The concept of Caroline Polachek’s (here known under the pseudonym of Ramona Lisa) debut solo album appears both insane and fascinating in equal measure. According to the Chairlift vocalist she wanted to create a pastoral electronic album comprised entirely of love songs inspired by nature. Such an experiment promises exciting things, and it has certainly had pleasing results.
First song ‘Arcadia’ is a bold start. The grand synthetic pulses lead into a much softer body of Polachek’s stunning voice that rings as high and clear as a bell. She also creates an excellent sense of space through the use of echoes and multiple layers of electronic sound. This all makes for an introduction reminiscent of a cosmic church choir. Follow-up track ‘Backwards and Upwards’ continues to develop this complex collection of synths and voice distortion. Polachek’s voice is almost all-encompassing; fusing her many toned vocals into one complete panoramic sound.
After the darker and heavier outro of ‘Backwards and Upwards’, third song ‘Getaway ride (cha cha cha)’ provides the perfect contrast with its mischievous edge and buoyant synths. Polachek also proves how incredibly versatile her vocals can be, especially during the chorus. This album just has a wonderful drifting and unpredictable nature to it; although at times it can throw the listener off, it mostly works in Polachek’s favour. And some of the contrasting notes and sounds seemed initially odd and jarring, but I warmed quickly to the more unusual combinations. It’s these elements, along with the album’s overall bizarre dream-like approach, that give Arcadia a unique personality.
This outlook comes to a head with ‘Lady’s Got Gills’: a song that oozes oddity and screams madness but still somehow manages to work. It also has a great sense of rhythm; nailing percussion and vocal timing to a T. ‘Hissing Pipes at Dawn’, with its gentle instrumental elements, then provides a soft interval for the record, its position clearly showing Polachek’s good understanding of pacing.
Things certainly slow-down in the record’s second half: ‘Dominic’ feels simple when compared with Arcadia’s previous offerings. While ‘Reprise’ is a clever reminder of the album’s namesake song, transforming it into something much more subdued but just as effective. Whereas follow-up ‘Izzit True What They Tell Me’ feels a little dull and disconnected; one of the few moments wherein Polachek’s risky approach to her music stumbles up.
Where Arcadia’s strengths really lie is in both Polachek’s astonishingly versatile vocals and her willingness to experiment with electronic atmosphere. Though at times it can feel convoluted, the record’s composition clearly shows talent.
Arcadia was released on the 15th April by Terrible Records.