more meticulous than before. On a technical level this is incredibly well-produced pop with iridescent details bubbling up from under the surface of the mix. The rhythm section comes into its own here too: note the crashing drum rolls which spur 'Vegas' out of its sleepy torpor, not to mention the inventive, understated bass playing on 'Trippin'.   

Under the microscope Shulamith is an album which exhibits a huge amount of care and attention to detail. But it falters on a macro level, with too many songs evaporating over the ears in vaguely pleasant puffs of steam. The first half of the album suffers from a lack of strong hooks to latch on to, with superficially pretty tracks like 'Smug' and 'Warrior Lord' straying dangerously close to the generic chillwave trappings of just a couple of years back.   

I'd be the first to stand up and blame Justin Vernon of Bon Iver for the more vapid moments on this album. Shulamith was recorded in His Wispiness's studio and it's hard not to shake the mental image of his slimy digits meddling with the controls. I do admittedly like to blame Justin Vernon for a lot of the world's problems, however I can't blame him for ruining Shulamith's centrepiece and lead single, 'Tiff', on which he contributes backing vocals. 'Tiff' is beautiful, simply gorgeous with its 80s soul groove and whinnying synth-lines welling up from out of its cavernous depths. Leanagh's in top form and Vernon's presence is barely noticeable. In fact it's worth sitting through the slightly-tepid six-song run that lies between 'Chain My Name' and 'Tiff' just to get there – you feel you've earned it, y'know?  

Sadly 'Tiff' only goes to contrast what a largely unremarkable record Shulamith is compared to its predecessor. Things do get a bit more interesting over the last stretch, with 'Matty' and 'I Need $' just about raising their heads above the parapet to warrant listening through to the end.  

Shulamith is by all means not a bad album, providing just enough thrills and spills to warrant repeated plays. But by expanding and deepening their sound palette, Poliça lose out on some of the original charm that helped make them unique.

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