Release Date: Mar 4, 2016
Record label: Mom + Pop Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
When the Minneapolis band Poliça first emerged in 2012, they dealt in sultry, phantasmal electronica. And while their second album sounded marginally brighter, their output was still distinctly brooding. On this third record, however, they seem to have struck out into squarer, more mature territory, which – confusingly – sounds quite exciting. The squareness is relative: the band still operate in the zeitgeisty area of trip hop-informed pop.
Poliça gave their music shape on Shulamith, but on United Crushers, they give it an edge. Frontwoman Channy Leaneagh envisioned the band's third album as a set of modern protest songs -- which makes sense, considering that they worked on it while riots broke out in their hometown of Minneapolis -- and they bring more purpose and urgency to their atmospheric sound than ever before. On Give You the Ghost and Shulamith, the sheer beauty of the music sometimes made it easy to dismiss the substance of the songs, but here, Leaneagh and company deal in issues and emotions that won't be ignored.
Encompassing Poliça’s newfound love of pop and infectious dance, ‘United Crushers’ offers up a lesson in how to create something truly universal. It is, however, an album of two halves; while filled with experimental tendencies, it comes plagued with dreaded topics, issues of politics, and sees the four-piece create something impressible to ignore. Sitting up and paying attention is required from the get-go.
When a team of enterprising graffiti artists daubed the ominous phrase 'UNITED CRUSHERS' in man-sized letters atop the condemned Archer-Daniels-Midland grain elevators on the outskirts of Minneapolis, did they anticipate their handiwork becoming its own kind of urban icon? Perhaps the artists thought that this magnum opus of guerrilla typography would be short-lived, reduced to rubble by controlled explosions and pulled up from the root by a fleet of excavators and demolition vehicles. But alas, as is so often the case in the days of recession and urban decline, it evidently proved cheaper to leave the distinctive corrugated-concrete edifice, abandoned and useless, where it stood. And thus, the sign remained.
Minneapolis musicians known as Poliça have been a forever presence in the music industry since the release of their 2012 debut Give You the Ghost. Constant touring across the globe and an ever expanding loyal legion of fans finds Channy Leaneagh and co becoming one of the decade's most unlikely pop stars. At home in the shadows, Poliça's work has always lent itself to darkness and has indulged in the somber, the morbid, the dramatic.
POLIÇA has never been one to paint pop music by numbers, and United Crushers is no exception. The follow-up to 2013's critically acclaimed Shulamith, it continues along its predecessor's path into the darkest electronic recesses of Channy Leaneagh's psyche. It oozes purpose and intent, a protest against all the shit of the world that is inescapable in our modern day lives.
Review Summary: More weight.“It’s all shit, it’s all shit, it’s all shit,” Channy Leaneagh intones in a pitch-shifted baritone on “Summer Please,” an accurate summary for Polica’s mindset on their third record. The theme that the press materials for United Crushers have been pushing is a dark, dreary, and defeated one, a natural direction to go for a band that has always played in the murkier ends of the electro pop pool. On the surface, United Crushers is certainly a morose listen.
Despite being Poliça’s third full release, United Crushers is almost emblematic of the sophomore album archetype. It’s slower paced, brimming with downtempo ballads and droning melodies, and even a little sonically emptier than the sashaying pop thickets of Shulamith and the rhythmic density of the band’s 2012 debut, Give You the Ghost. It falls on restructured versions of sounds from the past and self-conscious experiments in slightly fresher musical territory without ever quite escaping from all that predictability and initiating something altogether new.
Last year, Minneapolis quartet Poliça were anointed by Samantha Cameron as her favourite band. To be fair to the UK prime minister’s other half, she is a long standing fan of what might loosely be termed as alternative music, but her enthusiastic championing of any up and coming artist is hardly likely to enhance their hip factor. It’s unclear what Poliça front woman Channy Leaneagh thinks of this particular celebrity endorsement, but Mrs Cameron certainly wasn’t the only person to sit up and take notice when the band emerged from Minnesota with their debut album Give You The Ghost in 2012.
"Summer Please," the lead track of Poliça's third album,cuts to the core of the national mood with its first few lines: "It's all shit, it's all shit, it's all shit." It doesn't take a huge amount of observation or wokeness to notice: we're barely eight years off from the US's worst economy and most despairing polls in decades, and the news cycle cuts atrocity with farce hourly. We meme that we're in a cyberpunk dystopia but are actually in the more banal sort, one less suited to blockbusters than slow declines. And winter – though increasingly less wintry – doesn't help, casting everything in a haze of seasonal affective despair.
Poliça’s first two albums of electronic soul updated trip-hop for a post-Weeknd world, endearing the group to Jay Z and Bon Iver, who labelled them “the best band I’ve ever heard”. The Minneapolis quintet’s third set is their most straightforward yet, chiefly because, in contrast to its predecessors, Channy Leaneagh’s vocals aren’t bathed in effects. As a result, Poliça have lost some of their mystique, perfectly listenable though most of the songs are.
When Poliça came out from hiding to announce its third LP, United Crushers, the Minneapolis band laid out its internal map: “[It’s] heavily political and deeply personal with thick references to social injustice, self-doubt, and isolation, the rapidly increasing urban decline in gentrification, overcoming music industry machinations, and finding true and honest love in the wake of it all. ” A lofty press release, for sure. Given the cover features singer Channy Leaneagh covered in tar-like lava, her pregnant belly round and protruding, it’s clearly a welding of personal and political, of a relationship bearing fruit while the world’s faults consume everything.
Nervy percussion, spare arrangements, Channy Leaneagh's distinctive vocals: Poliça are as easily identifiable as ever, despite not being, three albums in, particularly distinguished. United Crushers drifts as often as it sparks. Wedding is tremendous: a jittery, skipping remove from the chilled template. Melting Block frees itself similarly: when Poliça loosen, flex, abandon the template, they're a thrilling proposition.
A mother can’t protect her children forever. Poliça frontwoman Channy Leaneagh knows this well, so she opens the excellent third album by her downcast Minneapolis synth-pop outfit by doing the next best thing: offering a warning. “It’s all shit,” she sings on “Summer Please,” cranking the pitch-shift to the point of sounding like a demon in witness protection.
By far the most striking manifestation of that angst, however, is found on latest single ‘Wedding’, the video for which features Leaneagh and a group of Hensonesque muppets explaining police brutality to an audience of smiling black schoolchildren. Poliça tend to deal more in artful subtleties than big, eye-catching Beyoncé-at-the-Super-Bowl statements, but even without the context of the video, lyrics like: “Every voice is like a click/Trigger after trigger/We don’t even know we’re sick/ Leaders, we have none” leave little doubt what the song’s about. That directness is a welcome addition to the music, too – previously, Leaneagh’s voice has often been obscured by producer Ryan Olson’s penchant for Auto-Tune and digital manipulation, but it’s left mostly untouched on tracks like ‘Baby Sucks’ and ‘Kind’ and is all the more effective for it.