Roma di Luna singer's new Ryan Olson-branded group is quickly flourishing. But don't call it a Gayng of four.
They already played New York's CMJ fest and opened four other East Coast shows for renewed indie darlings Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. They signed with a reputable national booking agent and are fielding offers from sizable indie labels. Back on the home front, they took the No. 2 spot two weeks ago in City Pages' newcomer-corralling Picked to Click poll.
Not bad, considering Poliça is only playing its second local gig Monday at the Turf Club and has yet to officially release any music.
"It's been really overwhelming," confirmed Channy Casselle, singer and songwriter in the digitally spawned rock quartet.
As local acts go, the fast interest in Poliça ("poe-lisa") is not surprising given the participants: Gayngs leader Ryan Olson produced the recordings and enlisted some of his friends. The other members include Vampire Hands' Chris Bierden on bass, Olson's former Digitata bandmate Drew Christopherson on drums, and his ongoing Marijuana Deathsquads collaborator Ben Ivascu, also on drums. (The Deathsquads coincidentally have a release party for their first album Friday; more on that below.)
Add to those biographical tidbits the fact that Poliça is arriving just as Casselle's much-loved -- and wildly different -- group Roma di Luna is ending, following her separation from husband and bandmate Alexei Moon Casselle.
"It has been a very tough year and a good year in different ways," Channy said simply.
The good is Poliça, which she called "very therapeutic." It was born out of Casselle's contributions to last year's Gayngs record. That experience prompted her to start writing songs using a computer and digital vocal effects -- namely Auto-Tune -- for the first time. After touring with Gayngs through the spring, she and Olson began recording together.
The resulting album likely won't land any earlier than the spring, but it is finished and already burning up many a laptop locally. Tracks range from the elegantly frazzled opener "Amongster," which almost sounds like a Flaming Lips "Yoshimi" outtake, to the Björk-like hyper-ballad "The Maker" to several wigged-out, Portishead-style chilly grooves, including "Lay Your Cards Out" (featuring Bon Iver/Gayngs guitarist Mike Noyce). Through it all, Casselle's voice is in a constantly digitalized, electro-whirry state, a fact that could turn off a lot of Roma di Luna fans. However, she said this project is actually a little closer to her personal musical palette.
"I only really became a 'folk singer' through my musical relationship with Alexei, which was wonderful," Casselle said, while making a case for the much-debated Auto-Tune vocal effect. "Once I started learning how to use it, I realized how much more adventurous I could be with my voice and my writing. It sort of adds drama to everything, and I love the way it affects the voice like a guitar pedal -- it makes your voice seem more like an instrument."
Auto-Tune can be "temperamental" onstage, she admitted, and the group is still honing its live act (hence Monday's show). Olson is not actually a part of Poliça's stage lineup, and Casselle described him as "sort of the behind-the-scenes composer."
Thus, she said, "Ryan has been pretty adamant about saying this is not a Gayngs offshoot. This is more aggressive and an entirely different mood."
The Gayngs connection, however, can probably be credited for the immediate hype outside the Twin Cities. Channy shrugged off any concerns that the buzz might be lighting up too fast.
"We've all played a lot of shows prior to this, and we feel like we've all worked hard for it," she said. "Now, we just have to make sure we're prepared and can live up to it."
Deathsquads go 'Crazy'
Almost an exact opposite story from Poliça, Olson's local "noise collective" Marijuana Deathsquads started out purely as a live act and has been steadily performing for two years now without ever issuing a recording. They're quite an awe-inducing live act, too, with a rotating cast of well-known indie musicians (primarily Ivascu, Stef "P.O.S." Alexander and screamer Isaac Gale) who improvise around staticky walls of digital dissonance, howling vocal loops and multiple drummers. The sheer insanity of their music has resulted in some memorably madcap gigs of late, including the Herkimer Pub's Oktoberfest block party, where a fight almost broke out over a thrown beer cup.
The Deathsquads don't create quite as memorable a punch on record, but their debut release, "Crazy Master" -- out this week on Totally Gross National Product -- does have a fascinatingly freakish quality to it. With only four tracks (the last of which, "Sisters of Silence," clocks in at 20 minutes), it has the harsh but rapid impact of a discount root canal. The nine-minute title track is a great snapshot of the band's brain-jackhammering rhythmic power, while the jittery, seizure-like "Pink Dust" seriously might be dangerous to listen to in the car. So maybe take the bus to Friday's release party at Nick and Eddie.