There are quite a few one-off ways to be familiar with Chairlift—those kids with the cheery single from that iPod commercial way back, or that Williamsburg band who wanted to make music for haunted houses (how utterly hip). That up-tempo, tad-spacey group who seemed to be in hot pursuit of perfect pop, but left a pretty sizable gap between their successful debut and sophomore effort. Well, the latter has arrived, and it proves an evolved, enjoyable followup that digs a bit deeper in both sound and lyric, neatly tied up in an ultra-eighties, ultra-gloss pop package.
The three-piece outfit we came to love in 2008 has morphed during the lapse since debut Does You Inspire You, namely in that founding member Aaron Pfenning split off to pursue a solo career. The remaining two, vocalist Caroline Polachek and multi-instrumentalist/producer Patrick Wimberly, have spent time collaborating with other artists—Wimberly helped produce Das Racist’s latest, Relax, and Polachek was featured on tracks by Washed Out, Holy Ghost!, and more. Also during this period, the pair presumably stumbled upon a DeLorean, hopped in, popped back a couple decades, and spent some time under the tutelage of Walkman, boombox, and Yamaha. Chairlift has certainly retained their playful pop aesthetic, but this time, it’s been soaked in a vat of all the trappings of the ’80s—synthesizers, glitter, and cinematic, dramatic longing, namely—and left to marinate. There was throwback flavor on their debut, of course, but this effort really goes there. Something is positively lacquered in ’80s ethos—at times, almost too much so. On the whole, though, the result of the Reagan-era sonic romp is pretty delightful.
Something about Polachek’s lulling, honeyed vocals coupled with upbeat pop bars is paradoxically soothing. It kind of feels like you’re supposed to listen to this with your eyes closed, and really let daydreams unspool behind your lids. The nice thing about a record like this is it’s visceral, it’s practically visual, and it’s very difficult to listen without envisioning a John Hughes style montage, what with the curls and the cars and the sparkle. It still feels modern, though, in the midst of a generation of listeners who harbor this strange and culture-defining nostalgia for a time we didn’t exactly experience. With Something soundtracking, you can visualize your own life unfolding, every dramatic dream moment, under a sort of semi-transparent Pretty in Pink overlay. It feels honest, though, and not gimmicky—the songs are very well constructed, and Polachek’s croon very sincere.
Still, if you wish the ’80s would stay dead and just can’t get on board with the persistent chillwave craze, the record can get a bit tiresome. Even the tracks that feel decidedly more modern at first almost always end up taking that synthy dive by the time the chorus traipses round, so if you don’t like the sound, don’t expect to fall in love. If you’re on the fence, though, this record could well sway you. Plus, if you’re just looking to bop, there are more than a few tracks that have that unmistakable Chairlift call to dance.
The record opens with single “Sidewalk Safari,” a playful yet tinged-with-edge track that sets a proper tone for the album. Pinched, warbling synth gives way to a low, confident proclamation from Polachek: “All of the bones in your body / are in way too few pieces for me / time to do something about it / if you know what I mean.” It feels almost sinister, but in a remarkably childlike way—perhaps it’s just the moniker “Sidewalk Safari,” conjuring images of neighborhood kids stalking pavement that so easily becomes prairie during playtime.
There’s a Clockwork Orange-esque laser fadeout, and we’re right into “Wrong Opinion”—our first taste of Caroline Polachek-cum-Debbie Harry. She’s just got that new wave assuredness this time around the record player, and it really lends itself to the solidity of Chairlift’s work. Something boasts more emotional depth than Does You Inspire You—common lyrical players here are honestly felt heartbreak, love and abandon—and it’s added new dimension to Polachek’s vocal work. She feels more surefooted, more mature. “Wrong Opinion” is an ideal place to showcase it, opening with a low, thudding beat that is both tribal and futuristic, and springboarding into a shimmery, trance-y track.
The single “Amanaemonesia,” clocking in at just over five minutes, is a true pop gem. It’s airy and danceable, slowly picking up steam and eventually culminating in satisfying, witchy urgency. It’s the only track on the record that utilizes male vocals, and the charming back and forth is certainly well-placed for impact. It’s arguably the crown jewel of the album—well-crafted layers, distinct personality, spot on vocals, and the perfect dose of eighties revival.
Later on, “Frigid Spring” is a standout, and less synth-saturated than its Something counterparts. Polachek really pushes her vocal limits here and succeeds, hitting a floaty chord and hovering there for a substantial amount of time, breathy and ephemeral. This track retains a lot of the Chairlift personality a la “Bruises,” yet falls in line with the evolved nature of Something. It’s encouraging to watch a band shift and grow and manage to stay essentially true to form—such is the case here, as is for the album in entirety. If this record is any indication of Chairlift’s future endeavors, they’re likely to be pop mainstays. Provided, of course, they don’t get sucked so far into the recesses of the ’80s that they actually make it back there.