About twenty seconds into album opener “Chain my name” Poliça’s second full-length release finds its groove. For the remainder of that track and for its eleven subsequent songs Shulamith rarely strays from the fine mixture of Channy Leanneagh’s languid vocals, glossy, pushy synths and latent, trip-hop inspired percussion.
There may be fewer hooks than can be found on 2012’s acclaimed debut Give you the ghost but for what this record lacks in terms of instant gratification it more than makes up for with a potent lyricism that channels the eponymous radical feminist Shulamith Firestone most evidently on the alt-r’n’b penultimate track “I need $”, “I don’t need a man/All that he does I can/I don’t need a love/got enough worry to fill me up”.
Songwriter Leanneagh’s feminist perspective is enduring and again delivers emphatically on final track “So Leave” which warns: “I don’t like when you tell the boys/ That I’m your girl and calls “string me up like your lucky charm” – re-invoking the images of “Chain my name”. Poliça have a clear vibe that runs deep through this immersive, compelling record.
Album highlight (and lead single) “Tiff” boasts a guest vocalist slot from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon who delivers his trademark melancholia from a distance, perfectly framing the chorus as the band take a step ever so slightly closer to main stream pop. “Tiff” is not only noticeable for Vernon’s involvement though – indeed it seemed a matter of course that he would feature at some point on the album as the bulk of Shulamith was recorded at his Wisconsin studio and his brother, Nate, manages the band – but also for it’s video which shows Leanneagh’s brutal torturing of her alter-self. Further evidence, then, that Poliça are a band not afraid to tackle visceral themes in their art.
If there is criticism to be made it’s perhaps that the percussion (the band features two drummers) at times lacks the physicality and bravery to fully assault Poliça’s audience and leaves the album rooted in the same hypnotic groove that it begins. It should be noted, though, that this section does grow in influence as the album progresses, notably turning tenth track “Matty” into an incisive, damning story of marriage and then providing a solid platform for the hook-laden chorus that establishes “I need $” as everything that modern r’n’b should sound like.
Poliça may have more to offer, especially if they can branch out from a blueprint that they rightly feel very comfortable with, but for the time being Shulasmith is a finely executed and thematically and emotionally rich record.