By Sydney Moyer, MUSE Editor
“Haven’t we met before? Amongst the buzzing?” The chorus of a gratuitously synth-y track off of Brooklyn indie-pop duo Chairlift’s sophomore album, Something, resounded and bounced off the shabby-chic brick walls of Brighton Music Hall. And an appropriate refrain it is for such a band.
Singer Caroline Polachek and bassist/instrumentalist Patrick Wimberly brought their polished electronic sound to Allston on Monday night for their first “big show” in the United States since the release of their record, Polachek said.
Dressed in a long trench coat and silver sparkly dress, Polachek led the audience through most of their new album along with several old favorites, swaying and sashaying like a New Age flapper lost in a Manhattan film noir. Unfortunately, her vocal highs and lows were also lost, overpowered by the synth melodies and bass lines. Her voice itself is strong and deserved to be packaged with more supportive instrumentals or backing vocals. The audience caught fleeting moments of vocal clarity and catharsis on more impassioned tracks like “Guilty as Charged” or pre-encore finale “I Belong In Your Arms,” but overall the melodies sounded washed out, rendered generic under a fatally heavy synth.
This seems to be Chairlift’s main problem— they’ve set out all the parts of a working indie-electronic act, but they have yet to assemble them in a memorable manner. Almost all of the tracks off of Something sound just shy of different— catchy enough to escape the “next” button on one’s Pandora station but forgettable enough to switch the band name with any one of the myriad of synth-pop bands floating around the blogosphere.
In that sense, Polachek and Wimberly are an act poised to thrive in the digital age of the music industry. Their sound is pleasantly unobtrusive in its familiarity—so much so that their single, “Bruises,” was featured in the 2008 Apple commercial that launched the fourth-generation iPod Nano. It would appear that much of their work since then has revolved around replicating that same sound without venturing further into experimentation within their genre.
This in and of itself is a shame, because the band has extraordinary potential to depart from its roots and push its sound to new and more memorable levels. Their live show was strong despite its shortcomings and proved to be inordinately more entertaining than the album versions of the songs. Polachek and Wimberly fleshed out their live sound with a supporting guitarist, synth player and drummer, all of whom mirrored the energy of the duo perfectly both in effortlessly cool stage presence and tight technical work.
Chairlift’s live show proved to be energetic and fun, but not as striking as it could have been with a crucial x-factor to put some power behind its punch. It’s a band with its heart in the ‘80s and its success in the Internet age—and if it could borrow some of that 1980s boldness and forget about fitting into a niche, it would blow the game wide open.