Space Pop debut album has the power to get into orbit, but will it burn up in re-entry…
The Polaris Experience isn’t your average pop album, but then again Gene Serene isn’t your average pop star. Taking its inspiration from the Mars One Project (a Dutch idea that people could sign up for a one way ticket to Mars in 2027) the album tells the tale of love on a dying planet, a war breaks out and the couple take their chances try to escape Earth after being put in suspended animation. Again this isn’t your average pop album. Themes of love, technology and human interaction are explored, but all within the confines of pop’s musical backdrop.
One of the main reasons why the album works so well is down to Serene’s choice of producer and engineer Bob Earland. While Earland might not be one of the biggest names in music, he does have a CV that many producers would die for by working with the Radiophonic Workshop. Thanks to his vision and knowledge of vintage synths and sounds he was able to help bring to life the sounds that Serene had in her head.
The album opens with blips, glitches and loops that set the scene perfectly. You know from the album title and opening ten seconds that this is going to be an interesting ride. When Serene delicately whispers “Time stands still” repeatedly as the song slowly builds layers upon layers of sounds and texture around her, you start to get the full idea of not just the level or production, but of the vision and scope of the album. Travel a Million Miles has a Sheffield synth pop feel to it. As the song threads its way through the narrative of the piece you almost expect Phil Oakley to come in for the chorus. Singularity is glitch pop at its most potent. Serene’s vocals intertwine with chine loops and a lackadaisical bass. When the chorus kicks in you realise this should be in contention for pop song of the year in five months.
No War is a more sombre affair, but that isn’t to say it’s without its charm and hooks. Military drums guide you through the Malaise of Serene’s anti-war message. Hold Me is a masterclass of minimal production. There are very few elements on display here, but through Earland’s deft touch it really brings the emotion out of lyrics. The album closes with Weightlessess and Heavily Dream. These slabs of ethereal pop really bring this complex story to its logical conclusion.
While this is a brave album to make in 2015, it does have its flaws, as all concept albums have in fairness. While the music is exquisite, sublime and celestial the lyrics don’t always follow suit. We all understand that they have to tell the bigger story, at times you feel like crying out for at least one pop song that doesn’t fit so rigidly to the story. Saying that Serene’s vocals are always in keeping with the music. There is a touch of Annie Lennox here too. Not only is it felt in Serene’s vocals, but also the ability to play around with up-to-the-minute technology, but to create something that has warmth and feeling to it.