THE FIRST TIME I saw the iPod ad featuring “Bruises”, off Chairlift’s 2008 debut, Does You Inspire You, I thought it was a Regina Spektor song. I suppose I couldn’t really be blamed. It was a piece of twee piano pop with coquette-schoolgirl vocals—exactly the kind of adorable, inoffensive music that Apple uses to accompany its equally adorable, inoffensive products. Just as Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly’s 2012 sophomore effort Something was a stylistic jump forward from their debut, the four-year gestated Moth is equally a massive improvement. Miles away from the cutesy pap of “Bruises”, Moth is confident, sexy, and wonderfully weird.
So what changed? For starters, it seems like Polachek took a few cues from “No Angel”, the trap-pop come-on that she co-authored for Beyoncé. Moth bounces with a slinking R&B heartbeat not present in the band’s previous releases, and it works perfectly with the omnivorous soundscapes that Wemberly crafts. The band seems more willing than ever to tackle a variety of beats, bizarre instrumentations, and styles that makes its style more unclassifiable than ever. Proper opener “Polymorphing” falls somewhere Suzanne Vega-esque continental cool and elevator jazz—it’s as strangely enjoyable as it sounds. “Ottawa to Osaka” rides an amalgam of chillwave sheen and plucked strings that shouldn’t work, but pulls it off all the same.
This “anything goes” spirit applies in equal measure to Polachek’s vocals, bolder and more self-assured than ever. She tries on her best disco croon on the unbeatably bouncy “Moth to the Flame” while deadpanning “he’s my kinda man, mama.” The highlight “Show U Off” channels early 90s Janet Jackson, starting with mid-range melodicism before building into a euphoric high-pitched chorus. Polachek explores her lower register on “Ottawa”, delivering monologues over the beat in Lana-like mumble.
This chameleonic approach obscures the fact that at its heart, much of Moth is just naggingly catchy schoolyard pop. Someone just needs to find a schoolyard this inherently cool. “Romeo” and the winkingly inane “Ch-Ching” are essentially cool-kid cheerleader pump-up songs, much in the same vein of Sleigh Bells’ “Kids”. What is Polachek saying? “27-99-23, ch-ching, ch-ching”—with melodies this memorable and delightfully off-kilter, does it even matter? In fact, many of the album’s best hooks don’t really depend on memorable words at all. “Polymorphing” revolves around Polachek’s veritable earworm repetition of “toni-iii-iee-ight”—it’s not exactly a hook, but it sure lands in your brain like one. Polachek delivers the titular vocals of “Unfinished Business” somewhere between an orgasmic exaltation and a cry of anguish. They’re the best sing-alongs that you won’t know any of the words to.
When the band’s lyrics do crystallize into more decipherable themes, Polachek is mostly preoccupied with love and lust. The charming, if maybe a drop saccharine “Crying In Public” brings forth the vivid narrative of Polachek crying on the train, overwhelmed by her headlong dive into a promising new love affair. “Romeo” challenges her lover just to keep up. It’s a seductive approach that meshes perfectly with the album’s almost effortless cool.
Admittedly, Moth is a thoroughly lightweight affair. It won’t change anybody’s life, and it’s probably just a little too left-of-center to launch Chairlift into the mainstream. But not every album needs to be some kind of Bildungsroman. Moth is a breezy, immensely enjoyable pop record that provides just the amount of pep that you’ll need to make it through the winter. It makes a very upbeat soundtrack to cleaning the snow off your car. B PLUS