Chairlift and the soundtrack of my puberty

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The New York-based electronic duo Chairlift have stayed true to their sound throughout the years of their musical journey, churning out popular hits such as "Bruises," which was used in an Apple commercial for the iPod nano. This December, the band is bringing their brand of synthpop to Manila.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — For some people, it’s Harry Potter and its countless film and print reincarnations. For others, it’s Pokémon and its transfiguration through consoles, cards, and monitors. For an antsy, then-14 year-old Filipino boy like me, the New York-based electronic duo (formerly trio) Chairlift was one of those “things”: not a corny childhood memory that stays frozen in sentimentality, but a companion that changes and matures along with you.

Unlike many other bands I’ve equally loved, Chairlift didn't stay stuck in high school — like me, it got its driver’s permit, learned to pay bills and do groceries, and typed down a couple résumés. Chairlift grew up, slowly figured out how to keep up with the adult world, and somehow, thankfully, still stayed Chairlift.

In the form of an album every four years (“Does You Inspire You” in 2008, “Something” in 2012, and “Moth” this 2016), Chairlift and I have been checking on each other (not literally, unfortunately) like old friends who’ve moved to different cities and realized how much they’d grown on the rare occasions they get to catch up. The very act of listening to Chairlift also metamorphosed as the years went by: “Does You Inspire You” played on the tiny flash widget on their Myspace page or tinny rips on Limewire, “Something” was jammed to through laborious torrent files or borrowed CDs from friends fresh from record stores in Hong Kong, and “Moth” streamed guilt-free via a savvy, very grown-up Spotify account.

 

I first encountered Chairlift early into high school through the snazzy commercial for the 4th generation iPod nano. The glossy, high pitched “ooohs” layered atop shimmery keys and minute blips, and the rainbow visual of a row of mp3 players dripping paint introduced me to Patrick Wimberly's perpetual bedhead and deadpan glare, Caroline Polachek’s face paint and natural underarms, and music videos of hazy orgies in surveillance rooms or a “food pyramid” — Chairlift was so weird, and it was so cool.

However, outside the catchy quirkiness of “Bruises,” “Does You Inspire You” was an acquired taste: partly post-apocalyptic Western film score (“Earwig Town,” “Somewhere Around Here”), partly New Age spa background music (“Planet Health,” “Ceiling Wax”), and mostly what you’d expect to be playing at a department store for extraterrestrials (“Le Flying Saucer Hat,” “Evident Utensil”). Polachek sang of an ex’s (literal) non-biodegradables, sojourned into “the desert of vitamins,” and chirped in a French-English patois of sorts. The album tried to be so many things at once — things mostly incoherent and far-fetched — but for an angsty teenager who worshipped Björk and wanted to stick out as far as possible, it was perfect.

The year 2012 saw me in college and Charlift releasing “Something.” Their sophomore effort did away with the scatterbrained haziness of “Does You Inspire You” and veered into smoother, cooler Blood Orange territory; substituting gongs and distortion for 80s elevator music and finger snaps, but retaining Polachek’s slinky jibes and airy curlicues.

 

Lyrically, Chairlift also began distilling their ideas — they did away with their magnetic poetry set and hyperfocused on desire and infatuation, most notably in tracks such as the manic “Met Before,” the coy “Ghost Tonight,” and the playfully dangerous “Sidewalk Safari.” Like a college student shaking off the embarrassment of her quirks in high school, Chairlift was starting to figure out what it wanted to really sound like, becoming more grounded on the physical realm while still ruminating on otherworldly emotions. “Something’”s poise-under-pressure soul boiled down to the glimmering happy crush anthem “I Belong in Your Arms,” sung in both English and Japanese, to boot.

Four years later, “Moth”'s Chairlift has found its footing. The feeble voice who did handstands for love in "Bruises" and felt the saccharine rush of infatuation in "I Belong in Your Arms" is now sure of her uncertainty. She’s confidently reckless in "Show U Off," and pinches herself for her coquettish tendencies in "Moth to The Flame" — two electric, delightfully HAIM-esque tracks. There are elements of trap music in “Ch-ching”; far-fetched for the makers of “Does You Inspire You,” but unsurprising for a band who penned “No Angel” for none other than Beyoncé.

The band’s swing into the indie pop structure of sound fits this maturing well: if Carly Rae Jepsen’s juggernaut “E•MO•TION” repertoire had a “Side C,” it wouldn’t be too far from Chairlift’s current sound. “Moth” is you after college — a lot more refined and sanded over by the washing machine of youth, no longer afraid to look so square or predictable, but street-smart and sharper than ever.

 

Despite this maturity, the finishing lap of “Moth” brings us to where we started with "Unfinished Business" and "No Such Thing as Illusion" ― lush, sprawling tracks that hark back to the eerie soundscapes of “Does You Inspire You” without fully relapsing into the cookie cutter of the band’s past incarnations. This doesn’t mean Chairlift is unrecognizable from its original form — elements of “Does You Inspire You” sneak their way into their newly structured pop formula, and “Something”’s sentimentality bursts in 2016’s standout track “Crying in Public,” where Polachek sighs, “and my heart is a hollow with a space for your own … or whatever you wanna do with it….”

This is a band that’s come of age, tinkering with its past quirks to keep up with the times without compromising itself. In “Romeo,” Polachek chirps, “put on your running shoes, I’m ready to go!” Chairlift has grown up, sprinting full-speed instead of fidgeting in the corner — and, like old friends, we’re fully invited to come run along with them.

Chairlift poster.jpg  

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Watch Chairlift play live on Thursday, December 1 at Black Market, 2723 Sabio St., Makati. Gates open at 7 p.m. and tickets are available at the door for ₱2,500.