Surely you remember the band Chairlift from those countless times you heard their song “Bruises” a couple years ago in an iPod commercial. Don’t remember “Bruises” exactly? Does the line “I tried to do handstands for you” jog your memory? If not, don’t worry yourself too much. The band was in many ways a one-hit wonder, and their 2008 debut album Does You Inspire You didn’t really inspire on the whole. Outside of touring, they haven’t really done much the last couple years, though there have been some changes. Band co-founder Aaron Pfenning is gone, choosing to focus exclusively on his other musical project Rewards after his romantic relationship with bandmate Caroline Polachek dissolved. Polachek now only has multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wimberly to back her up, and that’s impacted Charlift’s sound somewhat. Pfenning’s occasional vocal presence has vanished, as has his guitar work, leaving the band’s sophmore album Something in a very synth-based 80s pop space. And you know what? The results turn out much better for them.
First thing’s first, Polachek spends much of Something in the role of a woman scorned. That is to say breakups are on her mind, and that’s not surprising given she experienced one with her former bandmate Pfenning. You’d be smart to be wary of reading too much into any of the lyrics though, as many of them are clearly fictitious or fantasy-oriented rather than literal. She’s not REALLY trying to kill or seriously maim another person, though we can’t really rule out emotional hatchet jobs. There are a few moments of pure passion and love though, as on “I Belong in Your Arms”, which with its tenderness, brevity and addictive chorus makes for one of the album’s strongest moments. It is the “Bruises” of this album, though not quite as catchy or marketable. Mostly what’s stronger on this record outside of the subject matter is the way it gets dealt with. Polachek backs off on some of the more vexing metaphors from the band’s debut and instead tries something more emotionally direct, to excellent effect. She seems genuinely saddened singing the line, “The look in your eye says you don’t love me anymore” on “Cool As A Fire”. The soaring chorus only provides more aid to her excitement as she sings, “Have we met before/amongst the buzzing of billions/clear like yesterday when you look at me and smiled” on “Met Before”. Also impressive is the chorus to “Guilty As Charged”, which rightly claims, “If I gave you what you’re asking for, you know you wouldn’t want it anymore”. Smart, plainspoken and with hints of humor, it appears Polachek has a much better idea of what she wants to say and how she wants to say it – a sharp difference from the debut in which many of the moments felt forced or uninspired.
Equally intriguing about Something outside of the great lyrics are how all the songs are put together. Save for “Met Before” and “Frigid Spring”, there’s very little use of guitar on this record. Synths are the instrument of choice, and that combined with some excessive polish on the production end takes you straight to the 80s. If you were to play this album for someone without telling them anything about it, most would probably guess it was either made in the 80s or is new coming from an artist that was popular in the 80s. Polachek’s voice earns more gravitas on this record versus the last, and she takes those reins and runs with them. She channels everyone from Kate Bush to Laetitia Sadler to Christine McVie and maybe even a touch of Cyndi Lauper at times, and not once does she sound uncomfortable or out of her element. Wimberly is far quieter than Pfenning was behind the microphone, in that his vocal presence is barely felt. His true star turn comes with backing vocals on the occasional track and a pseudo-duet with Polachek on addictive single “Amanaemonesia”. The rest of the time he’s simply that guy crafting the beats or sending a melody soaring just to keep up with Polachek’s strong singing. They are the yin and yang of Chairlift, perfectly complimenting and pushing one another to excel in different ways.
It’s a shame that Something is a record that will probably be just as, if not more ignored than its predecessor. Despite the strong collection of healthy and marketable pop songs, it’s unlikely you’ll be hearing much from the band on the radio or in TV commercials. There’s just a slight element of offbeat weirdness to many of these tracks that can turn off more mainstream audiences, to start. While there’s not a massive difference between Does You Inspire You and Something sonically, that first album at least had several moments that felt rooted in the present, likely caused by more guitars and less synths. Given that The Killers aren’t still rocking their 80s pop-rock sound established on Hot Fuss, it’s relatively safe to say not everything old becomes new again and stays that way. Still, as glo-fi/chillwave continues to survive and mine much of their material from the 80s, so Chairlift can do so in a much bigger and blatant way. Besides, a great pop song is a great pop song, no matter what decade it’s rooted in. This is the record that may not give the band the additional popularity they were hoping for, but it does earn them one crucial piece of success pie – critical acceptance. There’s no sophmore slump for Chairlift, maybe because they were already in a slump with their first album. Something is the record where they rise to the occasion, learn from their mistakes, and hit back at the hearts of the coldhearted. They’re alive and well and will run you over in their car to prove it.
Click past the jump to stream the entire album (for a limited time only)!