CLASSIC REVIEW: Caroline Polachek, Pang
Updated: Jan 9
Since her musical career began in 2006, Caroline Polachek has been smartly selective about the producers she surrounds herself with. Groove heavy indie music was unthinkably popular around that time, it felt like every quirky bro comedy like Step Brothers or Cyrus had to have an LCD Soundsystem track prominently in the film. She teamed up with her college classmate Aaron Pfenning to form Chairlift, which felt like an instrumental showcase with Polachek dynamically overtop. As she advanced her career, more prominent artists like Blood Orange utilized her talents for passionate duets and ghostwriting (in the case of Beyonce, who she wrote “No Angel” for). Around 2016, she sort of ran into a creative brick wall, with the release of Charlift’s Moth. The album, while listenable, was totally uninteresting from a songwriting and production standpoint. She was trapped in limbo, destined to become yet another casualty of the Brooklyn indie bubble.
Although she quit Chairlift and went solo in 2016, she didn’t really hit her stride until 2019. In the same way SOPHIE did for Charli XCX, PC Music’s Danny L Harle captured a phoenix rising from the ashes of an old career. The five single release leading up to Pang dropping was so perplexing but slowly started to make sense. “Door” was the first to drop, which should’ve been the true closer for the record. In retrospect, this song appeals to me on multiple levels. The psychedelic spin on a slow romance track lyrically, “You open the door/To another door, to another door, to another door/And I’m running through” and Harle’s end is nothing short of perfection. “Ocean of Tears” was perhaps my favorite, I still love how it slowly builds and twitches like a Jamie xx track. As Harle adds more elements like metallic percussion and guitar, Caroline ups her vocals a notch, until she’s bellowing out high notes over a wall of sound. Aesthetically, I feel as if her CGI-like uncanniness along with her flat affect on the cover of the album really adds to the themes presented tracks like this.
Caroline’s voice is modulated, looped, and manipulated at will. Coupled with Harle’s penchant for artificial sounds from synths and MIDI instrumentation, you get a record that has real emotion that feels manufactured. This has been the PC Music mission statement since the beginning, and continues to trickle down to these artists like Polachek with no creative limits. If you fully trust someone like Harle, he will paint an entire world for you that you can roam free and flourish in. His style is so colorful, synthesizing modern trap and dancehall rhythms and putting them alongside lap steel, MIDI guitars and much more. The entire feel of the album is reminiscent of Oneohtrix Point Never, who is no stranger to colliding artpop with classical violins and harps.
On a songwriting level, Polachek keeps it simple and effective. She builds “Hit Me Where It Hurts” around an immediately entracing chorus, despondently sing-rapping on the verses. “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” is about as straightforward as it gets, just like Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Really Really Like You”. “Look At Me Now” is an acoustic impassioned slow jam about staying and fighting what life throws at you. On the title track, attraction is strong as she sings “Into me, pang! And then I go/Into you, pang!”; it's so bright and immediate but still keeps its composure. I appreciate her vocal talents in general being shown off, the parts of her performances where no songwriting is needed are often her best. The “ah ah AH!” vocalizations on “Hey Big Eyes” are absolutely brilliant, she just has the expansive and expressive approach that always results in magic when she fully goes for it. This is nowhere near a perfect record, but there is an A-/A in this record somewhere. It’s overlong at 46 minutes, it could’ve easily been 10 minutes shorter. In addition to that, the way it’s sequenced is kind of baffling at points. Like why is “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings”, which is basically a HAIM song, next to an inwardly reflective “Door”? There are amazing songs on here, they are just not properly displayed. Nonetheless, I’d rather have them somewhere than nowhere, so I accept the presentation while still critiquing and distracting from it. I think for a first official solo outing, what Caroline and Danny did hear was really impressive. I'm patiently waiting fot LP 2, which I hope is even more experimental.