Caroline Polachek‘s first album under her own name is out and it’s spectacular. One of the finest pop records of the year, it’s a soaring, ethereal and sometimes devastating exploration of love lost and found. Produced largely alongside Danny L Harle, it’s both raw and challenging at time as her limitless voice sits alongside unpredictable instrumentals.
The album is so finely pieced together that we thought we would put a microscope to the songs and pull out our favourite moments within the songs.
Polachek sings, “I open the door and you run through,” introducing us to one of the consistent pieces of imagery on the record. Lead-single Door gave it to us first but this is the first time you here of this “door” on Pang. The motion of opening a door can mean many things. It’s both a beginning and an ending and Polachek explores both throughout the LP.
New Normal (0:30)
New Normal is one of the most structureless songs on the record. It’s a winding, elongated pop song that sometimes feels like it’s never going to end. Harle and Polachek’s production shines through here and the 30 second mark is the moment you realise this song is building itself into something bigger than it first suggests.
Hit Me Where It Hurts (0:34)
Hit Me Where It Hurts begins on a bed of ethereal instrumentation but at the 34 second mark the song literally punches you in the gut. It’s not aggressive but it stops you in your tracks as the song essentially pulls its whimsical nature and replaces it with a minimal backdrop. Polachek sings, “bullseye, dead end, moving target.”
I Give Up (1:58)
This feels like a low-point of the album in terms of Polachek’s story. It’s nihilistic, driven by a realisation that her relationship is failing. The words are profoundly sad but there’s a particular moment that it really stands out. A synth flies out of nowhere, reaching its strongest point as Polachek sings, “A pathetic kind of self defeat.” A stunning, goosebump-inducing moment.
Look At Me Now (1:06)
While I Give Up is rock bottom, Look At Me Now stares towards the future with trepidation while also grappling with the present. Her rawest songwriting is featured here but there’s one point that absolutely stabs at the heart:
Now my friends all tell me
“Girl, you’re getting skinny
Have you not been sleeping?”
How could I be?
Notions of sleep and dreaming are used across the album in a liberating, even pleasant, sense but here she can’t even sleep, stuck with a conscious reality.
Those who have been following Polachek from Chairlift days will now that her range is operatic and this is the first point on the record she really reaches for giddy heights. Emotionally, it’s the lowest point on the album and yet musically it takes us higher than every other song. Her relationship drifts away in the heights of her voice, capturing both desperation and transience.
Ocean Of Tears (2:52)
The harshest aspects of Harle’s production rarely creep into Pang but on Ocean Of Tears the song is brought to a crushing halt with a series of distorted beats. Just after Polachek sings, “Someone stop me, I’m coming down,” she’s brought down with a thump.
Hey Big Eyes (1:13)
I’d invest in Polachek’s vocal runs on the stock exchange they’re so good and this is one of the most beautiful of them on the album. She can give a song so much motion and weightlessness with just run and this song absolutely soars because of it.
Go As A Dream (2:37)
Much like Hey Big Eyes, her voice is the shining star on Go As A Dream. She delivers this song more tenderly than any other on the album and uses the softness and the height of her voice here to sweep us into a dreamscape.
Caroline, Shut Up (0:08)
Third person lyricism is always a risk in pop music but Polachek turns it into one of the most thrilling moments of the album. Her intonation here is just perfect and she reconnects with herself, shunning her self-doubt. This album goes through an incredibly sad patch but on Caroline, Shut Up she regains her strength and it’s spectacular.
So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings (1:58)*
This is the point where the album completely loosens up as she playfully sings about crushing hard. It doesn’t get much better than her voice being manipulated into a saxophone-sound that takes us right into Katy Perry T.G.I.F. territory. That’s absolutely a compliment, by the way.
*The gasp at 2:33 is also pop gold.
We’ve said it many times already and we’ll say it again, Polachek’s voice is breathtakingly stunning on Pang. As she builds the motion of running through the door in one of the album’s most liberating moments she gives us a vocal moment that just steals the show. It feels like she’s regained her power and the confidence shines through.
There is no other voice that would be able to capture the sway of a parachute so expertly. It looks like she’s headed for the sea until her voice pivots as she’s taken back towards soft ground in Los Angeles. As she sings, “treetops” her voice pierces the headphones.