Listening to Chairlift‘s sophomore record Something, it’s hard to believe the band was originally conceived with the sole intention of creating music for haunted houses. Not to say there was a whole lot of spookiness on the band’s debut Does You Inspire You, but you could certainly make the connection to their origins with songs like “Earwig Town” and “Chameleon Closet.” Nothing on the new record could be used for scaring even the youngest of kids. Instead Chairlift — now a duo consisting of Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly — simply continue a natural progression from their debut; in other words, it’s an appropriate follow up to an album that ultimately lead to an iPod commercial placement and a tour with MGMT.
Like last year’s Ford and Lopatin album, Channel Pressure, much of Something resembles ’80s new wave updated for indie audiences. From the synthesized orchestra hits on “Guilty as Charged” to the processed sing-speak vocal in the background of “Amanaemonesia,” Chairlift includes not only the hallmarks of the genre, but also some of the little forgotten quirks as well. “Wrong Opinion”‘s industrial pop production is fairly reminiscent of Some Great Reward-era Depeche Mode, while “Cool as a Fire,” oddly enough, could actually pass for later era Depeche Mode, with Dave Gahan’s brooding replaced by singer Caroline Polachek’s. Even if they borrow heavily from that era, nothing feels like a rehash of the past rather than a look at the genre through a new, indie pop-centric lens.
Chairlift has improved on Does You Inspire You‘s paradigm on nearly every front. For one, Polachek has moved away from the pseudo-intellectualism that at times plagued their debut. Veering from the inscrutable to the preachy, her lyrics were often hard to swallow. It can still be the band’s Achilles heel, but far less frequently. When Polacheck continues to repeat that “Now that I found you I don’t have a choice/With or without you I don’t have choice,” it comes across as a weaker version of the U2 song it borrows from. That said, for the most part, she has grown tremendously as a lyricist and these kinds of stabs at something more universal aren’t always so clumsy. “I Belong in Your Arms” may simply be a love song, but Polacheck’s poetic finesse keeps the song from becoming trite. And as “Sidewalk Safari” displays, she often demonstrates a welcome sense of humor. The song— a clever take on what is likely a stalking ex-lover out for blood— exhibits a dry wit that’s easy to miss amidst the track’s bouncy energy and overpowering hooks. Even if the song’s words can slip by unnoticed, the strength of Polachek as a vocalist is unmistakable. Often times she sings with the conviction of Annie Lennox, but she can just as easily slip into a St. Vincent-esque coo and the album does a remarkable job of showing off her versatility as a singer.
Chairlift clearly proves they are quite skilled at recycling ’80s dance pop and turning it into indie blockbusters, but it’s actually when the duo displays its mellower side that they really excel. On “Turning,” Chairlift make a pretty convincing case for marrying the styles of the Cocteau Twins with Enya. It probably shouldn’t work, but it does and it’s one the most arrestingly gorgeous songs on the record. Likewise, “Frigid Spring” is another striking standout. With its acoustic guitar work, reverbed synths and Rhodes piano hooks, the song fills the sophisticated space-pop void Air left when they began phoning in their albums. Its blissful vocals carry the song skyward, making a strong case to anyone who wrote Chairlift off after their admittedly lackluster debut that they are worthy of your attention after all.
Stream: Chairlift – “Sidewalk Safari”