Pozi – Smiling Pools (Prah Recordings)

Pozi – Smiling Pools (Prah Recordings)

Charity shop browsing is the last true great adventure. Navigating a labyrinth of nylon clothes, Easy Listening, colourful Tupperware and sad clown knick-knacks laid out like terracotta warriors, the universe can lead you to some interesting discoveries. For Londoners Pozi, this was a palm-sized, translucent glass plate. Their second album, Smiling Pools, takes its name from the inscription on that plate, which happens to be 1982 commemorative edition of the work of US writer Thornton Burgess.

“Why is any of that relevant? Isn’t this an album review?” I hear you scream. Indulge me a moment. Thornton Burgess (1874-1965) wrote thousands of animal stories for children, conveying gentle lessons about ecology and respect for the environment. Forward thinking, yet nostalgic, simple yet politically nuanced, fun and serious, inventive but accessible.

All things that apply equally, by some random act of synchronicity, to Pozi’s new collection of songs here.

Pozi’s musical style is as enigmatic as the trio itself, consisting of Rosa Brook, Toby Burroughs, and Tom Jones. Their sound sets them apart from the city’s angrier contemporaries and draws inspiration from a diverse range of artists such as British funk group Cymande, Czech experimental violinist and vocalist Iva Bittová, and post-pop peers Mermaid Chunky and Uh. Pozi’s debut album, PZ1, showcased their simple yet characterful sonic ‘template’ of bass, percussion, and violin, coupled with three distinct vocals. With Smiling Pools, Pozi has not deviated from their path but rather added more meat and ripped muscles to their skeletal sound, revealing their evolution as a band.

The album opens with ‘What You Came For’ , a track with acres of headroom gradually filled by queasy pizzicato and sweeping strings. By the time the deep bass line kicks in, the song feels more closed in, like an eerie flotation tank. Then Island Girl joins in the periphery, playing the spoons. Yes, spoons. This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the album, where you never quite know what, or who to expect. Different again, the chugging bass of single ‘Slightly Shaking Cells’ is anchored by a steady beat and sweet melody in which Brook refers to Boudicca and Xena Warrior Princess in poppy lyrical flourishes on the subject of immortality. The abstract foley sounds that interlace these and other tracks make Smiling Pools a fun thing to explore and speak to Pozi’s ability to turn practically anything into music.

While they have a different sound palette to Broadcast, there is some aesthetic read-across on songs like ‘Heavenly’ and ‘Pest Control’ . And, heard from another angle, there is also a political message underlying the clever studio work. It’s all done with delicious restraint and grace that it’s rather like being transported to an alternate reality where Arthur Russell fell in love with kosmische or the Radiophonic Workshop rather than disco. Elsewhere, the blacker melodramas of ‘Through The Door’ and ‘M6 Toll’ add layers of found sounds and gritty synths to Brook’s fibrous bow scrapes and spooky vocals, creating an intentionally weirder, more unsettling listening experience.

This experimentation across the album adds layers of intrigue. For example, the sound of producer Shuta Shinoda‘s motorbike revs at the start of ’24 Deliveroo’, or Mathias Arrignon‘s collage of environmental recordings in ‘Somnambulance’. However, some might find it all a bit too inflected or obtuse. Others might be disappointed that the band hasn’t taken the more post- punk inspired route hinted at by 2021’s Typing EP. Where there are spiky moments, particularly the breakneck paced jitters of ‘Faulty Receiver’ , they are few. But this is all part of the game plan, as Jones says, “I feel that the tracks on Smiling Pools demonstrate that we’re taking our music to a different place and we want to bring the listener along on that journey.” For the most part, Pozi do just that. Occasionally, as on ‘Shut Up’, Pozi’s preference to saunter casually through the murky atmospheres they conjure up might leave some behind.

Overall, Smiling Pools takes Pozi in an interesting direction. It’s a technically fascinating album to listen to, but it doesn’t get tiring because Pozi understand the need for a familiar bench to rest on occasionally, even when you’re wandering off the beaten path in search of treasure.

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‘Smiling Pools’ is released on 19th May, via Prah Recordings.

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