Most talk of disco focuses on rhythm, but what about the strings? From its early days as an outgrowth of old Philadelphia soul, the genre linked so tightly to its tss-tss-tss-tss beat has maintained a fetish for fanciful arrangements of horns, vocals, and the strings that go underacknowledged as a source of levity. Kelley Polar serves as a corrective.
The primary arranger behind the spacious contemporary disco of New York group Metro Area, Polar works in the ether that dance music whips up as a byproduct of its momentum. Polar's solo debut, Love Songs Of The Hanging Gardens, traffics in a good bit of rhythmic sizzle and bump, but its main focus is the swirl that rises above. "Cosmological Constancy" starts off with strings sawed to a soft edge; it's the sound of an orchestra loosening its collar and yawning back to life after a disco nap. The full effect kicks in with "Here In The Night," a pastiche of instrumental sections doing melodic duty over handclaps and tingly cymbals.
It might be overblown in the hands of a less patient musician, but Polar's decorous habit serves songs governed mostly by his slight singing voice. Nearly all of Love Songs features vocals that are whispered more than sung. Polar's hesitance suggests an indie-rocker only partially sure of his skill as a singer, but it also gives heart to songs that pump internally as much as externally. "My Beauty In The Moon" works florid self-harmonizing into textured electronic wipes, while "In Time" finds pop certainty between spells of heavy breathing. It's homey, personal disco given to restraint as much as release.