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"Pollens Added To The Hey Marseilles Record Release Show"

Posted by Bree McKenna on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 3:30 PM



You guys, Pollens is really fucking good. They have fantastically weird beats and multi-layered vocals that sort of reminds one of Tune-yards, or even Micachu and the Shapes. They were one of the bands I really wanted to see at the Capitol Hill Block Party, but regrettably missed for some dumb scheduling conflict, and I haven't gotten a chance to see them since. Luckily, the local Cornish educated six-piece just got added to the Hey Marseilles record release party at the Showbox March 1st. Innovative local talent buyer Nathan Chambers recently boasted to me that he set up their first show at the Rendezvous. He swears that several band members were playing instruments that he's never even heard of, and also assures me that they are amazing live. - The Stranger

"Think Vocal, Rock Global Pollens Are Seattle's Top African Trance Choral Band"

Can brainy music be fun? Can musicians with university pedigrees get down? Can a band with six Americans convincingly pull off songs influenced by African trance music and classical Hindustani and Persian vocal patterns? You look skeptical, but Seattle/Los Angeles sextet Pollens make a strong case for the affirmative.

What began in 2008 at Cornish College of the Arts as a two-person computer-assisted project between guitarists/vocalists Hanna Benn and Jeff Aaron Bryant has bloomed into a complicated six-headed organism blessed with supple vocal cords and the skill to arrange them into strikingly gorgeous shapes.

Following the April 2011 release of the outstanding debut EP Pollens (co-recorded by Fleet Foxes' Morgan Henderson and mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri), Benn and Bryant wanted to create a fuller sound via choral ensembles. They enlisted keyboardist Kelly Wyse, bassist Lena Simon, and keyboardist Whitney Lyman, and then drummer Adam Kozie of X-Ray Press became interested in Pollens after they opened for his band (Wyse was also in X-Ray Press). Everyone in Pollens sings, and the tapestries they weave rival those of Dirty Projectors for sophistication and gender counterpoint and interplay.

Pollens songs are high-wire balancing acts between hypnotic repetition and surprising dynamics. Moroccan and Congolese trance music somehow smoothly integrates with song structures that combine elements of folk, prog, minimalist composition, and those world-class choral maneuvers. All of these components elegantly coalesce on Pollens' new album, Brighten & Break, released on the last day of 2011.

Bryant, Benn, Simon, and Lyman all majored in composition at Cornish, studied African drumming, and played in the college's gamelan ensemble. Wyse was a piano performance major and Kozie studied jazz percussion. This ain't your typical bunch of indie-rock sad sacks flailing at the Elliott Smith songbook. Pollens' modal, polyrhythmic music makes most of their local peers sound like underachievers.

"I think what set this group apart from our studies and our other bands was the singing," says Bryant. "It's how we got to know each other, and it makes up half of what we are doing. The other half is repetition; all of us have an affinity for trance musics and thinking of longer timescales than the typical three-minute pop form. We all love to stretch out and live in a space or groove or whatever for as long as it takes."

Bryant writes the lyrics and some of the melodies while Benn helps out with the tunesmithery and handles most of the choral composition. They both finesse the arrangements, which, Bryant says, "mostly come from improvising in a mode and trying out each other's vocal parts until everybody has something that makes sense with their bodies."

The aim of Pollens' complex vocal arrangements seems to be to overwhelm the listener with beauty, to pile on the layers of dulcet harmonies until you swoon yourself to exhaustion, and it all must be a bastard to memorize and master. Bryant notes, "Hanna is a fantastic choral composer... she's got the best GarageBand files you've ever heard. We do our best to make those ideas sound full with only six voices. The interplay is how we keep things moving and active. Since active repetition is often the goal, the vocal parts function to keep everyone engaged such that at every repeat we are all always making a 'new' sound."

But maybe songs can get too refined? Perhaps they can spiral into a black hole of complexity for its own sake? Bryant denies that such a thing is possible. "Refinement is the goal," he states with finality.

The essential paradox of Pollens is how this rigorous refinement, which could come off as academic and arid, translates into ebullient, exciting recordings and live performances.

"Pollens is making the music that we wish existed," Bryant observes. "We are a combination of the influences that we feel didn't get enough attention in the music we are pulling from... like songs that aren't long enough, or harmonies that only appear for a verse, or patterns that only get complex for the breakdown."

