Photo by Nedda Asfari
It’s widely noted that my greatest personal nemesis is in fact my own emotions. I feel too much too often, which seems to be what also plagues Caroline Polachek. On her debut solo effort, Pang, she describes the terrible agony of being in love.
Even just the title, Pang, reveals all. The namesake track describes the jolt of lust or love, or anything else, in just one word. While these experiences aren’t explicitly painful, Polachek describes the discomfort that comes with pre-relationship doubts and long-distance relationships further into the record. She chastises herself for thinking her love is less than that which complements it, and she laments her own apathy and fading feelings. The tracklist was arranged purposefully, where she has described side A as a descent and side B as an ascent. If the sides are split evenly, then “Pang” plunges us into the unknown, while “Ocean of Tears,” an unintentional Cancerian anthem, begins the climb back to the surface.
The record was produced with Danny L Harle and utilized lyrics that Polachek mostly wrote specifically for the project. (She also wrote fragments of dozens more songs, which are likely to appear on a future release.) Together, they arranged more than a few earworms, by my standards in particular. There is an addictive quality to each dedicated single—and even the ambient tracks—providing proof that Pang lives within its own misty, volatile realm. This is certainly true of “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings,” given its accompanying video; in it, Polachek appears to exist in some scarlet-tinged reality, where her yearning is amplified by her perfectly-timed ah-ah’s. We get the best sense of her range in “Hit Me Where It Hurts,” where she speaks each syllable of the verses with finality, while the background chorus hits some of the record’s highest notes. On “Hey Big Eyes,” her cadence is warped, while on “New Normal,” each measure feels folded into the next.
Polachek first appeared on my radar in 2015 with the release of “The Boy Who I’ll See Again,” alongside a haunting music video. It was written from the point-of-view of Greek moon goddess Selene, infatuated with the shepherd Endymion, reminding me of an atmospheric Laura Marling. From there I backtracked and came to realize that she was one-half of Chairlift as well as the force behind Ramona Lisa. Polachek has lived several lives through these past acts, and now her solo material has begun to outweigh everything that came before.