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Poliça in Philly

(Photo Credit: Camélia Hairane/@smarty.plant)

Madness/I can’t get you out of my mind/

Pretending/It’s not eating me alive.”

From Shillington to Fishtown

A couple of hours earlier, my wife finished her trauma rotation and her intern year as an ED resident, so I drove us to Philadelphia. Along the way, we discussed what Camélia experienced at Reading Hospital while also listening to the newest Poliça album, Madness. During a pause in our conversation, I had an ah-ha moment. Poliça is capable of doing what Portishead did in the ‘90s and early 2000s.

From “Madness” to the 1990s

“Madness” has an instrumental movement that sounds classical, like a sampled violin concerto. Although I have been listening to Poliça for a couple of years, I have never delved into the background of the group. Channy was the face and the voice, but I did not know much about the rest of the body. Listening to “Madness” on the drive, I could not help but wonder how they made their music.

Portishead came together in the early 1990s. A band made up of three and sometimes four members, they released three albums between 1993 and 1998, including a live performance with an orchestra, and released their fourth and final one in 2008. Because of the timing, their music impacted my friends and me during my college years. We spent many late nights and after-hours listening to Beth Gibbons’ haunting voice and the band’s mellow and minimal but deep and complicated sound. They captured the mood of the grunge and slacker era with the cool of intellectual hip-hop. I follow them on Instagram, waiting for them to drop another album.

Listening to Portishead for years, you would think I know a lot about the band. However, the truth is I did not. They were their sound, their music, and that was all I needed. If I have learned anything from being alive, it is that sometimes art needs to be separate from the artist(s). The more I learn about the musicians, the more their beliefs influence how I listen to the music. Sometimes, that can turn me away from it. For example, learning about Roger Waters and the feud he caused with the rest of the Pink Floyd members tainted the music I loved. While the band’s legal disputes do not represent their early years, it affects my overall listening. However, because of this article, I had to research Portishead.

While driving to see Poliça, my main misconception about Portishead was the number of members. Because of Roseland NYC Live and the layers of sound that the band can create, I always assumed they were made up of more than three or four people. Portishead could play with an orchestra, and their sound was never lost in the composition. I initially thought that was because they always used many musicians to make their music. While listening to “Madness,” I realized that Poliça makes music on the same level as Portishead, heavily layered with haunting vocals.

To 2020 and Poliça

Poliça has been on my radar since When We Stay Alive. Released at the end of January 2020, it was the album I listened to the most throughout that infamous year. “Driving” caught my attention, and the album never let go. The music is complicated yet easy to listen to, and Channy’s voice enters my ears and reverberates throughout my essence. I could listen to it while running, working, and relaxing.

Here’s “Driving,” the album opener, which pulled me in immediately.

Here’s “Steady.” Give it a good listen. Tell me that it doesn’t hit home.

To 2022 and Madness

Madness came out two weeks before the show in Philly. During that time, I went to see Blue Hawaii at Johnny Brenda’s and !!! at Underground Arts. I celebrated Camélia and my first anniversary, celebrated each of our 1000th day of being alcohol-free, and worked a lot. Although listening to new music should be and usually is a priority, my time was stretched and thin; I did not have the opportunity to listen to Madness as much as I would have liked. I wasn’t going in completely blind, but when I went to see !!!, I had months to listen to Let It Be Blue. (The album was released at the end of April, but I was privy to it in February.)

At The Foundry

Walking up the stairs, I did not know what to expect. However, when I entered the open black light lit area, I knew this was the perfect spot to see Poliça. The heavy red drapes hanging behind the stage gave the vibe of theater as opposed to a concert venue. While it was large and could hold a big audience, it was still intimate. Camélia and I ordered our ginger ales, listened to the opener, and waited.

Then, Poliça came out.

The Show

Camélia and I started the show back at the booth. Normally, I would run to the stage. However, I said, “Let’s watch one or two from back here.” We had time, and I wanted to ensure we paced the experience. Camelia had a longer work day than I did, and I had to be up very early in the morning. Plus, I am trying to change how I watch a live performance. Once upon a time, the band cranked the music box, and I became a dancing monkey. While I will still almost always dance and enjoy it, I want to offer more. Taking notes, paying attention, and dancing, I can write a review that will help elevate the band and expand their audience. The better I do my job, the more exposure the band will receive. And vice-versa. Artists helping artists is everything that I love about being creative.

It did not take long for Camélia and me to decide to move to the front of the dance floor. She had her camera in hand and a job to do, so I followed her. I had my notepad and pen, but the closer I got to the stage . . .

Music is a doorway . . . wait, no . . . it is a retractable wall. It opens and eliminates one boundary of time, allowing the present tense to mingle with. . . Hold on. I almost have it. Music takes the linear timeline and rolls it, molds it into a sphere, and then . . . I’m swimming in a bubble of sound.

Camélia did her job, but I could not keep up. My pen tried to scratch down a setlist, yet as soon as a song started, my head, shoulders, and hips began to move. My body was an open vessel, a vehicle for Poliça to take for a joyride. Their music is fuel, calorie-rich and complicated like dark chocolate and matcha. Or dark chocolate and chilis. Or dark chocolate and any exotic flavor. All endorphin inducing.

I was intoxicated by the atmosphere and spun by the music. My blood was pumping and releasing serotonin. With my wife by my side and Channy’s sensual vocals encompassing us, dopamine and oxytocin added to the cocktail of my natural, mood-enhancing hormones. My body was loose and light, surfing the waves of sound. Yet it was also in sync with the rhythm. My senses were gluttonous, devouring every sensation like it was the last meal. The band was playing, and I am a fan.

(Photo Credit: Camélia Hairane/@smarty.plant)

Thoughts During the Show

Although I addressed this earlier in my review/essay, I was highly impressed by the layers of sound that this four-piece band could create. Their talent is another way that I can compare them to Portishead. However, I know why they are successful and will let you in on the secret. It’s easy; they have two percussionists.

(Photo Credit: Camélia Hairane/@smarty.plant)

The Grateful Dead knew it early on. Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and Foreigner are bands that benefit from this music technique often associated with jazz. Other bands pick up a second drummer for tour, like Radiohead, who consequently enlisted Clive Deamer from Portishead. I believe it fills their sound and creates textures that a single percussionist, even an extremely talented one, cannot produce on their own.

(Photo Credit: Camélia Hairane/@smarty.plant)

I am joking that this is the recipe for success. There are many factors. However, I will say this. Poliça has been in my playlist rotations for a couple of years. Whether you call it trip-hop, synth-pop, or electronic R&B, I love their sound, and my appreciation grew for them on June 17th. Seeing them perform live elevated their status among my favorites. They showed me that there is a hierarchy, and Poliça solidified their spot among my lifetime favorite bands. Along with Portishead, Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, and Prince, to name a few. They know how to make music, put on a show, and look good doing it.

Final Thoughts: The main point I want to make is seeing this band live elevated their status among my favorites. In my reality, a statement like that is enormous. I love music, and my life’s work will always be tied to it. The relationships I have with albums and bands are as significant to me as those I have with great writers. I learn from, find comfort in, and celebrate them as my spiritual family.

Thoughts on Final Thoughts: I am an October 8th birthday. Based on The Secret Language of Birthdays, I was born on the day of Influential High Romance. Although I know there is no science behind it, I believe this describes me and my core values. I wear rose-colored glasses and try my best to share that vibe.

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