Album Review: Caroline Polachek – Pang

By Kiah Easton, Columns Editor
[Perpetual Novice; 2019]
Rating: 7.5/10 

Key tracks: “Pang”, “I Give Up”, “Door”

Caroline Polachek’s debut album, Pang, is full of emotional swings and subtleties that go unnoticed but not unfelt. Danny L. Harle and Polachek’s production feels light and airy, sweeping through you in a way that barely rustles your hair but leaves a collection of deep, lasting feelings. Polachek’s range of emotion is diverse and powerful, and each song feels almost secretive in the way that it conveys its meaning. Pang is like the soundtrack to a movie that has no definite plot but finds you crying while the credits roll.

Read more: Album Review: Charli XCX – Charli

As the album’s first track, “The Gate”, slowly eases into its peak, incorporating the textural mesh of Polachek’s drawn-out voice and soft digital synth, it drops the listener into the title track, “Pang”. The song’s twinkling digital melodies are slightly reminiscent of Owl City’s “Fireflies”, but “Pang” contains a heightened level of maturity and poignancy. Polachek’s breathy annunciation of the word “pang” strikes with confidence and purpose, without sacrificing the soft atmospheric delivery that is consistent throughout the album. It is both upbeat and meaningful.

“I Give Up” enters with a minimalistic drum pattern that trots under the guitar melody. Syncopated and choppy, the rhythm allows Polchek to unfurl her ramblings onto the broken skeleton of a song. She speaks of a breaking point, which is the end of something you love or an inability to find the common ground that two people once had. “You and I, we fall apart / Now I know what it means to unravel / It’s a new and shallow grief / A pathetic kind of sad relief.” Her lyrics speak without any reserve. It’s a complicated emotion: the moment of relief after letting everything fall apart, just to realize it feels good because it is easier.

“Door” is a revolving sentiment, a constant questioning of life. Lyrics like “You open the door / To another door, / to another door / To another door, to another door/ And I’m running through to you,” reflect this unsettled fluidity that feels inherent in the human experience. The simplistic composition of muted guitar and minimalistic drums opens a blank space for experimentation in sound design and for Polachek’s ethereal vocal delivery. With a somber but optimistic tone, she sings about the moment you accept something sad and the sense of resolution and empowerment that comes after.

Pang is soft and beautiful without being passive, and Polachek is an active participant in both her emotions and the way she represents those emotions through her music. PANG details multi-faceted levels of grief and happiness and themes of love that go beyond just the abstract idea, touching on its tangible reality. Love is good, bad and deeply immersive. Whether or not her experiences apply directly to every one of her listeners is almost irrelevant, as the album is a compilation of human emotion that emphasizes Polachek’s own authentic truth and resolute honesty.

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