Kelley Polar – Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens: Disco auteurship

Is that not a magnificent album cover? It’s almost worth picking up Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens just to have that, especially if were available on vinyl, which sadly it is not. The image is a generally well-regarded photo of the Eagle Nebula, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. It’s a striking visual, but more notably, its use here is a near perfect metaphor for the immense space between the sounds of Kelley Polar’s 2005 full-length debut album.

Polar (aka Mike Kelley) is a bit of musical prodigy, having picked up the violin at age 3 and become an award-winning viola player by 18. He studied at, and was expelled from Julliard, but not for lack of ability.

He has a self-confessed obsession with 1970s-era disco orchestral music, particularly, for obvious reasons, their string sections. So it’s no surprise that this record has a heavy disco feel to it. Though you’re not likely to think Love Songs is a throwback or “homage” to polyester suits. Disco is very much present, but more as a foundation to be built upon, holding together tendrils of pop and house.

Make no mistake, at first listen, Love Songs feels like a classic “bedroom auteur” boy-and-his-keyboard style electronic album. But within the first ten seconds, it’s clear that its spiritual home is closer to Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall than The Postal Service.

That is to say the music is quite catchy; it pulls at you with pulsing with heady rhythms, ass-shaking grooves and a surprisingly high level of singability. The aspect that strikes me the most however, is how the music simultaneously seems to sound sparsely populated yet vast and teeming with activity. A bit like the seeming emptiness the heavens above, which when looked at closely is full of magnificent detail.

This is one album that is sure to be on heavy rotation for a long time.