Caroline Polachek, co-founder of Chairlift, described the band’s name in a 2009 interview like so: “a long slow panoramic trip over changing terrain.” On the band’s sophomore release, Something, that changing terrain comes into focus, finding a band known best for its 80s-pop optimism adopting a more contemplative approach. It’s by no means an endpoint for the band, but neither is it a sophomore slump. Polachek and Patrick Wimberly explore new ideas without losing their identity, crafting a lovely album in the process.
Chairlift first hit the ears of masses with its boppy, DayGlo-tinted iPod commercial soundtrack tune, “Bruises.” “Evident Utensil,” another stand-out track from the band’s debut, features similarly synth-forward 80s revival pop. After hearing “Amanaemonesia,” the first single from the band’s latest release, Something, you couldn’t be blamed for expecting more of the same from the band. But somewhere between 2008’s success and 2012 follow-up (perhaps somewhere around the time co-founder Aaron Pfenning left the band to record with Rewards?) something happened. And thus, Something happened, bringing with it weightier subject matter and softer focus.
“I lay my guts out on the table,” sings Polachek on “Wrong Opinion,” one of a handful of the album’s eleven tracks that seems like it may stem from her failed relationship with Pfenning. Elsewhere, on “Take It Out On Me,” it’s “Forget forgiveness, forget all the rules.” The latter track also features Polachek at her breathiest, letting her nimble and ambrosial voice do the heavy lifting rather than leaving it to the synths. Early Chairlift left you bopping in your seat. Something makes you think (a lot of the time about how great Polachek’s voice sounds).
Partial credit for Polachek’s sound goes to deft handling by expert producers Dan Carey and Alan Moulder, who have produced a lush final product that pays homage to predecessors without slipping into retromaniacal throwback. Carey, whose touch is most evident, has turned knobs for the likes of Hot Chip, Franz Ferdinand, and CSS – all touchpoints that shine through at different moments of Something. Most importantly, they know when to step in and when to step back, giving the album a captivatingly varied complexion. It’s not all dance pop, even though tracks like “Amanaemonesia,” “Met Before,” and “Ghost Tonight” certainly prove Chairlift can still throw down a beat-bumping tune.
Sometimes, particularly as the album wears on, that varied complexion leaves the listener wanting more structure. Something’s closing triad, in particular, seems to fall apart a bit. “Frigid Spring” shoots for minor-key airiness and lands closer to strange unintelligibility. “Turning” resembles Chairlift’s take on a Beach House approach, and while it doesn’t fail, it doesn’t quite jive with the rest of the album. Something’s closing track, the strangely affected “Guilty As Charged,” will likely find some fans, but doesn’t win me over, particularly as the taste that lingers. Most importantly, there is little cohesion amongst the three, as if the album’s conclusion was an afterthought. It’s a disappointing finish to an otherwise pleasant surprise.
When Something fires on all cylinders, as it does on songs like “Amanaemonesia,” “Sidewalk Safari,” and “Ghost Tonight,” it showcases a duo that manages to make tunes that are both infectious and substantial– no easy task. When it falters, the tracks don’t coalesce in quite the same way, leaving listeners with a pile of parts and ideas and no instruction manual. Still, those moments of brilliance outweigh the missteps. After all, Something is just the next step of a band trying to find the sweet spot in their slowly changing terrain where they can pause the ride and just enjoy the view. This album takes them closer to the top.
CHAIRLIFT – "Sidewalk Safari"
Stream 'Something' in its entirety here.