Poliça and s t a r g a z e encapsulate what it means to be human in times of global distress.
The current President has altered the landscape of contemporary music considerably, with many musicians feeling it necessary to use their art to make a political statement. Although the Minneapolis quintet Poliça had already tried its hand at a political album in 2016 with United Crushers, the election catalyzed the creation of Music for the Long Emergency, the band’s most explicitly radical album to date.
Yet, as its title suggests, the album treats the Trump era as a culmination of a long festering political conservatism and insular nationalism that isn’t unique to the United States. The band recognizes our current critical juncture in the deeper histories and the global reaches of geopolitical crisis. Through a transnational collaboration with the Berlin-based orchestral collective s t a r g a z e led by conductor André de Ridder, Poliça expands the album’s geopolitical framework, as well as the band’s sonic repertoire. The result isn’t simply just another protest album. Music for the Long Emergency lyrically and sonically animates feelings of political rebellion and solidarity, nut it also poignantly maps how geopolitical turmoil reshapes human desires for and experiences of intimacy.
Poliça and s t a r g a z e articulate their political responses through the personal in the album’s first five tracks, depicting how relationships change under trying political regimes. In an interview, Leaneagh made clear her interest in exploring how the personal and political are related: “You can be going through tragedy, never-ending wars, but you still also are dealing with human relationships and love and romantic troubles.” Opener “Fake Like” characterizes a crush who responds coyly to Leaneagh’s advances, with the plucked pizzicato strings providing a perfect sonic complement. But on the fringes of an otherwise simple indie pop romance lurks a “darkness [that] won’t subside”—the encroaching shadows of crisis that will soon engulf the album’s more human experiences.
Being human for Poliça and s t a r g a z e often means being susceptible to falling in love, but into a kind of love that feels oppressive and anxiety-ridden. To be sure, the claustrophobia resulting from this kind of intimacy is circumscribed and enhanced by nefarious regimes of power. With Leaneagh’s forceful voice pitched through heavy distortion, “Marrow” charges through a lovers’ conflict, heightened by the tensions between the smatterings of Polica’s digital blips and the portents of s t a r g a z e’s perilous orchestral arrangements. “Speaking of Ghost” conjures feelings of being possessed by a former relationship, and the groups attempt a percussive and brassy exorcism. Single “Agree”—perhaps the album’s most captivating song—explores the contradictions of intimacy, with Leaneagh delivering the haunting line “Being good to you but losing me” with moving falsetto harmonies over a foreboding horn arrangement punctuated by skittering strings. Some may find these songs politically lacking, but in context they accrue political resonance in that the structural forces of crisis unavoidably affect their depictions of intimacy. The dissonance of the music’s orchestral compositions enhances the effect.
The album closes with its most directly political tracks. The 10-minute dirge “How Is This Happening” oscillates between revolutionary fury and the type of disbelief that emerges alongside grief. “I’ll fight until my days are done/ Protect the ones he preys upon,” Leaneagh croons, her voice echoing with reverb over sonorous swells of synths. Her refrain of “How is this happening?” doesn’t espouse some sort of political naivety, but instead underscores a type of epistemological modesty in the face of large-scale societal disintegration. The song’s second half morphs into a viscerally jarring soundscape of eerie synthetic and orchestral textures, sonically reproducing the fears and disorientation many of us felt then, and offering a sobering reminder that such panic still lurks in the present.
The closing title track, also around 10-minutes, carries over the brooding winds of the previous track but finds greater resolve in its resounding piano chords and Leaneagh’s pop-inspired vocals. The arrangement favors strings, horns, and Leaneagh’s harmonies, all digitally reshaped to give the song a feeling of triumph, even though the lyrics continue to meditate on alienation and vulnerability.
Even if Music for the Long Emergency doesn’t have any answers, it demonstrates, by means of sophisticated musical flourishes, how geopolitical crises permeate every part of our lives. Poliça and s t a r g a z e encapsulate what it means to be human in times of global distress.