Caroline Polacheck - Pang

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Caroline Polachek first garnered her notoriety as the front woman of the duo Chairlift, one of the more memorable indie leaning pop acts of the past decade. Polachek’s singular vocal style was backed with alluring synth textures that while maintaining an experimental edge never became overly oblique or indulgent. It was a solid blueprint for how pop music could be highly adventurous while providing a room that soul-affirming hook to coalesce around.

It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call this Polachek’s first solo debut as she as toyed with other side projects outside of Chairlift. Those records under different aliases functioned more as avenues for her to try out different forms of expressions that didn’t quite fit in with what was working with Chairlift. It is more appropriate to credit Pang under Polachek’s name as it is evidently the fullest encapsulation of her sound and pursuit as an artist. Polachek has clearly allowed her work with collaborators to affirm her own music as she has within the last decade worked with Charli XCX, Blood Orange, and even Beyoncé.

Polachek brings in Danny Harle from PC Music to executive produce the record. The hands behind the PC Music label have redefined pop in the 2010s with their futuristic and metallic approach, but on Pang Harle demonstrates what PC Music sounds like when restrained. Contrasted to the high-reaching zaniest of the last couple Charli XCX projects, these productions focus more on lush, intoxicating atmospheres. These instrumentals function more as a vessel for Polachek’s voice, one with a towering range. Pang plays more like a sophisticated singer-songwriter record nodding towards more subtle touches of those dizzying, futuristic sounds. With her undeniably gorgeous delivery, Polachek explores heartbreak, desire, and the hesitant feelings that come on the verge of love and/or the loss of it.

Opening with “The Gate” and the title track, Polacheck plays with reverb heavy spaciousness, setting the tone with an ethereal dream pop feel. The latter showcases how her production preferences can help amplify her immaculately crafted choruses.

A real highlight here is the glitchy “Ocean of Tears.” Skittering drum machines and climactic synth drops mesh with Polachek’s mesmerizing vocal runs. While showcasing her technicality, she stills allows ample room for deeply felt emotion and tenderness in every turn of phrase. A song dealing with crippling insecurity, there is some truly evocative penmanship shining through. “Cash in all of my courage before you're all mine,” she pleads. Equally impressive is the playful “So Hot You’re Feeling My Feelings,” a smart, bouncy love tune with delicate baroque pop touches.

When things are slowed down, Caroline is still a commanding presence. On the sparse ballad “Caroline Shut Up,” Polachek’s vocals are naked; a sense of genuine giddiness is felt.

 There are a few songs that are comparitively underdeveloped and slow down the album’s overall momentum. “Go As A Dream” is a clear example of this, never quite reaching a memorable high instrumentally or melodically. For the most part Pang plays more like a nest for its handful of stellar tracks, and it that way this album falls short of being a thoroughly great release. Still, at its best, Polacheck delivers some of the most captivating and emotionally packed art-pop of 2019.

Grade: B+