If you’ve heard “Bruises,” the song popularized by a 2008 iPod commercial, then you’ve heard the music of Chairlift. The band has changed a bit since its one-hit success. Two of its members ended their romantic relationship, resulting in the dude quitting the band and the threat of legal action, but singer Caroline Polachek has handled the split just fine. In Chairlift’s latest music video, made for the song “Amanaemonesia,” Polachek does not have grass stains; she has a mint-green unitard. She’s not falling down; she’s prancing around in a transfixing interpretive dance. And she is neither black nor blue.
For the band’s sophomore album Something, Polachek and partner-in-crime Patrick Wimberly made an effort to ditch the moodier sound of their first LP, Does You Inspire You. Polachek aimed to please a much wider audience with this album, telling Pitchfork, “I want to make stuff that a 10-year-old might hear coming out of the radio and think, ‘Yeah! I love this!’ ”
Not all of the songs off Something are completely kid-friendly, though. In the first track, “Sidewalk Safari,” Polachek contemplates various methods of vengeance — guns, hit men, poison and eventually hitting her victim with a car. But “Sidewalk Safari” is fun: a blend of Atari-esque melodies and the elongated advantages of female vocals. The song’s ending sounds slightly like a futuristic race car speeding away — a reminder that Chairlift may seem sweet, but really, its singer may want to run you over with her car.
But Something isn’t spiteful. The album enters a sort of dreamy void in its second half with the track “Frigid Spring.” Polachek’s voice surfs over melodic lines, changing direction with rapidity and smoothness. The next song, “Turning,” has a similar, REM-cycle-inspired feel to it. Almost everything about it remains vague and ambiguous — where the song is going, what the emotion is, what Polachek is actually singing, to name a few. The most unexpected aspect of “Turning” is its lack of change; the song is repetitive and seems to build up to nothing. But Chairlift doesn’t frustrate — it turns monotony into serenity.
While Something has a shorter length than Does You Inspire You, Chairlift takes its time with each song. For its first album, the band slapped together a peculiar array of ideas, resulting in a scatterbrained mix of tracks with subject matters ranging from witches to condoms. With Something, the songs are more inspired and connected, maintaining a heavily ’80s-inspired sound that remains consistent but doesn’t become tedious or unoriginal.
However, when Chairlift becomes too enthralled with ’80s throwbacks, it ends up with tracks like “Cool as a Fire” that become cheesy and tired with their over-the-top nostalgia. The song — a heartfelt proclamation of despair over a lost love — lasts four minutes and shows up in the middle of the album, a mopey interlude whose primary purpose seems to be to stall before the subsequent track, “Amanaemonesia.” It’s a little soothing, but mostly soppy.
“Amanaemonesia,” the clear superstar off of Something, is a single whose strength derives almost completely from the shifting “oh’s” of Polachek. Her voice performs tricks, somersaulting and leaping up and down octaves.
No longer constrained by the cutesy couple duos with her then-boyfriend, Polachek has the freedom to experiment with her voice, and Wimberly is the obedient friend who will stay by her side no matter what she does — in real life and in his instrumentation. While Polachek may have been failing at handstands in “Bruises,” in Something she soars and bounds to heights previously ungraspable.