I think what Chairlift really wants from a review is for their ’08 iPod nano commercial hit, “Bruises,” to not be mentioned. My apologies, guys. Everything from the sheer nostalgia it elicits to its endearingly synth rhythm to its lyrics make mentioning it irresistible (I grabbed some frozen strawberries so I could ice your bruising knees). It was that adorable indie hit before adorable indie hits were cool.
Moth is the New York duo’s most bright and upbeat release thus far. Singer Caroline Polachek’s vocals are similar to those of Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds, but the lyrics on this latest album don’t quite have that death-candy depth of avant-pop artists like Marina. In fact, it’s difficult to place Chairlift in any genre right now. They’re avant-pop and/or synth-pop, but Moth doesn’t quite place them into the either of those (fairly specific) categories. Those genres elicit artists like Marina, Lana, even Phantogram or Grimes, if you want to go there. But Chairlift isn’t really anything like any of those.
They’re still stuck in the la-la land limbo of alt-pop artists like La Roux who only had one U.S. hit and never really got both feet off the ground. The album is good but not great. It’s good but not good. You can listen to Moth for something that will suffice. For example, two of the catchiest, most danceable tracks, “Ch-Ching” and “Moth to the Flame,” offer little conceptual complexity beyond the content of their titles. Neither change your worldview, neither will change the way you perceive contemporary culture but they will allow you to maintain your reputation as someone who “likes good music.”
There is at least one track that gets me feeling, and it’s “Crying in Public.” While most of the songs on Moth have vague lyrics that come off as distant and impersonal — especially when paired with Chairlift’s characteristic technologized, synthey aesthetic — they get slow and deep on this track. The lyrics speak to tender and conflicting emotions of crying about and loving someone at the same time — crying because you love them. Polachek’s vocals also shine, coming out sinewy and clear.
But that’s only one song. While Moth has a few shining moments, the fact of the matter is Chairlift hasn’t put anything out that tops their first album, Does You Inspire You, featuring “Bruises.” And their latest release is no exception. Their sound in ’08 was original, fresh and ahead of its time. Lyrics spoke to social issues and gave considerable attention to critiquing the consumerism emerging in our country at the time, which has run rampant by now. On that first album they gave 4:45 to a song about how much garbage we produce. Track names included (you guessed it) “Garbage” and “Le Flying Saucer Hat.” Um, yes please. When I see “Ch-Ching” on the track list of this latest release I just don't get quite as excited. Chairlift contributed something new with Does You Inspire You, and they haven’t done so since.
Moth is nice. It’s pretty good. But Chairlift, give us something cool, something great, something weird. We know it’s in you, and it’s waiting to be released. Maybe next year?