Something, Brooklyn-based duo Chairlift’s second LP, and their first since signing with Columbia, is a masterful stroke of experiential alterna-pop that demonstrates the power that creative freedom and big label investment can provide for exceptionally talented musicians. On the heels of a successful indie release with 2008’s Does You Inspire You (Kanine Records), highlighted by the placement of single “Bruises” in an iPod Nano advert, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly return in 2012 with an album that further establishes their musical depth and deft hand at crafting compelling work that is both accessible and cerebral.
The buildup to Something has been adroitly played. Nearly half of the album’s songs have been released to the public in some form or another over the last six months. The band also made available a few songs that didn’t make the final album cut, such as “Peculiar Paradise,” despite the fact that fan reception was positive. Most notable of all, however, was the pre-release activity surrounding the video for the brilliant single “Amanaemonesia.” In it, Polachek is featured in a lime green bodysuit dancing goofily (but with a discernible facility as well) to the song’s penetrating synth beats and quick lyric. The video was a minor viral hit, with commenters marveling on everything from the band’s ability to make a song so clearly inspired by the resurgence of 80’s sound aesthetic to Polachek’s corporal flexibility.
Paired with London-based producer Dan Carey, whose credits include multiple collaborations with Franz Ferdinand and songs such as Sia’s iconic “Breathe Me” and Kylie Minogue’s “Slow,” Chairlift deepened and unified their sound and infused some European influence that mixed well with their creative approach. The band moved from the space-pop scrapbook of Does You Inspire You, recorded while they were balancing music with various other commitments in Brooklyn, to a more congealed style-- a direct result of dedicating themselves full-time to their craft and collaborating with Carey, an experienced studio professional. The keyboards are face-forward, creating a more active version of the 80’s art rock-loving chillwave movement (“Amanaemonesia”). The album’s beats are bouncy and built to suit both roadway and cityscape (“Sidewalk Safari”, “Take It Out On Me”), and the band’s seriously un-serious character shines though on every multi-layered track. Listeners have the rare privilege of being able to give Something both attentive, hard listens and more distracted, soft listens – reading as much or as little into the songwriting as they desire – and still find the album satisfying. Polachek’s voice is pleasant and strong, with a soaring range that easily glides high and low, wearing well with the album’s versatility.
Chairlift has nailed a style of their own, but makes it clear that they don’t want to be known for this alone. Producers and musicians alike should take note, as Chairlift, with Carey’s assistance, have taken cues from critically-acclaimed bands like Saint Etienne and Portishead, yet have made the experimental enjoyable and fairly accessible. The close attention paid to the act’s overall aesthetic – not just their musical aesthetic -– without being too heavy-handed has made the overall experience absorbing enough to allow for this new instrument on “Sidewalk Safari,” that new lyrical structure on “Turning” and other quirks and twists that equally talented bands have not been allowed to get away with by the listening public.