Polica: When We Stay Alive review – An unsettling sea of uncertainty and turmoil

Fri, Jan 24, 2020, 05:45

An album to admire, rather than enjoy  

When We Stay Alive


Memphis Industries


February 28th, 2018, was a day that Channy Leanagh will never forget. While cleaning ice off the roof of her house, the Polica frontwoman slipped and fell 10 feet on to concrete, fracturing a vertebrae that left her in a brace with limited mobility for months.

Her recovery was both physical and mental – and writing the lyrics for her band’s fifth album proved integral to the latter.

In a musical sense, When We Stay Alive is a journey. Leanagh’s producer and co-writer Ryan Olson’s electronica-heavy soundtrack initially snaps into life with a sense of aloof detachment.

The opening couplet – Driving and Tata – boom, snap and groove with a coldness that even Leanagh’s crystalline vocals can’t warm, while the grimy, repetitive Fold Up sounds like the result of overdosing on Aphex Twin. Further along the tracklist, as heard on Be Again, she begins to reclaim herself and her body while the strummed guitar of Steady and its “positive reinforcement” imagery (“Now I’m blowing bubbles and chasing birds”) anchors the album amidst an unsettling sea of uncertainty and turmoil.

The more you listen to When We Stay Alive, the easier it is to understand – yet it’s difficult to make any real emotional connection to these songs despite their personal nature. An album to admire, rather than enjoy.