Back from an extended hiatus following their 2008 debut Does You Inspire You? and having dropped a band member in the process, Chairlift return triumphantly in 2012 with their sophomore release Something.
80’s synth pop is something of a guilty secret of mine; I don’t listen to a great deal of it because I find an overwhelming quantity of it to be kitsch and overdone, but sometimes an artist comes along that doesn’t take the cliche to the extreme and makes a really compelling listen. Chairlift are exactly that.
I love openers, me, so when I heard the cheeky yet oddly half-serious “Sidewalk Safari” for the first time and got immediately hooked, I was hopeful the rest of the album would perform; how right I was. Playful yet edgy, synth wibbles and wobbles over Polachek singing about running someone over with her car, perhaps an indirect reference to the lost band member? But there is not time to stand still and mull it over because the rest of the album looms, and the outlook’s good.
The fairly generic love song that is “Wrong Opinion” moves briskly into my undeniable favourite “I Belong In Your Arms”; a super-charged euphoric masterpiece, Polachek’s voice sounds spine-tinglingly breathless and hypnotic as she pushes it to the max. Everything just sounds so big and bold and confident, it’s perfection. We get the same love induced rush in “Met Before”, where once again we have swooping, intoxicating vocals backed up by relentless and maximalist synth and guitar. “Amanaemonesia” takes a similar yet slightly different route; summoning up ambiguous lyrics that would make Destroyer proud it bumps the pace up several notches from the super downtempo yet honestly heartfelt “Cool As A Fire”/”Ghost Tonight” duo, picking up pace before riding in on a wave of airy, funky synth. This is just about the most shamelessly 80’s track on the album and it’s great, although some might find it overwhelming.
The last three tracks get a bit more introverted, turning to more acoustic instrumentation in “Frigid Spring”, and the masking of the vocals in a sea of reverb in “Turning” reminds me strongly of the Cocteau Twins in a weird way. The pace and synth is dialled way down, relying instead on Polachek’s impressive vocal versatility on the final track “Guilty As Charged”, where there is a breathy submissiveness and acceptance coupled with a powerful confidence strengthened by the blatting drum pulse. If you don’t like synth pop but want to explore the strength of her voice, this is the track to listen to.
If you haven’t realised it already, I’m a sucker for Caroline Polachek’s vocals, they’re fucking delicious. She displays impressive diversity, from the euphoric highs of “I Belong In Your Arms” to the reserved, textural “Turning”. There’s an emotional depth here that the (almost cheesy) 80’s instrumentation cannot support alone that Polachek injects into, balancing everything flawlessly.