Given Chairlift’s retro-futurist synth-pop bent, it’d be easy enough to chuck the band in with the rest of the ‘80s revivalists looking to do for chintzy synths and gated drums what last year’s indies did for saxes and flutes. But the duo responsible for Something merit a place of distinction amid the phalanx of Nite Jewels and Charlie XCXs. Though they borrow frequently and effectively from the new-wave template (“Ghost Tonight” is almost a straight Eurythmics rip; it’s also the best pop song I’ve heard all month), Chairlift has produced a thoroughly modern pop record that should appeal as much to 4AD completists as Florence and the Machine fans. That it also happens to be a second-chance reinvention for a band that floundered on a debut given over to kitsch makes it all the more surprising. Something dwarfs its predecessor at a nearly Bends-to-Pablo Honey ratio.
This owes chiefly to Caroline Polachek’s captivating vocal performances. The theatrical purrs and coos she poured out for Does You Inspire You intimated something of her range and original, if somewhat cartoonish, melodic sensibility, but here every other track is a showstopper. She chews through elastic melodies on “Take It Out on Me” and “I Belong in Your Arms,” and on “Amanaemonesia” she scratches at the sublimity of an Elizabeth Frazer or a Kate Bush, women who took their singular voices as a challenge to craft suitably complex and emotionally capacious melodies—or, as is the case on “Sidewalk Safari,” as an opportunity to impersonate a vengeful, heartbroken grindhouse heroine.
While that track and the twee “Met Before” could be taken as evidence that Chairlift hasn’t entirely suppressed their less tasteful impulses, they also make the case that we shouldn’t care. Polacheck and her co-conspirator, Patrick Wimberly, are totally un-normalized pop eccentrics who may occasionally overindulge their precocious side, but when even the subpar ideas get treated to thoughtful composition and a virtuosic performance, it’s hard to object.
The band’s evident commitment to their material, not to mention Polacheck’s subtle and revealing lyrics, make it clear that Chairlift aims to leave their own mark on the musical styles they’ve channeled into Something. Where nostalgia leads so many young artists to reverential exercises in premature senility, Chairlift has found a way to make their brand of retro come to exuberant life. Forget the rest of the girls making Jon Hughes soundtracks this year: If indie pop’s most anticipated acts don’t deliver in 2012 (I’m thinking of the xx, Sleigh Bells, and the Shins, and newcomers Genesis and Lana Del Rey), Something could end up a strong and satisfying default listen for forward-thinking pop fans.