It’s hard to explain the sound of a Kelley Polar album in familiar musical terms. Electronic is the best word, obviously, but it doesn’t quite capture the strangeness and atmosphere that an album like I Need You to Hold on While the Sky is Falling (Environ) accomplishes in pretty much one song. Personally, I imagine George Lucas’ first sci-fi cult classic, THX 1138; this is probably the music playing when the holograms are dancing.
Lyrically, I Need You to Hold On has a timeless quality, though one of the tracks uncharacteristically mentions drugs by name, causing the illusion to briefly dissipate. “A Feeling of the All-thing”, the first song on the album, goes the completely opposite direction, employing an electronic voice that repeats what feels like a mantra to minimalist chords. The lines change as the chord changes, unwavering and monotone like a Philip Glass composition, and the voice begins a sentence that, if each dependent clause weren’t interrupted by its own repetition, would be quite a run-on sentence. The words themselves have as much depth as a listener is willing to invest in an inherently synth-pop disco track without feeling ridiculous, but maybe there’s something fun and sci-fi about putting people in that position, like the movie Westworld. Lines like “there is a special sensation / at the center of your body/ and you can feel the earth moving underneath your feet” make you feel like you’re being asked to drink the Kool-aid, but with a beat from producer Morgan Geist (Metro Area) backing it up, it’s hard to turn your nose up to it.
The melodies are where Kelley Polar, the infamously expelled Juilliard classical musician, pulls his audience in. The strings temper and lend a sort of ballast to the synthetic voices, handclaps, and beat that would otherwise feel a little too close to Metro Area. When the vocals aren’t in the Mr. Roboto world, Polar’s voice is so exact in its diction and elocution that you get the sensation of listening to a musical written by your TI-82 graphing calculator. It definitely takes some getting used to, since the words are so new age that you think it would benefit the song to ignore them, but somehow even such an unconventional voice hooks you. One of the standout songs on the album is “Entropy Reigns (In the Celestial City)”, a duet with Clare de Lune that will invariably bring Human League comparisons, but essentially feels like a Metro Area song (probably one of the ones Polar collaborated on as the Kelley Polar Quartet) with vocals. Regardless, it is certainly the most accessible and pop-friendly track on the album. “Chrysanthemum,” a song with lyrics like, “Make a chrysanthemum/ of every human head/ make a chrysanthemum/ and kill them in their beds,” is real catchy, but kind of creepy in whatever message it’s trying to get across. I would be afraid of a “Helter Skelter” situation, except I’m pretty sure the only thing this music could inspire people to do is wear a lot of long-flowing robes and hold really intense religious ceremonies where people blink in unison. - Eric Silver