opinion byBRENDAN FRANK
After they splintered off from the musically-incestuous group Gayngs, Poliça quickly figured out how to distinguish themselves from the glut of groups peddling nocturnal, R&B-laced electronica. They employed auto-tune artistically, they emphasized rhythm through use of a second drummer, and in-house producer Ryan Olsen massaged the music to the point where singer Channy Leaneagh’s introspective musings could speak for themselves. There were no truly handy comparables (though La Roux or jj would do in a pinch), Poliça were exploring new ground.
Titling an album Shulamith is enough to prompt some interesting discussion on its own. But the Minneapolis outfit’s second studio album – named for the late radical feminist Shulamith Firestone – pushes the discussion further, focusing on self-identity, violence, and societal norms, intertwined with personal lyrical wanderings from Leaneagh. While it’s not as sumptuous or surprising as last year’s Give You The Ghost, Shulamith is equally absorbing, maintaining an air of unknowability that holds up with repeated listens. It’s jittery, tense and a little self-serious, but the tranquil melodicism makes it go down easier. If nothing else, it’s proof positive that Poliça are a band with something to say, even if they’re still deciding on the best way to say it.
Even though Leaneagh is in something of a sharing mood, there’s no spoon-feeding here. Shulamith makes specific choices about what to reveal and when to refer you to the liner notes. Auto-tune is applied very selectively, smothering certain words and phrases to the point of unintelligibility, or lifted so a particular vocal lands with piercing clarity. Leaneagh makes sure you hear that she “can’t be trusted with love” on the tumultuous opener “Chain My Name”, with the wincing synthesizers and hectic percussion intensifying the contrast.
Leaneagh’s voice is a malleable, nimble object, but crucially, the use of auto-tune augments her performances rather than defines them. Occasionally, however, she and the band succumb to the sounds of their precursors instead of further exploring their own offhandedly unique sound. It doesn’t always work. Leaneagh puts on her best Beth Gibbons on “Very Cruel”, which strains itself reaching for the élan of 90s trip-hop, and the plaintive, proggy, funk-tinged wanderings of “Trippin” don’t suit them.
Leaneagh has described Shulamith’s artwork as “a portrait of a woman as her own worst enemy.” This sense of multiplicity runs through the album. On “Torre”, which crackles vibrantly with domino electronics, scuttling percussion and flawlessly weighted vocals, she embraces these contradictions head on: “Who is the starlit?/Who is the harlot?/Who is the diamond?/Who is the lion?/I am.” “Matty” is an astutely conflicted account of a wedding, demonstrating Leaneagh’s ability as a storyteller, while “I Need $” presents itself as empowering before the underlying disquiet emerges: “I don’t need a man/All that he does I can/I don’t need a love/Got enough worry to fill me up.”
Considering the possibilities that their setup presents though, you wonder how much more Poliça could do with it if they really pushed themselves. In particular, there’s a mass of untapped potential with drummers Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu. Instead, what we have is a solidly enjoyable companion piece to Give You The Ghost. Poliça flirt with greatness often enough to make Shulamith more than worth your time, but it’s not as brave as we’d like it to be. [B-]