It’s barely February, and I have already discovered my first favorite new release of 2012.
I have yet to distinguish whether releasing a new album early in the year is a strategic move on a band’s part or not, as it seems to bode not so well for some artists (i.e. Gorillaz’ iPad album The Fall that debuted early last year, or Lana Del Rey’s notoriously sub-par debut effort that was released last week), yet for some it seems a rather brilliant move. Brooklyn electro-pop duo Chairlift’s sophomore effort Something definitely seems to fall more gracefully within the context of the latter.
If you are not familiar with Chairlift, you either identify with the countless neophytes that scoff at the idea of cable/satellite television and the superfluous monthly bills that are tragically intertwined with such luxuries, or you live under a rock (or you fall somewhere in between). Chairlift is a duo from Brooklyn that briefly tasted the sweet saccharin of short-lived fame when their bubble-gum pop hit “Bruises” (from their strangely constructed and sneakily fragmented 2010 debut Does You Inspire You) infected the ears and hearts of anyone who witnessed a 2010 Apple commercial (believe me, you’d know the song if you heard it). Their debut saw mixed critical reviews, seen mostly as “inconsistent” and “jaunty.” For the most part, I would have to agree: their debut was sort of confusing; as a listener it was difficult to understand the tone of the album. However, Something is something quite different.
Second albums are tough. There are several ways in which an artist/band’s second album can go. The first is (unfortunately) the most common, and we refer to this as the sophomore slump, which basically describes an initially promising act’s fall from grace in relation to their debut. Another way an artist’s second album can go is when he/she/they employ subtle improvements of their style which, in turn, veritably solidify a certain voice or motif within the material itself that may have been lacking in earlier recordings. However, the most exciting transformation occurs when an artist or band either transforms their style completely, or simply finds a new, relate-able and cohesive voice that courses throughout the new album, tying each track together to form a solid collective piece that reflects thoughtful placement and order, without distorting or disrupting the message or subject offered by each individual song. Chairlift’s Something does just that.
In their somewhat tattered debut, Chairlift were obviously stretching in several different directions in attempt to determine their unique voice as a band. With Something, they have most certainly found it. Basically, the duo has abandoned cutesy commercial-ready tunes and their fearful juxtaposition involving over-indulgent psychedelic opuses. With Something, we get something different. The band seems much more comfortable within their newfound solidarity. Chairlift have most definitely found a voice that they can happily engage themselves in. Drawing from a plethora of influences ranging from the delicate consonance presented by shoe-gaze artists, to the fragile severity inherent in music by artists like St. Vincent, Chairlift have achieved a rare and terribly enviable balance within their recent pieces.
The opening track “Sidewalk Safari” sets a delightfully high (yet unfair) precedent, mixing colorful lyrical imagery with infectious musical hooks. It is superbly constructed, and immediately draws the listener into the album. The verses of the second song “Wrong Promise” employ fascinating syncopation to emphasize the driving, synthesized rhythm that creeps beneath the song’s hypnotic vocals. Sentiment reigns supreme in the bouncy love anthem “I Belong In Your Arms”, a sweet and simplistic exploration of good ole-fashioned love, yet is swiftly contradicted by the harsher, yet equally significant notes of “Take It Out On Me.”
The album also boasts such tracks as the eerily cheery “Ghost Tonight”, as well as a melancholy ballad of desperation (“Cool as a Fire”), and the wonderfully funky and bizarre “Amanaemonisia”, a fantastically psychedelic lyrical odyssey involving magic and verbal semantics. However, late in the album, especially with “Turning” and the closing track “Guilty as Charged,” one can easily sense a whiff of insecurity…not in a contextual manner, but within the delivery of the songs themselves. It is almost as if Chairlift dwindled within their own confidence in relation to their new sound, as they revert to simpler, more contrived structures. Maybe they just lost steam towards the end of the record, but to me, a trace of fatigue, or even carelessness, is palpable. It may just be a personal observation (EDIT: I can see how the decline of enthusiasm may contribute to the voice of the record as a whole), but the last few songs seem tired, almost exhausted. Regardless, whether this decline is intentional or not, it seems to work.
This isn’t exactly the same Chairlift that was trying to do handstands for you a few years back. If they incurred any real bruises in the past few years, they have drawn a great deal of insight and experience from said bruises, and in doing so, they have produced a truly discerning and provocative record, with a stronger, bolder, and more fastidious voice. This is the new Chairlift, and I think we can expect great things from them in the future. Bravo.