Poliça – ‘Give You The Ghost’: Round 54 – Rob’s choice

Poliça - 'Give You The Ghost'Poliça are a band from Minneapolis. I pronouce their name “pol-ee-sur” but my fellow DRC members seemed to default to “pol-i-saah” which sounds more sophisticated. According to the band the word is Polish for “policy” so anyone out there who speaks the lingo, please do fill us in.

I buy records and nowadays I buy records which I don’t really have to. ‘Give You The Ghost’ is a case in point. I first heard one of the tracks ‘I See My Mother’ on a playlist of Pitchfork’s Best New Tracks of 2012. I was drawn in by the burbling insistence of the bass and drums and then enchanted by the cascading wonder of Channy Leaneagh’s processed vocals. By the time I came across a vinyl copy of the album (on Record Store Day 2013) I’d been streaming it fairly incessantly for almost a full year, knew it inside out, loved it and had no hesitation in paying for it. Some of us use Spotify to find records to buy, not as a way to avoid buying them.

In all that time I’ve probably reached for this record more than any other. I still haven’t quite worked out why it has such a delicate hold on me. Perhaps the secret lies in those beguiling vocals which are deliberately auto-tuned to a place just beyond human capability. It’s a trick which seems to have achieved much more than mere novelty and its effect has yet to wear off.

There’s the pure pleasure of the sound, a voice transformed into a tumbling, twitching thread of energy. And then there’s the impact this has on the wider music. By so purposefully de-humanising the very element which would ordinarily draw the listener towards a song, Poliça create a distance and then entice us to lean in across it to hear more closely. One of the results is to open up more space for the other components of their sound, one which pulses away at the intersection between R’nB, synth pop, soul and rock. And once you start to get closer, there are monsters lurking, not least a frequently incendiary double-drummer rhythm section which goes off like an explosion in a fireworks factory given half a chance.

Best of all though, this mannered and deliberate approach simply enhances the songs, rather than dissolving into just another bag of tricks. What we’re left with as the album fades away once more is a pixelated wisp of smoky melody, the metallic tang of 21st century regret and remorse and the urge to reach in and spin the record one more time.T

Tom Listened: Interesting comment from Chris Barett. I know what he’s getting at but I am not sure whether he is saying this is a good or bad thing. That said, the term ‘Pitchfork hype’ is almost always pejorative these days and I find myself more cautious than perhaps I should be about the latest Pitchfork approved release. Stupid really because whilst Pitchfork definitely have championed some questionable fare over the years (and I have never understood the appeal of Funeral by Arcade Fire..surely the zenith (or nadir, depending on your point of view) of Pitchfork hype), they have also led me to some of my most cherished purchases of recent times. And, sure enough, despite scoring a respectable, but maybe not quite hype-worthy 7.6 at Pitchfork, on an initial listen Polica sounded pretty good. In fact my reservation was that maybe they sounded too good; as in too good to sustain interest over the years, to keep drawing me back –   I was reminded throughout of the slightly detached, de-humanised sound and atmosphere of Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People, a record I fawned over at first but never listen to any more, its fires burning brightly for a brilliant, but only brief, time. But when I made this point to Rob on the night his response was empathetic to my point of view and emphatic enough to convince me that this wouldn’t be a problem.

Nick listened: When I was a young teenager I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time fantasizing about discovering the perfect album, the One Record To Rule Them All, that would be so awesome it would depose of the rest of your record collection, and you’d never need to listen to anything else. The mythical Best Album In The World Ever. My 14-year-old self imagined it would be exactly 47 minutes long, and would be played by four guys with scruffy fringes and guitars, and would be just weird enough and just straight enough at the same time.

Poliça are a name I’ve seen floating around a lot over the last year or two, always with positive associations, but I think I ignored them because a; I didn’t like the cover, and b; I didn’t know how to pronounce their name. It’s the little things.

I can kind of see where Chris is coming from in the comments below, but also where Rob is coming from, too. This was a pleasure to listen to, that’s for sure, but it didn’t feel in any way earth-shattering (I can’t fathom that Bon Fiver guy claiming that Poliça are the best band ever ever ever, for instance). I can comprehend the r&b references, but it didn’t actually sound like any r&b I actually know. It also didn’t sound like ‘indie’ music, where the etymology of that word encompasses something to do with Pavement and guitars and the late 80s and early 90s and so on and so forth. But it DID sound like post-internet, post-Ableton, post-genre, and yes, post-Pitchfork music, whatever that is. Layered, processed, a little strange but not bizarre, taking ingredients from anywhere it likes, like a magpie picking up shiny things regardless of their origin, yet somehow maintaining some degree of unity, of cohesion, of gestalt, despite this, using software as a binding agent to bring these things together. (Caveat: I have no idea if this was recorded on an iPad or on a 4-track or onto a wax cylinder at Abbey Road, but I have suspicions.)

