Review Summary: Afro tropical piano soul paradise galore.
For a band with such tumultuous origins, Polyenso sure have produced some of the smoothest music I've heard in the last five years. They proved that with their debut LP, One Big Particular Loop, where they made something immersive and beautiful. With how good that record was, anyone who heard it knew that they had nothing to worry about with where the band would take its sound for the sophomore record. At worst we would get Loop part two, and at best, we would get a lush production that strengthened the songwriting, expanded the sound, and tightened it all back up into a nice cohesive package. It's fortunate, then, that the best possible thing happened with the band's sophomore outing. In fact, Pure in the Plastic is so good that it blows all expectations away and makes its predecessor look bad by comparison.
To begin describing the band's sound on this record however, one must start with the band's influences. It's clear from the first listen that Polyenso is a band that likes to wear their influence on their collective sleeve. No longer do the band's inspiration begin and end with Radiohead. Here Polyenso add elements of Peter Gabriel and Q-Tip into the mix, and lean their sound more towards the soul side of things, with african-esque percussion throughout. I'm also hearing a ton of Gotye and Nujabes in the complex jazz grooves and sound collage aesthetic of the instrumentals. To top it all off, the band adds a flavor of Justin Timberlake's soul in the vocals. None of this means that Polyenso create derivative music or rip off the best parts of their favorite artists into a mess of sounds and songwriting tricks however. The trio work the tricks they loved from others so well into their own sound and so inventively, that with Pure in the Plastic, they have crafted a wholly unique sound.
The album is warm, soothing, and perfectly produced. The instrumentals are complicated yet not alienating. The vocals are catchy and soulful. There are all kinds of textures and instruments and little flourishes here and there and not once does it feel messy. This is expertly showcased in the dense, keyboard-driven "IWWITIW". From the beginning to the end, you're wrapped up in the album's soulful afro-tropical aesthetic like a warm blanket. The album is full of light and airy guitars, tons of odd percussive textures, and emotive piano lines interwoven throughout. From the optimistic bounce of opener "17 Years" to the piano-led closer of "Moona Festival" we get a plethora of standout moments and a distinct variety of tracks without sacrificing any cohesion. Groove driven songs like "Not My Real Life" and "Price" have spine tingling choruses and are two of my favorites especially, and the sample heavy transitions between the songs are a real treat to listen to, especially in the opening moments of "Every Single Time". To put it simply, Pure in the Plastic is a complete joy to listen to.
At its core, Pure in the Plastic is a damn good pop record. Delve in deeper, and any listener will find themselves sinking down into a deep well of tropical sounds and soulful emotions. Polyenso has taken the best parts of themselves and created something far better than what came before it. With tons of standout performances and inventive production, we have one of the best experimental pop albums of the year. it'll be exciting to hear what's next for the young trio, but for now, I'm satisfied with this.