Caroline Tremor Control
There are two competing general visions of a perfect society: Utopia is assumed to be a constructed existence, while Arcadia is pristine wilderness idealized from a region of Greece bearing the same name. With this distinction in mind Caroline Polachek, performing as Ramona Lisa on her solo debut Arcadia, tackles a fascinating sonic question: What does it mean—or feel like—when you try to travel through one world/concept in order to get to the other?
Polachek is normally half of Brooklyn indie-pop duo Chairlift, but since their 2012 release Something she’s been experimenting with her own compositions and performing solo shows under fake names. The alter ego on which she’s settled is both a home for and product of her field recordings, rickety MIDI programming, and varied vocal expressions. The results on Arcadia share bonds with Mira Calix as much as they do with a host of bold pop queens from St. Vincent on down.
This is an album that uses the intimate and small—a passing scene or experience, the 1s and 0s of digitized sound—to suggest the broad and large. “Wing of the Parapet” and the title track could easily fit in the realm of a grand period drama like Game of Thrones, pushed by Polachek’s abstract bardsongs and electronic mirages of harmonium, horn, and bell. She shifts the scene far forward on “Getaway Ride,” using methodical synthpop balladry and pretty lyrics to craft a romantic rendezvous rooted in petty crimes.
Some Ramona Lisa songs use sound collage as intro or outro to more lyrical pursuits; as the sole focus of tracks like “I Love Our World” it threatens to make Arcadia jump the rails. Overall, though, the LP imagines Laurel Canyon overrun by old-growth foliage on a holodeck, populated with technical illusions of and pastoral allusions to a wide swath of lady-rock: Haim melodies, Tracey Thorn affectations, even Broadcast vinyl scratches. Polachek hasn’t put us on the road to paradise just yet, but the journey in front of us remains a tempting one.