Music for the Long Emergency is the prescriptive claim from the collaborative album from POLIÇA and s t a r g a z e. It’s a title that runs a flag to declare a state of high alert. It’s a good title, because it also suggests process rather than event. And, what are we in if not the ‘now’ of process? The first track we heard from the sequence is ten minutes long, it’s called “How is this Happening?” and was written during the return of results of the 2016 presidential election in the USA. You may think you know where this is going. You may be wrong. Let’s talk about it.
This collaboration between POLIÇA, the Minneapolis-based electronic quintet, and s t a r g a z e, the Berlin-based orchestral collective, has its origin in an encounter back in 2016 when the two outfits met in conductor, André de Ridder’s living room. What started as an in-person collaboration soon became an eighteen-month long process. The two groups utilized all modern means of communication, and file-sharing software. The ambition was to produce a selection of tunes that were a true collaboration, and not just the usual stuff of ‘string band plays on top of pop group’. The result achieves ambition, and a pleasing unity is born from the diverse range of influences here.
Suspense plays a significant role in the sequence. Songs like “How is this Happening?”, which sits as the penultimate track, reveal events with a kind of sonic reportage that reflect the moment, but also fear the consequences of current events. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.” is a line that suspends itself in amber. It’s weighted perfectly – sat there with the self-realization of responsibility. Shit, if we want to progress we have to commit to community and roll up our sleeves. There’s no gentle-hippy ideology here. It’s a strong work ethic that leans toward solution. Some of our usual comforts may need to be sacrificed.
Instrumentally, (here and through the rest of the album) the sense of scale comes from a crackling bed of synths, strings, and Channy Leaneagh’s voice. Let’s pause for a moment on the vocal work. More than ever, Leaneagh’s voice sounds more than human. She deploys stretched tones, she spirals through phrases, and she issues statements of disbelief. Some moments on this album represent some of the best moments of her recorded vocal career. A ten-minute track that references endurance is smart. There’s no hurry to this process. If we commit to the ideology of this track everything around it shifts into sharp focus. Leaneagh’s going to guide us along, it’s going to be okay. Oh, and check out the discordant strings.
Throughout an album that’s populated with ghosts, vapors, and a vision that scans dystopia, we’re also touched by moments of real beauty. While the political landscape is mapped out, and words like ‘resistance’ and ‘work’ are used like punctuation, the real ‘Long Emergency’ is a broader, existential state of affairs. The direction of this album moves from the external crisis, to a personal account of coming-to-terms, to an inward-looking assessment of ‘what was my role in this?’. There is a sense of self and other, but musically the divisions are offered resolution.
“Fake Like”, “Speaking of Ghost”, and “Agree” sound almost like a pop songs that we may expect from POLIÇA of releases-past. Beats come and allow regular movement. The phrasing is simpler, and perhaps more accessible in parts, but it doesn’t deviate from the other-worldlyness of the whole. s t a r g a z e bring a range of textures that provide hooks; strings swoop and stab and offer more regular patterns. However, it’s not long before the distortions fold back in, space opens up – and as beats continue the dressing of harmony flowers into something other. Again, this is a device that’s measured well across the album. Content and form folding in and out of the other.
Y’know, usually, albums of this kind – big on strings, and strong on abstraction, delving through dystopian worldviews – they can all become the same, self-involved creature. However, POLIÇA and s t a r g a z e retain a sense of vitality and scale. For all the love of the spiritual (there’s that word) there’s a solid root in hard work, endurance, and sweat. And also, despite the sheer scale of this thing – there’s evidence of smart self-editing. Nothing is ever indulged too long. Big issues are offered big spaces. Pressing issues are afforded nods of recognition – they’re targeted and dealt with. Respect of process and the companionship between collaborators are the stabilizers of this whole piece.
Music for the Long Emergency is an accomplished bit of work. It’s a cross-cultural achievement, and a display of possibility for those of us who need reminding that hard work sometimes pays off. Will it be a big-seller? Will it be soundtracking parties? Doubtful. What this album does is offer solace, community, and comfort. And what it does it does without pretension. POLIÇA and s t a r g a z e somehow sneak high art into process, and they do this without being a dicks about it. No one is talked down to, and everyone is invited. They’re calling us into their shelter. We want in.
HURRY – LISTEN – POLIÇA AND S T A R G A Z E
PHOTO BY GRAHAM TOLBERT