The world has no shortage of ever-depleting resources — clean air, potable water, fossil fuels — but nostalgia for the 1980s isn't one of them. • Every big pop album these days borrows heavily from the Me Decade in search of that magical combination of crisp, pristine percussion, peppy synthesizers and loads of reverb just about everywhere. Can a young pop band still innovate and succeed within these increasingly narrow parameters? • Thankfully, yes: Two of 2016's catchiest LPs recall the '80s — and the '70s and '90s — in ways we didn't know we were craving. • Chairlift and the 1975, thanks for offering hope that the past isn't dead just yet.
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Brooklyn synth-pop duo Chairlift has a not-so-secret weapon, and her name is Caroline Polachek. Her airy, nimble voice is fluid and rangy, a la Sarah McLachlan; soft and seductive, a la Sade; instrumentally inventive, a la Bjork.
If you know Chairlift at all, it's probably from their 2008 single Bruises, which was featured in a ubiquitous iPod commercial. Polachek and multi-instrumentalist/co-producer Patrick Wimberly's third album, Moth, should build on that niche success, adding bright horns, bigger beats and more vibrant tones to their wheelhouse of light synthesizers and breezy vocals.
"Hey Romeo, put on your running shoes, I'm ready to go," Polachek sings on the propulsive Romeo, a flirty challenge that neatly captures the confidence brimming across Moth.
An attitude of living in the moment — leaning forward, not backward — permeates the album. On Polymorphing, it takes the form of a slick, tropical jungle of saxes and synthesizers, as Polachek coos about an intimacy more potent than a drug. Crying in Public is a swaying love song knitted with Lilith Fair lightness, with Polachek apologizing for "causing a scene on the train; I'm falling for you." And with its '80s bounce and tin-can shimmy, Moth to the Flame winks at the very concept of disco pop, daring listeners to give in to its simple, sugary pleasures.
Listen to dance-pop jewel Ch-Ching, a knockout mixture of hyperconfident handclaps and double-dutch swagger, and you can see why Beyoncé once sought out Chairlift as collaborators. You wouldn't peg Polachek's feathery voice as a natural fit for a song with such attitude, but she punctuates each line with a celebratory whoop or chirp that belies her delight in getting down.
The song that does all this the best is Show U Off, a fizzy jet-blast of lovestruck joy akin to Cheryl Lynn's Got to Be Real or Mariah Carey's Emotions. After about three minutes of rubber-band guitars, piano slides and can't-contain-it love lyrics ("I wanna preach this, unleash this and not be ashamed / Woo, they don't make them like you anymore"), Polachek stops floating between notes and simply starts shouting and hooting with glee.
A song like Show U Off makes you smile, makes you sway, makes you snap and wiggle and giggle through your Friday commute home. If there's any justice, it'll give Polachek her widest audience yet.
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Matthew Healy is in a good position to become the hot British rock star of the next decade, especially after his band the 1975's sophomore album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It — yes, that's the actual title — just debuted at No. 1.
So it's no surprise Healy went supersized on I Like It, an album that smash-cuts from style to style like your library's set on random — electro-pop, funk, gospel, shoegaze, postfolk, you name it. At 17 songs, each tinted with the all-too-familiar '80s filter of acts like INXS, Genesis and Fine Young Cannibals, the album is a little too long. Shift a few of its more ambient, lost-in-your-headphones album cuts to a bonus disc, and it'd brighten the spotlight on what I Like It does best — throbbing, glistening, ants-in-your-pants dance rock.
Just try not shaking it to the New Wave licks and electro-funk squiggles of Love Me and UGH! or the spinning, syncopated, piano-pounding pulse of The Sound. The shimmering She's American is ripe for a romantic comedy trailer. (Even if Healy sounds ambivalent about the Yank in question, singing, "Your face has got a hold on me, but your brain is proper weird.")
As a lyricist, Healy can be aggressively verbose, but also wryly funny ("I'm the Greek economy of cashing intellectual checks," he sings on Loving Someone) and self-deprecating (on The Sound, he calls himself a "sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic, junkie wannabe").
His critiques of a culture fascinated with fashion, fame and "celebrities lacking in integrity" — such as a certain family whose name rhymes with "car-crashian," a word Healy coins on Love Me — aren't especially insightful, but he's self-aware enough to acknowledge his complicity in the shallow charade of rock stardom. And it doesn't stop him from getting vulnerable.
Consider the ballad Nana, a heartbreaking love note to Healy's late grandmother, written entirely from the perspective of Matt Healy, professional rock star. He references his mother, a British television actor, by name; and sings about writing the song we're all hearing: "Made in my room, this simple tune / will always keep me close to you / The crowds will sing, their voices ring / and it's like you never left."
You could call Healy out for such self-referential (some might say self-indulgent) lyrics. But give him the benefit and accept Nana as pure emotional transparency, a sort of baring and cleansing of a famous songwriter's soul. It really sounds like he might cry at any minute, and that almost makes you do the same, regardless of whose words he's singing.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.