Chairlift is a band about occult flotation. The world Aaron Pfenning, Patrick Wimberley and Caroline Polachek occupy revolves at a different pace and has a different sense of gravity than ours. They want to give us visions of this other world that simultaneously works within and on top of our own. Of course, behind every chairlift is some ingenious mechanism of showmanship. Behind our world is just our world again — made a little different. Friends of MGMT and Yeasayer, the members of Chairlift in their latest album, Does You Inspire You, are another band that self-consciously reconstructs a variety of past forms in order to create new pop music that simultaneously satisfies and mystifies.
I am of two minds about the album because the album seems to be of two minds in relation to those two words: "satisfy" and "mystify." In some songs, Chairlift simply satisfy their listeners by creating empty retro thrills — a thing I take to be bad. On other songs, they mystify through a recalcitrant and unassimilable strangeness — a thing I take to be good for a band intent on displaying other worlds. These two separate ways seem to break up the first and second half of the album.
In the first half, the band creates some synthetic meanderings that could almost be mistaken for pure (and not ironically redeemable) cheese. "Planet Health," with its funky bass line and affectedly pointillist voices, sounds too much like ’80s pop rehashed and gone wrong. Even their well-received single, "Evident Utensil" (which sounds alien to the album over-all), seems too much like an exercise than a real addition to that most hallowed of genres, synth-pop. In these moments, Chairlift seem to let their influences control them. The world remains the same (and slightly boring).
But in the second half — and in some moments of the first half of the album, too, like the epic but sometimes ineffective "Earwig Town" — the band’s eclecticism saves them from descending into a morass of reference. (They don’t get stuck in the MGMT world of ironically unironic irony that’s not really irony except when you’re being unironically…et cetera, et cetera.)
Their synthetic meanderings lead us to some genuinely strange, mystifying moments. My favorite is the weird country song "I Don’t Give a Damn," in which Polachek transforms her throaty sweet voice with a shaking tremolo effect. The effect — which recalls crying — not only works perfectly with the "country" sentiments of lost love and roads but also twists a simple and typical song into an alien thing.
The last two songs, "Chameleon Closet" and "Ceiling Wax," use the possibilities of electronic manipulation to create landscapes of strange power and not simply funny faux reproductions. This weirder, darker, mystifying side of the band remains fragmented, less melodic and more difficult to assimilate (less "satisfying" in a pop sense), but it makes for the best stuff on the record. It’s worth listening to with the hope of getting lost in some strange other world where children spew ether ghosts and spirits tap out love in Morse code.