Music Reviews
When We Stay Alive

Poliça When We Stay Alive

(Memphis Industries ) Rating - 6/10
Traumatic experiences have a way of literally reprograming our minds and can affect everything from our emotions and outlook on life to our perceptions of the people and world around us and even the things we take simple pleasures in. If there's any upside to surviving certain types of trauma, it's coming away with a new appreciation for life and even wanting to become a better person. This is the struggle Poliça singer Channy Leaneagh found herself facing in the Winter of 2018. While clearing ice from her roof she slipped and wound up falling 10 feet to the ground, smashing her L1 vertebrae and severely damaging her spine, leaving her unable to walk and confined to a brace for six months. Having virtually nothing else to do, she took advantage of the time and learned to sing again while wearing a brace and also rewrote the story of her accident, which turned into a reassessment of her life and of past traumas.
The result is a deeply personal album with arguably some of the strongest songs she's written in her career, sharing the perspective of someone coming to terms with a near-death experience and also with a life she had been gradually growing disconnected from. This isn't exactly an autobiographical concept album, though. Leaneagh had part of When We Stay Alive written before her accident and finished the rest while recovering. Yet everything still has a thematic flow to it almost as if listening in on an especially intense therapy session: Be Again finds her stubbornly reclaiming literally every single part of body, while Feel Life is a raw confession of post-injury depression that's almost startling: “Know I am nothing / Strangled in misery to find my home / Knowing I am nothing."
TATA recounts tense community meetings over a company under fire for pollution issues. On the surprisingly gentle Steady, she opens up about her doubts over her parenting skills, and Forget Me Now essentially sums up toxic relationships. One of the disappointing things about United Crushers was how underwhelming it was, especially for an album taking on hot button political issues in the aftermath of an election that left much of the nation reeling. The comparatively cleaner production often undermined the urgency of the songs rather than bringing it to the forefront. Poliça's brand of electronica has always thrived best when it allows itself to explore darker territories, but When We Stay Alive isn't exactly the corrective measure you would expect it to be—even it has its moments. 
The sparse brittle beats and blown-out bass on Driving help create a scuzzy ominous quality missing from their recent albums, Fold Up further notches the uneasiness by taking that same blown-out bass and fusing it with warped groaning synths and trip-hop beats, and the comparatively bright acoustic-led Steady adds a new wrinkle to their sound, easily qualifiing as the most gorgeous songs Poliça have written. But not everything here hits its intended mark: TATA hints at a potentially decent idea but doesn't follow through and Little Threads never really takes off and quickly dissolves without leaving much of an impression. The standout moments are few and far between and aren't enough to distract from the feeling of fatigue and disconnect often preventing it from making the impact it deserves to make, especially considering the overall circumstances it was created under in the first place. 
Probably the second hardest thing to experience in life besides trauma is the recovery that follows; the process of rediscovering yourself isn't easy nor is coming to terms with knowing you may never be the person you were ever again, and it can be a fragile process with plenty of missteps along the way. When We Stay Alive at times unintentionally underscores that struggle through its weakest moments, but it also embraces the perseverance required to come out on the other side with a renewed sense of self. Poliça sound eager to take that next major step and embrace a fresh start, even if they don't seem to know exactly where to go from here.