If you were making sweet love while also keeping up with buzz bands in 2010, you probably populated your intimate times playlist with cuts from Gayng’s Relayted, an album that was equal parts homage and satire of ‘80s soft-rock that just totally worked. A supergroup of sorts, Gayngs collected a bunch of indie heavyweights and set them loose on the world. Yes, Justin Vernon was involved, and yes, the collaboration crystallized some of the moves that made Bon Iver such an eargasm (talkin’ to you, “Beth/Rest”). With Poliça, two of Gayng’s principle members – vocalist Channy Leaneagh and producer Ryan Olson – have squeezed some more of that creative juice and created an altogether worthy successor to Relayted, both in musical versatility and downright sexiness. Between Leaneagh’s smoky, looped and (at times) Auto-Tuned voice and Olson’s layered, breathless arrangements, Give You the Ghost balls, well, so hard.
The fuzzed-out synth line of opener “Amongster” is nothing if not auspicious. Bassy and deep under “birds in the sky” and “tears in my eyes,” it’s a sunrise of a song that ends in supernova or drum-nirvana, depending on your religious beliefs. Either way, it’s an announcement: You won’t be able to pigeonhole this album as R&B send-up or as posturing indie genre-snub. It’s the real thing – acutely felt, solidly produced, and well wrought. Rarely does a debut so confidently assert itself.
That confidence spills over into the next few songs and snowballs, with the band demonstrating time and again complete control of song structure. “I See My Mother” takes its time, letting the bass crawl up and down while the percussion cuts at just the right time. It’s an exercise in restraint, pulling punches so the next ones hit all the harder. Then there’s “Dark Star,” a dead ringer for “Billie Jean.” It’s got the rhythm, the keyboard groove, the lyrics – “not my child, not my child.” The song cements Leaneagh as a pop/R&B force to be reckoned with. Throughout the album, she comes across as hurt but defiant – a little jaded with love and men and ready to assert herself, like My Brightest Diamond on Dark Was the Night’s “Feeling Good.” By the end of the album, that voice is more vulnerable: “Wandering Star,” the second of two tracks featuring Bon Iver guitarist and vocalist Mike Noyce, is full of drawn-out longing and regret. Leaneagh’s voice is so earnest, we can’t help but believe her when she says “the world turns without me.”
The two tracks with Noyce on deck are standouts, though there are no weak songs on the record. Like most of the album, “Lay Your Cards Out” is beat-driven, buoyed by the kaleidoscopic drumming of Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson to underpin the curtains of synth that fall through the song. The percussion wheels from deep bass to tom to snare and back, always filling the air with an exact complement to Olson’s arrangements. “Happy Be Fine” showcases bassist Chris Bierden’s dexterity; without guitar to overpower them, the bass lines across the album thrum clear and strong, another indication of the band’s attention to balance despite a lot of moving parts.
It’s that sense of equal weight and measure that makes the album so listenable, time and again; like the best music, each new spin reveals another layer, another melody, another hook. Final song “Leading to Death” feels more like the white light at the end of the tunnel – fevered and full, the crashing percussion washes over you, leaving the last few echoes of noise blipping like a far-off signal. But with Give You the Ghost, Poliça have made their mark on this year’s music landscape – and that mark is anything but a distant echo.