Moth to a flame is an idiom that has been used in many situations in the English language, but not in pop music. On Chairlift’s third and latest album, Moth, it is used to describe a lover that the singer cannot get away from. That’s exactly what it means for the indie-pop darling and Beyonce collaborator. In this case, the idiom does not seem to be misused, but is rather a perfect fit.
This is in part due to the opener, “Look Up,” where the duo uses insect sounds and hard-edged drums to create the beat. It is mesmerizing, but it’s also an indicator of the direction that the group is going with this record.
Though its trademark metallic-sounding drumbeats are not completely gone, for most of the tracks they are no longer the centerpieces. Instead, singer and arranger Caroline Polachek and producer Patrick Wimberly decide to round out their hard edges with guitars and horns that give the album a soulful touch.
This is probably best seen on the second track, “Polymorphing,” where, for the first few seconds, you think the track is going to be carried by a wobbling synth. Suddenly, it completely cracks open with a bouncy guitar riff and a funky, slapped bass line. But it’s the horns that really fill out the track. They ride under the guitar and bass, and at times the synths add that extra-special color. If the song were a vibrant pink without the horns, with them it is a show-stopping magenta.
The horns are similarly awe-inspiring on “Chi-Ching,” where they provide the overarching musical melody and, along with the snare-heavy beat, sound like something that would find its home in a Bollywood movie.
Even the songs where the beats get all the attention are wonderful. “Romeo” recalls Shiny Toy Guns’ last album and begins with a man saying “On your mark, get set, go!” The song fulfills its prophecy, racing toward a finish line that holds the most important prize: “If I win, you can’t stay / But if you win, you win my heart” states Polachek, as though it is a matter of fact. While “Romeo” wants you to run, “Moth to a Flame,” the semi-titular track, can’t help but stay put and dance. The beat and clap-like overtones owe themselves to ’90s house music and would perfect the soundtrack for any party.
While all of these songs are excellent, “Crying in Public” is the crown jewel of the bunch. It has a rhythm that recalls Michael Jackson’s best ’80s slow jams, with simmering synths and a sneaky, sultry guitar. The musical arrangement itself would be dazzling, but the lyrics and Polachek’s voice—whose falsetto and upper range are high points of the entire record—make this song exceptional. On the second verse she sings, “Like the peach you split open with two thumbs / I’m the half without a stone / My heart is a hollow with a space for your own / Or whatever you want to do with it.” Polachek recites these lines so nonchalantly that you don’t even realize the emotional toll taken by giving herself up. That is, until she gets to the chorus where she laments, “I’m sorry I’m crying in public in this way / I’m falling for you.” She reaches for her upper vocal register, yearning and terrified. On the last syllable, her voice breaks into a falsetto that is sublime. This song makes you want to fall in love at sunset and feel horrified about it.
There are no bad songs on this record, just ones that you like more. The production on “Ottawa to Osaka” is wonderful. Unfortunately, with a bridge where a woman recites a Japanese monologue over strings, it’s not as memorable as the aforementioned tracks.
Much like Carly Rae Jepsen’s critically acclaimed Emotion, which also featured horns heavily, Moth could be the sleeper pop hit of 2016. Once you hear it, you’re drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
Featured Image By Kanine Records