Caroline Polachek has been a prominent figure in music for many years. Her previous band Chairlift formed in 2006 while she was in art school and were propelled into the spotlight when ‘Bruises’ was featured in an iPod commercial.
Caroline’s distinctive vocal style and synth textures became their sonic trademark, evolving through their three critically acclaimed albums into a new and more contemporary kind of pop experimentation - one that is exceptionally present on her debut solo project ‘PANG’.
During the process of making Chairlift’s third and final record, Caroline quietly fostered two side projects: baroque girl-group Ramona Lisa and minimal synth project CEP. The DNA from these seemingly different projects fit together perfectly on ‘PANG’ - the playfulness of Chairlift, the theatricality of Ramona Lisa and the futuristic glimpses of CEP. That’s not to say ‘PANG’ is something we’ve heard before, because it isn’t. There’s something incredibly crafted and authentic about this record, no doubt a firm contender for the year-end lists.
The angelic synths and vocal reverb on the record's opener ‘The Gate’ make it difficult to believe this isn’t exactly what would be played as you entered the gates of heaven - gracefully setting the tone for the rest of the LP. Tracks like ‘Pang’ and ‘New Normal’ are clear examples of Caroline’s knack at portraying her vision of what she would call the endless limits of pop music, with the former describing a back-and-forth longing that she can’t get escape.
One of the many album standouts includes sad-banger ‘Hit Me Where It Hurts’ which features moody spoken-word verses riding alongside its striking synth production as she screams: “Tell me you feel safe / Now that you’ve found my cure.” The track’s glistening chorus compared to its pain-ridden bridge illustrate Caroline’s inability to let go of what realistically isn’t good for her - but she’s at peace with it.
What becomes apparent as the record progresses is her staggering vocal range. This is evident at the more exposed and heart-wrenching moments on the album - ‘Insomnia’ and ’Parachute’, sonically acting as sisters - which leave you gasping for air. The empty yet abundant ‘Insomnia’ opens with heavy strings that gently welcome Caroline’s haunting vocals, causing hairs to stand on end like the chill of a brisk wind.
The painfully beautiful and chest-clutching ‘Parachute’ is the audio-equivalent of feeling like you’re seconds away from death but have absolutely no problem with it, showing Caroline at her most transparent. It’s a palpitating ballad enriched in luminous heavenly vocals which takes you on a journey of a dream she once had - eventually coming full circle, leaving you on the edge of your seat.
‘Ocean of Tears’ and ‘Door’ are both anthemic showcases of Caroline’s idiosyncratic sound, as she grasps tight to her new profound position in the music-sphere, whille ‘Look At Me Now’ is a vulnerable and honest letter to herself as she sings: “I haven’t changed / I’m still the same / But you can’t look at me now.”
There are tracks on the record where the albums vocal production rockets (‘Hey Big Eyes’ and ‘Go As A Dream’), Polachek’s delicate vocals glitching between each ear like you’re being tugged from each side. Moments like ‘Caroline Shut Up’ act as a humorous eye-roll to herself, taking inspiration from '60s soul singers and the doo-wop while making it uniquely her own, while ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’ holds the gold medal for the catchiest melody you’ll ever hear - standing tall as the biggest pop attempt on the record.
Working with a select few of those who embody the same varied creativity is quite clearly paying off for Caroline. Having pop anarchist Danny L Harle executive produce the record has meant she has not only been able to signify her musical diversity but those of her collaborators too. As a result, there’s something oddly fresh and ethereal about this record - regardless of its owner’s signature organic autotune and liquid lyricism, whether she knows it or not, there’s an underlying confidence that runs throughout.
‘PANG’ marks the beginning of a new chapter and confirms its position as one of the most singular, captivating records of the year.
Words: Nick Lowe
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