Poliça’s debut record Give You the Ghost (2012) began uniquely, with lush lounge and experimental electronic music best heard through songs like “I See My Mother” and “Lay Your Cards Out” — exquisite lead singer Channy Leaneagh tinkering with the pitch of her vocals. Sure, we’ve heard other musicians shift pitch to varying effect. But this was something different. The Minneapolis singer seemed less concerned about covering up an inadequacy than overcoming a kind of charming shyness and an artistic need to test the concept of what moves listeners, physically and consciously. Leaneagh created a musical world where the purely emotive (musical elision, beat, soundscape, feeling, mood) meant just as much as the concrete (lyrics, narrative). She overlapped, stretched and distorted her vocals, resulting in an echoed, drawled and doubled back sound — giving the feeling her verses were in a quest unto themselves, searching for essence, force and flame. It enhanced her sultry sound and extended the meaning behind phrases like this one from “I See My Mother”: “Oh, what a web I have woven myself in / I’m always chasing after somebody else.”
And like it’s predecessor, the songs on Poliça’s third LP, United Crushers, are just as absorbing. However, this time around, Leaneagh invites us in just a whisper closer — occasionally breaking away into her natural vocal, singing about darkness, cultural upheaval and personal passions amid charged and complex micro-beats, rich rhythms and more complex structures than on Give You the Ghost and Shulamith (2013). One thing that encompasses all three releases is the idea of resistance, a drive that likely fueled the debut record and lyrics like “I don’t need a man” from the song “I Need $” off the band’s sophomore LP, which leads into a mother’s perseverance in United Crushers. That record opens with “Summer Please”, its pulsing beat and darkly pitched verses imagining what kind of person a child might become after getting old enough to realize the world is “all shit”. But it’s less dark than it is honest. It’s a real and serious question to wonder what kind of world one is bringing their child into.
Leaneagh revisits this notion in “Wedding”, a song touching on the rash of police violence, which we’ve all seen among a number of cities, from Baltimore to Ferguson, Missouri and Minneapolis. The band even released a clever video where Leaneagh teaches (sarcastically with the help of a Sesame Street-styled puppet show) lessons on civil liberties and how to approach authorities when confronted. There’s a boldness and confidence to United Crushers, and you can hear it in one of the album’s best tracks: the harmonic, soulful, pop-infused “Someway” — a track that exists somewhere between the best of Tracey Thorn’s Everything But the Girl and Sharleen Spiteri’s Texas. It’s a gorgeous bundle of joy, circling around antsy synth, half-thoughts, swirling rhythms and pretty lyricism: “Rocking back and forth under lovers / Thieving all my freedom like summer / Come take my measure / I’m the bird of pleasure.” Perhaps the strongest song on the record, “Lately”, is a beautiful ballad, a down-tempo reflection on love, loneliness and finally finding a personal solace: “Lately I feel the weight of love / Irreversible damage / But it’s good, I’m good.” The song is raw and giving, much like the entirety of this record, which finds an adult Poliça taking measure of the world and what it means to exist in a way that makes one happy amid the chaos and zeitgeist of the times. And like the album’s title suggests, it’s also a kind of wake-up call and collective of the like-minded, suggesting somehow that while listening to the music, we’re all in this thing together. — David D. Robbins Jr.