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.

Babes in Toyland – ‘Spanking Machine’: Round 34 – Rob’s choice

babes in toyland - spanking machineMany of my very favourite albums sounded , and still feel, like debuts, even if they weren’t. ‘Songs About Fucking’, ‘Goat’, ‘Feels’, ‘Clear Spot’, ‘White Light, White Heat’, ‘There Is No-one What Will Take Care Of You’, all arrived like breaches with the orthodoxy, simultaneously shocking, baffling, offensive and intriguing. It just so happened that their creators were a few records into their careers.

So, when Tom asked us to being a debut album, I immediately thought of first releases which had a similar transgressive impact rather than those which simply foreshadowed greatness to come. In truth I chose ‘Spanking Machine’ almost immediately, wavering a little in the run up, drawn by ‘Yo! Bum Rush The Show’ and ‘Exile in Guyville’.

But ‘Spanking Machine’ is a true debut. The first time I heard Babes in Toyland, via John Peel’s late night Radio One show, they sounded impossible, like nothing I’d ever imagined I’d hear. Traumatised and compelled in equal measures, I bought the album and it delivered a heavy payload. Today, having spent the intervening 23 years digging around mostly american alternative rock music, I still can’t piece together a credible explanation for where Babes in Toyland’s sound emerged from. Few if any of their predecessors had anything like their savage intensity, their black-hearted wit, their body-blow combination of neanderthal bluntness and explosive female emotion.

From the rollicking delta punk of ‘He’s My Thing’ and ‘Swamp Pussy’ to the teetering scream therapy of ‘Vomit Heart’ and ‘Fork Down Throat’, the record veers from clattering mosh starters to lurching musical breakdowns. It’s one of the most honest records I’ve ever heard. So many artists write and record with some thought, big or small, for whether people might listen and what they might think. ‘Spanking Machine’ is pure self expression from three women who came together with no idea of the unholy, primal racket they were about to make.

The result has integrity, rage, blood and body fluids. It has Lori Barbero learning to play the drums by beating the living shit out of them, Michelle Leon hitting her bass like a field gun and Kat Bjelland simultaneously shredding a guitar and her vocal chords, screaming like a grown woman channeling Regan MacNeil. Most of all, it carries a dangerous rock and roll charge which remains volatile and incendiary even to this day.

Footnote: If you happen to find yourself blogging about Babes In Toyland’s debut album, make sure you include the name of the band in your Google Image search if you value your sexual innocence and your browser cache.

Nick listened: It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast between Tom’s choice, which we played directly before Babes In Toyland, and Rob’s; from minimal, shy, winsome electronic boys to snarling, growling, thrillingly luddite girls. I was aware of the name Babes In Toyland but not really of their sound or ethos, beyond them being a rock band. Spanking Machine isn’t the kind of thing I’d normally listen to for pleasure, being at the brutalist end of the rock spectrum, but as a one-off DRC choice it was a great choice, particularly compared to what came beforehand. Not sure quite what Rob means about records that sound like debuts but aren’t though…

Rob attempted to clarify: I guess that was a vaguely made point even by my standards. I meant to say that a good proportion of my very favourite records and artists sounded shockingly new the first time I heard them, even if the records themselves weren’t debuts. They were debut musical experiences for me. So when Tom set the theme, I began looking for debut albums which also carried the full shock of the new, hence ‘Spanking Machine’, rather than those which might be lesser known works of artists who went on to create canonical works, say ‘Bleach’ or ‘From Her To Eternity’.

Tom Listened: Despite not knowing the debut album of one of his favourite recording artists (you will have to go and confess to high priest of American Indie-Folk…Cardinal William of Oldham), I agree with pretty much all else Rob says in his write up for Spanking Machine (he’s better when not dealing in facts, you see). I also agree with Nick.

Spanking Machine has been gathering dust in my collection for the last twenty years or so and it was thrilling to hear the first two thirds of the album again. I was surprised at the variety of sounds on offer both within and between songs and realised that there is much more (well, alright…more) subtlety to the Babes debut than I assumed. However by the half hour mark I was beginning to feel exhausted – aurally pummeled – and the last few songs passed by in a blur of vague recognition and a remembrance that Spanking Machine was one of those records that I often used the vinyl equivalent of the ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. One side was usually enough; thrilling, visceral and brutal.  Both, for me, in one sitting and it bordered on masochism!

Rob recanted once more: Oh for goodness sakes. This point about debut albums clearly got so munged up in my pointless tiny head that I conflated my list of debuts and not debuts. If you lot hadn’t made such a big deal I could have just removed the whole stupid paragraph.

Graham listened: The remaining debuts I looked at for this round just didn’t inspire me to pitch up with anything this round. If I had chosen anything and had to follow this, well, game over. Never heard it, so hung on by fingernails all the way through. Possibly the artistic/aural equivalent of flower pressing with a brick, awesome.

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