Being a sextet composed of three men and three women is uncommon in rock/pop circles. There's certainly potential for Fleetwood Mac scenarios of romantic embroilment. But Bryant says Pollens have experienced nothing of the sort. In fact, the setup is "perfect for singing, it's perfect in the van and for hanging out."

How harmonious—just like Pollens' music. recommended - The Stranger

"Pollens: Brighten and Break"

Pollens: Brighten and Break

Reviewed By: Maarten Schiethart
Label: Tapete Records
Format: CD

Seattle sextet Pollens release one of 2012's most exciting debut albums, 'Brighten and Break' where natural ease and complexity go hand-in-hand. The splendid harmony vocals of Hanna Benn, Whitney Lyman, Lena Simon and Kelly Wyse with Jeff Aaron Bryant as an occasional lead singer result in pure melodic pop with ingenious twists. Their melting pot of music includes gamelan, the traditional music of Java and Bali, interwoven with styles from places as diverse as Kinshasa. On 'Powers' you'll hear a subtle mbira and plenty of patterns build on african rhythms. Yet, with one drummer it seems, Adam Kozie, their sounds are more like world folk pop music than like tribal trance, 'Sun Spots' excepted. 'Without Their Hands' blends the 'khendang' drum with guitar licks from Nigeria's juju, as if in the meeting of three continents. (Information on the band is sparse).

On a first superficial hearing, you'll think of Celtic folk but soon the several layers lead to smooth innovation in the music. The graceful and gently harmonic singers leave an angelic impression, and as a small miracle this works very fine with the heft of the instrumentation of guitar and percussion. I'm baffled. - pennyblackmusic.co.uk/

"Pollens' Debut Album Brighten & Break Is a Lyrical Triumph"

Pollens, Brighten & Break
Tapete Records
By Erin Thompson

No other band in Seattle is doing what this Cornish College-originated sextet is doing, and their debut full-length, a magically transportive swirl of dissonant choral chants, polyrhythmic percussion, and African trance-inspired structures, is a triumph.

See also: Dream Girl: Whitney Lyman Is Ready to Poison Herself to Slay Her Predators

The swoony "Splinters & Pointheads," which features vocals that sound like birds and bees flitting and buzzing in one big swarm, is a standout. So is the chirping opener "Helping Hand," on which the rhyme of the lyrics take on a hypnotic rhythm that matches the instrumentation--"If allowed through the thick of them, visions/Make decisions, ritualed repetitions/All the moves a person knows/All the ranks and rows/He suffers blows he's dealt and eats his arrows."

Pollens has a wonderfully poetic way with words. Their songs touch on spiders, birds, lizards, the passing of seasons, moths sleeping on bedposts, creating a mystical natural world; their rhyme schemes roll off the tongue and tie it all together. I particularly love the beautifully lyrical wording on "Without Their Hands":

Like birds make nests without their hands
How might we understand?
Like edges form unplanned
Like form mutates without demand
Like thought defies command

Pollens plays the Tractor Tavern on Wednesday, November 21 with Bryan John Appleby and Shenandoah Davis. The show starts at 9 p.m.; tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. They'll also be performing in Tacoma on Friday, November 16 as part of the Cathedrals series at the Immanuel Presbyterian Church with Drew Grow & the Pastors' Wives and Goldfinch. Details are on Facebook. - Seattle Weekly

"Album Reviews Pollens – Brighten & Break <Three Star>"

Album Reviews
Pollens – Brighten & Break
(Tapete) UK release date: 24 September 2012
By David Welsh | 24 September 2012

pollens albumsSallying forth from Seattle’s saturated hinterlands come six like-minded avant-poppers armed with a formula that splices organic instrumentation with experimental tendencies, ear-pricking harmonies and a fetish for droning, hypnotic and occasionally mystic polyrhythms. The standard fare you’d hear down at the social club, right?

Pollens, consisting of Adam Kozie, Whitney Lyman, Lena Simon, Kelly Wyse and founder members Hanna Benn and Jeff Aaron Bryant, are nothing if not evolving. Benn and Bryant have quickly transitioned from the boundaries of laptop compositions to something altogether more natural, improvised and collaborative – hence the sudden blooming from duo to sextet.

