Music Reviews

Chairlift Something

(Columbia) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

It’s been almost four years since Chairlift released their debut LP, Does You Inspire You, to positive reception and a surprising degree of commercial recognition (Remember Bruises in the iPod commercial?). In the time that has passed, the trio has become a duo (a break-up between founders Caroline Polachek and Aaron Pfenning saw the latter go solo under the name Rewards), the band signed to Columbia, and the two remaining members have partaken in other projects (multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wimberly produced Das Racist’s Relax, Polachek lent her voice to Washed Out and others).

With all the side projects and inner turmoil in Chairlift, one could not reasonably expect growth in songwriting lyrics from Something. Conversely, from the synthesizer on opener Sidewalk Safari, the songwriting has clearly become much more adventurous, and Chairlift has refined a pleasant but ultimately forgettable sound into a more potent, memorable version of that same sound. The safe rhythms of Does You Inspire You are replaced by a jarring, fading melody that parallels the unexpectedly creepy lyrics. It is as energetic an opener that you could ask for, but the lyrics, told from the point of view of a murderer, provide a stark contrast to the fun melodies and Chairlift’s pastwork. These lyrics standout as being just one of a few that not easily read as being about Polachek’s relationship and breakup with Pfenning. Most other songs deal with anger (Take It Out On Me), frustration (Ghost Tonight), and working toward acceptance (Met Before), and how they impact a relationship, clearly depicting an affecting, albeit occasionally scattered and standard portrayal of a dying relationship. Still, it is an enormous step-up from Does You Inspire You, where lyrics ranged from forgettable to distractingly bad (I’m looking at you, Evident Utensil). And although a few tracks on Something did not take that trip forward, the overall growth is as obvious as it is significant, and the songs that are left behind are saved by more varied, inventive songwriting.

Wrong Opinion¸ is perhaps the best example of offbeat, unexpected percussion rhythms, and teases a large step forward for Chairlift with its loud, explosive (albeit halted) guitar. The change (or rather, hint of a change) suits them well, and although many songs make use of a lead bass, the only disappointment here is that the guitar is not present enough. Its sparse use in both Wrong Opinion and closing track Guilty As Charged are showcases of what Chairlift is capable of doing on the occasion they venture out of their comfort zone. The leaps forward here are enormous, and even the songs that start out familiar end without that familiarity, such as the droning, steady drumbeat that holds together a wall of sound as noisy as you would ever expect Chairlift to get. Something has a unique sound without any easy reference point; its infectious, catchy melodies may bring to mind ‘80s synth-pop, but the album never loses its identity, and several of these songs are the dreamiest, weirdest pop songs that you may have yet heard.

Still, despite all the songwriting growth, Something’s selling point is without a doubt Polachek’s voice, which approaches four octaves and has the power to turn clichéd lyrics into a heartfelt plea. Moments like the title line of Take It Out On Me or the outro of Amanaemonesia create an undeniably powerful outpour of love and frustration, with her higher register coming through with a remarkable, awe-inspiring strength and clarity on both tracks. Polachek can effortlessly move her voice from these high notes to the low, creepy bridge, as she does on Sidewalk Safari, and especially Amanaemonesia, to the ethereal falsetto of the haunting Frigid Spring. The latter track on its own is one of the more forgettable, directionless songs on the album, but, much like the two songs that follow it, it makes up for the occasional lull in variety with Polachek’s moody, honest delivery. Despite all the cascading synth lines and all the unusual percussive rhythms, Something simply could not be as effective without a singer as realized and confident as Caroline Polachek. Her voice single-handedly eliminates all accusations of the sameness that could be shot at the songs, evens the pace of the album, and although it may not make up for the album’s flaws entirely, it certainly helps hide them and is reason enough on its own to find enjoyment on this album.