At first, Chairlift seems quintessentially, almost insufferably hip. The group got its start at a Colorado college, then graduated to Williamsburg intent on making “live music for haunted houses.” Singer/synth-player/songwriter Caroline Polachek guested on Washed Out’s latest, and producer/bassist Patrick Wimberly oversaw the beats on Das Racist’s Relax. And while Chairlift’s 2008 debut, Does You Inspire You, did swap out goth-y lurk for pop promise, it was unclear whether the duo would deliver a follow-up befitting its new major-label trappings. But that upgrade should’ve been a sign: Something sounds meant to succeed, not to pass art school or flounder in tousled bedroom ennui.
Chairlift’s sophomore LP exists in an alternate universe where Leslie Feist’s primary vocal influence is Toni Braxton and her aural inspiration comes from healing crystals. On Something, chillwave’s obsession with wonky New Age keys and effects mingles with the put-up-or-shut-up vocal brass of ’90s R&B, while honest-to-goodness songcraft stirs the pot. With its steady kick-drum pulse and Polachek’s breathy inflections, “Ghost Tonight” can’t help but sound like a quiet-storm reinvention of “1234.” The single “Sidewalk Safari” embodies this album’s highest aspirations, playing husky come-ons against an elastic arrangement to arrive at something angsty, dance-y, smart, and silly.
Conversely, “Frigid Spring” could be a lost take from Beck’s Mutations, but rather than feeling out of place, the downcast breeziness bridges slowly burning synth-soul like “Cool As A Fire” to upbeat head-boppers like “I Belong In Your Arms,” which belongs in the closing credits of a John Hughes film. Every so often, Something dwells in lofts and coifs—“Were you at that one party, the one on the ninth floor?” Polachek gushes on “Met Before”— but Chairlift still transcends the cool-kid ghetto for more elevated climes.