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. It’s one of the few instances on United Crushers—recorded while Leaneagh was pregnant with her second child—where she returns to the vocal effect used so evocatively on the band’s 2012 debut, Give You The Ghost. Even here, she uses it sparingly. About a minute later, as Poliça’s bassist and two drummers prepare to lock into a panting dance rhythm, Leaneagh reverts to the deceptively delicate natural voice that lands her somewhere between ’90s R&B diva and Sinead O’Connor.
It’s a reminder that Leaneagh has never needed Auto-Tune to communicate defiance and alienation—hallmarks of her songwriting since she co-founded this project as a newly divorced young mother with lots on her mind. Her bandmates are similarly nondependent on gimmicks, and while Poliça was among the first acts to follow The xx’s lead in remembering how great those old Aaliyah records are, the group transcends the druggy sex vibes of PBR&B.
After besting Ghost with 2013’s more textured and melodic Shulamith, the foursome (or quintet, counting non-touring musical mastermind Ryan Olson) returns here with its most dynamic, expansive collection yet. Instead of drawing from her own experiences to explore the ways in which love, sex, and marriage can be like traps for women, Leaneagh mostly pulls back to reveal piles of wreckage extending beyond the walls of any one person’s unhappy home.
And she’s got bold, clattering music to match. There’s a space-age-Sade feel to “Light Of Lime,” as Leaneagh ponders fame over squeaky synths and a funky bassline. She flows almost like a rapper on “Wedding,” where suspense-flick blips and attacking drums underpin lyrics about police overreach. “Someway” is minimalist pop akin to early Prince, while the horn-injected “Baby Sucks” and “Kind” groove like arty abstractions of Jessie Ware or Ellie Goulding hits.
If United Crushers isn’t exactly optimistic, its vitality suggests that feeling friendless (“Fish On The Griddle”), cast aside (“Lose You”), or trapped on your sucky street corner (“Melting Block”) need not ruin your weekend. The album is named for Twin Cities graffiti writers who create inspiring art by tagging overpasses and dilapidated grain silos. There’s a lesson for kids everywhere: When life gets gray and faded, make it a canvas for whatever vibrancy you’ve got left.