But has such a transfiguration meant? What are the tangible results? The band’s self-titled EP was well received – and thoroughly toured – but now it can do little more than bob in the wake of Brighten & Break’s multi-pronged soundsmithery: this is an ambitious album that seeks to cross-pollinate (hah!) Au Revoir Simone‘s leftfield pop with tUnE-yArDs‘ noise-nurturing idiosyncrasies, all the while sounding as if it has been informed by Cornelius‘s adventures in audio.

Recent ripple-causer Helping Hand serves as the band’s statement of intent as they plunge straight into layered, percussive, Merrill Garbus-style vocals before embarking on an irresistibly rich Snowblink-esque crescendo. Motion King, too, pulses with a smart combination of folkish, traditional-sounding harmonies and a brimming, bongo-fed drum track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Wild Things number.

New Lazarus tinkers with its time signature without dereliction of its pop-centered duties – its vaguely tropical composition standing out, in retrospect, as an LP highlight – while Powers forsakes its title and simplifies to acoustic fret-fiddling and Benn’s considered harmonies.

Provisos exist, of course, in pursuit of such lofty ambitions as Pollens’. In Brighten & Break’s case, its head of steam feels near-exhausted by the time Splinters & Pointheads rolls around: a track that peddles experimentation through repetition – unlike its preceding trackmates – its Marmite-like quality is undeniable, particularly during its cacophonous climax.

Sun Spots, similarly, tumbles energetically forth, but has the sense of a band jamming with only their own satisfaction in mind – perhaps indicating that the album’s best ideas are confined to its A-side – while Without Their Hands and Traveler’s Theme sign off with almost prog-like abandon, the timeless-sounding Snakes Goes Growing sitting tantalizingly in-between.

For every ear attuned to Pollens’ acoustic alchemy, there’ll be another turned off by temerity their sound exhibits at every given opportunity. It is not the band’s job, of course, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but one can’t escape the suspicion that Brighten & Break could shine brighter with just a spoonful of popularism stirred in. As it stands, Pollens are one of those bands you’d happily describe using loaded adjectives like “quirky” and “peculiar”, complete with all the bittersweet connotations such terms carry. “They’re not everybody’s cup of tea,” you’d concede. “But I like them… For the most part.”
- Musicomh.com


Helping Hand is in heavy rotation on KEXP, one of the premier radio stations in the country.

LP "Brighten & Break", Tapete Records
1. Helping Hand
2. Motion King
3. New Lazarus
4. Powers
5. ///
6. Splinters & Pointheads
7. \\\
8. Sun Spots
9. Without Their Hands
10. Snakes Goes Growing
11. Travelers Theme

Released 21 September 2012


EP "Pollens", Self-released
1. Briar Dance
2. After Dance
3. Glass
4. Forest Talk
5. Raygun
6. Cats
7. Look Present
8. My Brain is Seed

Released 01 April 2011




Hanna Benn and Jeff Aaron Bryant met as composers at Cornish College of the Arts. At first their interests produced a sound that focused in polyrhythms and singing repetitive melodies against a drone. As they started to write songs
for Pollens they did their best to keep the same feeling. This amounted to a blend of Eastern and African sounds, density anchored by thick harmonies and strong, repeating pop hooks. When they sat down to make their first recordings,
they wrote with whatever they had on hand- making layers with African and Javanese percussion, synthesizers and guitars, drum machines and a broken violin. Drones and vocal layers permeate throughout. This self-produced,
eponymous EP was released in 2010.

Early Pollens performances included choral ensembles of various sizes.Some of these musicians kept coming back, and by early 2011 Pollens had coalesced into its current six-member lineup. With enough hands to produce
thick textures, Pollens traded the computer-sonorities of the EP for traditional instrumentation: bass, keyboards, guitars, live drums and percussion and of course, a lot of singing.

Pollens spent the month of August 2011 in the studio with Charlie Smith (Throw Me the Statue) recording their full-length debut, Brighten & Break, which was released in 2012 on Tapete Records. The recording is lush, organic, infectious and features appearances by Morgan Henderson (Fleet Foxes, Blood Brothers) and Paris Hurley (Kultur Shock). The album features 11 new tracks about death, habituation, adventuring and different kinds of love.