Watching Every Motion in this Foolish Lover's Game
It’ll be dependent on how painfully —if at all— you remember the ’80s whether you can recognize the glories of Chairlift’s “Planet Health.” For, the New York trio’s stirring, synth-fuelled, wind-machine-swept anthem sounds eerily reminiscent of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” that Top Gun-powered power-ballad that ruled hearts, charts, and suburban make-out sessions back in, like, ’86.
There’s squelching synth-bass, gated-reverb drums, faux-orientalist keyboard arpeggios, with Caroline Polachek’s empowered, multi-tracked voice standing proud, pushed way to the fore. It sounds like a million-dollar, mid-’80s #1 hit, but it’s been produced on-the-cheap by a troika of hipsters who’re pals with MGMT, Yeasayer, and various other genre-juggling, ’80s-fluffing combos based in Brooklyn.
But Chairlift aren’t just pilfering the pop-cultural kitsch of a long-past period to score easy cool points. Like any canny retrofuturists, they’re using the kind of dated sounds that were once synonymous with the unknowable space-age tomorrow looming in a far-off 21st century, but doing so from a place of painful knowledge. Where synthesized futurism once conjured visions of Jetsonite space-age paradises, as actually denizens of the third millennium, Polacheck and pals Aaron Pfenning and Patrick Wimberly know a far bleaker future looms.
And, sure enough, “Planet Health,” with its ironic chorus of “I am feeling great tonight,” is a dystopian parable about gym culture and body image standards taken to a mass-societal, eugenic extreme.
The Lay of the Landfill
The song that precedes it, album opener “Garbage,” sets such a thematic tenor; Chairlift’s longplaying debut commencing with the lyrical address: “all the garbage that you have thrown away/is waiting somewhere a million miles away/your condoms and your VCR/your zip-lock bags and your father’s car/in dark asylum it waits for you, hey hey.”
Okay, it’s not exactly poetry, and, in a year in which animated children’s entertainment pitched the same bleak portrait of an Earth suffocated by the weight of human garbage, it’s not exactly revolutionary. But the salty subject-matter shows that there’s a method to Chairlift’s madness; a depth beyond the surface shininess of their plasticky, ersatz, ’80s sound.
Contrary Country, and Other Tried-On Styles
Of course, like MGMT, Chairlift are never beholden to one singular sound or style; so, to portray them as singularly-focused, keytonal conceptualists would be determinedly wrong. On Does You Inspire You, their debut disc, they occasionally break ranks to dabble in contrary styles: the decomposition-themed “Earwig Town” a twangy, co-ed duet with parsed Nancy & Lee overtones; “Don’t Give A Damn” a straight-up drinkin’n’cryin’ country ballad; “Chameleon Closet” a modern-composition pastiche; “Make Your Mind” up juggling slyly Brazilian rhythms with a brassy, sassy bridge cribbing from To Bring You My Love-era PJ Harvey.
As whole, it’s not an entirely satisfying mix; not a record that embodies the form and feel of a classic album. But, in their kitsch-mining, keyboard-layering, wantonly scattershot style, Chairlift have fashioned a debut disc that suggests their own musical future may not be as bleak as the Earth’s.
Record Label: Kanine
Release Date: 30 September 2008