Poliça: Best of What’s Next

Music Features Poliça
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Hometown: Minneapolis, Minn.
Members: Channy Leaneagh (vocals), Ben Ivascu (percussion), Drew Christopherson (percussion), Chris Bierden (bass)
Album: Give You The Ghost
For Fans Of: Gayngs, The xx, Aaliyah

When Channy Leaneagh calls from the road on her way to a show in Pontiac, Mich., I half expect the conversation to sound like Auto-Tune the News. Not because her latest project Poliça is political or farcical by any means, but the Minnesotan quartet’s debut combines hip-hop and R&B beats with Leaneagh’s vocals—always saturated in Auto-Tune and atmospheric delay—creating one of the best crossover records of the year so far.

The band, in existence officially for less than a year, originated from a couple now-defunct projects. Frontwoman Leaneagh co-founded and played in folk duo Roma di Luna from 2006-2011 while Poliça’s producer, beat-maker and musical contributor Ryan Olson served as the spark behind the indie super-collective, Gayngs.

‘The band started pretty much from friendships,” Leaneagh says. “I was on tour with [Olson] for Gayngs and we just decided we would try working on some stuff together in between tours and then he brought the other guys on. We were all in the Minneapolis music scene. He knew them well and thought they would be perfect for the project and we’d get along well.”

With Olson writing beats from afar, Leaneagh, percussionists Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson and bassist Chris Bierden were left to transform these electronica-influenced grooves into individual songs that would create an engaging live show. The non-traditional collaboration works just fine, though, as they seem to have an understanding for creative collaboration and production. “We wanted something that would be kind of unique to the band but that would have some connotations of the mode of operation of the band—the smoothness but also something a little bit undefined and mysterious,” says Leaneagh.

That groove they’ve achieved is not only apparent on Poliça’s 11-track debut, Give Up the Ghost, but a critical element of their live sets. Songs seem as comfortable seeping out of hipster enclaves as they would in sweaty clubs. “Violent Games” grinds in urgency as Leaneagh repeatedly wails, “Tremble at the taste of,” concluding, “Man may be my enemy / Oh, but he knows my needs.” Conversely, first single “Lay Your Cards Out” is a slower, more sensual affair and album closer “Leading to Death” has a distinctly funky bass line.

For Leaneagh, manning the pedals and knobs offers a new musical freedom. “It gives me the ability to blend and be the same color and texture as electronic,” she describes. “It helps me to use my voice like an instrument and affect things live and not be dependent on the sound engineer to add delay or reverb to my voice during the entire song. I can add things when I want and change the sound for each song.”

And when the band plays lives, they use all the same tools as when in the studio. Leaneagh explained that all four members play to an electronic beat during shows, “so there’s this locked-in groove happening for each song that helps guarantee that there will be a groove, a rhythm that I can sink into.”

Even with such diverse influences as Aaliyah, Missy Elliot, Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill, and “way too much Bryan McKnight,” Leaneagh adds with a laugh, the root of Poliça remains in the group’s artful, deeply personal songwriting. “I’m still writing folk songs in Poliça, too—the same kind of traditional topics that people have been writing about since the beginning of time: love lost and love found, heartbreak and finding strength through singing about those things. Like when you sing the blues to kind of lighten your load, lighten your soul.”