During the Industrial Revolution, when cities like Manchester and Birmingham were covered in a shroud of soot, the morphology of the moths living within the area changed. The typical moths found, seen peppered with white, had adapted to the dirty urban landscape until they could survive as a totally new species. The existence of living under a blanket of brand new influences is one Chairlift is not stranger to. Consistently adapting colorful nostalgic amenities to a pop nuclei has been a staple to their outfit for the better part of a decade. And now the sounds of the city are employed on their third LP, aptly titled Moth. The synth pop duo consisting of Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly has always had a knack for masking a sense of nostalgia rooted into their pop, while never forfeiting modern recording technique. Hooks shimmer with unabashed shine and Polachek’s vocals often erupt with unexpectedly charming passion. Does You Inspire You and Something often feel like peeks into the future from viewers in the past. But Moth is the sound of the band creating an ideal future without ever leaving their influences.
Starting from the ground floor, Moth is the sound of a band rebuilding its foundation with the same tools that made them a delight in the past. Drums are scattered, while warm synths placate the boundaries of their world. Within minutes, it’s obvious that Chairlift are autonomously creating something entirely their own. And with this, their sound has finally escaped the sense of retread that has shadowed them since their debut. This is the sound of a band making the past sound precise and, more importantly, something tangible. Their utopia of influences and forward thinking is the ultimate draw to Moth, sidestepping staleness by constantly creating songs that sound instinctive and intelligent.
Of course the influences are there, but their origin is not the shared element. The youthfulness and vibrancy of each element is the draw. These are the songs of visiting a city for the first time, and having it change how you see society. The record begins its ascension with “Look Up”, a command to see that the there’s a place, and time, for everyone. Chirping synths awaken and bongo drums draw the lazy horns in, casting off an aura of hopelessness and instead driving forward to create an oddly jazzy, urban sound. And just as coolly as the song began, it alters its make-up and becomes the seductively driven “Polymorphing”. Chairlift have a knack for creating grooves that branch into wholly new ideas, and this is no different. The warm wake up call of “Look Up” feels both interrupted and linked to the otherworldly walkabout of “Polymorphing”. Grooving guitars are punctuated with horns that excite for what Chairlift will mutate into next. These contrasts of the alien and the standard are youthful experiences; they are ones of seeing things both unimaginable and breathable. The city is alive with noises that we hear about and sights that are captured within the frames of a postcard, but when they are seamlessly interconnected with the world lived in, a warmly wrapped furor is born.
Chairlift continues to cherry-pick the blissful energies of the city as they tour through different realms and boroughs; the record’s ability to morph into and out of each role displays the potency of the songwriting and energy, never losing its sense of pace or direction and being kept buoyant by songs that evoke brio in diverse ways. Just as “Look Up” dipped into jazz influences, “Ch-Ching” dips into hip hop, cueing up bells and whistles reminiscent of Pharell-produced beats of the 2000’s. “Ottawa to Osaka” utilizes the city in a more literal sense, using symphonic strings wound tight and forklifts pulsating, instilling a dynamically tense song about being a foreigner. Each track on Moth pulses with life, all drawing from the same pool but interpreted in drastically different ways. The unification of these tracks, deftly done by Caroline Polachek, taps into these feelings with every breathy vocalization, twisting words or phrases, and transforms them into grounded lyrics. But she suspends reality for moments of emotive harmonies that only add to the transversal nature of the album.
Each track is masked in a unique way when it comes to the lyrical components of Moth. Because of the inspired sounds plucked from seemingly every decade, each track seems to be strung together from different eras in an almost haphazard way at capturing the moments. Songs like “Crying in Public” seem almost pathetic at the idea of crumbling in public due to the love felt for one another. But the intrinsic nature found in the aura of the song almost grants it amnesty as it recognizes its connection to love-lorn relationships. Polachek’s cry when she realizes that she’s “causing a scene” is borderline tongue-in-cheek and endearing when blended with the varying spheres of influence Chairlift have wonderfully drawn from. This trend continues on tracks like “Moth to the Flame” where the kinesis is spread out over a dance floor and Polachek self-awarely evokes evading cliché while simultaneously parroting vibes from Madonna. Even on the emotional closer of “Unfinished Business”, Polachek belts out the eponymous hook with an almost orgasmic cry of pain and pleasure. Moth is as barebones in its emotional brevity as it is in its oblique compositions, and the knot between the two is Polachek’s ability to smartly avoid platitudes while still converting sentiments old and new.
Moth’s strengths come from the ability of its duo to fuse a multitude of seemingly simple ideas into complex transformations. Seemingly another indie-pop record with strength in songwriting, Moth has been able to stream under the radar in terms of instrumental complexities and thematic depth. This ode to amorphous city life is colorfully done with wit and beauty; something that has been shown countless times to be exhaustingly difficult. With Moth focusing on urban sounds, feelings, samples, and lyrics bleeding into the past four decades, it seems harder and harder for pop to simply be pop. But if Chairlift is good at one thing, it’s adaptation.
– T. Pennington