There are a lot of records, a lot of artists, who have a similar approach, and they all sound different, and we like (and love) an awful lot of them, from Dirty Projectors to Animal Collective to Caribou to Efterklang to Liars to The National to The XX to Radiohead to Arcade Fire to Chvrches to Flying Lotus to MGMT to Braids to a dozen others and some more and then some. None of these artists quite sound the same, in fact many of them sound completely and radically unalike, but my brain often lumps them together. Poliça are in that same lump. I can’t quite identify why.

As I progressed through my teens I further reasoned that the One Album To Rule Them All would have to somehow combine all the music in the world, picking the best bits like a magpie picking up shiny things, in order to be truly seriously amazingly all-time awesome and world-conquering. As I got older still, and moved through my 20s and beyond, I reasoned that the teenage me was an idiot.


5 thoughts on “Poliça – ‘Give You The Ghost’: Round 54 – Rob’s choice”

  1. This one is new to me. However, I am pretty sure I already know what it sounds like. The cover art, band name/album title, and Pitchfork hype speaks volumes.

  2. Tom,
    My comment was mostly negative. I have come to loathe the “Pitchfork sound”: detached vocals, reverb up the rectum, trite electronic flourishes, and simple indie melodies that you are playing in your head before you hear them. This approach to songwriting was fun back when the alternative was Coldplay and co., but it has since coalesced into a soporific blob of hip clothing store fodder.

    Your Arcade Fire comment was spot on, though. Their faux earnestness and empty-headed grandiosity makes latter-day Springsteen look like Stephen Malkmus. Plus, they have been derided as one of the worst in the biz by none other than Wayne Coyne: http://www.stereogum.com/56431/wayne_coyne_tears_arcade_fire_a_new_asshole/franchises/wheres-the-beef/

    1. Simply my opinion, though, no offense meant to Rob. I like plenty of bands that others might speak of in equally venomous terms (cough, cough, Prefab Sprout, cough).

      1. Hey Chris.

        No offence taken, although I have it say it’s a slightly odd comment to bother making: “I don’t want to hear this record because I surmise it may sound like some other records I don’t want to hear”. If that’s your concern, the solution is pretty straightforward.

        As it happens, I don’t think this Polica fits the shape you’re creating for it. In fact, I could argue that there are some crossovers with the likes of Prefab Sprout, since you mentioned them. It’s disconcertingly smooth but with lots going on below the surface, not quite rock, not quite soul.

        Of course now we’re all interested to know whether the reality meets your expectation, so why not give Polica a listen and let us know.

        Anyway, gotta go. I’m off to a Northern Soul blog to tell them I don’t like Nu-Metal.


  3. Rob and friends,

    I finally listened to this Policia/Poleesur/Polica (The Police?!) album that you have been discussing. Upon looking at the song titles, I had an “oh brother, here we go” moment, but I bit my tongue and proceeded to dive in. My apprehension was immediately vanquished by a wave of tiny, ASMR-inducing explosions of joy. A very pleasurable electronic sound, indeed. Moreover, the vocals, as Rob noted, had an entrancing quality due to the tasteful auto-tuning (though the delivery was a little too familiar). Overall, a very confectionary sound that made for a pleasant autumn listen. I didn’t get any Sprouts vibes, though. Polica’s chirpy electronics were more reminiscent of The Gist (Phil Moxham’s post-Young Marble Giants act).

    Still, I thought Polica skirted dangerously close to that “lifestyle indie” territory that I talked about. My opposition to such music is as much political as it is personal; I often get the feeling that media moguls are force feeding this stuff to my generation in order to create the perfect little hipster consumer. I cannot fully commit this sound to words (my above descriptions are the best I can muster), but I know it when I hear it. It’s that soporific sludge that is slinking in the background of your average hip clothing chain. It’s that cool new music that middle-aged WASPs are gushing over on your local public radio station. It’s a sound that screams, “Do nothing with your life except buy our records and get permanently lost in our manicured soundscapes.”

    “Lifestyle indie”, “Pitchfork indie”, “easy listening indie”, “ennui wave”, etc., call it what you will, but this escapist dreck has unfortunately become the new face of indie music. The world needs an indie Sex Pistols now more than ever.

    Rant finished. Now I will tend to my Henry Cow box set.

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