The lineup: Channy Leanagh, Mike Noyce, Ryan Olson, Ben Ivascu, Drew Christopherson, Chris Bierden.
The background: Poliça are the latest project from Ryan Olson, the brains behind Gayngs, that strange 25-strong collective operating out of Minneapolis whose debut album of beguiling indie R&B, Relayted, was one of our records of 2010. We weren't alone in being impressed – Prince, a Gayngs groupie, apparently turned up unannounced at one of their gigs and almost but not quite made a cameo appearance on stage with the band. Poliça have their own superstar admirer: Jay-Z posted the black and white video to their single Lay Your Cards Out on his Life + Times blog. He's not the only Poliça fan: Justin Vernon of Bon Iver told Rolling Stone on Monday after winning his best new artist Grammy, "I've been listening to this band Poliça from Minneapolis a lot lately. They're the best band I've ever heard."
Vernon could be said to be a little biased, of course – after all, he sang on Relayted, while fellow Bon Iver singer-guitarist Mike Noyce contributes vocals to Poliça's own debut album, Give You the Ghost. There would appear to be something of a scene in Minneapolis, comprising musicians who ordinarily might have drifted towards Americana or alt rock but who, perhaps because of the Twin Cities' history as nexus of pop, soul, new wave, funk and rock, have been encouraged to use a blend of electronics and olde worlde instrumentation to effect a new kind of leftfield R&B. And with the ghostly, mournful wails of Channy Leanagh – who used to be in a folk-rock band, and you can tell from her pure, clear tones – as one of the dominant sounds on the album, it posits Poliça as a sort of Stateside the xx, with Give You the Ghost bearing the same relation to US R&B as xx did to dubstep.
The album has a similar atmosphere of edgy languor and enervated disquiet to xx ("poliça" means "urgent action", or thereabouts, in Polish), which Leanagh admits is the corollary of the songs being about the usual love carnage (she recently got divorced), plus attendant feelings of puzzlement and existential despair. She explained: "The recurring theme of this record is, 'What in the hell just happened?', and 'who in the hell am I anyways?'" As for Olson, the project's mastermind, he's saying nothing: the dishevelled majordomo and lugubrious Twin Cities scenester only agreed to talk about the project with a local radio journalist if he wasn't photographed, and if he could digitally disguise his voice.
Olson may be the enigmatic driving force behind Poliça, but he recedes into the background during Give You the Ghost, allowing Leanagh's heavily Auto-Tuned vocals and the equally heavily percussive music (the band feature two drummers) to become the focus. There is no embarrassment here about the devices and tricks used to remove the weaknesses and imperfections of the human voice, not least because of their synonymity with R&B – Poliça delight in their association with that world. They're not quite the Real Thing – one suspects they dream of being produced or remixed by the-Dream – and some of their songs are closer to 90s trip hop, to Enya cooing over 80s-style gated drums or Sinead susurrating stridently over slo-mo techno than anything current. Still, what makes this interesting is not so much the result as the context: a bunch of indie long-hairs making an album of R&B slow jams, which demands if not action then certainly your urgent attention.
The buzz: "The post-prog-rock percussion and mellifluous bass, along with Channy Leanagh's Auto-Tuned swan songs, re-shape the intersection of rhythm and blues."
The truth: These lovely dub-spacious songs will have you Walking on the Moon.
Most likely to: Work with Jay-Z.
Least likely to: Work with Eazy-E.
What to buy: Give You the Ghost is released by Memphis Industries on 23 April, preceded by the single Lay Your Cards Out on 26 March.
File next to: the xx, Gayngs, Seasfire, Sinead.
Monday's new band: Sylver Tongue.