Album Review: Polica - Give You The Ghost

by Mark Wheat

We started playing "Wandering Star" by the new local band Poliça five months ago. Our audience immediately reacted emailing and calling every time I played it, liking it for reasons they often couldn't describe. They feverishly scoured the web for more. Then the album release show at First Ave on Valentine's Day sold out very quickly — the audience had declared, "This is great!" The response when I introduced them at our Saturday Birthday Party was literally unbelievable for such a new band.

You have to wait until track 10 to hear "Wandering Star" on Give You The Ghost and by then the album had completely won me over. I'm not the only one. Last week they were featured on the front page of NPR Music. I'm celebrating 20 years in the local music scene this year and never have I witnessed such a phenomenon. It makes an old radio guy happy.

I'm not suggesting that anyone here at the station knew this would happen. You cannot predict such a thing. It certainly isn't a style, a sound, that you would think would easily and quickly translate to a large audience. When I tried to write what that sound is, I found it easier to describe how it was made and leave out the adjectives of what it is.

Born out of the idea of collaboration, involving artists coming from different backgrounds and style experiences, it is masterminded by Ryan Olson, who up to now has been infamous for instigating Gayngs — a massive cross genre collection of musicians that ended up playing the huge Coachella festival last year. He doesn't perform with Poliça, but obviously brings a lot of his special secret sauce to selecting who to work with. Then he builds the sonic architecture for the rest of the band, the ones who play live, to dance around in their own way. This core song structure is where the attraction lies: it seems to come from an archetypal, universal place — reminding me of whale-songs in the best possible sense!

Singer and lyricist Channy Leaneagh, in Poliça's session with us, described the joy she gets just watching and hearing what this band brings: "People come just to see Chris Bierden play bass." Ironically, on the record you cannot discern how great his playing is by listening for it. It's unobtrusive, like a heartbeat; you don't want to concentrate on it but if it disappears... look out! There's one place on the record, on "I See My Mother," when the bass skips out of the mix and does a belly flop run that doesn't really work for me. But I love the idea in wabi sabi, a Japanese approach to aesthetics, that nothing is perfect, and this slight blemish subtly magnifies the splendor of the whole. I've also always loved two drummers in a band, but it has seldom worked better than here. Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson kaleidoscopically weave within each others patterns, giving the music a tribal, organic feel.

The success of this project therefore comes from a combination of all the participants, that indescribable magic element that can cause such a massively positive affect on an audience. But I don't think it would have worked without the bravery of Channy. She was at a place in her life, just after having a baby and having the marriage break down, where she could plead vulnerability. Then she stepped outside of her comfort zone as a more traditional rootsy singer in Roma Di Luna to sculpt an entirely different sound with a whole new voice. Manipulated by electronic gadgets it might be, and she uses it as an instrument, but you cannot disguise that soul.

So what is the sound? I still have no adjectives that work, but where it comes from might be a unique quality of our community at this time, coming from a skill-laden collaboration of artists willing to be brave and knowing that there is an audience out there, on the radio and in the clubs, that is willing to support them when they are.