After coming to the realisation that their previous work together in Gayngs could be more fruitful than the collaborative R’n'B project allowed, Ryan Olson and Channy Leanagh joined forces once again to write the songs that would become Poliça‘s Give You The Ghost in a flurry of both inspiration and heartbreak. Leanagh’s previous group, Roma di Luna, had dissolved along with her marriage to her husband (and Roma di Luna co-leader) Alexei Moon Casselle, and those raw emotions certainly colour much of the Minneapolis quartet’s stellar debut record, as Channy gives voice to her anguish as well as her resolve to move forward musically and personally.
And while Leanagh’s soaring, auto-tuned vocals are placed prominently in the mix and will justifiably get a majority of the attention from both fans and the press, the propulsive double-drum attack of Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu, along with the fluid bass lines of Chris Bierden, give Poliça’s songs a rich soulful texture that only adds to the record’s mercurial ambiance. The album title suggests that Leanagh is content to leave an enigmatic part of her behind in order to let her new project flourish despite the grief that it took to get there, and these stirring, evocative songs prove that something deeply meaningful can arise out of moments of misery.
But that’s not to say that this record wallows in heartache and despair – a fact demonstrated by the fiery, entrancing arrangements to the opening track ‘Amongster’. While Leanagh’s distorted vocals despondently proclaim “Apologies like the birds in the sky/And even they are falling like the tears in my eyes”, the roiling, electronic music that churns alongside her suggests that the band is giving Channy the strength she needs to find some personal resolution within these poignant songs.
‘I See My Mother’ finds Leanagh singing of chasing after somebody else while admitting she’s caught in a web of sadness that doesn’t disappear no matter how much whiskey or powder she takes. But the hypnotic rhythms of the track give it a modern pulse that rises above the maudlin lyrical themes, carrying over smoothly into the churning, insistent tone and tempo of ‘Violent Games’, which erupts with the pounding beats of Christopherson and Ivascu’s drums as Leanagh’s voice rises above the tumultuous din.
The R’n'B swing of ‘Dark Star’ features the horns of Gilbert Elorreaga, Josh Levy, and Mark V Gonzales, which add a brassy texture to the soulful number, with Leanagh confidently singing, “Ain’t a man in this world who can pull me down from my dark star/I will remain there… it’s done me good so far”. While this musical therapy may be rather public, at this point in the record it seems to be working for Channy. The momentum of the strong start is broken a bit by ‘The Form’, one of the album’s few missteps, which seems to meander a bit aimlessly both musically and lyrically. But things get back on track quickly with the dynamic throb of ‘The Maker’, as Leanagh’s vocals eventually give way to the rhythmic cadence of Bierden’s bass meshing steadily with the dual drummers.
‘Lay Your Cards Out’ is the album’s musical and emotional centerpiece, anchored again by Bierden’s bouncing bass line and Leanagh’s most assured vocal turn. The impassioned tune is augmented by subtle backing vocals from Bon Iver’s Mike Noyce, but it’s Channy’s mantra-like repetition of “Girl, get your head right” that ultimately makes the song both transcendent and healing. ‘Fist, Teeth, Money’ comes across as a bit tame by comparison, and despite some excellent percussion work, the track doesn’t really take the listener anywhere truly meaningful.
But the album draws to a strong close with a rousing trio of songs that starts with the keyboard-laden, Latin-tinged swing of ’Happy Be Fine’, which contains further hints that Leanagh might see her way through her present darkness, although she also confesses that, “The hardest part is knowing I’m happy”. Noyce makes another contribution to the heartbreaking loneliness of ‘Wandering Star’, which still soars and sways despite some rather stark, forsaken lyrics: “When the day is done and I lay me down/The sheets are cold and your space is dark/And I hear you whisper something sweet/But it doesn’t move any nerves in me”. But Leanagh’s golden vocals carries the wistful track home, despite the pain involved in coming to grips with that newfound isolation.
The album ends with the restless churn of ‘Leading To Death’, which features pulsing electronic flourishes over Bierden’s smooth bass lines, before Channy’s euphonious vocals usher in the riotous rhythms of Ivascu and Christopherson’s drums, bringing Give You The Ghost to a tumultuous finish. And while Leanagh sings “I won’t weep” repeatedly throughout the track, you get the sense that some tears were definitely shed during the process of writing and recording of Poliça’s deeply moving, inspired debut. You just hope that there was plenty of healing involved in the process as well.