By Russell Warfield
At face value, it might seem like the most widely-reported aspects of Polica‘s sound could be little more than faintly irritating hipster-gimmicks. It’s hard not to half-suspect, before actually hearing Give You The Ghost, that an inordinately heavy use of auto-tune and the two-drummers-no-guitar set up might only be devices deployed to ensure that they get mentioned on the blogs whatever the weather; ready packaged talking points cherry picked from trends of recent popular music designed to give the illusion of substance in lieu of any actual ideas. But listening to opening track ‘Amongster’ soothes these suspicions, starting off their remarkably assured début with a delicious blueprint which they work from for the entirety of the album, setting into motion an singularly distinctive mood piece over the course of eleven tracks.
In interviews, vocalist Channy Leneagh has said that her use of auto-tune is designed to meld her voice into the instrumentation, creating a sort of indivisible wholeness to Polica’s sound. In reality, her voice undeniably remains an individual focal point being pitched notably high in the mix, luring you into the crevices between her many-layered vocal tracks. But it’s completely true to say that the use of auto-tune and the heightened emphasis on rhythm (granted by the dual drummers and unmasked bass lines) become the building blocks of a gorgeous, deliberate design – never being showy or distracting for their own sake, but coming together to create an uncharted sound which is unmistakably their own.
The sound is the central focus of Give You The Ghost (most of the songs being exercises in repetition which wouldn’t distinguish themselves with more conventional arrangements) – resulting in the sort of record where instances of arresting diversity or breaks from the established framework would be more like holes in the rudder than flashes of lightning. This is a hypnotic exercise in drawing the listener in, and keeping them entranced by the world they’ve created.
What’s perhaps most surprising about Give You The Ghost is how minimalistic it can sound for the product of a band with two drummers and so many subtly competing vocal lines – always allowing plenty of room for you to luxuriously melt into the textures. That’s because, unlike more typical arrangements, there’s very little sound occupying the space between the rhythm and the vocal; the gap between the two seeming very narrow and ethereal, almost solely made up of gently droning synth lines. The result is an atmosphere which sounds simultaneously hedonistic and eerily nightmarish – the digitisation of the vocal and the doubly-human quality of the poly-rhythms contrasting each other in a way which should be jarring, but is just excitingly fresh and utterly seductive.
By adhering to this unique mode of delivery for the entirety of the album, Polica are able to move from the drawn out hyper-repetition of songs like ‘Violent Games’ to immediately arresting verse-chorus numbers like ‘Dark Star’ completely seamlessly, the record unified by the robust identity of its carefully drawn sound. Undoubtedly – and arguably riskily – Polica do put a lot of stock in their listener being happy to reside within pretty narrow sonic parameters for the duration of an entire album, but as an experiment in breaking fresh ground and ravishing the listener in the process, Give You The Ghost stands as a complete success, bringing disparate focuses together to create something as unique as it is gorgeous.