Caroline Polachek’s ‘Pang’ has a distinct, electropop sound that is displayed consistently throughout the album. It’s the sort of album where if you like the first few tracks, you are likely to enjoy the project in it’s entirety. Part of the reason for this is the album’s consistency, but another reason for it is that the album saves it’s best tracks for last (the album’s two most successful singles – ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’ and ‘Door’ are 12th and 13th on the 14-song tracklist).
After releasing her first studio album under a pseudonym – Ramona Lisa -, it makes sense that Polachek’s first album under her own name is also her most confident and sure-footed. Polachek is clear about how she wants her album to sound, and what she wants to say (even when she experiments with a more folkish direction (‘New Normal’, ‘Look At Me Now’), the electronic, art pop sound that defines this album is never really lost).
‘Pang’ focuses heavily on relationships and the effects they have on us, but attempts to tackle this subject in new and daring ways. However, at times the lyrical content is too safe to be experimental, with Polachek employing cliched similes and metaphors – like facing a storm or feeling like a “trapped” butterfly. Yet, there are moments on this album where Polachek effectively communicates the pain and agonising that comes from being in a relationship. These moments occur when Polachek is at her most introspective; when she is willing to access the most painful, intimate aspects of being in love. Nowhere is this done better than on ‘Hit Me Where It Hurts’, where she sings, “It’s a new and shallow grief / An apathetic kind of self-defeat”.
The album also comes into it’s own when Polachek isn’t afraid to be playful and unserious. This is demonstrated on ‘Caroline Shut Up’, where Polachek ponders whether she loves someone “too much”, before telling herself to “shut up”, and on ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’ – where the bridge consists of Polachek repeatedly singing “show me the banana (Na-na-na)”. These more upbeat tracks also provide respite from some of the more anodyne tracks on the album.
On the whole, ‘Pang’ is a strong album. At it’s heart it is fundamentally non-conformist – never languishing too long in the false security of artistic safety. It is consistent enough to be cohesive, but not so consistent as to become repetitive and, it effectively communicates Polachek’s biggest strength as an artist – her vocal ability. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long to hear from Caroline Polachek again.