In 2008, it seemed like Chairlift might be one-hit wonders. The concurrence of their debut album release with an iPod Nano ad placement for their song "Bruises" put the then-trio on the map, but they seemed just a little too of their time: the twee lyrics, sweet but simple melodies and overused synth presets of the embarrassingly titled Does You Inspire You made the record feel quirkier than it was interesting.
In 2016, Chairlift are a very different band. Following the 2010 departure of founding member Aaron Pfenning, 2012's Something found duo Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly taking a huge step forward and a sharp left turn into more experimental, otherworldly synth-pop territory that announced Chairlift as a sophisticated songwriting and production force to be reckoned with. On their forward-thinking, meticulously arranged third album Moth, Polachek and Wimberly smooth the jagged edges of Something into glossier but no less interesting songs, making for the boldest album of their young career. It's the sound of a band that no longer feel they have something to prove.
First single "Ch-Ching" was an early indicator that Moth would be special. After a Spaghetti Western-sounding whistle, the song settles into a sparse clapping rhythm, and sub-bass swells and subtle horn stabs carry Polachek's dynamic voice into the song's chorus. Once there, she floats a few breezy, well-placed syllables over the shuffling beat as emphatic uh ohhhs swoop downwards around her.
There's plenty of magic elsewhere on Moth, too: "Polymorphing" provides an early highlight after the tone-setting, uplifting intro "Look Up" with an expressive, liquid vocal delivery from Polachek; "Moth to the Flame" is a wispy lamentation about falling into romantic patterns that throbs just strongly enough to fill a dance floor; "Unfinished Business" is a slow, ticking time bomb of a ballad that suggests it could explode at any minute, but the twist is that it doesn't.
The highlight is undeniably "Crying in Public," a gentle, midtempo earworm that balances joy and melancholy so finely that the public tear could easily be happy or sad, depending on the listener's mood. Delicate but stirring, it's a testament to the powerful emotional possibilities of pop music.
The record's flaws — that hectic first single "Romeo" stands out a bit like a sore thumb amidst the more nuanced material here; that the record comes across more like a singles compilation than as a singular, cohesive statement — are trivial. With Moth, Chairlift make a strong claim to being one of pop music's best songwriting teams, with the production and vocal chops to bring their compositions fully and vibrantly to life. (Sony)