Release Date: Jan 22, 2016
Record label: Columbia
Chairlift, unusual for a band so accustomed to the underground thanks to their subversion of classic pop mechanics that glisten and shimmer with avant garde beauty, have had not one, but two brushes with the mainstream. Both, in their own way, have been formative experiences in shaping the duo we hear today. The first came in the form of an iPod advert.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. In a time when pop stars seem in constant competition to cause the largest amount of noise, controversy and status around their music, it is possible for artists of quiet brilliance to make pop almost entirely unnoticed. The arrival of Chairlift's third LP feels both overdue and unexpected. Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly are now members of the indie elite and they have taken their time to craft and consider Moth.
Chairlift's 2012 album Something was a shiny slice of modern pop that featured Caroline Polachek's dramatic vocals running wild through a slick backdrop of synth pop and icy R&B-influenced beats provided by Patrick Wimberly. After taking time to work on a follow-up, the duo delivers an album that amplifies the pop aspects of Something and blows it out into a sometimes brilliant listening experience. While Wimberly's skill at crafting really hooky arrangements and coaxing nice sounds out of an array of synths has grown, Polachek is still the undisputed star of the show, as her swooping, sweeping vocals dance across the mix like multi-tracked imps.
It makes sense that fire would be a recurring lyrical theme in Brooklyn duo Chairlift’s brand of ornately produced pop. Their synths flicker and tease, their bass pops and smolders, and the vocals of frontwoman Caroline Polachek crackle, screaming from out of nowhere and dying unexpectedly. Most importantly, the final product glows; an incandescent, unpredictable thing whose hum emanates color and warmth.
Whatever’s in Brooklyn’s artisan bottled water right now, the borough is producing some of the best music to defy pop, indie and R&B’s boundaries. Just ask the Knowles dynasty, who have relied on BK residents such as Blood Orange, Boots, Kelela and Chairlift to hipsterise their sound in the last few years. Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly penned Beyoncé’s No Angel, and their new album suggests a band reborn, flitting between R&B, synthpop, funk-bass-fuelled soul and even breakbeat: Romeo, a song about Greek goddess Atalanta, could give Grimes’s recent output a run for its money; Ch-Ching (moodboard: Busta Rhymes, dancehall, Japan) is another global-pop banger to rival Major Lazer’s Lean On.
In 2008, it seemed like Chairlift might be one-hit wonders. The concurrence of their debut album release with an iPod Nano ad placement for their song "Bruises" put the then-trio on the map, but they seemed just a little too of their time: the twee lyrics, sweet but simple melodies and overused synth presets of the embarrassingly titled Does You Inspire You made the record feel quirkier than it was interesting. In 2016, Chairlift are a very different band.
Moths seem like an error in evolution. Instead of morphing into the bright symmetry of a butterfly, a caterpillar becomes a dull and monochromatic flicker, flying in meaningless orbits around a light source and sometimes annihilating itself in it. There’s something familiar in this pattern, though; it resembles something as exposed and human as falling in love.
By all accounts, Chairlift should have faded from relevancy long before 2015. Arriving at the tail end of the era where having a song heavily featured in an Apple commercial could lead to minor success, the group became recognizable for the precocious “Bruises”, one of the last innocuous gems of that time before Mumford folk and Urban Outfitters indie took over. For their second album, they lost a member and evolved into a full-on synthpop band with a knack for soaring hooks.
Combining Eighties-referencing pop with the sheen of angular electronica, Chairlift could be regarded as an ‘easy’ listen. When their second album Something came out in 2012, it felt like Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly could have churned out perfect pop tunes for years to come: 'As long as they’re so damn catchy, I’m likely to enjoy them', I remember thinking. Still, far from merely repeating a formula, Moth, their ‘New York record’, sounds like they’re determined to make ‘easy’ surprising again.
Brooklyn duo Chairlift have attained the synth-pop holy grail: They're the Yaz of our time, filling their albums with perfectly sculpted, searchingly lovely tunes wrought from tense, tugging intimacy just as Vince Clark and Alison Moyet did on classic songs like "Bad Connection" and "Only You" 30 years ago. Yet Chairlift are built for our more casually eclectic times: Singer Caroline Polachek and her musical partner Patrick Wimberly share writing and instrumental duties, pulling from whatever genres suit their needs. "Polymorphous" sets the mood with a slippery-smooth electro-soul groove and Polachek firing off giddy metaphors for romantic possibility ("bungee-jumping on the upswing"); "Romeo" lofts a sheer melody over a skittering, incisive beat; "Moth to A Flame" is a summery disco reverie; and "Ch-Ching" is subtle skip-rope R&B with a beat that recalls old-school Timbaland and happy horn flares.
Moth is Brooklyn duo Chairlift’s first album in four years, nearly to the day, and there are a couple of major changes right off the bat. Gone is the darkness and experimentalism of their 2012 release Something, replaced by sure-footed confidence and a handful of extremely hummable pop hooks. The landscape of pop has changed in the time between Something and Moth, and it’s reflected in the differences.
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York via Boulder, Colorado, where they originally formed back in 2006, Chairlift are one of a seemingly endless conveyor belt of self-consciously clever, achingly hip bands to emerge from the Big Apple’s coolest borough over the past decade or so. Comprising of singer Caroline Polachek and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wimberley, their 2012 second album Something marked out their territory as purveyors of angular, slightly chilly and warped electro/R&B; a difficult to pin down flurry of skittering rhythms and vocal gymnastics from the impressively elastic Polachek. There was however a definite lack of memorable songs which prevented Something from standing out from the crowd, and by and large this stumbling block has not been removed on new album Moth.
The metamorphosis is complete. Chairlift have burst out from their beginnings making ambient music for haunted-houses and have turned into a flamboyant, joyful, dance-floor bound act. Self-produced third album ‘Moth’ is relentlessly creative. Unlike their previous two records, there’s no sense that Chairlift have gone rifling through their record collection looking for yet more gloomy 1980s pop to inspire them.
Beyoncé hooked up with Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly on her 2013 track No Angel. Some of her stardust seemed to have rubbed off when the New York duo resurfaced last autumn with Ch-Ching, its stabs of brass and R&B dynamics very much in the same vein as their A-list collaboration. As far as Moth goes, however, it’s a bit of a red herring: the other nine songs here stay frustratingly close to the 80s-indebted yacht rock sounds of 2012’s Something.
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.
In spite of the usual lull of a new year, this January, in particular, was jam-packed with loads of exciting releases that cover a whole gamut of styles and attitudes. Sometimes we just don't have the time and resources to cover them all, but that doesn't mean we're always listening. Below are some ….
On Chairlift's third album, the Brooklyn duo delve deeper into the pop mainstream, self-producing their catchiest songs yet. The sexy groove in Ch-Ching is paired with keyboardist/vocalist Caroline Polachek's silky vocals and bursts of horns; the disco synth lines of Moth To The Flame sound modern thanks to Patrick Wimberly's punchy drums; Polachek reaches soaring, diva heights on Show U Off. Moth's pop bent shouldn't catch long-time listeners by surprise; Chairlift's journey to the mainstream felt inevitable.