Synthpop duo Chairlift’s album ‘Moth’ signals different sound

Chairlift, consisting of Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly, trumps indie pop clichés in new album.
Chairlift, consisting of Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly, trumps indie pop clichés in new album. Photo courtesy of David Levene/ The Guardian.

After a four-year break since the release of its last album, Chairlift’s new album Moth is emblematic of a duo whose music is predicated on experimentation. What’s different about this new work is most evident in the pairing of Caroline Polachek’s lofty voice with Patrick Wimberly’s electronic synth pop sounds. When it works, the result is light and sleek; when it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

One of the highlights by far is “Polymorphing,” which resists any repetitive pop framework and keeps you on your toes for the whole four minutes.

The track starts with the low, discordant growl of a synthesizer, which is broken by Polachek’s sharply precise voice. It only gets better from there. A groovy bass line is dressed up with progressive layers of keyboard, tenor sax and electric guitar, but is kept in time and snapped back by a steady snare beat, courtesy of Wimberly.

“Fill her up with serotonin/ Pyrotechnic, oxytocin/ Overdosing, polymorphing,” Polachek sings, smugly proclaiming those lovehormones to be even better than drugs. It’s a vivacious commitment to musical experimentation that fuels the rest of Moth. That vivacity follows in the main single from the album, “Ch-Ching.” Polachek sings unabashedly to take control of her own life, begging only for “forgiveness and not permission” to do what she pleases. The gusto shown in her vocals is matched perfectly by the backing music, consisting of animated synth and horn sections, which empowers Polachek’s lyrics that much more. In “Romeo,” the same enthusiasm exists: “Hey Romeo/ Put on your running shoes/ I’m ready to go,” she sings. After listening, you feel like anything’s possible.

The album takes a turn with “Crying in Public,” where the vigor shown in the first few songs is gently (and temporarily, unfortunately) replaced by an endearing ballad. Anyone who has ever fallen for anyone else will relate to this song: “Sorry I’m crying in public this way/ I’m falling for you, I’m falling for you,” Polachek breathes. Clichés unavoidable, the song is simply sad, but beautifully so. Give it a listen.

The second half of the album falls off a bit, however – the sounds are loud, and a bit incongruous. “Unfinished Business” sounds like what its title suggests: The instrumentation is patchy and the snare oddly out of place. Polachek comes through with a raw and distressed chorus, but the overall result is still a bit jarring.

The final song, “No Such Thing as Illusion,” also follows the same dissonance in “Unfinished Business.” Here, the vocals and music seem to fight each other to a certain extent. If the listener is enjoying the music, Polachek’s voice pulls them out of that state. Of course, that may just be the point: to take the listener out of his or her own head to face a reality without illusions. Perhaps.

Regardless of the discordance in a few of these songs, the message in Moth is clear: Change is inevitable and is a sign of personal strength. And after a few listens, even songs like “Unfinished Business” and “No Such Thing as Illusion” do start to grow on you. From the confident shifts in sound in “Polymorphing” to the vivacity and enthusiasm exuded in “Romeo” and “Ch-Ching,” this album shows that Chairlift is experimenting, and experimenting well, and evolving, even – the album title can’t possibly be a coincidence.

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