Published Jan 21, 2016Partway through answering the question of whether pop duo Chairlift's third LP, Moth — out January 22 on Columbia — is a record about falling in love, singer Caroline Polachek pauses to reflect on their transitional 2012 album, Something.
"I think of Something, looking back, as a passive-aggressive record," she tells Exclaim! from New York City. "That was something we were definitely interested in: Making the prettiest songs have a sort of gnarly-ness to them, and having the most aggressive songs have this very pretty quality to them. We wanted that sort of complexity, because life can be like that. But at the time, there was a breakup happening in my love life — actually, with our former band member — and I think we were definitely burning off some steam with that record."
Moth builds on the melodicism and nuance of their last album while scaling back the layers of instrumentation that often made Sometimes feel frenetic. It's a masterfully arranged, hooky pop suite that the duo have referred to as "gooey," and proof that Chairlift — who contributed "No Angel" to Beyoncé's game-changing self-titled 2013 album — are one of the best songwriting duos in popular music.
Polachek describes the new album more humbly: "I think it's, quite simply, an expression of personal joy. Some of the music that I've been the most moved by, for the last year while making this record, is both of those things. A song that I listened to a lot was 'Venus as a Boy,' by Björk; I also love the work of A.R. Rahman, a Bollywood composer who's writing a lot from the point of view of characters who are undergoing something personal. Even when you can't understand what the characters are saying, it's imbued with joy that transcends language barriers.
"I was very inspired by that. I was thinking, 'Even if someone who's listening to the album doesn't speak English, can this music convey something personal, give them a feeling that they can understand?' I think Patrick [Wimberly] always thought that way anyway. I think very lyrically and very much in terms of composition, but Patrick thinks in terms of the emotion of sound itself."
The change is audible. On songs like "Ch-Ching" and "Crying in Public," Chairlift manage to strike a perfect balance of positive and negative sonic space — "[We] keep on getting more ideas and then subtract them, so it's been a conscious effort to try not put too much on any song," explains Wimberly — and toe a fine emotional line that feels triumphant and mournful, joyful and melancholy, often at the same time. In the four years since Something, they've also picked up a few studio tricks, including giving Polachek's voice a liquid quality that sounds like it's pouring into, and then back out of, the mic.
"It's actually me moving around," explains Polachek. "Not exactly dancing, but moving my head as I'm singing, changing my distance from the mic as I'm singing. I do it live, too."
As they prepare to take Moth on the road, the duo are also expanding their stage show to reflect a grander pop vision that they've hinted at in recent videos.
"We're working with an amazing costume designer, Andrea Toscano, or at least [we are] for me — hopefully we'll have time for the boys as well. She's young, she just graduated from fashion school and she did the costumes in the "Ch-Ching" video, in the "Romeo" video and she's doing my stage wear at the moment, too. I absolutely love collaborating with her. In the past, it's been a matter of pulling pieces from designers, vintage pieces… it was a lot more like collage. It's been so different to talk to somebody specifically about the concept of Moth, as an album, and derive stage wear from that. It's really exciting."