Much gets made of Pollies leader Jay Burgess’s Muscle Shoals, Alabama roots. And that makes plenty of sense; there’s probably no way a musician grows up in the cradle of a world-changing sound without absorbing some of that famous vibe. But like a lot of modern Southern rock, the Pollies can’t easily be tied down to any one school, be it big city, small town, college town, back porch, Shoals vibe, Florida swamp rock, or Memphis indie-by-way-of-Stax. In fact, if you want to namecheck Memphis, start off with Big Star and even that might be more from osmosis than obsessive listening.
To put it more succinctly, there’s a lot going on throughout the Pollies’ third full-length album Transmissions. Opener “You Want It” is a heady mix of bouncy riffs, breakneck drumming, slightly ghostly background vocals, and pulsing sound effects bookending a squealing psychedelic middle section. Then, just like that, they’re on to the straightforward Pettyish jangle and soaring harmonies of “Hold on My Heart”. That makes a nice transition into the pointed guitar work of “Summertime Suicide” and the soaring harmonies of “Fell in Love”.
The Pollies, though, had already established their more straightforward indie rock bonafides on their first two records. What immediately sets Transmissions apart are songs like “Knocking at My Door”, which eases in on buzzing sound effects that give way to some classic rock bounce. Throughout the song’s five minutes, the Pollies repeatedly blow up the groove in a way that makes you wonder if what’s knocking at the door isn’t so welcome. The last half is largely a swirl of bangs and noise, but not in a way that feels needlessly self-indulgent. The trippy Beatle-esque tendencies that had lurked in the background of the Pollies’ first two records are now stepping out into the open. As a result, centerpieces like “Knocking at My Door” and album closer “Love Is All We Want” sound like the logical culmination of what the Pollies have been working toward.
One reason the Pollies pull off such ambitions can likely be credited to the fact that they’ve been living on the road honing their chops and getting tighter as a band by backing acts like Dylan LeBlanc and Nicole Atkins. Burgess, along with bassist Spencer Duncan, drummer Jon Davis, and keyboardist Clint Chandler are operating at a new, higher level as a band on Transmissions. Lyrically, Burgess’s recent marriage seems to play a large thematic role, so there’s plenty of the Pollies’ trademark prettiness on display, but its the album’s Wilco-esque flights of exploration that make the ears realize the Pollies are venturing somewhere new.
If you’ve been following the Pollies for a while, there might be a few twists and turns on Transmissions that startle you in the way parts of the record sound like they’re coming through a ghostly veil while other parts are right there in front of you. But there’s nothing that feels out of place. This sounds like where the band has been trying to go all along and they now have the skills to get there.