“Pop” is not the best descriptor for Pollyn’s particular brand of electronica. Though the trio’s music is surely irresistibly catchy, it’s got a bit of an ominous and somewhat high-brow trim to it. For years, they’ve existed somewhat sub-terrestrially, eschewing offers from labels but gaining critical acclaim for every release and remix they put out. With Distress Signals, their third full-length album, they return to the fold as strong as ever.
The album places you front and center on a dark dance floor right from its opening seconds. “Don’t You Want my Love” combines pop that’s so ‘80s it verges on tacky, with hazy, dense electronica that casts an immediate, distinctive mood on the whole record. Interestingly, it calls Portishead and Whitney Houston to mind at the same time, ultimately creating a unique melodic landscape. Pollyn are known for their hard-hitting drums and nocturnal character, but Distress Signals feels more dense, like a thick web of electronic pulses. Adam Jay Weissman sits at the helm of this sound, and his ear for precision has been fine-tuned over years of production work for the likes of Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Mystic.
Here, tracks like “Dark Tokyo” and “More Wanting” display most evidently the beatmaker’s penchant for inky and menacing tones, but singer Genevieve Artadi and guitarist Anthony Cava together add interesting juxtapositions in the music. Artadi has an otherworldly, almost icy presence that gives Pollyn’s work a cold sheen to it. Her training as a jazz vocalist explains her versatility, as she capably goes from playing a robotic character in “Automatic Response” to casting a stunningly hypnotic trance in the standout track “Slurp.”
The album’s first single, though, is its main highlight. “Distress Signals” throbs like a heart pumping blackened, gooey blood into a machine, bringing it to life. A range of textures come into play as the song takes shape, driving forward with forceful energy at some points and seemingly floating in suspension at others. Artadi asks herself, “Will I keep getting up without breaking down?” before the song itself breaks down with convulsing beats. The “cold, hard world” she describes gives way to an overall dystopian feel for the album, painting a vivid, though dark, future.
The work feels almost conceptual in that sense, though it should certainly be enjoyed by one’s body as well as one’s mind. This duality, of course, is Pollyn’s biggest strength, and Distress Signals feels like the three-piece’s truest form—essentially, a very strong showing of how far they’ve come over the years. Newcomers to their music will be quickly ensnared, and longtime fans, no doubt, will be blown away.