Caroline Polacheck has had a year. After years of releasing quality yet underappreciated work, carryover support from her first solo album “Pang” and the success of single “Bunny is a Rider” has built into a hype train with a head of steam. It’s well deserved too, almost every song she has released since leaving synthpop duo Chairlift has been an absolute banger that plays into pop conventions while also having a very distinctive voice and musical language.
“Billions”, a two-song single, slightly lacks some of the immediacy and punchiness of her best solo work but carries over her unique pairing of swing-for-the-fences maximalist vocals with minimal, haunting production which both adds value with fun motifs and knows when to get out of the way and let Caroline loose on the mic. Titular track “Billions” highlights a lot of these strengths, drawing memorable moments from unconventional methods, such as a hook where she stutters through “say, say say say something to me” which comes after mentioning “the pearl of the oyster” almost in non-sequitur. Unique word choices are a key strength of Caroline’s music, earlier in the track “salted flavor” is given an entire line in the verse to impart a lot of imagery and visceral feelings from just a couple of words, and this use of hyperspecificity with words that have a very particular association with them really makes the short verses feel much longer and more resonant. There’s a strong contrast from the first minute or so of the song, which steps back and lets Caroline do her thing, to the back end that lays down the rhythmic chanting and forceful production, creating a cool flow across the entire song to accentuate the individual moments.
“Long Road Home” is maybe the more straightforward of the two, atop a glittering backbeat with a fun drumline that makes the perfect soundstage for emotional howls and a delivery that stretches lines out to add significance. There’s a powerful violin line that keeps things moving which lets those haunting moments not also slow the pace down to a crawl, an ideal happy medium for songs structured to provide a lot of impact in not a lot of time.
“Billions” was a release I was massively anticipating, and it certainly delivered. It’s definitely not just more of 2019 Caroline Polacheck, and I’m glad that’s the case, I never want an artist to stagnate and just try to copy what worked before. This is 2022 Caroline Polacheck, maybe a bit more experimental and slower but just as incisive and, above all else, fun to listen to.