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Poliça's Somber, Mysterious R&B

May. 2, 2012
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Getting hitched to a band mate unquestionably has its advantages. For one, spending time together on tour is better than being apart for weeks at a time. Plus, it's an easy talking point for interviewers, allowing them to dig deeper into a pair's personal life and craft a sentimental narrative surrounding the band. And fans experience a more intimate connection, as if it isn't a couple but rather a ménage à trois. Of course, not all partnerships last. When relationships simmer and musicians split ways romantically and musically, people with an emotional attachment to the band will spy for any hint of what went wrong. Those intimate questions don't subside, and even though an artist's new material is engrossed in sorrow, it's not something they're ever eager to discuss.

That appears to be the case with singer Channy Leaneagh of Poliça (pronounced Poe-Lisa). Less than two years ago, Roma di Luna, the outfit Leaneagh fronted with her then-husband, released its third record to a growing fan base in Minneapolis. After years of hard work and humble beginnings busking on street corners, the band looked like it was on the verge of a breakthrough. But, alas, in September the experimental folkies called it quits, canceling a couple of farewell shows and splitting their marriage.

Leaneagh also abruptly left behind those folk songs for whispery R&B. Influenced by her time in the mega-sized, soft-rocking Gayngs, she collaborated with that group's mastermind, Ryan Olson, on Poliça's debut, Give You the Ghost, which was technically released in February, though it had already made the rounds to almost universal praise on the Internet. With Olson's reverb-laden production and Leaneagh's somber, Auto-Tuned croon, the record sounds like it is imbued with an alienation that could only emerge from the singer's heartache. It certainly feels like a break-up album, though Leaneagh would argue against that claim. Maybe it's just because of the years of openly sharing her romance in Roma di Luna, but Leaneagh says she doesn't believe her material reveals much about her back story.

"I think a clearly personal song would be, 'Ooh, baby, you know I live at 4201 Lake St., apartment No. 7/ Ooh, and don't bring me any tomatoes 'cuz I get those crazy rashes on my legs,'" Leaneagh says. "I just write lyrics that make me want to sing with some heart and soul. While knowing that every piece of fiction has an element of fact and every portrait has an element of self-portrait, it would be a mistake for someone to think they know my history or me by reading my song lyrics."

A deeper connection with a person's inner workings is usually what listeners strive to hear in an artist's work. Thinking the only way to give away too much about oneself is through concrete details is simply wrongheaded. Give You the Ghost is packed with so many moments that deal with confinement, despair and discovery that it's almost impossible to detach those feelings from Leaneagh's separation.

To be fair, it's certainly easy to lose one's identity when going through a complicated transition in life, and possibly that's what's happening here. ("Girl, get your head right/ Get your head right," goes Poliça's "Lay Your Cards Out.") Leaneagh even tends to be cryptic about her time writing the record. "I learned how little I know myself and that the truth is hard to find," she says. Sonically, Give You the Ghost feels shrouded in mystery. The landscape is sparse—a bass, a synthesizer and a couple of drummers draw the focus to Leaneagh's voice, which can be hypnotic when she repeats the same lines over and over.

What remains to be seen is whether Poliça is merely a divergence for Leaneagh or the beginning of something greater. She isn't willing to give away too much yet.

"Only time will tell, but we already have another album's worth of material," she says.

Poliça headlines the Turner Hall Ballroom on Wednesday, May 9, with Collections of Colonies of Bees. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.


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