RT: “Ch-Ching”, “Moth to the Flame”, “Crying in Public”
RiYL: Sylvan Esso, Sleigh Bells, Tanlines
Pop music gets a lot of flak. It is interesting, as the name of the genre itself alludes to how palatable it is to a wide audience, yet pop music tends to get the most adverse reactions. 2015 saw the releases of some of the best pop albums of the decade so far, and surprisingly enough, with the recent wave of poptimism amongst music journalist, none of them were lauded for what they did, but rather benchmarked against the works of other genres. It is easy to dismiss pop albums as generic sounding, repetitive, and vapid, but with all the great music coming out from the synth-pop, baroque-pop, new-wave, and other sub-categories, these complaints sound more of what is expected from “what is cool” than any substantial criticism.
Chairlift’s new album, Moth, is pop all the way through. Whether a kale-smoothie drinking music nerd wants to call it synth-pop or indie-pop, whatever kind of pop it is, it’s unabashedly intertwined with pop music. The entire album is in the classic verse-chorus structure, with catchy choruses and melodies. However, the most time-honored tradition of pop seen in this album is that it circulates around one theme; Love. The Brooklyn based duo, comprised of Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly, named their newest album after a moth to symbolize the “vulnerability” in love. This is best presented in the song “Crying in Public”, where Polachek croons about being so overwhelmed in love that she breaks down into tears. The song leads with dream-like synths and an abstract percussion. Her singing contrasts with the bubbling melody as she starts off describing how exposed she is to her love, then immediately without any warning, the vocals and music become one and cascades into the chorus of her apologizing “for crying in public this way/I’m falling for you”. It’s hard not to sway along to the melody. “Unfinished Business” is almost reminiscent of a 90s power ballad with the piano only edging the song along as Polachek belts out “Unfinished Business/I’m not finished with this/This thing between you and me” her voice cracks, as if she is on the verge of breaking down.
Perhaps the most striking element on this album is the saxophone that ebbs and flows throughout Moth as a central instrument. It brings songs like “Look Up” to life, adds the necessary dramatic flair to “Polymorphing”, and polishes off the whispering instrumentals in “No Such Thing as Illusion”. Saxophones in pop music today are a love-letter to cheesy 80s music that so many artists are riding the wave of these days, and Chairlift uses this admiration to full effect. However, not all the credit can go to Chairlift’s choice of brass. Wimberly shines in his ability to produce a sound that morphs with the direction of Polachek’s lyrics, but does not simply fade into the background as some kind of “ambient sound”. This is a pop album after all, and the melodies must be catchy for it to sustain itself.
“Ch-Ching” and “Moth to the Flame” are the real gems. “Ch-Ching” is a catchy banger that pulsates and shows off every trick Polachek and Wimberly have, with the chorus having the most fun melody surrounding it. “Moth to the Flame” acts as a dance anthem track for the all too familiar feeling of being with someone who is bad for you, but you can’t quit just yet. Ultimately, Chairlift has created a sonically cohesive album that has pop in the metaphorical fiber of its being. Moth is an incredible album. It’s fun to listen to, lyrically emotive, instrumentally bold, and incredibly catchy. After all, the core purpose of music is to get you moving, whether physically or emotionally, and Moth manages to do both of those things. So put that in your kale smoothie and sip it.