Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Kelley Polar: All Around Is Elysium

When former Julliard School of Music graduate Kelley Polar first appeared on our radar back in the early noughties, it would be fair to say very few people were taking notice. Initially known as "that guy who does the strings for Metro Area", Polar began to make a name for himself thanks to a series of inspired EPs on Morgan Geist's Environ imprint. These were truly wonderful concoctions, full of grandiose but understated space-disco with brilliant string arrangements and an aloof, off-kilter feel.

Then came his debut album, the delightful 'Love Songs Of The Hanging Gardens'. Taking his love of vintage electronics, cosmic imagery and studious classicism to new levels, it showed Polar - real name Mike Kelley - to be an artist more than adept at making understated, intergalactic pop. It quite rightly earned him a reputation as a 'one in a million' producer - one whose take on music was different to almost everyone else on the planet. Praise was more than forthcoming, not least from yours truly, who used the pages of iDJ magazine to predict that Polar would "become one of the most celebrated talents of the modern disco era".

Yet since the release of 'Love Songs' in December 2005, we've not heard much from the acclaimed violist. Bar the brilliant 'Chrysanthemum' single – and accompanying dancefloor-friendly 'Rosenband' remix - last summer, all has been quiet on the Polar front. There was also, of course, a remarkable remix of Caribou's 'She's The One' – the sort of record that no doubt confused as many people as it delighted (for the record, we think it's brilliant). That, though, has pretty much been it in recent times.

Soon all that will change and Kelley Polar's profile will rise dramatically, thanks to the imminent release of his second album, 'I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling'. And this time, people might just get it.

Certainly, 'I Need You To Hold On…' is another superb piece of work. It further develops Kelley's widescreen, cosmic vision whilst showcasing a newly-sharpened pop sensibility. At times, it it deliciously out-there and experimental; opener 'A Feeling Of The All-Thing', for example, is one of his most adventurous tracks yet, an other-worldly fusion of whispered vocoder vocals, disembodied operatic wailing and bubbling electronics - all cut through by those trademark strings. 'Zeno Of Elea' is equally eccentric – a beatless electronic journey layered with his unique harmonies and an oddly-confident vocal. See also the weightless rush of 'A Dream In Three Parts (On Themes By Ernesco)' and the eerie star-gazing of 'Thurston & Grisha'.

Yet for all the neo-classical electronic experimentalism, there are also moments of pure pop genius. See the sharp, dancefloor-centric duet 'Entropy Reigns (In The Celestial City)' (a tribute to a "party without end", it's Kelley at his most Arthur Russell-esque - though since Russell was a cellist, Kelley may take issue with that comparison), the previously-mentioned 'Chyrsanthemum', 'Rosenband' and, most gloriously, the seven-minute 'Satellites'. It's here that Polar momentarily turns soul singer, emotionally opening his heart to the woman (or man) of his dreams ("you keep me waiting… and I could wait forever"). With a careful bit of spit and polish and the odd nip and tuck, it could be a bona fide dancefloor slayer. Also worth mentioning is the glistening 'Sea Of Sine Waves', which sounds like Brian Wilson's 'Our Prayer' as played by the Cantina Band in Star Wars. Sort of.

Certainly, 'I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling' is an album you'll be hearing a lot more about before it's March 31st release. Quite rightly, too; if there's a better leftfield electronic pop album this year, I'll be surprised.

Kelly Polar's 'I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling' is released by Environ on March 31. Watch this space for a special feature celebrating 13 years of Environ Records.


jitwam Sinha said...

i have yet to hear the album but am very very excited!!!

i recently did a q+a with him if your interested.


Sell By Dave said...

Jitwam - nice Q&A. I don't think you'll be disappointed by the new album - it's very good indeed.

Afront said...

Great post - thanks, glad I found yer blog!