As strange as it sounds, a tragic unexpected accident can actually have a positive impact on creativity. A Frida Kahlo effect, if you will. For Poliça‘s Channy Leanagh, it was a driving force that motivated her to create music again. After a period of self-doubt caused by a decline in popularity and lack of bookings, she contemplated going back to her old career in nursing. However, when the 38-year-old fell off a roof when shifting ice during winter 2018 and severely damaged her spine, causing her to be in a brace for six months, her mind had to be occupied somewhere and the opportunity to gain back her creative musical spirit was reborn.
Thus the new 5th record When We Stay Alive from Poliça – although half written before the accident – is a record that may have never seen the light of a day if it wasn’t for a terrible injury. Typically for a Poliça release, the lyrics are fearless and don’t hold back and, like Isabel Muñoz-Newsome of Pumarosa, who reflected upon her own mortality scare in last year’s ‘Devastation’, the accident is seen positively as a refreshing change of perspective and analysis of one’s priorities.The title itself sounds like both the feeling of relief for escaping death and also that the survivor has already started concocting their next move in life. The music on the new album also has a fascinating feel, as producer Ryan Olsen has got the longest list of collaborators on board so far to add surprising rhythmic electronic layers.
Some tracks are more obviously written post-trauma. The Pumarosa reminiscent ‘Fold Up’ begins with lines: “Guess I knew that I would fall. Can’t say I blame me looking out above the wall. ‘Cause I’m lonely in my bed. Always lonely in my head” seems to reflect the accident moment, while the repeated mention of Persephone – a queen of the underworld overlooking the souls of the dead – seems to suggest her mind was in a strange place of writing.
But the writing and sound on ‘Be Again’ and ‘Feel Life’ are the most impressive of this LP. Both recorded whilst Channy was wearing a brace and learning to sing again. They have a vulnerable and nervous quality to them. The lyrics on the latter are particularly self-deprecating and evocatively macabre: “I’ve failed and I felt it. In the throbbing pain and the paralyzed lips. Screaming at death, “Why won’t you stick?” With the loss of my legs, tried to run away. Strapped me down at my own wake.” But then when she ends the track by singing “I feel life“, it is as if she hasn’t given up and recognises her continued existence.
While the beautifully eerie industrial-electronica ‘Be Again’ (which features breathing sounds, atmospheric rattles, rippling bell vibration) shows that Channy has passed the depressive stage and is now attempting to take ownership of her body again. She lists: “My hands belong to me. My thighs belong to me. My heart belongs to me. My thoughts belong to me. My head belongs to me. My eyes belong to me. My lips belong to me“.
‘Driving’ is more surreal. The music feels appropriately nauseating, as if slipping in and out of a dream. They compliment the lyrics that describe a vision that Channy had whilst paraplegic, in which she re-imagined moments of her life in a different way: “Snow falls on the tip of my tongue. Tasting blood of the violence to come. Branches hang low to drag and reach. Crows begging a hawk for its meat.” The dreams were oddly cathartic.
While the tracks that were penned before the incident could also be interpreted differently due to a pantomime sense of knowing what will happen next. Leanagh has previously displayed the activist spirit in her personality and the choppy electronic meets middle-eastern steel-pan ‘TATA’ continues this, as it’s about meetings she had with a recycling company accused of polluting the environment. Lines such as “Doctors cannot cure, you won’t move on” and “Throw my hands up. Smack my head” seem to be intriguingly foretelling in the album’s context. ‘Steady’ is an intriguing composition for Poliça, part acoustic folk and part warbling electronic effects, Channy opens up about her worries as a parent – 3rd album United Crushers also has elements of this fear – by reflecting upon her own handling of the experience. “Back in the day, mama held me steady, steady.”
Once again Poliça releases an album with meaningful lyrics and engaging electronic compositions. It’s a shame that an accident had to be the catalyst behind the creativity, but often motivation and positive purpose can come from the ashes of such tragedies.