Auto-tune may have just hit its inflection point. No longer just a crutch for weak voices or a way to extend the shelf life of overripe singers, the pitch-shifting technology has spent the last couple years becoming respectable. Since Jay-Z declared auto-tune’s hip hop death in 2009, artists have found deft ways to keep it alive and thriving. On Poliça’s debut album, Give You The Ghost, it takes the next step, playing a crucial role in constructing a band’s sound without casting doubt on the ensemble’s natural talents.
Channy Leaneagh, whose airy voice teeters on the edge of delicate, is responsible for the auto-tune’s graceful employment. Slight tweaks give her already impressive voice laser-guided precision and nearly instantaneous modulation, allowing it to control the tracks of Give You The Ghost despite frequently submerging below the album’s instrumentals. Her vocals take on a depth and range, often multi-tracked and reverbed, that allow it to move from sultry to poignant to insistent with the literal push of a button.
Leaneagh’s fellow Gayngs-banger Ryan Olson co-wrote and produced the album, and his experience with this multi-layered and affected sounds shows in his impeccable sense of when to push and when to pull. In inexperienced hands, auto-tune is a clunky tool used to fix mistakes. Here, under Olson’s guidance, it’s the cherry on top.
Though Olson and Leaneagh have played together before, Give You The Ghost is far from a Gayngs bi-product. Its genesis lies instead in the downfall of Minnesota band Roma Di Luna, which Leaneagh co-founded with then-husband Alexei Casselle. After their marriage – and the band – met its end, Leaneagh hit the notebooks and cranked out the basis of the album in under a month. Give You The Ghost is a record of slow heartbreak, slow rebuilding, and everything that happens in between the two. It’s an attempt to answer to the question posed on “Form,” the album’s fifth track: “What’s the storyline of unraveling?”
“I don’t need you, I don’t need anyone/Come back,” sings Leaneagh on the album’s opening track, “Amongster,” snapshotting the troublesome independence/reliance dichotomy. On “Form,” she captures the impossibility of placing blame: “I’m the victim, I did it.” Perhaps the most touching example comes on standout single “Wandering Star,” where Leaneagh sings “It makes me sad ‘cause you’re gone/And I hear you whisper something sweet/But it doesn’t move any nerves in me.”
Poliça knows something about moving. Give You The Ghost is a potent mix of double-drum heartbeats and agile melodies, and it strikes both emotional and visceral nerves. The album’s layered and heavily-affected opening vocals, which resemble musical cousin Bon Iver, signal a heavy-handed onslaught that never comes. Instead, the songs subtly moves from place to place – auto-tune quickly becoming a familiar element, subject matter slowly revealing itself. It’s a fascinating and developed debut. “I See My Mother” evokes loop-masters Menomena, while songs like “Fist, Teeth, Money” recall the ethereal songs of Warpaint. And throughout it all, Poliça establishes itself – a band born from others but completely of itself.
“Oh what a web I have woven myself in,” sings Leaneagh on “I See My Mother.” Consider me caught.