Over the course of their two previous albums, Lonely Drifter Karen concocted a continental bricolage of musical stylings. Third time around, the trans-European trio serve up a more synthy, streamlined set of brooding but punchy interplanetary dream pop. Bolder, colder and brushed in chrome, Poles is the sound of a band finding their stride, hitting their straps and reaching new heights.
‘Three Colours Red’ is a peppy, pacy opener powered by its persistent thrust and, like everything else on the album, the enchanting chanteuse. Although Tanja Frinta’s malleable voice is still the band’s stand-out feature, the Austrian singer’s absorbing aura is now ably abetted by her bandmates. The presence of recently recruited guitarist, Clément Marion, and the shrill tingle of isolation bestowed instantly by keyboardist Marc Sobrevias, add dynamism and an extra dimension to Poles right from the first notes.
The result is favourably emphatic, without quite becoming mesmeric. Together, the intrepid trio drift into fringe territory but their exploratory tendencies are kept in check – controlled experiments in shiny labs. For the most part, this album sticks to a straightforward formula – a chant, a tune and a vibrancy of delivery – that melds and welds the band’s disparate elements to maximum impact. ‘Comet’, perhaps the most conspicuous plaiting of separate strands, is also particularly catchy, a song to keep your brain abuzz in a darkened room long after listening. A couple of auto-pilot electro-pop moments aside, LDK deliver a substantially and sustainedly engaging listen.
Frinta finds mantras to chant in many of the songs, every echo sustaining the spell. The repetition doesn’t dull the narratives; rather, it offers something clearer to cling to when other lyrics are lost in the surge. ‘Soul Traveler’ is a fine example – the chorus grows more effective with each repeat, compensating for the kooky flotsam of the verses (something to do with camels, unless I’m much mistaken) and interim yelps. For all the rallying chants, however, it is swirling, mercurial instrumental patterns that create the album’s vortexes.
Though it waxes more than it wanes, Poles is also spacey and strange, decorative and distant. ‘Traffic Lights’ has a multi-dimensional timelessness, Marion’s mellifluous guitar and Frinta’s mellow voice combining to swallow up another penetratingly high-pitched synth line introduced late into the piece. The strong and sensuous vocals are lent extra prominence on these slower cuts, be they loud and lurid like ‘Velvet Rose’ or more shadowy, as on shimmying, shimmering Beach House soundalike ‘Appetite’. If there is a distinct hint of sepia, soft-focus fuzz seeping in here, it is only a counterpoint for the sharpness rendered elsewhere.
The abundance of stylish gloss, eerie allure and ever-chanted refrains – almost omnipresent on the final three songs – create a stylistically cohesive, colourful maelstrom. All of these tracks are variations on the theme but the set is kept fresh by slight alterations to the input, yielding diverse and shifting sounds from the same equation. Only towards the very end is there any suspicion of maybe one rehash too many, yet the crosshatching, interplay and familiar strands bond the songs and the band. Lonely Drifter Karen now form a European union of note: not the duality of polarity but a trinity in unity.