The blessing and the curse of being that-guy-who-returned-from-SXSW is you shake and rapid-fire speak (with gusto) to everyone (quickly annoyed by your gusto) about the experience; the reassuring sounds of familiar acts, the search for buzzed-about-bands, the stumbled-upon and brilliant unknown musicians, and can you believe how cheap the booze is in Austin? Yeah, I am about to be that guy.
My companion for the trip from Minneapolis to Austin has questionable taste. Her music selection in the 15 hour car ride veered to the kind of overly-produced, top-40 Country that unabashedly and unironically explains why dogs are better than women, why trucks are better than cars, and why the U.S. is better than the rest of the world. I was wary of Poliça because Poliça was the band my companion was most excited to see.
So of course Poliça was my favorite find at SXSW. During the show, front-woman Channy Leaneagh grooved and rocked about broken relationships with a slightly auto-tuned voice over two drummers and the most happy, un-stereotypical bass player I have ever seen. A laptop played some background keyboards, horns and electronic bloops to create a soft, deconstructed ambience.
I immediately purchased their album Give You the Ghost and I’ve rocked-out to it since. The ambience is quiet and off-kilter like it was live, with keyboards, drums and bass loud in down-tempo danceability. The music is unsettling. Chord progressions do not resolve the way your brain intuitively expects. Leaneagh’s voice is so pretty, but often filtered and echoed into being uncanny. It’s moody and desperate. The sounds on “The Maker” perfectly embody a lot the album’s spirit, but “Wandering Star” is a stand-out track, getting significant airplay on Minnesota’s 89.3 the Current.
Together, the album’s songs create a solid statement. You listen and live through the tension of the dark music for that growing sense of catharsis and resolution. The album’s finale, “Leading to Death” is the perfect closer, peaking far more loudly than anything before and violently tearing itself apart over the most fragile sparkles of keyboard melodies. And that pause near the end? You know that kid in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit to the Goon Squad who searches for perfect pauses in pop songs? This should be one of them.
It’s worth a serious listen.