Certain music fans—you know the ones—always seem to be on the lookout for the next new thing: a band or an artist of which few other listeners are aware. Whether the latest thing sounds unique or fresh or challenging often is less relevant than whether it allows the seeker to brag triumphantly that he heard the artist in question before most everyone else did, before that Academy Award-winning documentary was released, before the act became successful and started selling records and winning Grammys.
But, as most of us agree, Christopher Columbus was not the first person to "discover" America.
Instead of striving to dig up music artists before your friends do, it's far more rewarding to happen upon a distinct voice or a unique sound, a music-maker who redefines, or even establishes, a style.
You can find that in the Minneapolis-based band Poliça, which last year released its debut album and has slowly and steadily gathered attention for its emotional, hypnotic and soulful combination of indie rock infused with subdued dance beats and touches of electronica.
There aren't many other bands that sound like Poliça. When I heard first heard the music, it felt as if the band was filling an unmet need in my listening life that I didn't even know I had.
Carefully avoiding arrogance, the band's singer, Channy Leaneagh, addressed this recently in an email interview.
"I believe an artist should make work from their own soul and story, and do their best to not be overly influenced by the work of another artist out there by copying them," Leaneagh said. "I am most moved by music that is intensely unique to the performer or the creator. You can feel it, and I can feel it onstage if I'm not being sincerely myself."
Leaneagh and her band will be among the headliners at a downtown music festival this Saturday, April 20.
The Tucson Weekly-sponsored Exile on Congress Street will feature at least 16 bands on five stages at three venues: Club Congress, the Rialto Theatre and Playground Bar & Lounge. Because construction on Congress Street has caused the cancellation of this spring's Club Crawl, these neighboring nightclubs—which occupy three corners at the intersection of Congress Street and Fifth Avenue—have teamed up for this downsized version of the twice-annual Crawl.
Poliça will play indoors at Club Congress, with opening acts Night Moves and Blind Divine. On the outdoor stage at Congress will be DJ Dirtyverbs/Verbobala, Yardsale Heart, Carlos Arzate and the Kind Souls and Chicha Dust.
At the Rialto, you can see legendary indie-rockers Dinosaur Jr. as well as the Monitors, HAIRSPRAYFIREANDGIRLS and the Shrine.
On Playground's outdoor stage you can see Saint Maybe, Tom Walbank, Smallvox and a couple of others still to be determined. And the Playground rooftop deck overlooking Congress Street will be a silent disco, with headphones for all dancers.
Poliça came together a couple of years ago, when Leaneagh and producer-impresario Ryan Olson were both performing with the sprawling ensemble Gayngs. "We spent some time on the road together and that sparked a desire to see what we could make together," Leaneagh said.
Leaneagh was a veteran of the folk-rock group Roma di Luna, a band she had led with her former husband, Alexei Moon Casselle. She'd been writing tunes on her own since the marriage and band broke up, and Olson thought her material could be the foundation for a new project.
"I was looking to write to drum-and-bass beats with his style of production/sounds," Leaneagh said. "Besides that, the concept and direction was purely creative escapism into our time together. Ryan brought in the more realized version of the songs as a band that would tour and be interesting to listen to."
In June 2011, the duo began work on the album Give You the Ghost, which was released last year. Olson's electronic beats and soundscapes turned out to be the ideal accompaniment for Leaneagh's ethereal tunes.
They organized a band to play the songs—Olson does not tour or perform live. The other members are bassist Chris Bierden and drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson.
Among the most notable characteristics of Poliça's sound is the haunting quality of Leaneagh's vocals, which are enhanced by Auto-Tune and other effects. Auto-Tune may get a bad rap among music snobs but it isn't used in this band's music to correct the singer's pitch. Rather, it's a tool for creating interesting vocal effects.
Leaneagh chose not to answer a question about vocal effects, leaving us to assume that she would rather let the music speak for itself.
The band's name—pronounced poe-lisa—may bring to mind images of police in Eastern European countries. And the band's bio states, "The name Poliça refers to the word 'policy,' meaning a definite course of action adopted for the sake of expediency, suggesting they were formed out of necessity."
But during last week's interview, Leaneagh simply said, "It really is just a name that means something to me, but (is) not really important to anyone else. I don't want anyone to focus on that. It's just the name of the story of the songs and the time and place they were made. It's a reference point is what it sounds like."
When the band hits Tucson, it will have just played the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., at which Leaneagh was expecting "a lot of people and a lot of high-school cafeteria feelings."
She was, however, looking forward to the show in Tucson, where the band has played once before, prior to the release of Give You the Ghost. "The Southwest is one of my top-two favorite places in the country. It is worth the very long drive."
The band is hard at work on a second album, too, she said. "I have no idea when it's coming out."