Caroline Polachek's new album, Pang, has been a long time coming. Having cut her teeth in the music industry as one half of the indie pop duo Chairlift (with Patrick Wimberly), Polachek has hidden in the shadows of bigger stars as a veteran singer–songwriter until now. Most people unwittingly know her voice from the infamous commercial for the iPod nano–chromatic all the way back in 2008.
The song in the ad, "Bruises," was the closest the act ever came to a mainstream hit, unless you include the demo Polachek sent to Beyoncé which became "No Angel." Chairlift's following two albums, 2012's Something and 2016's Moth, were enough to garner a small but devoted fan base. Still, Wimberly and Polachek parted ways in 2017, both pursuing solo efforts. Though Pang isn't Polachek's first studio album, it is the first under her own name. She released Arcadia in 2014 as Romona Lisa and Drawing the Target Around the Arrow under her initials, CEP, in 2017.
Pang, made in collaboration with PC Music producer Danny L Harle, is romantic indie pop like the kind Polachek used to make with Chairlift, yet the production here is sharper and the emotions clearer. Pang is horny, lonely, heartbroken, and in love, sometimes all at once. It's an album that, at its core, is about romance.
Polachek began making Pang with the end of her former career as a pop songwriter. In interviews, she's said that she began writing with Harle for Katy Perry. During a mushroom trip, she told The Guardian in an interview, she began to realize that she "shouldn't be wasting [...] time on things [she] didn't passionately care about." Thus, Harle suggested they start writing for Polachek instead. That collaboration blossomed into Pang.
However, it wasn't just her professional life that was turned upside down in the process of making this album. Her personal life experienced a great change as well—Polachek divorced her spouse of two years. "All these structures that seemed essential to my identity and my time fell away," she says.
Perhaps "Parachute" exemplifies this losing and regaining of identity best on Pang. "It's giving up to life—and that's the scariest thing," Polachek says of the song. Mimicking the pacing of the album, the song slowly builds to a breathtaking crescendo as Polachek sings about a dream she had once. The album follows a similar pace, with its first half sounding, for the most part, like a sinking feeling of guilt or shame towards something you want, as heard in "I Give Up" and "Ocean of Tears." The second half of the album, in turn, feels like the release of steam, as heard in "Parachute" and "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings."
The latter song is one of the most addictive and lecherous pop songs of this year, with its music video adding even more to its savory sweetness, cementing Polachek's reputation as one of the most sophisticated and dexterous singer–songwriters working in the music industry today. As one Youtube commenter put it: "The production is '80s, the visuals are '90s, her voice is early 2000's, and the overall thing somehow still sounds incredibly 2019."
You could say the same thing about Pang as a whole. It's fluent in modern pop just as it is in classical music and experimental electronica, calibrated to not push too far in any of those directions and lose its potency or coherence. Polachek has always been this talented. Her new album proves she can make it on her own now.