It’s that very important time in every young band’s life: when they’ve got to prove that they’re worth the buzz. The hotly-tipped Chairlift have been featured by Spin, insulted by Kanye West (but really, who hasn’t), and spotlighted on every blog worth its indie cred. While this trio might originally be from Colorado, their time in Brooklyn has been well spent. Does You Inspire You? is a hipster-friendly mix of ‘80s nostalgia and pop hooks that just skirts the edge of irony. This remastered edition of their debut features two new tracks, but strives to keep the original album’s balance between trendy and inventive.
Let’s talk inventive first. When Chairlift are good, they’re phenomenal. Opener “Garbage” is righteous and innovative, sounding like PJ Harvey fronting for Al Gore (“So much garbage will never ever decay / And all your garbage will outlive you one day”). It’s a melancholy opening move that might give the wrong impression—nowhere else does Chairlift sound so subdued, or so bold. Elsewhere, songs like the bluesy “I Don’t Give a Damn” truly save Chairlift from being run-of-the-mill indie, with lead singer Caroline Polachek pushing herself to try something complex and different.
None of this, of course compares to “Bruises”, which, yes, was featured in an iPod commercial. But it’s so staggeringly good, such a perfect pop confection, that its role in making Steve Jobs even richer couldn’t matter less. It’s the best track on the album, one that could take on any other single from this year and pound it into the dust. Sell-out, corporate, commercialized, whatever—“Bruises” is so sweet and so strikingly weird (“Now I taste like / All those frozen strawberries / I used to chill your bruising knees”) that it absolutely refuses to be reduced.
Often lighter-than-air, Does You Inspire You? at times threatens to float away. But drearier numbers like “Territory” hold it down rather than give it substance. If there’s a weakness in the album, it’s the lack of consistency. As the album nears the end, it begins to drag. And while the Kate Bush number “Make Your Mind Up” injects a little life into the proceedings, the instrumental drones of “Ceiling Wax” and “Chameleon Closet” seem more strained than sincere. In trying to please everyone (with both an ironic wink to the ‘80s and a genuine sense of innovation), they show more potential than they deliver.
Chairlift, like most new bands, seem to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. Are they serious craftsmen, or are they dealing in throwaway pop numbers? Are they coasting on the ‘80s-revival bandwagon, or are they willing to live up to their potential?
As a debut, Does You Inspire You? doesn’t really answer any of these questions; maybe, like its title, it doesn’t have to. But there’s something unsatisfying about seeing those brief glimmers of promise ignored in favor of easy numbers like “Evident Utensil”, an underdeveloped song that bounces along on a beat stolen straight from an I Love the ‘80s special. There’s no doubt that in a few years Chairlift just might justify their hype. But there’s no easy bandwagon that can get them there.