Album Reviews

Pollens – Brighten & Break

(Tapete) UK release date: 24 September 2012

Pollens - Brighten & Break Sallying forth from Seattle’s saturated hinterlands come six like-minded avant-poppers armed with a formula that splices organic instrumentation with experimental tendencies, ear-pricking harmonies and a fetish for droning, hypnotic and occasionally mystic polyrhythms. The standard fare you’d hear down at the social club, right?

Pollens, consisting of Adam Kozie, Whitney Lyman, Lena Simon, Kelly Wyse and founder members Hanna Benn and Jeff Aaron Bryant, are nothing if not evolving. Benn and Bryant have quickly transitioned from the boundaries of laptop compositions to something altogether more natural, improvised and collaborative – hence the sudden blooming from duo to sextet.

But has such a transfiguration meant? What are the tangible results? The band’s self-titled EP was well received – and thoroughly toured – but now it can do little more than bob in the wake of Brighten & Break’s multi-pronged soundsmithery: this is an ambitious album that seeks to cross-pollinate (hah!) Au Revoir Simone‘s leftfield pop with tUnE-yArDs‘ noise-nurturing idiosyncrasies, all the while sounding as if it has been informed by Cornelius‘s adventures in audio.

Recent ripple-causer Helping Hand serves as the band’s statement of intent as they plunge straight into layered, percussive, Merrill Garbus-style vocals before embarking on an irresistibly rich Snowblink-esque crescendo. Motion King, too, pulses with a smart combination of folkish, traditional-sounding harmonies and a brimming, bongo-fed drum track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Wild Things number.

New Lazarus tinkers with its time signature without dereliction of its pop-centered duties – its vaguely tropical composition standing out, in retrospect, as an LP highlight – while Powers forsakes its title and simplifies to acoustic fret-fiddling and Benn’s considered harmonies.

Provisos exist, of course, in pursuit of such lofty ambitions as Pollens’. In Brighten & Break’s case, its head of steam feels near-exhausted by the time Splinters & Pointheads rolls around: a track that peddles experimentation through repetition – unlike its preceding trackmates – its Marmite-like quality is undeniable, particularly during its cacophonous climax.

Sun Spots, similarly, tumbles energetically forth, but has the sense of a band jamming with only their own satisfaction in mind – perhaps indicating that the album’s best ideas are confined to its A-side – while Without Their Hands and Traveler’s Theme sign off with almost prog-like abandon, the timeless-sounding Snakes Goes Growing sitting tantalizingly in-between.

For every ear attuned to Pollens’ acoustic alchemy, there’ll be another turned off by temerity their sound exhibits at every given opportunity. It is not the band’s job, of course, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but one can’t escape the suspicion that Brighten & Break could shine brighter with just a spoonful of popularism stirred in. As it stands, Pollens are one of those bands you’d happily describe using loaded adjectives like “quirky” and “peculiar”, complete with all the bittersweet connotations such terms carry. “They’re not everybody’s cup of tea,” you’d concede. “But I like them… For the most part.”

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Pollens – Brighten & Break