The first minute of Caroline Polachek’s debut solo album as Ramona Lisa is unexpected. The album’s opening track, Arcadia, begins with burbling, baritone synths, clanging tower bells and eerie, church-like percussion. It’s like the opening credits to the Hunchback Of Notre Dame, and like nothing we heard from Polachek’s other project, the indie synth-pop doves Chairlift.
This first minute solidifies Arcadia as something entirely separate from Polachek’s previous work, which is a difficult thing to do with a solo album, especially when so much of what makes you original (in this case, Polacheck’s sharply brooding vocals) is already associated with something else. But what makes Arcadia stand on its own is the slight, simplistic tweaks and unexpected syncopation that Polachek uses to infuse the album with an almost apocalyptic sense of silliness and childish wonder. It’s exciting to listen to, but at the same time vaguely unsettling.
After Arcadia ends with Polachek jumping in for a smattering of minimal, choral vocals, Backwards And Upwards opens with hard, industrial synth blips that are pacified by Polachek’s vibrant falsetto. In an interesting juxtaposition, the synthetic darkness of Backwards And Upwards flows into the clever and fun Getaway Ride. That track is most reminiscent of something Chairlift might do, with squelching beats and bright, circus squeaks against Polachek’s almost dramatic croon.
Throughout the album, Polachek toys with many styles, making Arcadia feel a bit like a sonic résumé. Over the course of 11 tracks, Ramona Lisa does exotic funk fusion (Lady’s Got Gills), plasticky ballads (Izzit True What They Tell Me) and rapid, paranoia-inducing instrumentals (Hissing Pipes At Dawn). The album’s closing track, optimistically titled, I Love Our World, is a five-minute instrumental soundscape that culls together orchestral standards, buzzy feedback, muted static and unsettling glitches. There’s a slight climactic moment near the middle of the track that seemingly wants to prove everything is going to be okay. But the slow, empty fade-out might leave you wondering when the big crash is coming.