Finely wrought modern funk-pop wearing its emotions on its sleeve.
David Sheppard 2013
It’s been three years since Wave Machines’ debut, Wave If You’re Really There, won them extensive critical plaudits and a burgeoning fanbase. The Liverpudlians have not been idle in the interim, however, inexorably crafting its successor in their studio in the shadow of their city’s Anglican cathedral; and in London, with sometime Arcade Fire and Goldfrapp knob-twiddler Lexxx.
Unsurprisingly, then, Pollen’s production values err towards the deluxe, and its 10, thickly textured essays brook no sonic argument. There is emotional heft here, too, with, by turns, clipped and soaring vocal performances from frontman Tim Bruzon, delivering lyrics which deal in everything from the nature of human companionship to the elemental power of the weather. There’s even a eulogy to the unsupervised Chinese cockle-pickers who perished in the tides of Morecombe Bay in 2004.
Opener Counting Birds sets the musical tone with its epic synth strings, crunching beats and up-front-and-personal vocals pitched somewhere between a whispered confession and a dismissive sneer. The ensuing Ill Fit adds liquid syndrums, choppy machine rhythms, falsetto voices and alliterative rhymes to the mix. It offers an acute, Anglo update on dancefloor Prince, proffering opaque lyrics about something which itches “like a scratch on a B side” – a neat image completely analogous with the song’s twitching, faltering funk.
Elsewhere, I Hold Loneliness alloys further kinetic beats with a thoroughly blissed-out pop chorus, while Home’s scrubbed guitars, rhapsodic chorus and busy drums suggest a Merseyside Arcade Fire. The old-school drum box and lullaby vocals of Unwound, meanwhile, recall the solo work of The Sea and Cake’s Sam Prekop.
The beats recede for the title track – the aforementioned cockle-pickers’ tribute. Its gentle, waltz-time electric guitar arpeggios and mournful harmonium tones are instantly arresting and prove a poignant foil for Bruzon’s careful, non-sententious lyrics. These touchingly contrast the “hard bodies” of Antony Gormley’s iron figure Another Place sculptures (located in nearby Crosby Sands) with the “soft bodies” of the dead Chinese workers.
Solid, but never stolid, Pollen is a finely wrought, modern funk-pop artefact which wears its emotions on its sleeve. Odd, then, that its most affecting moment occurs when the dance machines are turned off.