Writing a track with Beyoncé (“No Angel“), starring in a blatantly choreographed music video directed by dancehall specialist Korie Genius (“Ch-Ching“) and adding Hip-Hop beats to their music, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly are certainty taking risks with their collected indie fanbase. An allegiance that fell for their mystical homage to 80’s synthpop that also fused blues rock, electronic soft rock and an ethereal oriental influence over the top of clever metaphorical wordplay and a homemade mentality (unpretentious album covers and videos).
It’s been almost exactly four years since their second album Something and the duo have had time apart working on other projects. Polachek focused on D-I-Y alter ego project Ramona Lisa, and Wimberly has been cosing up with Beyoncé’s sister Solange, as well as Kelela and fellow Brooklyn resident Tei Shi. This gap has given them time to dwell on two subjects that have influenced a new way of thinking; the city of New York and the moth. An insect linked with attraction, confusion, determination and faith.
Chairlift wanted to capture the energy and diverse culture of New York but through the perspective of a moth. A moth-on-the-wall documentary if you will. Metaphorically, moths are known for taking risks on their path without questioning them (the theory that moths persistently follow light even if they get burned as a result).
Unusually for Chairlift, they approached the studio recording of Moth impulsively – each element of the compositions was like building blocks put together by children. This intuition rather than calculation is how they approach the eclectic genres of the record, their commentary of their adopted city (they are originally from Colorado) and the subject of love – an emotion Ramona Lisa tackled rather botanically.
Although New York isn’t directly referenced – Chairlift would never be that obvious – there’s such a busy city environment to their music mixed with a new breach into urban sounds – you can imagine either being stuck in a claustrophobic rush hour or observing the congestion in a time lapse similar to the opening of Phone Booth. It’s not exactly like a New York equivalent to Real Lies view on North London but the vibe is there.
From the moment the start whistle blows, “Romeo” feels urgent musically and is from the perspective of Greek mythological character Atalanta who challenged her suitors to a race for her heart. The suffocating yet steady heartbeat of “No Such Thing As Illusion” (which also mentions the movement word of ‘running’) and how “Crying In Public” imagines footsteps in a neon-lit metropolis adds to this imagery.
The lyrics on the latter, “sorry I’m crying in public this way/I’m sorry I’m causing a scene on the train” is romantically momentary and could make a fantastic candid photograph – a sudden moment of complete collapse that although is beautiful, is made shameful for being prohibited in populated urban areas.
It’s also the style of music Chairlift adopts that makes this album city-like. Despite Caroline Polachek still sounding like Imogen Heap in the most theatrical colours of her voice, they adopt the electric Gothenburg soul of Little Dragon, the atmosphere of Lone’s “Reality Testing”, bluesy jazz, blaxploitation funk (“Polymorphing”) and 90’s R&B via 3LW’s “Right Here” in “Show U Off“.
The self-confidence of that track is also emitted on “Ch-Ching”. With money bragging rights being associated with the Hip-Hop genre and M.I.A’s “Paper Planes”, the title itself sounds like a ploy into that market. The heavy beats and rhyming prose of “dripped it, unzipped it, I flipped it” support the moth theory of camouflaging into a scene but the track is also more meaningful about making your luck through hard work. The opportunity to exist in New York being a reward for the dedicated effort.
The inclusion of the cryptic numbers ’27-9-9-23′ continues on from the invention of the word “Amanaemonesia” in 2011 in how it got fans debating over its mystery. This and Chairlift’s inventive galactic beginnings shows that their old selves are still present. Additionally the Japanese-themed “Ottowa To Osaka” – a lesson about learning ways from other cities – advances on Polachek’s connection with the country after the Japanese language cover of “I Belongs In Your Arms”. It includes a Japanese language sample and oriential string instruments.
“I can’t help it I’m a moth to flame” apologies Polachek on their poppiest moment “Moth To A Flame“. The fact her strong curiosity magnetizes her to a higher awareness should be praised as bravery rather than ridiculed as selling-out. Whether it will burn her band’s reputation and make their fans confused like a moth to a light bulb is uncertain. Chairlift’s Moth is out now via Columbia Records, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Matt Hobbs