Taking big risks with their fame rather than taming themselves, Chairlift’s Brooklyn-based Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly have created a tribute to the synthesizer with their second album, Something, released this past January through Columbia Records. Working with that bigger label, whereas they were once under Kanine Records and were shot to fame with “Bruises” use in Apple advertising, has had a few effects on the band, I feel.
Where Something has embraced ‘80s sounds similar to Peter Gabriel and typical of dream-pop, this sound wasn’t where they began back in 2008 with Does You Inspire You. Simply looking at “Bruises,” the composition was a walking drum and bass line with a repeated synth pattern between verses and those verses essentially were the song. Polachek’s vocal range was inarguably the central focus of “Bruises,” besides possibly the breezy feel it projected. Overall, Inspire’s delivery was slower and more casual, debating love and relationships subtly in the vocal form of Lana Del Ray. Yet, in the case of “Make Your Mind Up” and select other tracks, the audience really got to hear the aggression Polachek was capable of, a power similar to that of Florence Welch. Also, the off-the-wall interlude “Chameleon Closet” from Inspire was a brooding preview for experimental and doom-laden tracks that sounded sure to come on upcoming albums.
Something, however, shatters most of those previous notions collected of this band. It would seem as if Chairlift has taken a turn for the worse, fully embracing the public appeal of “Bruises” as their definition and spinning a web somewhere in the ‘80s. “Take It Out on Me” revisits the auto-tuned sentiments of Imogen Heap, yet is somehow less captivating. Granted the band taps into the vintage style of The Cranberries in many cases such as “Ghost Tonight” and “Met Before,” yet the whole of the album is much too repetitive. At points when it slows down, as in the exposition of “Cool as a Fire,” Something really succeeds, tapping into a sort of crooning style that’s well-missed from that dream-pop era.
The energy of “Amanaemonesia” and “Sidewalk Safari” seem to be direct references to the ‘80s, a tendency for artists to make up new words that stretch well under manipulation and auto-tuning and a common urban fairy tale of making an everyday sidewalk into a childlike adventure. “Met Before” has similar lyrics and song length to She & Him’s material, describing a rekindled romance with a surf-like instrumental feel. The true, and desperately needed, success of the album comes with the song “Guilty as Charged,” not because it occurs at the end of the record but because it showcases Polachek’s fantastic vocals without post-editing or manipulation. Even though the song boasts a Jumanji-style bass beat from the get-go and emphasizes it through repeating it in the end, her somewhat casual vocal delivery is entrancing. When the beat rolls into repetitions and modifications in the latter half of the song, Wimberly is able to express some experimental and improvisational ability but it may be too little too late to save the album.
Essentially, if you’re looking to crown a Madonna of today, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek may be your answer, but weighted against the strength of delivery that both Feist and Florence Welch have offered in recent years, you’re better off going back to those days of Genesis and the ‘Donna. The three tracks worth listening to on Something are “Sidewalk Safari,” “Amanaemonesia,” and “Guilty as Charged,” the last of which barely fits the rest of the album but strangely rises above in quality.