Polaroid 85 is an interesting new project from Neeta Sarl and her associated band of string players, drum players, woodwind players and producers. Their first EP, ‘Fuzzy Mornings’ has just been released, and it makes for a stimulating listen…more after the jump.
From the very first song, title track ‘Fuzzy Mornings’, it is clear Sarl and her cohorts are not without ambition. The combination of electronic programming, rattling drum lines, strings, clarinets, guitars and vocals might make most people shudder and think that there are four or five more cooks in the kitchen than are needed. The fact that Sarl manages to combine not only the diverse instrumentation, but the diverse range of styles present on the opening track speaks to her self belief and conviction in her vision.
The beginning of the track has a string melody that recalls Plastician’s track ‘Japan’, electronic programming that reminds me of the Postal Service, and a drum line that teases you into thinking it is the most boring part of the track, before some African-sounding drums drop in and the whole thing takes on a drum-and-bass rhythmic urgency for 45 seconds. A melancholy horn joins with the strings to play the song out, and this too is handled with considerable aplomb.
The second track, ‘If’, starts slowly. The keyboard leans a little too close to prog-style arpeggios for my tastes, and both the sound and the lyrical content of the vocals is far too emo for me. However just as I was beginning to grow a tired of the song’s overbearing sincerity Sarl drops in a clarinet. I’m not sure what it is about that instrument that manages to rescue the song, but the instrument was used to similar effect in These New Puritan’s last album ‘Hidden’. It lends Sarl’s keys some real authenticity and sounds damn cool to boot!
Moreover, the melody of the refrain towards the end of track is gorgeous. Sarl gently croons ‘It’s time to choose’, before perfectly pitched vocal harmonies chime in to lend urgency to her cry. With so much other instrumentation going on in the background to these vocals, it is possible to critique Sarl for trying to do too much. However, the production is so tight and retains so much of the crispness from the live instrumentation that Sarl can actually afford to lay sheet upon sheet of sound under her voice. Rather than sounding overcooked, it creates a warm tapestry of musical films and blankets that serve to enhance the meaning and urgency of Sarl’s cry. It really is time to choose, which doesn’t seem to be a terrible thing, but something that should probably happen quite soon.
The final song Daydreamer once again starts with those damn arpeggios on the keys, but Sarl, true to her apparent stylistic restlessness, quickly changes things up. I’m actually finding this song the hardest to describe out of the three. It contains multiple aspects that I dislike, but I somehow keep being drawn into listening to it. Sarl has far too much creativity to be boringly pigeonholes, and this track displays buckets of ideas. Moreover, Sarl’s vocals on this track are by far my favourite from the whole EP. She sings in a less pained and legato manner, chopping the sound of her words ever so slightly so that they add an interesting rhythmic aspect to an already beguiling song. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the song is the abrupt ending, but I love it. Just when you think you might have got the hang of one of Sarl’s new idea’s, she throws a spanner in the works by just stopping the whole thing. Done. Finnito. EP Over.
You might not love Polaroid 85’s ‘Fuzzy Mornings’, indeed I’m quite sure many people, especially at first listen, won’t. However Sarl seems to have made it deliberately difficult to love. The EP rewards repeated listening, and the variety of influences and styles on the record make it quite easy to hate it one second and then adore it the next. One thing is for certain, Polaroid 85 have already made a debut that is at times seductive, at times frustrating, but at all times beguiling. Perhaps the best way to sum it up is with an anecdote:
I was hosting a pancake day dinner just after I’d been sent this EP. I decided to play it while I cooked and others ate. A couple of people complained that they were enjoying Roy Orbison and thought he fitted the mood of the dinner better. I told them if they wanted free pancakes they could shut up. Three songs later I went to put on a different record and the group turned to me and asked to play ‘Fuzzy Mornings’ again. I’m not sure what that reveals. But at the very least, if you don’t like it now, wait a year till Shrove Tuesday?
– Steve Eldon Kerr