When the band Chairlift announced their breakup in 2016, it felt like a major nail had been struck in a certain kind of auteur-pop coffin. Churches (styled chvrches) were bubbling with popularity and writing some of their worst songs. Sky Ferreira had been largely absent and aloof after her breakout album Night Time, My Time release back in 2011. Crystal Castles’ work had gone stale, and one of the most important goth-pop bands of our time, Them Are Us Too, suffered the tragic death of its member Cash Askew the same year. Simply put, the era of synth-led, forward thinking pop felt like it was limping into the horizon. The easy jangles of Mac Demarco and the luscious grooves of bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard were reverberating onto the scene with huge success, and anyone could see a new moment in music was approaching.
Fast forward three years. America is a discontent country. I’m a father. Political strife is a loud and daily occurrence. I am trying to raise toddlers to be braver than that strife. People are living in authoritarian and environmental uncertainty, and so is the music industry at large. Music festivals have never been more extravagant (Kanye’s selling +100$ church tees) or more disastrous (Fyre festival ruins the economy of a small island). Mac Demarco is still an indie darling, but his hopeful jangles and the many bands who copied that sound feel, at least for me, quaint and already nostalgic.
So when I pulled up Spotify to make a playlist for an environmental novel I’m working on, I was shocked and excited to see that Caroline Polachek, frontperson of Chairlift, has struck out on her own with a set of bizarre pop jams that feel unabashedly sensual and undeniably self aware of the confusing world we live in.
Maybe more than any other of her new songs, Caroline’s sultry and sparse “Ocean of Tears” conjures what I think I and other writers are tackling right now: how to love and be loved in a breaking world. I’ve never felt more summed up as an artist than by her opening line, “This is gonna be torture, before it’s sublime / Does that make it crazy?” Like so much of my own life, this pop ballad exists in a limbo of desire and reality. I love my city, but I know it will probably be underwater within the next 100 years. I love my daughters, and I know they will face a hotter, harsher world than I can imagine.
Now, am I imposing my own selfish narrative on this forlorn ballad? Absolutely, and I’m okay with that. Where Chairlift’s songs were aloof and even funny, Polachek’s solo work makes a terrifying amount of room for our anxieties. I can’t hear “Someone stop me, I’m going down /
Someone stop me, I’m going down” without seeing the shorelines I call home creep closer to my doorstep. As we woefully reinvent the landscape and geology of our planet, maybe our new pop anthems will give us the space to wonder if there are no longer any simple grooves, no longer a reason to tune out the world.
Jerrod Schwarz teaches creative writing at the University of Tampa and edits poetry for Driftwood Press. His chapbook collection 'conjure' was published in 2019 by Thirty West Publishing House. His poetry has appeared in PANK, Entropy, The Fem, five;2;one, and many others. Most recently, his poetry was featured on VICE and New Republic. He lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife and twin toddlers
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