Former Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek has made her long-awaited return with her luminous third album, Pang. But it’s her first under her real name: in 2014, she released Arcadia as Ramona Lisa. Drawing the Target Around the Arrow followed three years later under her initials, CEP.
But whereas Arcadia and Drawing the Target felt like experiments, in theatrical pop and minimal synth, respectively, Pang has arrived fully-formed. It is sometimes symphonic and operatic, sometimes poppy and danceable, and wholly arresting. Electronics dapple its sweeping chords and head-clearing ambience.
No doubt, Polachek has refined these sensibilities through her many collaborations. She has worked with Blood Orange, SBTRKT, and Charli XCX. She has even ventured into production. (Her first credit was on Beyonce’s grammy-nominated self-titled album.) Pang features its own share of collaborators, too. Danny L Harle co-produced much of the album, and Andrew Wyatt co-wrote “Hit Me Where It Hurts.”
Despite its title, Pang resounds more like a relentlessly beating heart. Her heart is bruised, and it bleeds all over the album as she longs, pines, gushes, obsesses, and admonishes herself throughout Pang’s 14 songs. On “Caroline, Shut Up,” she sings, “Sometimes, I wonder, ‘Do I love you too much?’ Then I tell myself, ‘Caroline, shut up,’” before wondering “if it ever gets better than right now.”
Polachek displays her classical voice training and opera lessons all over Pang. “Insomnia” is one of the album’s most stirring songs. Not only does she bottom out emotionally here, the song mostly features tranquil atmospherics, so the focus is on her voice. And on the sparing closer “Parachute,” she soars above the clouds.
Polachek often swoons over someone on Pang, but when heartache hits her, it hits her hard; in fact, it’s sometimes debilitating. The aimless, idle loneliness that follows a break-up haunts her like a ghost. On “Insomnia,” she’s caught in a liminal space, dazed between waking and sleeping. Disoriented and estranged, nothing feels familiar to her on “Door”: “Sometimes, I don’t know who I’m singing to. Who is the you I sing to, when the house is empty?” she wonders. She describes her and this stranger “waking up sore and dizzy from a ten year concussion.” Later, she struggles to place herself: “Back in the city. I’m just another girl in a sweater. Back in the city. Everything’s different when we’re not together.”
To curb aimlessness and loneliness, Polachek seeks distractions, from home and heartbreak. She addresses her eroded relationship on “I Give Up”: “It didn’t used to feel this good to be all alone, doing every damn thing I can to not go home.” But she sounds like she might be in denial about how she feels being alone.”
Despite feeling estranged from current or former lovers, from the city they live in, and even from herself, Pang proves that Caroline Polachek is closer to finding herself as an artist than she has ever been.
review by Leslie Chu
Dates City Venue
October 24, 2019 Los Angeles, CA Zebulon*
October 27, 2019 New York, NY Bowery Ballroom*
October 30, 2019 London, UK Hoxton Hall*
October 31, 2019 Berlin, DE Burg Schnabel
November 2, 2019 Paris, FR Pitchfork Paris
November 3, 2019 Amsterdam, NL Paradiso
January 1, 2020 San Francisco, CA The Independent
January 18, 2020 Brooklyn, NY Warsaw
February 1, 2020 Los Angeles, CA The Fonda Theatre
*denotes sold out date