One of the many things Eleanor Roosevelt, USA’s First Lady from 1933 to 1945, was so esteemed for, was her active involvement in American arts. She collaborated with musicians and dancers for projects that made Americans see the power of arts in making political statements. Whether this is where German producer Marius Lauber found the inspiration for his stage name or not, what’s for sure is that as Roosevelt, he’s made big waves in electronic indie music since the early 2010s. When his debut EP Elliot dropped in 2013, the catchy track Sea with its unforgettable synth lead was stuck in everyone’s heads. Roosevelt managed to create tracks that found an exciting balance between subtle funk and electronic production, carving out a musical landscape of fun and danceable indie music that found many imitators. After two great records, he is now back with his third full-length project, titled Polydans.
In classic Roosevelt fashion, the record starts out with an intro putting a wave of synths into operation, creating much suspense and building up to ultimately give space to the vocals. The formula on Easy Way Out is simple: Muffled drums heavy on the toms, Roosevelt’s unadorned vocals over keys, synths and some guitar. This idea runs like a golden thread through Polydans, sometimes punctuated with more bold ideas, like the Nile Rodgers-resembling guitar break of Strangers, the dark instrumental interlude that is Montjuic, or Roosevelt’s poppiest offering yet, the exuberantly dear Lovers. Overall though, Polydans is a very acquainted experience if you’re familiar with Roosevelt’s discography. It all doesn’t feel very new, especially Feels Right, a song that sounds criminally unaltered compared to his recent albums.
That’s because Roosevelt had already well established the conceptions described above on his two preceding records Roosevelt (2016) and Young Romance (2018). While his music is still as enjoyable and well executed on Polydans, it does feel like Roosevelt is stuck in some sort of artistic loophole. He is playing it very safe on this third album, relying on the esperance that the use of a different keyboard or guitar pedal will pass as a stylistic revolution. But to a listener unschooled to the details of Roosevelt’s production, it could become very difficult to draw the lines between his three albums.
Polydans is a record that functions as a proof of Roosevelt’s sustained talent, but it’s not a record that grants the space for trying out new things. This doesn’t necessarily mean Polydans becomes a bad album. It’s easy to forgive Roosevelt’s circumbilivagination when hearing how seamlessly he incorporates aspects of percussion into his songs, like the bongos on the yacht rock standout Closer To My Heart, as well as on the disco-ready single Echoes. Or when Strangers makes your shoulders jump with that bouncy bass line and guitar lick, but also when you drown in the sea of synths on the glorious album closer that is Sign. It’s another great example of how good Roosevelt is at making songs build up through different layers of synths and percussion. The beat on Sign doesn’t drop until two minutes of the song have passed, but when it does, it’s even bigger of a cathartic release than what you expected. The synth bass bubbles while you catch yourself air-playing the claves with your eyes closed. This is synth pop in one of its grandest forms. It’s a shame that the album didn’t adopt the artful formidability of Sign, which was the first single off Polydans. Forget for example wants to play with the same formation of anticipation, but its leading synth bass and the drum machine have the song drag on until it’s finally allowed to burst out with drums halfway through, but even that release can’t convert the track into a more compelling listen, which makes Forget quite ironically very forgettable.
Polydans immaculately demonstrates Roosevelt’s qualities as a producer who gives great attention to detail and has a good sense of what makes an infectiously danceable song. But his last two albums managed to do so just as well, and Polydans struggles to let Roosevelt move forward as an artist. It still is a fun listen and has the right songs to get people dancing, but it doesn’t portray Roosevelt as an artist who’s willing to evolve at this time.