Ryan Pollie does guitar-centric dream pop reminiscent of classic rock radio staples while staying true to his DIY roots. Since debuting under the pseudonym Los Angeles Police Department in 2014, the Philadelphia-born, Los Angeles-based songwriter has honed his California chamber pop with a playful country twang, reaching an emotional peak on the eponymous album. of 2019 under his birth name, which he completed during chemotherapy. At Stars, her fourth studio album, Pollie broadens her musical palette and wades into richly textured psychedelic folk.
Entirely produced by Pollie himself, the sound of Stars is clean and loose. Some songs are grounded in sharp snare strikes and a brilliant piano, while others embody the kaleidoscopic haze of Beach Boys records from the late 1960s. “The Shore House” borrows from the charming fantasy of Magical Mystery Tour, while “On the Nose” recalls summer nights with the Grateful Dead, so much so that guitarist Rob Dobson’s impression of Jerry could have inspired the song’s title. Inspiration borders on imitation, but Pollie’s interplay between stringed instruments and brass and woodwinds keeps things fresh for the duration of the record.
What sets Stars from Pollie’s back catalog is his flirtation with psychedelia. Take, for example, “Steal Away,” a hearty piano escapade embellished with groaning pedal steel notes that curl under a brooding cloud of distorted saxophone and guitar. All of a sudden, a hi-hat ticks a sonic barrage, and cascades of jazz brass, folk accents and progressive guitars burst into each other: this is the most amazing moment of the album. “The Thing”, meanwhile, dives into a synth and dazed daze loaded with saxophones that sound somewhere between Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” and “Any Color You Like”, while “Out of It” embraces surrealism. Syd Barrett’s form-changing solo material.
While her experimentation often turns out to be fruitful, Pollie’s playfulness turns hokey on “Harriton House,” a parade of piano, banjo and trumpet solo filtered to sound like a kazoo. At best, it’s a charming, quirky folk tune. At worst: a ragtime act in a Disneyland restaurant. For the most part, the album makes good use of eccentric instrumentation, although Pollie sounds just as loud without all the bells and whistles. In “Don’t Lie,” the most touching song here, dreamy vocal harmonies and a melancholy acoustic guitar bring out the sadness in her lyrics. “I want you to love me / remind me of elementary school,” he sings. Pollie’s voice is delicate and vaporous, eliciting a sense of wonder that runs through the entire album. Take the wedding hooks sung in “The Best Love I’ve Ever Had” (“I Picked A Ring / It’s The Biggest I’ve Ever Seen”) which is brimming with childlike excitement. Through a lively piano and slide guitar waves, he draws rich emotion from an otherwise simple song.
Forming a subtle tale of love and heartbreak, Pollie’s lyrics document the excitement of a blossoming relationship before dispelling her insecurities and expressing sweet devotion. Towards the end of the album, he laments a sparkling flame, recounting details like walking the dog on summer days. On the closing piece “Market”, he faces the rubble of his romance: “She would never marry me.” As the story unfolds, Pollie draws a map of the key locations, guiding us through the beach where he wants to raise his children; on the third floor of a bar where he was smoking. But Pollie’s sincere belief suggests that the most meaningful part of the ride are the sweet moments of joy and disappointment scattered along the way.
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