Polica’s quite brilliant debut album Give You The Ghost heralded something new and indefinable when it arrived in 2012. It was a woozy, immediately arresting brew of soulful electronica topped off with front-woman Channy Leaneagh’s pleasingly stylised vocals. It rightly garnered a significant amount of attention for the Minneapolis four-piece and its lyrics and moods told of dark secrets and irreversible trauma (Leaneagh’s bitter divorce informed much of the song-writing process). Yet, they have since struggled to build on that early promise. A follow-up album Shulamith appeared quickly in 2013 but it failed to have the same impact as the debut album while this year’s United Crushers, apart from the standouts ‘Lime Habit’ and ‘Wedding’, is more filler than killer. For such a promising act, the fall-off in quality has been a little disappointing.
Despite this, Polica are still one of the more intriguing live acts around. A visually idiosyncratic set-up of two drum-kits sitting side-by-side provide the rhythmic bedrock. Over that, bass-player Chris Bierden and Leaneagh work alongside invisible pre-recorded backing tracks. The drummers play in an almost supernatural synchronicity while Bierden wrangles odd shapes from his instrument that permeate neatly into the electronic foundations of their sound. Technically, they’re near-flawless. Yet, throughout, there’s a creeping sense of something being amiss. The waif-like Leaneagh seems disengaged, to the point of almost not being there at all. The rest of the band appear glum. They seem to disprove the argument that doing what you love and getting paid for it is the holy grail of human existence. Or maybe they’re just tired.
Yet, when the band air the strongest suite of songs from the last three albums, suddenly the reason we’re here is made clear: when they’re good, they’re very good. ‘Lime Habit’ is a wondrous blast of electro-pop, made stronger by the propulsive beat of the twin drummers. The ascending coda of ‘Wedding’ is striking. The haunting ambiences of ‘Amongster’ and ‘Lay Your Cards Down’ alongside the funky swagger of ‘Dark Star’, all from the debut album, show how those early calling cards haven’t been bettered. And that’s the problem: most of the other songs in the set-list fail to connect in the same way and after 65 minutes they’re gone. Sometimes leaving them wanting more can be a good thing but tonight it felt too truncated and rudimentary, oddly veering from greatness to mediocrity and back again. Consistency wouldn’t go amiss and Polica know they can do better than this. For now, the jury’s out.
Polica photographed by Kieran Frost