Approaching a new decade in age can bring with it a sort of existential search for meaning. As we grasp at reflections and try to draw a line into a new phase, expectations can be amplified, leaving us reeling in the wake of some unobtainable self. For Helen Ganya, entering her thirties made her question and pull away from the heteronormative social constructs that surround us. On her new album polish the machine, the Brighton-based songwriter stretches away from the suburban nightmare, seeking a cathartic reprieve that looks beyond the ordinary. “I was looking to the truth of removing any expectations that we’ve acquired along the way,” she says.
Previously performing under the moniker Dog in the Snow, Ganya’s 2017 album Consume Me (Battle Worldwide) introduced a meticulous and elegant voice, while 2019 album Vanishing Lands (Bella Union) – inspired by the striking imagery in a period of vivid dreams – utilised swirling dream-pop and haunting post-punk to present an eerie, unflinching look at the often nightmarish reality of the present world.polish the machine leans further into Ganya’s interiority, but refuses to succumb to despondency, instead pursuing a platform for community and tentative optimism. Here, the constraints of societal roles are loosened to encourage a different route: a wandering, ever-evolving path. “I’ve always slightly feared the ordinary,” Ganya explains. “It never really represented how I feel and how many people feel.”
This sentiment introduces the album, as Ganya utters “I had a fear of the ordinary” on the glistening electro-pop opener “I will hold that hand for you.” Inspired by sculptor Harriet Hosmer and her pieceClasped Hands of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Ganya strives for community in an ever-isolated existence. “What we aspire to is to have human connection,” she explains. “I was drawn to this idea of setting the truth of something before it collapses. Setting this connection in stone.” Through staccato percussion and fluttering electronica, “I will hold that hand for you” pierces through the veil of societal stagnation. Elsewhere, “afterparty” further advocates vulnerability, while brooding horns and a climactic sonic crescendo imitate the overwhelming feelings that often overtake us during those moments of in-between, of unknowing. “I envisioned this actual space of disappointment,” she adds. “But I’m here, still hoping for something better.”
On the propulsive “young girls never die” hammering synths and haunting electronic strums create a canvas for an aggrieved Ganya who delivers a biting declaration towards the patriarchal norms of today: “Young girls never die, we just rot inside.” “The individual girl is often not allowed to grow,” she explains. “Instead there’s this sort of festering.” Later, the album’s title track delves deeper into the idea of lost autonomy, as all-encompassing, repetitive melodies mimic the hands of a puppeteer. The track features a looping bass line, fed through a Roland MC-202, that was created after the bass became stuck. Rather than trying to fix it, Ganya and her co-producer Rob Flynn decided to lean into the mistake. “It’s this idea of not being precious and counteracting the puppetry of what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives” she says.
This open-minded approach offers much of the foundation for polish the machine. By loosening the grip of perfection, Helen Ganya makes room for the unexpected, where our different selves can be explored. Here, she surrenders to all there is to feel, crafting a window into a world where the universal existential pull is acknowledged but not permitted to overwhelm. polish the machine creates connection by offering an evocative, electronically-charged deliverance, where we can aim to liberate ourselves from the fear, anger and anxiety that so often isolates us through a kind of cathartic communion.