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Monday, January 16, 2012

Chairlift, the corporate machine, and me

Posted By on 01.16.12 at 03:41 PM

Chairlifts Something
  • Chairlift's Something
The members of Brooklyn synth-pop duo Chairlift, multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wimbley and vocalist Caroline Polachek, haven't been shy about describing their upcoming album, Something (out January 24 on Columbia), as a deliberate run at crossover popularity. In a short but revealing interview with Pitchfork, Polachek talks openly about the way she feels corporate "meddling on the creative side of things" (in the words of interviewer Larry Fitzmaurice) improved the album and how excited the pair are to have a "corporate machine" (Polachek's phrase) backing their dreams of pop-radio acceptance.

(Polachek's thoughts on the prevalence of anonymous sexism in the comments section of indie-rock blogs are also worth reading—they might help you understand why Polachek isn't content to remain within that scene.)

Whatever effect the corporate machine has on Chairlift's popularity remains to be seen. For the time being the group is still an indie-rock phenomenon. At their headlining set at Schubas on Saturday night (part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival), much of the crowd had the slightly tousled, slightly geeky look of the indie-rock blogger crowd that got Chairlift their major-label offer in the first place. Chances are good that the next time the band rolls through town the mise-en-scene will be considerably different.

If Saturday is any indication, Polachek and Wimbley have been preparing for a boost out of the club circuit and toward bigger things. Their backing musicians dress hipster casual, but they're professional-grade tight. Polachek's performance relies heavily on her unique dance moves—think "art school girl at a DJ night"—that read easily from the back of the room. Something about it makes me suspect that she's thought a lot about how she can connect with an audience from the type of stage that has a big security gap in front of it.

And then there's the music. I only got through one complete spin of Something before this show, but it only takes a couple of tracks to understand how completely different it is from their 2008 debut, Does You Inspire You. This one was produced by Dan Carey, who's worked not just with underground phenoms like CSS and Theophilus London but also with the likes of Kylie Minogue and Christina Aguilera. He's in full-on pop-producer mode here: the songs show a lot of evidence of sculpting and fine tuning, but everyone involved clearly has the good judgment to know when to stop messing with things.

The resulting work is massively hooky, and whatever reservations a square pop listener might have about the streak of genuine freakiness that Polachek hasn't edited out of her persona—a much more potent weirdness than the carefully cultivated faux eccentricity of a Katy Perry or a Florence Welch—should be overcome easily by the quality of the melodies. Even though I'd only had that one listen through the record, the material was already familiar and comfortable when I saw Chairlift play it live.

Something makes a very convincing case that if somebody gave Chairlift a ton of money they could do something really interesting with it. And, more important, something entertaining. Going back to the record after seeing them gave me the feeling that top-quality pop experiences usually generate—something uncomfortably close to an addict-and-his-fix situation. I could see myself still loving these songs even in the heaviest of rotations. It'll be interesting to see how far Chairlift makes it.

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