Music

you open the door to another door to another door

The title of this post is a reference to my first new album of 2020. Which came to me in a dream, believe it or not.

So this is what happened. I was lying on the bed reading (the third book of Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy, called Solea, after the Miles Davis album), with Spotify playing over my headphones. At some point, I drifted off, floating along with the music in that happy blissful state of lucid dreams and semi-awareness. When you know that you are asleep but you haven’t quite lost control yet.

I found myself hovering back into reality, coaxed out by this beautiful voice singing, and through the haze of my not-quite-nap. The song meshed with the random visuals in my head, in the best way possible. “Caroline Polachek”, I read on the phone. The song was called “Door”, and committing that to memory, half-worrying that maybe I was still dreaming all this, I fell back to sleep.

I played the song later that evening, in the car. The chorus was like hot chocolate and pine-wood smoke, smooth, sophisticated, but very tender. But hold on, the voice sounded familiar. I have heard her before. I stop the car on the side of the road and google the artiste’s name.

Yup, Caroline Polachek was the singer on the Brooklyn band Chairlift, whose album Moth was one of my favorites of 2015-2016. It also so happened that despite buying tickets to their show at the Observatory, and driving 45 miles one Sunday evening to see them, I couldn’t. Because the show was cancelled. I got my money back, but the tinge of regret remained with me. More so because they disbanded a year later, in 2017, after playing a final show in Brooklyn.

And now, four years later, Ms Polachek has released a solo album, called Pang. It released in October, and for whatever reason, I had no idea of its existence until two weeks ago. Of course, in that time span, I have heard the album an umpteen number of times. I love every minute of it, from the haunted opening of ‘The Gate’ flowing into the title track ‘Pang’, to the closing notes of the tender ‘Parachutes’. Even though I could recognize her voice on the album, the mood, and the production were both very different from that on the Chairlift albums. For one, this was clearly an album about love and heartbreak and all of the feelings. It’s an album where slide-guitar licks morph into dance patterns, otherworldly beats and rhythms coalesce into splashes of intensity and adrenaline, and through all of these, Caroline’s voice weaves and wends through various moods and tonalities, gentle whispers to full-throated vocal riffs that advertise absolute control. And possibly a fair degree of auto-tune, but the electronic effects are tweaked to just the perfect degree of alien and human.

This is one of those rare album that feels like each track is better than the previous one. No wonder, then, that the first single, and accompanying video, was ‘Door’, which is the penultimate track of 15 songs, and runs a radio-unfriendly 5 minutes and 23 seconds. But it goes places. believe me, both visually and in sound and mood. The opening guitar riff, and the way the beat builds up slowly into that chorus is sublime. The alien vocal echoes on the word “door”. The guitar bridge. And that final humming that closes the track. Holy shit.

My personal favorite in the album, at the moment, is ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’. Many reasons, including the upbeat 80s vibe, the catchy vocal riff that begins the track, the “woo” when she sings the chorus, that sharp intake of breath just before she sings “I get a little lonely”. And of course that semi-awkward, all-Caroline dance routine in the video, so reminiscent of ‘Ch-ching’ from the Moth album. The chorus, when I first heard it, sounded like “Show me the banana”, and I ran to check what it actually said. “Show me the love, nanana”. Pooh. I prefer “show me the banana”.

I could listen to it all day, except ‘Door’ starts playing just after, and then once the album finishes with the downtempo ‘Parachute’, I have to go back to track one again.

‘Ocean of Tears’ comes closest to the Chairlift sound. You could play the opening to me and I would have identified the song as one of theirs. Of course it’s fantastic, the bass throbs and then the rock guitars playing over the chorus.

Caroline plays at the Fonda Theater on February 1, and even though tickets are sold out, something tells me I will show up there, somehow.

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