We sometimes tend to equate Auto-Tune with the throwaway and inauthentic in pop, but it’s worth remembering that the technique is really just another tool in a singer’s arsenal, alongside more respectable standbys like melisma or smoke-cured gruffness. From Ryan Leslie’s malfunctioning seducer in “Gibberish” to T-Pain’s transhuman hedonism, Auto-Tune lends a futurist gloss to all sorts of classic song forms; perhaps Justin Vernon and Kanye West use it with the greatest impact, showing how their grief at lost love has robbed them of part of their humanity.
Add to this group Channy Leneagh of PoliÃ§a, a Minneapolis band formed out of soft-rock supergroup Gayngs after Leneagh provided tour vocals for them. Like Gayngs, PoliÃ§a’s style is a blend of digitized white soul and trip-hop. Her voice is multi-tracked, delayed and fed through Auto-Tune to create a tremulous, surprisingly jazzy presence at the heart of their songs. These production effects can sometimes be used as a sticking plaster for lack of talent or melody, but Leneagh’s florid and meandering style suits them well, her multiplied and manipulated voice trailing beautifully in her wake. On the skanking “Form,” she evokes classic dub and lover’s rock vocalists, while on album standout “Dark Star” she threads a ruminativeLaurelCanyonline through the robust pop-rock backing.
This backing is definitely slick, but never bland. The drumming in particular is very strong, at times metronomically precise only to blur into ostentatious fills, funk freakouts and, on “The Maker,” digitally chopped-up breakbeats. Producer Ryan Olsen continues to hone his personal voice, which stretches the excesses of ’80s AOR and contemporary R&B sparsely over a twilit canvas. But Leneagh still stands out — like West and Vernon, her mournful Auto-Tuned warble seems to acknowledge emotional damage, while also suggesting a newfound strength.