They've adopted the '80s as their new direction
Fittingly, for a band that formed intending to make music for haunted houses, [a]Chairlift[/a] have always been consummate shape-shifters. The Brooklynites’ inspired 2008 debut album was an amorphous swirl of influences that delighted many but lacked stylistic focus. [a]PJ Harvey[/a], My Morning Jacket, Siouxsie And The Banshees, ‘In Rainbows’… it felt like a jigsaw of a modernist art masterpiece in which no pieces quite matched up. Were they art-pop? Psych-folk? Abstract gothtronica? And, on ‘Make Your Mind Up’, [a]Radiohead[/a] casting a voodoo spell on Portishead that caused them, by some magical and unlikely train of events, to end up nailed into a crate of bubble-wrap with an angry Chinese Karen O? The answers were yes, yes, yes and don’t be so ridiculous (but yes).
So we should be relieved that in this period of widespread musical dislocation Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberley have settled on a firm direction for their long-awaited second album. But we might be a bit bemused that said direction is Hall & Oates. Nik Kershaw. The Thompson Twins. The ’80s revival taken to its spangliest, synthiest, chino-flappiest extreme. Honestly, there are bits of ‘Something’ that sound like the actual original Terminator theme. Others are apparently hoping to soundtrack a remake of [i]The Living Daylights[/i]. You wouldn’t be surprised if Go West had produced it, with Jonathan King as engineer. It really is that ’80s.
It seems the obvious – if frankly unnecessary – conclusion to a train of musical thought that has taken us from [a]Ladyhawke[/a] through [a]White Lies[/a] to [a]Noah & The Whale[/a]’s ‘Tonight’s The Kind Of Night’ and swamped the NYC underground, all the way from Tiger City to Ariel Pink. But while Chairlift recreate the plastic decade with far less sonic sabotage than the majority of their peers, they don’t play the revivalist card entirely straight. ‘Sidewalk Safari’ does Level 42 with a Siouxsie bristle and (Jean Michel) jarring synth phases. The tinkling Miami Vice gloss pop of ‘I Belong In Your Arms’ is swathed in glacial Cocteau Twins atmospherics. ‘Wrong Option’ is as [a]Daft Punk[/a] and [a]Depeche Mode[/a] as it is [a]Fleetwood Mac[/a]’s ‘Everywhere’. Which it is quite a lot.
The retro songcraft of ‘Take It Out On Me’ (think T’Pau’s lost murder ballad) and ‘Ghost Tonight’, a lament to romantic invisibility, is perfectly honed. But after enduring more slap bass and Genesis keyboards than our nation’s young should be permitted by law to suffer (plus the soporific, illogical and bollocks ‘Cool As A Fire’) it’s a relief to find the single ‘Amanaemonesia’ is a turning point. Itself a sinister and surrealist classic full of burning boats, ash-covered spectres and witchy symbols that appears to have been magicked off ‘Hounds Of Love’ by evil pop sorcerers Sparks, it gives way to a final third of the album full of the cranky moodtronica, surrealist electropop and lyrics worthy of a Guillermo Del Toro script – just the kind of things we loved Chairlift for in the first place.
The fantastic, fuzz-frantic ‘Met Before’ is the first half of the album dragged backwards through [a]Sleigh Bells[/a]. ‘Frigid Spring’ is the blessed sound of a ’60s psych-folk pop song being shafted sideways by a sexually frustrated Battles. By ‘Turning’, we’re back in the haunted swamp of Chairlift past and glad to be home. Our flashback to a dead decade has thrown up both guilty pleasures and glistening horrors. So we cling to the quirky but comforting electro-doom of the final ‘Guilty As Charged’ and beg Chairlift not to be so literal in their revivalism next time. Please… don’t send us back there again.