Release Date: Apr 29, 2014
Record label: Terrible
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
If her daytime gig in Chairlift found Caroline Polachek dealing in music that's equal shares icy, precious, and pop, then the keyboardist/vocalist's side project Ramona Lisa trades precious for earnest, and pop for pompous, although the results are equally delicious. Think of Deerhoof and Cold Cave catching a smoke while leaning against the Roman pillars outside the Sylvia Plath disco and the magic of this maudlin and immaculately designed album unfolds, or know that evocative song titles like "Wings of the Parapets" and "Hissing Pipes at Dawn (They're Playing Our Song)" fit the tunes splendidly, with the synths, vocals, and production all offering their effete support. Unusual and striking songs like "Backwards and Upwards" and "Lady's Got Gills" come with enough hooks and rhythm to relate to the mothership Chairlift, but the title cut (which mixes church bells, oboes, art songs, and angst) and "Avenues" (a ravishing beauty with lyrics like "All my avenues are green" and a sensibility in line with that of classical composer Satie) come from another ethereal world, a world where "sweetness and light" is not an ironic idiom.
This solo album from Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek was apparently recorded on a laptop in various hotel room cupboards, airport terminals and – if we're to believe Caroline Polachek herself – aeroplane toilets, presumably mid-flight when you're allowed to turn on your electronic devices. It certainly has a portable feel to it: there's running water on Hissing Pipes At Dawn, while the ringing bells of the title track make you feel as if you're overlooking a town square in some grand European city. Fans of Chairlift should find it both familiar and confounding: for every song that features Polachek's trademark lilting sighs and the purest of pop melodies (Backwards and Upwards), there's another that comprises random bursts of organ, mobile phone interference and the occasional tingle of bells (I Love Our World).
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Reinventing yourself - or perhaps showing a side to yourself that has always lurked beneath, simmering under the skin - after a lauded and/or successful first wave is no simple feat, but it can work wonders in capable hands. Johnny Borrell's solo jaunt notoriously, and deservedly, fell flatter than 10-day roadkill, but Leanne Macomber's fusing with Joel Ford as Ejecta has been an immersive, transcendent sonic experience.
Two albums deep with pop outfit Chairlift, Caroline Polachek has become one of pop's go-to girls for upping a song's seductive power. (See her work with Washed Out, Delorean, and Blood Orange.) Polachek's first solo album under the enigmatic name Ramona Lisa isn't a complete reinvention, as we've been led to believe, but rather a subtle recasting of the elements that make her such a powerful musical force. Operating alone, Polachek allows homegrown electronics and haunted whispers to tell more of the story.
Caroline Polachek has decribed ‘Arcadia’, her first solo album under the name Ramona Lisa, as a “document of being alone,” after creating the record on her laptop in private moments while touring with her band, Chairlift. Reminiscent of Julia Holter’s recent output, ‘Arcadia’ moves away from Polachek’s usually sugary way with a melody and into more esoteric territory. Lo-fi electronica (‘Getaway Ride’) and ambient pop (‘Dominic’) create the spine of a charmingly off-kilter record, while ‘I Love Our World’ is essentially a field recording.
To the outside observer, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek had an identity crisis over the last year. She was playing secret shows and debuting new material under increasingly inventive, singer-songwriterly pseudonyms: Kimsin Kreft, Theora Vorbis (an A/V pun), and most fancifully, Ramona Lisa, the name under which she’s presented her solo debut, Arcadia. Chairlift’s sophomore LP, 2012's Something, possessed some excellent singles, and the Polachek-written “No Angel” ended up on Beyoncé's recent self-titled album, but despite all this upward momentum, Arcadia is a quiet curiosity, a quirky side project that’s mostly a labor of love.
A concept album of laptop-recorded love songs that double as nature allegories, this project from Chairlift frontwoman (and recent Beyoncé collaborator) Caroline Polachek is both ambitiously high-concept and charmingly DIY. Highlights such as "Backwards and Upwards" and "Getaway Ride" show off Polachek's smart knack for undercutting any potential pretentiousness with airy, whimsical melodies and playful beat programming. At times the album veers slightly into meticulous synth work that was probably more involving to make than it is to hear – but tracks like the delightful sci-fi trip "Lady's Got Gills" ensure that Arcadia is a winningly quirky listen.
After collaborating with Beyoncé, Caroline Polachek’s Ramona Lisa seems like an odd direction to take. But with each repeated listen, and further dissecting, ‘Arcadia’ is a showcase of Polachek’s songwriting mastery that prefers to subtly impress, rather than blindingly amaze.Full of avant-pop created entirely through midi devices, it’s an album that focuses primarily on Polachek’s impressive writing chops, as well as her ability to diversify her already grand and pastoral aural palette. Made with the cheapest and most minimal of tools, ‘Arcadia’ shows that very little is capable of holding back her talent.The lo-fi charm of the album is immediately striking, marking a stark contrast to the glossy pop of Chairlift.
A lot of artists say that they can’t write or record on the road. But for Caroline Polachek, it wasn’t only possible, it was liberating. Recorded during stolen moments in hotel rooms and toilet cubicles on tour, Arcadia casts Polachek in a different hue to the stark crayon colours of Chairlift, her Ramona Lisa solo guise showing a more ambiguous tone and freeform spirit.
Spoiler alert: Ramona Lisa is Caroline Polachek. Passersby may recognize her as frontwoman of Chairlift, the Brooklyn indie pop outfit who turned eyes and ears with their critically-acclaimed video for “Evident Utensil” and Apple-favorited single, “Bruises”. Now, under a moniker that taunts the “most written about, most parodied work of art in the world,” Polachek returns with Arcadia, a solo debut instilled with conspicuous comedic intentions.
The first minute of Caroline Polachek’s debut solo album as Ramona Lisa is unexpected. The album’s opening track, Arcadia, begins with burbling, baritone synths, clanging tower bells and eerie, church-like percussion. It’s like the opening credits to the Hunchback Of Notre Dame, and like nothing we heard from Polachek’s other project, the indie synth-pop doves Chairlift.This first minute solidifies Arcadia as something entirely separate from Polachek’s previous work, which is a difficult thing to do with a solo album, especially when so much of what makes you original (in this case, Polacheck’s sharply brooding vocals) is already associated with something else.