By all accounts, Chairlift should have faded from relevancy long before 2015. Arriving at the tail end of the era where having a song heavily featured in an Apple commercial could lead to minor success, the group became recognizable for the precocious “Bruises”, one of the last innocuous gems of that time before Mumford folk and Urban Outfitters indie took over. For their second album, they lost a member and evolved into a full-on synthpop band with a knack for soaring hooks. The band stayed ahead of the curve, becoming a part of the ‘80s pop revival a year before artists like HAIM and CHVRCHES would sculpt similar influences into evening main-stage slots at major festivals. The album had good reviews behind it, but grew to become one of the more underappreciated gems of the 2010s. For a group with such a solid grasp on crafting pop songs, Chairlift always seemed to be on the wrong side of mainstream momentum.
Their first album in four years, Moth stands as their best chance of breaking out of the realm of “critical darlings” without making any concessions to their approach. The duo have been quiet in the four years since Something, with singer Caroline Polachek garnering more attention for her extracurricular work. She collaborated with artists like Blood Orange, landed a co-writing credit on Beyoncé’s self-titled record, and indulged her more experimental tendencies with a solo album under the name Ramona Lisa. Moth reveals that project to be more detour than harbinger — the pop songs here are brighter and more direct than anything the duo have written before.
Chairlift’s best moments have always come from writing about love, especially the rush of falling into it. Their strongest tracks, like “I Belong in Your Arms” or “Met Before”, adeptly capture the rapid heartbeat and lump-in-your-throat aspect of desire that makes for great pop. The group knows how to perfectly capture that anxious excitement and does so throughout this record, too. Polachek is a hopeless romantic, and while that can lead to cringe-worthy moments in music, Chairlift pull it off by committing to a complete sense of abandon within grand, sweeping moments. That combination works best on highlight “Crying in Public”, where Polachek is so consumed by her infatuation that she “causes a scene on the train.”
In an interview with Pitchfork, Polachek explained the name of the album as “a metaphor for vulnerability, for something that’s fragile but relentless at the same time.” That comparison accurately describes the record, in which songs recreate the nervous tension of opening yourself up to someone else. Moth also exhibits an increased sense of confidence from the band, from the assured “Romeo” to “Show You Off”, in which Polachek brags about the chance to show her new beau to friends. What makes the latter song intriguing is that midway through, the refrain switches to “show me off” as she tells her love interest about how “everyone can see who’s finally saying yes to you.” With so many self-deprecating love songs out there, it’s refreshing to hear one with a prominent sense of self-worth.
While Chairlift refine their approach on Moth, they don’t veer wildly from what listeners have come to expect. If anything, they have more of a bounce in their step, with songs like “Ch-Ching” or “Moth to the Flame” charming with infectious energy. The album’s peaks are so high that its quieter moments, like the midway lull of “Ottawa to Osaka”, feel slight by comparison. Thankfully, the collection of songs is tighter than anything the band have made before, partially a result of the record’s pristine shine (thanks in part to co-producers like Robin Hannibal of Rhye).
While not a minimalistic record by any stretch of the imagination, Moth greatly benefits from a toned-down approach that gets to the core of what makes each song work. Chairlift have never been shy about their commercial aspirations, but rather than trying to conform to recent trends, they’ve focused on piecing together a brisker version of their signature sound. Even if Moth doesn’t catapult them to larger venues, it stands on its own as a joyous and engrossing work.
Essential Tracks: “Ch-Ching”, “Crying in Public”, and “Moth to the Flame”