Poliça's third full-length is an understated take on their singularly dark synthpop sound.
Despite being Poliça's third full release, United Crushers is almost emblematic of the sophomore album archetype. It's slower paced, brimming with downtempo ballads and droning melodies, and even a little sonically emptier than the sashaying pop thickets of Shulamith and the rhythmic density of the band's 2012 debut, Give You the Ghost. It falls on restructured versions of sounds from the past and self-conscious experiments in slightly fresher musical territory without ever quite escaping from all that predictability and initiating something altogether new. All the unfavorable things one could say about United Crushers stem from its slightly hollow familiarity, the fact that it's a product of a twice-used template which struggles to really expand (or contract) the band's creative flow.
On the other hand, how harmful can self-contained homogeneity be for a band with as unique a sonic imprint as Poliça? The contingent of their polyrhythmic double drum set configuration, discreet vocal auto-tuning, bubbly basslines, and sinister buzzsaw synths have served to separate them quite favorably from exactly every synthpop-derived indie act from the past decade (and there have been a lot), and that synthesis is still as powerfully singular as it was four years ago. On their new album, all modifications are made internally, leaving that core infrastructure reliably in tact. By nearly any metric, United Crushers is a very good album, whether it finds Poliça repeating themselves or not.
“Wedding", the record's pre-release single, illustrates all of this. With the dark intensity of its ping-pong synths, interlocked drum grooves, and surging (and almost unintelligible) hook, “Wedding" would fit perfectly on either Give You the Ghost or Shulamith. Weirdly, it feels most out of place here on the somewhat musically conservative United Crushers. It's a remnant of past sensibilities still overshadowing the band's artistic evolution.
Indeed, other songs on the album fit similar formulas to lesser degrees: “Melting Block" takes after Shulamith's muted moments, “Lose You" combines that album's smoother sound with Give You the Ghost's melodic energy, and “Lime Habit", with its percussive focus, recalls the band's early style. For the most part, these recognizable patterns don't have a disastrous effect on the quality of the album; fans of the band will still be in awe of their ability to craft such unique electronic pop music, and new listeners will be opened up to a brilliant discography without feeling completely dissociated from it.
Whatever stylistic reorientation occurs on United Crushers is implemented quietly and, occasionally, very successfully. With further listens, the understated songs on the record have a more profound effect than they have on previous releases. “Lately" swirls with hummable melodies -- a rarity for Poliça's rebelliously rhythmic-centered pop sound -- and a genuine emotional backdrop -- something the band, in contrast, excels at. “Someway", bookended by heavy-hitting pre-release tracks “Lime Habit" and “Wedding", comes into its own with lively synth stings and one of Channy Leaneagh's greatest (and most unassuming) vocal performances on the album. “Top Coat" is one of the album's most curious creations, a sludgy arena pop anchor that weighs down the middle of the album with overabundant reverb, a basic but hard-headed drum beat, and skydiving keyboards. It's characteristic of some of the minor sonic adjustments Poliça are willing to tinker with on their third album that don't always work. Nonetheless, the track provides stark contrast to the album's more ethereal blocks, especially the three following cuts, “Lately", “Fish", and “Berlin".
Overall, United Crushers is a low-key album from a band that usually thrives on muscular intricacy -- from pounding bass to the conflicting patterns of their double drum set team to their always stark synthesizers. Poliça's third album is perhaps more spiritually linked to the essence of Leaneagh's fluid and sometimes delicate voice, radiating outward from her talents rather than closing in on them. The result is more empty spaces, more silences, more sentimental melodics, but still a vibrant, quintessentially Poliça effort.