Moth is polished, poppy fun.
Moth is Brooklyn duo Chairlift’s first album in four years, nearly to the day, and there are a couple of major changes right off the bat. Gone is the darkness and experimentalism of their 2012 release Something, replaced by sure-footed confidence and a handful of extremely hummable pop hooks. The landscape of pop has changed in the time between Something and Moth, and it’s reflected in the differences. Chvrches’ has released two albums and risen to arena-filling fame since 2012. Carly Rae Jepsen has defected from bubblegum pop and put out an album of the most '80s-inflected synth jams since OMD. Depeche Mode reminded us they still exist with Delta Machine. Time is a flat circle, the synthesizer is in again, and it’s safe to make synth pop without having to bury it in tortured artistry.
There are a handful of tracks on Moth destined for summer jam playlists a few months down the line: “Romeo” is straightforwardly danceable. “Moth to the Flame” is dreamy, atmospheric pop with a beat to nod along to. “Show U Off” is an underdog track to love, but its slow instrumental build and laser-precise vocals win one over on every listen. A few songs are more ambitious, the real gem of the album being the unfortunately-titled “Crying in Public", which folds delicate, nuanced vocals into carefully orchestrated and dynamic music. The bass and drums are subtle and static, underpinning a synth wash that condenses into dramatic, building hits toward the chorus. More than anything else on the album “Crying in Public” is a masterful display of songwriting, of a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s a rare thing for an album to come to fruition without a couple of duds and unfortunately Moth is no exception. The moments that feel the most forced and out-of-place are the ones that harken back to the sounds achieved on Something. “Ottawa to Osaka” is more experimental in its composition, but there’s no punch to deliver, no follow-through, none of the sinister darkness of Something. “Ottawa to Osaka” and the closing track, “No Such Thing as Illusion”, sound a little like Caroline Polachek wrote the songs based on rough descriptions of what previous Chairlift songs sounded like, and the fact that Something was so cohesive and daring only adds insult to injury. A diverse album is a thing to strive for, but trying to temper the optimism of a luminous, mother-of-pearl record like this by repeating tired ideas culled from the last decade of songwriting is not the way to go about it.
Overall, though, the album is polished, poppy fun. Polachek and Patrick Wimberly have fallen into step in the wake of founding member Aaron Pfenning, and any songwriting kinks still present on Something have largely been ironed out on Moth. The album conveys an exhilarating lightness, a buoyancy that belies its depth of feeling. Polachek’s lyrics have come a long way since the early days of Chairlift, evident in the subtle poeticism she carries throughout Moth. Moments of beauty are crystalized, like the second verse of “Crying in Public", which intones “Like the peach you split open / With two thumbs / I’m the half without a stone / And my heart is a hollow / With a space for your own.” The best songs are vulnerable and open not only in their lyrics, but their instrumentation. Everything Moth wants to convey comes through best when it’s laid bare. If Chairlift spends the next four years chasing that feeling down and figuring out how to turn it inside out, their next album is guaranteed to blow us away.