Review Summary: A breakthrough for an understated synth pop group.
Chairlift's sophomore album Something suffers slightly from the timing of its release. It is certainly informed by slick 80s New Wave, calling to mind The Psychedelic Furs
' propensity for soaring choruses and Simple Minds
' melodic complexity. There's no doubt that this retro aesthetic is currently in vogue, with the popularity of bands like Twin Shadow
surging. If you're feeling cynical, you might write this off as more of the same. But Chairlift arrives at a much brighter, perhaps artier sound, while also toning down the theatricality somewhat.
Unlike the aforementioned Trust, who excel in unpretentious emoting and club beats, Chairlift is a much subtler group. “Amanaemonesia” begins with a slinky minor bass line which casually introduces the song. It is amicable, taking on the quality of a genial friend. It's not until the chorus that we really hear the hook, slyly based around the tongue-twisting title. With each subsequent chorus, the singing grows grander and the flourishes dance like a laser show. By the final breakdown, the song is strutting and cocky.
It's that kind of transformation from workmanlike to showman-like that makes Chairlift so thrilling. Standouts like “I Belong In Your Arms” are effortless, gliding from one hook to another. And while this approach could be dangerous to a band with less melodic deftness, Chairlift handle it with requisite abandon.
Singer Caroline Polacheck is not overly showy, but extremely competent to deliver the goods on opening pair “Sidewalk Safari” and “Wrong Opinion.” Her vocals exemplify the wry lyrics with snakes and turns, often dipping into her lower register.
The few times the album plods occur when Chairlift's buoyancy amounts to boredom. The track “Frigid Spring” smacks a little of Deerhunter's psychedelic lilt but the edges are all rounded away, leaving an effete melody behind to wilt away into the next track.
“Turning” continues this atmospheric noodling, but its melody is a bit more memorable. Overall the whole album does not have the structure of “Amanaemonesia;” it opens gracefully enough but loads all of its slower, nuanced tracks to the back.
These tracks aren't bad, but they're not as impressive as the album's first half. It feels as if Chairlift still needs to stake out bolder territory. A synth-pop band should be unafraid of camp; the genre's history is steeped in decadent groups like Pet Shop Boys and Erasure.
Their unassuming style causes them to stand out almost paradoxically. Here is a band notable for its lack of shimmer and glitz in a genre known for just those things. But Chairlift should also be noted for their attention to craft and detail, hopefully honing those aspects with even more resolve in the future.