Chairlift makes the kind of wistful, effervescent music you might imagine hip astronauts would embrace whilst tending to a flock of multi-colored chrysanthemums. Singer Caroline Polachek, possesses a voice operatic in its beauty but at odds with its identity. Ranging in tone from ‘80s inspired dream pop to newer darkwave/goth, the band is capable of making beautiful music, but is torn between genres and pace.
First there are the inevitable Cocteau Twins comparisons, swathed as it is in heavy synth and mood. There’s also the fact that they hail from indie-pop haven Brooklyn, which has undoubtedly influenced their style and aesthetic. Something is also Chairlift’s first album as a duo after founding member Aaron Pfenning left the band in 2010 to concentrate on his solo project, Rewards. All of these things make for an interesting listen. But being interesting is kind of like having a great personality, it doesn’t always get you to where you want to be.
Perhaps this is a testament to the slick producer credits. Something gets help from legendary maestro Alan Moulder (Depeche Mode, My Bloody Valentine, NIN) and Dan Carey (Hot Chip, Kylie Minogue, Franz Ferdinand). Moulder’s brooding pop sensibility paired with Carey’s dance tendencies are what turn the album into a schizophrenic hodgepodge. Each song stands apart individually, but their difference in structure makes Something sound more like a collection of excellent B-sides without a unified temperament. Given the lofty acclaim of these contributors, it feels necessary to hold this sophomore effort to a higher standard.
Opener “Amanaemonesia” begins with a funky bass line and danc-ey synth layered beneath a haze of disco reverb. This track shows glimmers of a lighter Geneva Jacuzzi, especially when Polachek sings “the girl at the window/covered in ashes/smiles grotesquely/in the light of day/singing in German/a cold summer warning.” Instead of playing off this dark frenetic energy, “Cool as Fire” goes 43 seconds before any vocals and totally poops on the proverbial party.
We eventually end up with what feels like a studio audition showcasing Chairlift’s chameleon-like abilities to shift between genres. This is ironic given that it’s their major label debut for Columbia. “Frigid Spring” opens like a Real Estate song, something to listen to on a foggy beach morning. “Guilty as Charged” has all the ghoulish pizzazz of Lydia Lunch but without the sinister delivery. “Sidewalk Safari” gets back to the working formula of “Amanaemonesia” and revels in the sort of kitschy taunts of mid ‘80s Madonna.
Chairlift seem to want to make dark music you can dance to. From a songwriting standpoint, they’ve crafted poignant, confessional lyrics that rival anything in the dance music pantheon. Musically, the songs benefit from punchy drums and bass but are occasionally offset by the gospel-like quality of Polachek’s voice that doesn’t always mesh with the beat. It’s worth checking out on the strength of single “Amanaemonesia” alone. If anything, it might serve as a mood quencher on an individual track basis versus playing the entirety of the album. Far from a sophomore slump, Something displays the full panache of Chairlift’s capabilities but could have benefited from a more cohesive resonance.
Words: Brian Noonan