My latest obsession is with a brand new, one album old band that I must confess I could have missed totally because of the genre that it has been classified in by many smart-alecky critics. I’m not a huge fan of electro-pop and definitely not a lover of gratuitous use of synthesizers and that other abomination, the drum machine, which belts out meticulous artificially put together beats, with little or no human touch. I mean how can you substitute the thwack of wooden sticks on skin or hand-wielded strikes on cymbals with something that a machine vomits out with irritating precision?
So when I read the first reviews—mainly raves—about a fledgling new band from the mid-west (Minneapolis, to be precise) called Poliça, I wasn’t too sure I would like them. They were being called an electro-pop band, after all and, among other things, had synthesisers in their arsenal of instruments. I gave them a shot nevertheless based on some uncanny instinctive reasoning and heard a couple of their YouTube videos.
How wrong I was. And how misleading this whole thing about classifying bands can be. It’s patently unfair to call Poliça an electro-pop outfit. True, they do use synthesisers but they have two real, human drummers—one a hardcore thrasher of skins and the other veering more towards the satisfyingly warm thump of hip-hop. On most of Poliça’s music, the drum beats are layered with big, big bass lines, again played by a human and steeped in the kind of funk and R&B that makes bass lines worth listening to. And, of course, there are the vocals sung by Channy Leaneagh. My views on AutoTune, the audio processing software that many musicians use to distort or change the pitch, key or tones of their vocals are approximately similar to my views on drum machines: I don’t like the concept of artificial tinkering of that sort. Channy Leaneagh is a heavy adopter of AutoTune. Very heavy. In fact, I think, after listening to one full live show at SXSW 2012 and her band’s entire first album, Give You The Ghost, she uses AutoTune all the time.
And yet I love Poliça. I don’t know what Leaneagh does with the AutoTune but she delivers her vocals, harmonies, echo effects and delayed, tweaked notes, in a manner that makes the music worth listening to over and over again. Her voice is transfixing. Much of my long commute to work all of last week was accompanied by either the 30-minute set that Poliça did at SXSW in March this year or the 45-minute plus Give You The Ghost. Am I obsessed with this band? Yes, that would be a fairly accurate statement. Why? Because their music is so good. It is catchy, creative and full of what makes for great listening—the bass line, the two drummers, the vocals. Poliça produce a sound that is incredibly slick—even at their gigs—but more important, they seem to be a band that has somehow managed to intersect soul and R&B with, yes I’m saying the word, electro-pop, and make the end product immensely appealing.
At the beginning of this column I may have been a bit harsh on the critics who’ve quickly pigeon-holed Poliça as an electro-pop band for there are many more out there who’ve placed huge bets on them, billing them as a band that could become really big in the not-too-distant future. I would tend to agree with the breed that believes so. But I’d suggest you make your own opinion about Poliça. For that, you have to go to their website and watch the three videos—two official vids and one from a live gig. You could also heed the words of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) who recently said that Poliça were the best band he’s ever heard (disclaimer: Vernon played with the Minneapolis based Gayngs collective of w hich Poliça are a part) or read up 18 other reviewers who’ve ensured that the band gets a score of 75 on Metacritic. Or, like me, you could just listen to their music and get transfixed by Channy Leaneagh’s voice, complete with AutoTune and all.