10 Best Chairlift Songs

Caroline Polachek has enjoyed a breakout year, enjoying critical adoration for her second solo album, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You. Her 2019 single, ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’ turned into a sleeper success via TikTok, paving the way. But she was already a veteran, first attracting attention for her indie-pop band Chairlift. Their single ‘Bruises’ was released in 2008, and featured in an IPod commercial.

Chairlift recorded their first album as a trio – Polachek started the band with her college boyfriend, Aaron Pfenning. They were joined by multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wimberly. After their debut album Pfenning left the band, leaving a duo of Polachek and Wimberly. The duo split after their third album – Polachek to a solo career, while Wimberely has enjoyed success as a producer on records like Solange’s A Seat at the Table.

This list leans heavily on the band’s singles – most of these songs were singles, or at least have promotional videos made for them. Chairlift clearly peaked on their second record, Something, with its sophisticated pop sheen, which dominates this list. Their synth-pop is indebted to the 1980s, and Kate Bush is an obvious comparison with Polachek sharing a bent toward nerdy sci-fi themes.

10 Best Chairlift Songs

#10 Amanaemonesia

from Something, 2012
Polachek is a masterful pop vocalist – watch her versatility and control on this live version of ‘Amanemonesia’.


#9 Met Before

from Something, 2012
‘Met Before’ is notable for its interactive video. It’s no longer available, as it used Adobe Flash, but it allowed a choose-your-own-adventure format, where, according to the makers, it “seamlessly guide the story through a multitude of possible paths of scientific and sexual discovery. By choosing from simple directional choices at key moments, your story might involve possibilities for romance, intrigue, and star performance along the way.” It’s a quintessential Chairlift song, making a hook out of Polachek’s athletic voice.


#8 Planet Health

from Does You Inspire You?, 2008
Chairlift’s debut album is messier and less-focused than their later work – they became more streamlined when they cut down to a duo of Polachek and Wimberly. But it has its moments – ‘Planet Health’ is driven by its narrative of a ridiculous dystopia, where participants are Heimlich maneuvered and visit the food pyramid. The sudden change to the “stop, drop, and roll” coda is unexpected, but effective.


#7 Crying in Public

from Moth, 2016
‘Crying in Public’ would have fitted on the lush sophisti-pop of Something – while the choruses feature Polachek’s vocal acrobatics, the verses and bridge could have come from a Prefab Sprout song. The song’s written about having an emotional moment on public transport in New York – Polachek told The Guardian that “It’s a feeling many people who live in cities experience. When you’re completely consumed by bulls–t anxieties, and someone who loves you calls you out in the most sweet and forgiving way and suddenly you’re hit with this thunderbolt of perspective.”


#6 Bruises

from Does You Inspire You?, 2008
‘Bruises’ was Chairlift’s first public moment – a sweet indie-pop song that showcased a gift for narrative. It was featured in an Apple IPod commercial, giving the group’s profile a boost before their first album. Its unusual imagery, about using frozen fruit to soothe a lover’s bruises, immediately showed an off-beat artistic sensibility. Polachek told The Guardian that “Patrick told me to sing it like a song that was coming out of a jukebox in Twin Peaks,” 


#5 Polymorphing

from Moth, 2016
‘Polymorphing’ benefits from the streamlined sound of Moth – the uncluttered arrangement allows Polachek’s vocals and lyrics to shine. The half-rapped verses are great – “Fill her up with serotonin/Pyrotechnic, oxytocin/Overdosing polymorphing.”


#4 Cool as a Fire

from Something, 2012
The icy ‘Cool as a Fire’ feels inspired by 1990s hip-hop – it’s easy to imagine Portishead recording it, albeit in a more rhythm-heavy arrangement. Polachek’s vocal is gorgeous and vulnerable, singing forlorn lyrics like “the look in your eye says you don’t love me anymore.”


#3 Moth to a Flame

from Moth, 2016
Chairlift simplified their approach for their third album – embracing a more pop-influenced sound after working with Beyoncé. Moth is a patchier record, a step down after the sophisti-pop wonders of Something. But when it works, it hits hard – ‘Moth to a Flame’ is a great pop tune, delivered with aplomb.


#2 Ghost Tonight

from Something, 2012
Polachek’s athletic vocals are Chairlift’s biggest drawcard – she can produce vocal hooks beyond the ability of most other singers. ‘Ghost Tonight’ features one of my favourite Polachek vocals. There’s just a hint of sandpaper in her usually pristine voice on the excellent middle eight (“Because my heart is a stone until you make it right”). I’m glad she repeats it because it’s the song’s best moment.


#1 I Belong in Your Arms

from Something, 2012
‘I Belong in Your Arms’ hits a perfect sweet spot between energy and beauty. Wimberly told Pitchfork that Something reflected both members of the duo being “very in love– not with each other.” Polachek added “and not with the same person. That would’ve been weird.” Polachek co-directed a music video for a Japanese-language version, which sounds great as well.

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Aphoristical
Aphoristical

Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

8 Comments

  1. I never heard of Caroline Polachek and Chairlift before. Since it’s clearly outside my core wheelhouse and there’s so much other music I want to listen to, I probably won’t further explore them at this time.

  2. I’ve never heard them but I do like the pop sound they have. I usually don’t like synths but the songs seem so happy…it’s hard to resist.

    • I think most early 1980s synth-pop sounds a bit primitive and thinly arranged, but newer bands have figured out how to make it sound better a lot of the time. Lots of organic bass and guitar sounds in there too.

      • I have heard some I like…I don’t mind a synth if it is coloring the music but not the dominate instrument.

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