Review: Poliça, ‘Give You The Ghost’

If you know me outside of belated, baby, you may know that I, Weston, recently took up a position as a staff writer at Beats Per Minute, one of the finer big-name music blogs on the web. I can’t say enough for how excited I am to join the BPM team. And as far as belated, baby is concerned, this by no means spells “the end”: it only means you’ll be seeing more full-length album reviews (and maybe other features) here. This particular review was my first piece published there, and will hopefully be the first of many. I hope you enjoy it!

BPM link: Album Review: Poliça, Give You The Ghost

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When the Minneapolis-based supergroup Gayngs released their 10cc-inspired Relayted in 2010, many critics and listeners weren’t too sure what to think. Relayted was a cheese rock project that boasted a handful of too suave singles, and these singles bookended a string dark, experimental grooves that weren’t so accessible. But mostly, Relayted was fun: to be enjoyed with a nod, a wink, and mutual sincerity.

Poliça’s Give You The Ghost could be thought of foremost as a spinoff to Relayted. Ryan Olson masterminds Poliça just as he did Gayngs; sultry vocalist Channy Leaneagh was also a Gayngs member. But on Poliça, these two have taken the bases of the smooth, outward, decked-out-in-silk-and-gold Gayngs aesthetic and turned inward. Give You The Ghost is a brooding affair, a winding trip into the nuanced psyche of a seductress.

The most prominent feature of Give You The Ghost is Leaneagh’s vocals: they’re auto-tuned, drenched in reverb, and generously layered and echoed. Leaneagh is a formidable vocalist without the effects, as evidenced in her lead work with the (now defunct) Americana-turned soul band Roma di Luna. But here, her effected voice tends to dominate the recordings, and in an aesthetically meaningful way. After the terribly sexy album opening “Amongster,” Give You falls into an introspective spiral deep into the mind. Basic sensations of sight and taste and touch on “I See My Mother” and “Violent Games” eventually give heed to deep rumination on “Happy Be Fine,” where Leaneagh repeatedly sings “I need some time to think about my life without you.” By the time the album is storming to a close with the gleefully morbid “Leading To Death,” the external world is far away, and all that is left are dreams and fragments of expectation.

The vocal effects are a constant throughout the album, and through one listen one could hear each lyric several times over. It’s as though Leaneagh is singing inward, her vocalized thoughts bouncing wildly off the walls of some internal echo chamber. The ends of some lines get buried in the echoes of their own beginnings, like a wave crashing on itself; this just presents her a barrier through which to power through those lines that need emphasis. It’s a bold, even gaudy approach, but interesting enough to keep Give You The Ghost afloat in its own right.

Poliça, “Wandering Star”

Poliça, “Dark Star”

Poliça, “Lay Your Cards Out” (ft. Mike Noyce of Bon Iver)

Though, Poliça’s instrumentation here also deserves consideration. The drums will often fall into a stunning, manic, lyric-mirroring fit. The bass lines are essential, carrying the tracks with a complexity that often, and by some kinesthetic magic, matches or trumps vocalized sentiments. A slew of synth sounds is utilized, including an especially fitting church organ sound on album highlight “Wandering Star.” And the tracks are intentionally diverse: the empowered “Dark Star” sounds like a cheap disco; single “Lay Your Cards Out,” which (barely) features Bon Iver’s Mike Noyce, sounds more like demented R&B.

But this diversity is not immediately striking, perhaps because of how Leaneagh’s powerful vocals are so similarly styled across the album. Give Up The Ghost shares a similar construction to Relayted: the middles of both albums appear less concerned with free-standing, catchy tracks and more concerned with the preservation of an overall aesthetic. Or, especially in the case of Give You The Ghost, more concerned with a more jam-worthy sound.

That is, the elements that conspire to make tracks like “Wandering Star” and “Amongster” so good are unlikely partners. For this, Give You The Ghost boasts some moments that are ambitious and different, appreciable on many levels. But, while it’s an album prime for some excellent live renditions, its the tendency to brood too much or even approach tedium at some points leaves further room for the development of this sound. And if one is to anticipatorily listen to Give You The Ghost in the meantime, the wait for the next sexy release from Olson and co. should be quite bearable.

Watch: Poliça, “Amongster” (dir. by SaKu)