Children of the '80s

The music of Brooklyn trio Chairlift will take you back

Caroline Polachek, whose voice is one part of the strange power of Brooklyn trio Chairlift, knows exactly why her band has such a dreamlike sound: the band's relocation two years ago from Colorado to Brooklyn.

"I feel like the music we're making is not just a response, but is actually an antidote to living in New York," said Polachek. "I think living in a place like Colorado--where everyone moves slower, where there's more space--people desire more aggression in their music, because they have all the relaxation built into their normal daily lives. So when kids want to go out and experience a really cool thing at night, they want to be messed with; they want to get sweaty; they want to get angry; they want to see something really out there and crazy and really loud and abrasive."

Conversely, she continued, "Living in New York, you experience that all day, every day--you're packed in together with a lot of other people; you're exposed to a lot of ambient noise all the time with the transportation, with the sirens and the streets and everything. At the end of the day when you want to go out and relax and have an interesting experience, you don't feel so much desire to go get messed with. You instead want to be hypnotized, or be drugged, or be transported, or escape from the conditions via the music that you listen to at night."

Chairlift's antidote, their path to hypnosis, is their first album, Does You Inspire You, which will be released this fall on Kanine Records. It's chock-full of a sense of idyllic youth and innocence. "Evident Utensil" is a celebration of a pencil, and "Earwig Town" sounds like an imaginative fairy tale ("they'll chase you down, in Earwig Town"). When backing vocalist Aaron Pfenning sings, "Somewhere around here there are witches," on "Somewhere Around Here ... ," it's instilled with excitement rather than fear. Then there's "Planet Health," where there's a "food pyramid in the desert of vitamins."

These dreamlike, childlike images help make Chairlift's music a soft cushion to ease the tension of a city like New York, but even more than that, Chairlift surround these lyrics with synthesizer sounds that immediately conjure up memories of '80s pop. Some moments, like the ending bridge of "Home Alone," sound right out of the soundtrack to The NeverEnding Story, while others could have been outtakes from the Cure's The Head on the Door, cousins to Wham!'s "Everything She Wants" or tracks off a long-lost Pet Shop Boys record.

Strangely enough, the members of Chairlift aren't big '80s music fans. "None of us really listen to that much '80s music," said Polachek. "Our memories of '80s music as kids have gotten filtered through the music we listened to during the '90s and 2000s. ... All the music we listen to gets melded together into an intuitive blob."

Chairlift began when Polachek and Pfenning began playing music together in Colorado. The initial idea, said Polachek, was to blend folk music and electronica.

"It was a combination of sort of an acoustic sound with lo-fi electronics like Casio keyboards and really basic synthesizer sounds with a folk-pop song structure," explained Polachek.

Once in New York, they added Patrick Wimberly, a friend from Colorado who had moved to New York separately--and the city's influence began to take hold.

"We started getting a lot of other influences into our music, everything from prog to classic rock and experimental noise (and) free jazz," said Polachek. "So that kind of deconstructed the way we were looking at writing. Now we're after more of an ambiance in our music, a mood instead of a structure or thematic. It's a way of making people feel that we're after."

Continued Polachek, "The last five songs (on the album) kind of blend together as being one piece that I think you can kind of lose track of really easily." For Chairlift, this is entirely the point: The mood they create is like being caught in a memory--not necessarily a good or a bad one, but something quiet and peaceful that is stowed way back in the recesses of your consciousness, like the memory of what '80s music sounded like as you were listening to it in the '80s.