The Tempo: Moth


Jeff Lagasca via flickr

Polachek (songwriting, vocals, synthesizer, drum programming, arranging) immerses herself in Chairlift’s intimate performance.

In Late January, the New York City-based duo, Chairlift, released their 3rd full album, coined simply as Moth. According to an interview, the vocalist, Caroline Polachek, explains the symbolism and psychology behind the title choice:

“Well, moths aren’t something you really see in New York City. You don’t see them very often, at least, but we liked the idea of the moth as a metaphor for vulnerability, for something that’s fragile but relentless at the same time. It goes towards the light; it beats its wings until it dies. There are risks everywhere, but it doesn’t question them. So for us, that was sort of the attitude for the music: something really beautiful, vulnerable, honest.”

The album cover features an illustration of a cityscape and a colorful sky, with a moth as the central focus.
The album cover features an illustration of a cityscape and a colorful sky, with a moth as the central focus.

The single, “Ch-Ching” was the first song the duo had released in 3 years. It most definitely has the sound and clarity of a single. The chorus also serves as the hook, with a very catchy ring. The melodic line is a very pleasant one, which serves to it most likely being formed to be a single. There are some quirky personal touches, such as the repetition of the numbers 27-99-23, which was Polachek’s locker combination. One interesting choice not only in this song, but throughout the entire album as a whole (whose genre falls in a space between electronica and indie pop) is the subtle incorporation of the saxophone. This is a generally rare and warmer sound to place in an album of this genre, which generally consists of colder sounds and synths. This choice paid off very well, giving a new unique tone to the album, paving a new path for this genre.

Moth opens with a stunning, and mystic song titled “Look Up”. It uses very specific sound effects to open, and then slowly more warmer drums and synthesizers enter the song. Only timing at 2 minutes and 14 seconds, it brilliantly gives a new-age and serene feeling in the listener, accompanied with profound lyrics. Polachek’s vocals already seem to ascend to a beautiful flight by the end of the song.

Immediately the next song brings down the listeners from flight to a jazzy and gritty environment in the second track “Polymorphing”. This song’s components make up for a groovy song that one would dance to in their room and play the air bass and air saxophone to. I personally wasn’t a fan of the repetitive chorus, or the melodic line. It didn’t seem to fit the song at all, it felt like two different songs at certain points, but if that’s what Polachek and Patrick Wimberly were going for, then they achieved it.

The next few songs follow with upbeat driving forces, and synths in the background using chord progressions that feel like a trip back to the 80’s and 90’s. “Romeo” is a fun tongue-and-cheek song that reminds me of Fall Out Boy at the beginning.

“Crying in Public” transitions the album with a haunting and droning sound. It seems like the fragile side of love and romance after the past songs represented the overconfidence that people may put on as a front in order to not get hurt in a relationship. The bongos and lighter vocals return in this song as a mirror of “Look Up”. This song’s title always makes me chuckle, but it’s lyrics are very relatable to the weakness and vulnerability that love can cause. Polachek once again delivers angelic vocals.

Once again as the next song begins, the bass drops to a slightly more upbeat song, “Ottowa to Osaka”. This bass is one that will catch anyone, due to its grit. The deep bass is almost irresistible, and seems to mirror a heartbeat. The duo uses vocal effects in this album in a very interesting fashion, and it is very prevalent in this song. Violins are especially prevalent in this song specifically, which is another interesting choice by the duo, and the sliding tone closes out the song.

From here on, Polachek’s vocals seem nonstop. “Moth to the Flame” is my favorite upbeat song, which feels like a classic dance song, in a more twisted way. That and “Show You Off” both have delicious bass lines to drive the songs. Polachek’s vocals continue to climb in the bridge, to lead up to the amazing feat in my favorite song, “Unfinished Business”.

The intro to this song tricks the listener, in which they expect another upbeat anthem, but find a ‘stripped down’ ballad. In reality, there is a lot happening. The deep drums paired with the powerful higher pitched drums allude to an army, or fighting a war. With this are various other sound effects placed sparsely, a few air instruments, and some synthesizers to create the ebb and flow of the song. Polachek’s vocals astonished me here. The lyrics are emotional and psychologically provocative, but the emotional cry of the chorus brought me chills and teary eyes during my first listen. The swelling of instruments drives the song, and its so subtle, but it creates a theatrical ending to Polachek’s cries of ‘unfinished business’.

I wished that “Unfinished Business” was the closing song, because it perfectly could close the album with its stunning symbolism, and subtleties compared to the rest of the album. The album closes with “No Such Thing as Illusion”, which returns to us the gritty bass line. Polachek delivers beautiful background vocals that seem to once more ascend to flight. The song is 6 minutes and 26 seconds, and after a while it feels very repetitive. The end of the song is synthesizers, a guitar, and a deep bass line for almost a minute; it absolutely leaves room for more albums in the future.

Overall this album deserves a kudos in production, because of the hidden gems in each song, and the intense complexity and asymmetry of it. The kicker is that this album was self-produced by the duo. There is a general repetition during the album, which as a lover of music, I always look to discover new things, therefore I wasn’t a fan of that aspect. Polachek’s vocals are stunning, and have a sense of Florence and the Machine, or Fiona Apple. The chord progressions uses through keyboards and synthesizers are very aurally pleasing, which is almost a separate entity from the deeper bass lines. Moth wasn’t an album or genre I expected to enjoy, but the complexity of it, the chord progressions, and the powerful vocals surprised me. This album can’t be pinned down.

Listen to Moth here: spotify

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