11 May 2012: German House Auditorium Rochester, NY
The term “buzz band” is thrown around so much these days, it’s almost lost any real descriptive power. That is, unless said “buzz band” is Poliça, who hype makers of all kinds are undeniably and understandably smitten with. Just six months removed from the formative album Give You the Ghost, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon sings Poliça’s praises, Jay-Z posts their music videos to his website, and SXSW attendees hail the group as one of the festival’s breakthrough acts. Here in Rochester however, it seems word travels slowly, as a disappointing amount of carpet space remains visible at the expansive German House Auditorium.
Despite the steady hum surrounding the band within the indiesphere, there’s not an overwhelming amount of information about Poliça ready available. What we do know is this: The band is a product of frontwoman Channey Leaneagh and producer Ryan Olson after the two collaborated in the gargantuan Gayngs. Olson doesn’t appear onstage however, joining Channey instead are bassist Chris Bierden and the cohabitating drums of Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson.
All that matters now, as Poliça begins their set with “Amongster”, is the wall of slow, steady sound resonating from the stage. Already, Poliça works on two levels. There is the coherent rock band, as Leaneagh sings “Yes to Greyhound rides, no to you by my side”, perhaps the most implied-meaning packed line I’ve ever heard. Then, with the addition of layer upon layer of surrounding fuzz, things get enchantingly blurry. Fans of the group know their signature sound already. Christopherson, Ivascu and Beirden create an R&B foundation for Leaneagh’s to riff over with electronically altered vocals and synth samples. The dark, futuristic construction that emerges sounds best when paired with the menacing red lights of the stage.
Immediately following is the up-tempo “Violent Games”. Every Poliça song seems to have its own distinct personality, and the personality of “Violent Games” is downright sinister. Leaneagh stage presence elevates this sentiment, as sporadic jabbing and flailing give her the impression of someone embedded in an exasperating argument. “Fist Teeth Money” is another confrontational song, but instead of shadow boxing, Leaneagh moves with the comfort and grace of a seasoned dancer. With an almost hip hop beat and 8-bit tones that are closer to a DJ scratching on vinyl than anything else; it’s not hard to find yourself moving to this tune.
Soaring over the deep, ominous tones of “The Maker”, the effects on Leaneagh’s vocals are on beautiful display here. In interviews, Leaneagh explains that she thinks of her voice not so much a narrative force but another instrument to be manipulated. Here, the lines of each verse are echoed on a delay to make a disorienting sound while the drawn out notes of the chorus allow ample space for Leaneagh to experiment.
Despite let the electronic, manufactured theme to Poliça, these songs are immensely personal and arrestingly human. The opening lines of “Happy Be Fine”, for example, are about as straightforward as songwriting gets: “I need some time / to think about my life without you.” Most of the tracks which make up Give You the Ghost stem from a rough patch following Leaneagh’s divorce, and offer an honest look at the artists tragedies and shortcomings. Because Leaneagh’s distorted vocals range from barely comprehensible to auto-tuned tones, her surprisingly meaningful lyrics tend to get lost in the mix. Tonight’s performance of “Wandering Star” presents one of the best examples of her sparse yet poignant lyrical style. The chorus admits: “After all, I’m married to the wandering star / and I’ve kissed the moon / it was full when I fell in love with thee / but now the world turns without me.” Saving us, or herself, the details; Cheaneagh still wears her pain in plain sight, both self-inflicted and otherwise.
Poliça finishes off their set with the ultra-funky “Leading to Death”. Give You the Ghost ends the same way; the songs staccato buildup lead to a perfect culmination. With Leaneagh’s voice at the high end of her incredible range and twin drummers beat faster than thought possible, the song ends with a dwindling synth outro as the four amble off stage.
Despite being a remarkably new unit, Poliça performs a diverse set, complete with a handful of new songs. One such tune, “Smug”, already enjoys a solid place in the setlist with Youtube recordings to prove its strength. An encore performance another new tune, “Where I Sit”, exemplifies what separates Poliça from other would be “buzzbands”. No matter how critics try to describe it, what emanates from Channey and company in the form of trance inducing rhythm and digitally filtered emotions, is creativity in its rawest form.