Modern pop’s penchant for bending new shapes out of the ’80s electro landscape might still be in full swing, but such is the weight of competition in today’s busy world of ’80s revivalism that it takes a certain deftness and songcraft to stand out from the crowd. Brooklyn-based trio Chairlift didn’t reach much further than the middle of the pack with debut LP Does You Inspire You, an unremarkable indie-dance set that failed to transcend its influences and was really only saved by the brilliant lustre of Caroline Polachek’s vocals.
Since then, the trio has become a duo, the exit of Aaron Pfenning leaving Polachek and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wimberly to forge ahead with Chairlift’s second album (as well as squeezing in some collaboration with satiro-rappers Das Racist in the interim). Something brings with it no great reinvention or even reassessment of the band’s sound – glimmering electro-pop, intuitive melodies and the ever-present neon shadow of the ’80s is still the order of the day. Something must have changed, however, because where their first album felt laboured, its successor presents its charms in a way that’s assertive, unaffected, and most importantly, a lot of fun.
So what changed? The simple explanation is that Chairlift are making the same music they made before, only they’re doing it much, much better. For long stretches of Something, Polachek and Wimberly offer up track after track of propulsive pop, each chorus seeming more gorgeous than the one before. The starry-eyed melodies of ‘I Belong in Your Arms’ perfectly evoke the romantic abandon of youth: you’d sit through a shitty high school rom com just to hear it over the end credits.
‘Amanaemonesia’ combines a Police-esque, limelight-hogging bassline with the cool songwriting sheen of fellow ’80s-obsessed Brooklynite Twin Shadow to create a fizzy earworm of a lead single. Meanwhile, ‘Met Before’ kicks off its gold-plated chorus with a keyboard refrain that somehow manages the remarkable feat of channelling Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ without making this listener want to throw himself out of the nearest window – a triumph in itself, against all odds. Polachek’s lyrics have undergone a welcome overhaul as well, the rather self-conscious constructions of the past replaced with direct, emotive declarations that fit more snugly within the sumptuous tracks that surround them, as well as the singer’s all-in delivery.
A few tracks break the album’s impeccable rhythm. The overplayed melodrama of synth ballad ‘Cool as a Fire’ slips onto the wrong side of pastiche, a turgid album midpoint after the brilliant five-track hot streak that precedes it. Towards the end of the album, ‘Frigid Spring’ and ‘Turning’ attempt to slow the pace for some more considered atmospherics, but the unengaging, unexceptional results highlight the lack of strings to Chairlift’s songwriting bow. Animal Collective they ain’t.
Like a hungry shark, Something relies on its momentum to flourish. While it’s gliding forward at speed, Wimberly and Polachek have the power to chew up all their influences and spit out something convincing and compelling, but if that energy dissipates they tend to flounder. A couple of inconvenient stains can’t spoil the simple pleasures of this retro disco, though. As it stands, Something succeeds as a bona fide kick-off-your-Sunday-shoes dancefloor filler, and stands as proof that commitment can trump originality if the songwriting is strong enough.