Participants in the disco revival have often tried to suppress the genre’s flair for the dramatic, with re-edits that extend dubbier elements while subtracting the strings or vocals and going for a more subtle sound. Kelley Polar (a.k.a. Mike Kelley), a violinist and songwriter with a decadent past in the New York club scene, has chosen the opposite route, enlisting Metro Area producer Morgan Geist and a host of other string players to put those long lost elements in center stage.
Kelley’s first album, Love Songs in the Hanging Gardens, was an early attempt to bring new age disco out of trendy DJ sets and into the realm of serious albums. While a beautiful album, Kelley seemed a bit shy, as his vocals remained in the background, somewhat buried in the mix for most of the record. For I Need You to Hold on While the Sky Is Falling, Kelley clearly still has a penchant for excess even in his song titles. Thankfully this time, he also chooses to let loose a bit more vocally.
The album builds intensity right away with "A Feeling of the All-Thing," mostly instrumental but given great drama from a rising string section. Like the most opulent of disco, Polar enlists more strings to accompany his violin, evoking that epic quality but also going for a sense of melancholy, and getting much more introspective lyrically, light years beyond anything from the Studio 54 era. On "Entropy Reigns (in the Celestial City)," Kelley reflects on his partying past that helped shape both his love for dance music and prompted his eventual escape to the snowy wilderness of New Hampshire, where he currently resides in a farmhouse: "All that’s in my veins/ Sweat tears and champagne/ And every night the same/ Over and over again."
Thanks to the considerable production chops of Geist, the record maintains a warmth within the electronic drum kits and synth bass lines. It also takes the sound further away from ’70s disco and partly into early-’80s boogie and new-wave territories. The disco influence remains intact with Kelley’s string section, and the result shines as a sophisticated electronic pop record.
Now, with the release of Hercules and Love Affair’s celebrated debut, listeners have two brilliant examples of the creative possibilities in the disco framework. Kelley Polar’s sophomore effort is just as strong as the aforementioned, approaching a musical genre with heavy stigma attached and interpreting it in a sincere, innovative and modern way.