Graham Tolbert

Channy Leaneagh, second from left, and her Poliça bandmates. Electronic effects give her singing voice an unusual framework.

Poliça is bringing its electronic buzz to capital

Published: Sunday, Apr. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 11AANDE
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 7, 2013 - 7:38 am

Channy Leaneagh's haunting, ethereal voice doesn't really sound haunting or ethereal these days.

Which isn't to say the Minneapolis-based singer doesn't have those qualities. It's just that you don't exactly hear them on her band Poliça's 2012 record "Give You the Ghost," and you won't exactly hear them when Poliça performs live at the Blue Lamp on Tuesday night.

Both on record and in concert, Leaneagh layers her natural voice with effects through reverb and delay pedals, along with the electronic pitch-correction device Auto-Tune.

The electronics give Leaneagh's voice a thick instrumental quality that's essential to Poliça's spare, groove-based tribal sound. Textured loops manipulated by Leaneagh provide frameworks for her other band members' instrumental contributions – Chris Bierden's sinuous bass and the percussive attack of drummers Drew Christ-opherson and Ben Ivascu.

All are mainstays in a thriving Minneapolis music scene that has boosted the 2-year-old band's buzzing popularity. Members of Bon Iver have called Poliça the best band they've ever heard and Jay-Z premiered one of Poliça's videos on his blog.

Poliça formed in 2011 under the direction of producer Ryan Olson, who co-wrote the music with Leaneagh and helped assemble the players.

Leaneagh had previously been singing in a Minneapolis folk-rock band called Roma di Luna that featured her unadorned voice. Olson, who doesn't perform with the group, was heading up the 25-member, pop-inspired band Gayngs and asked Leaneagh to add her voice for a West Coast tour.

After that, she approached Olson with her own music. The two began collaborating in his studio. Mike Noyce of Bon Iver added vocals on the tunes "Lay Your Cards Out" and "Wandering Star." The album "Give You the Ghost," which Olson produced and Jim Eno of Spoon mixed, came fairly quickly from those sessions.

"The majority of the time, the lyrics and melodies were written while hearing Ryan's music," Leaneagh wrote in an email. "In general we try to capture the first instinctual melody and emotion in the moment where he first plays me the beat."

To the band's credit, its moody, groove-based art rock resists easy characterization. Rolling Stone called it "psychedelic R&B"; called it "electro-R&B goth-pop"; others say "Fiona Apple fronting TV on the Radio," "digitized Norah Jones atop Radiohead" or "the American xx."

The group's sound is specific to it, however – heavier than the down-tempo pop-electronica of Lamb, and not as murky or beat- driven as Portishead.

Leaneagh wrote that the band developed organically in its own way.

"There was no intention for a style or particular sound when we set out," she wrote. "Ryan, the band and I all have pretty particular playing styles that when put together form the sound of us. As basic as that sounds, this isn't a band highlighting one particular person or one particular genre – but its essence is in its collective whole and documenting process of cooperation."

Leaneagh has a strong musical background, studying classical violin while her father, a songwriter, "schooled" her in song- writers and singers.

"I was raised on Joni Mitchell, Sam Cooke (specifically lots of Soul Stirrers), Mahalia Jackson, Neil Young, Rickie Lee Jones and Tracy Chapman," Leaneagh wrote.

"As I grew up, I grew into R&B and world music, and noticed in general I am drawn to strong vocalists interplaying with percussion … from flamenco to Indian classical to Lauryn Hill."

Live versions of the group's songs such as "Dark Star" pop more vibrantly than the studio recordings, and Leaneagh feels the band is still creating an identity as it performs more and more.

"Live, there are so many variables that change the experience," she wrote. "That is the most exhilarating thing about live performances. The variables and witnessing a moment that won't happen again."


Where: The Blue Lamp, 1400 Alhambra Blvd., Sacramento

When: Tuesday. Doors open at 8 p.m., show at 9. (Formerly scheduled for Thursday at Harlow's.)

Tickets: $13 advance; $15 day of show

Information: (916) 455-3400 or

Call The Bee's Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.

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