Skating Polly have always been a raucously enjoyable experience, but between 2014’s Fuzz Steilacoom and 2016’s The Big Fit, something changed. All the ragged edges were subtly refined, granting song the clarity within which to find its mark. Polly’s sound, an unholy alliance of Bikini Kill, Beat Happening, Hole, Fiona Apple, Nirvana and Veruca Salt, converged into something much more their own. Call it confidence if you like, but from the moment ‘Oddie Moore’ opens that record, it’s obvious you’re in safe hands. They absolutely tear through the thing, revelling in every ugly little moment.
Things took a step further with last year’s New Trick EP, a passing-the-torch writing collaboration with Nina Gordon and Louise Post, resulting in perhaps their finest moment, the brooding ‘Hail Mary’. It was exciting to hear them honing their craft and deciding exactly what Skating Polly ought to be. However, there was a small sense that this could go in the wrong direction next time around – too much polish and they lose a little piece of what makes them special.
This was until ‘Queen for a Day’ was offered up to YouTube, baring its teeth at regressive attitudes and the unpleasant format of its gameshow namesake. X’s Exene Cervenka continues her investment in Polly with a biting lyrical contribution, while Peyton Bighorse and Kelli Mayo (now joined by brother Kurtis) smother it with 1990-Nirvana distortion and a worried Novoselic bassline. There’s also a primal, abstract guitar detour smack in the middle of the prettiest part of the song, dirtying the water a little more before a final chorus. It’s great.
One of the best things about The Big Fit was the instantly memorable memories, and Polly haven’t lost that knack. Both ‘Long Ride’ and ‘Hollywood Factory’ draw an appreciate smile every time they burst into life, and ‘Camelot’ draws on their punk roots to take down the entitled, misogynistic nature of seedy frat-boy culture. Credit should also go to Brad Wood for retaining flexibility in his production that lets all sides of the band flourish on their own terms.
The Make It All Show continues the path of its preceding EP, jettisoning a lot of the last full-length’s piano-led excursions in favour of a warm, grungy blanket that gives the record a more unified feel. ‘Little Girl Blue And The Battle Envy’ is cut from the same cloth as ‘Hail Mary’, all ominous bass rumble and slow-release catharsis, building over six grinding minutes to raw fury. It solidifies every lesson they’ve learned, but also reveals them as a band willing to push their creative voices to new territories. ‘Classless Act’ rails against the Trump administration, where “news burns like red pepper in the eye” and is an snarling opener, while ‘They’re Cheap’ pitches Mayo’s versatile scream against a swirling, loose cacophony of noise. They’re both vital detours that prevent the songs running together and becoming forgettable.
However, what truly sets this LP apart as the best thing the band has ever done are the final two songs. ‘Flatwound Strings’ is a straight-up declaration of love, careening joyfully between soothing harmonies and wide-eyed arena choruses. It’s a song they’d never have been able to write a few years ago, and when it reaches its final burst of colour, I’m rooting for them to be the biggest band in the world. ‘Don’t Leave Me Gravity’ gives Bighorse the vocal showcase she always threatened and is a beautifully unadorned piano finale – there’s a level of grace in its pacing that hasn’t existed in Skating Polly until now, and they sell every note of its runtime. The Make It All Show is one of the most arresting collections I’ve heard in a while: jubilant, razorblade-sharp and in total command throughout.
9Aidan Reynolds's Score