Caroline Polachek is no novice: The singer-songwriter has produced prolifically over the past two decades as part of indie synthpop duo Chairlife, released an album under the name Ramona Lisa, and even boasts a writing credit on Beyonce’s critically lauded 2013 self-titled release. Pang, her solo debut, is a near-perfect breakup album. Though Polachek recently divorced fellow musician Ian Drennan, Pang is about more than just that relationship. Polachek retreads well worn pop music fodder such as songs about dreams, lost youth, and the ocean.
Pang is produced by Polachek herself, along with PC Music’s Danny L Harle—a harmonious pairing. Harle’s exaggerated pop tendencies joyfully creep in. The glittering synth in the title track, and vocal sampling on “Door” demonstrate his handiwork, but it is Polachek’s talent that dominates the album. It is her heartbreak to swim in, after all. Her vocals ground the album; Polachek has referred to the voice as “the ultimate analog synth,” and she uses her instrument deftly in Pang. “Ocean of Tears” contains perhaps this year’s most heartbreaking chorus, all thanks to Polachek’s shattering vocals.
Everything on Pang ultimately builds up to “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings,” an uptempo, New Wave inspired track with an impossibly catchy hook. It is hard not to get swept away in Polachek’s heartache and infatuation—the dreamy bassline provides a steady launchpad for Polachek’s voice to soar from, aided by dizzying auto-tune.
“And I’m out at a party, they’re playing our song / I cry on the dance floor, it’s so embarrassing / Don’t send me photos, you’re making it worse / ‘Cause you’re so hot it’s hurting my feelings,” Polachek sings.
Embarrassment is central to Pang; Polachek chastises herself for loving too much on “Caroline Shut Up,” and frets about her predictable romantic tendencies in “Look At Me Now.” Ultimately, this embarrassment is fitting: Pang’s strength lies in its self-reflexivity and restlessness. After all, no honest break-up album has ever been comfortable or picturesque.