Caroline Polachek Delivers a More than Desirable Album
by Bobby McPhee
Connecticut native and opera-trained singer-songwriter Caroline Polachek has finally released her long-awaited sophomore album Desire, I Want to Turn Into You this past Valentine’s Day.
Desire, I Want to Turn Into You has been years in the making, with singles like “Billions,” “Bunny Is a Rider,” and “Sunset” being released over the span of two years. These songs are effectively sticky in their thoughtful refrains and progressive production, but the lack of cohesion of these tracks made me question how they would sound on a full-length body of work but in the end, the singles ended up tying together in a way that was only possible by the release of the full LP.
Perhaps the thematic center of Polachek’s sophomore album is the opener, “Welcome To My Island.” This track carries some of pop music's most ambitious and experimental flavors in recent years. Here the theme of being something intangible, the emotion of ‘desire,’ is explored. It's her island, it's her rules, and the listener has no choice but to stay. She sings with charming yet subtle support from a vocoder: “Hope you like me, you ain’t leaving,” marking the beginning of an experience that is almost as surreal as the record’s cover.
Desire is seen once again in ‘I Believe,” Polachek’s ode to the late SOPHIE, the groundbreaking producer who tragically passed away in January 2021. With perhaps the most instrumentally upbeat song backed by 80’s dance-pop synths, Polachek declares that she “...believes we’ll get another day together.”
We find Caroline in this state of being unavailable and unachievable again on “Bunny Is A Rider,” a song with a rather skeletal production, besides its slapping bass guitar at the hands of Danny L. Harle, with the catchiest chorus of the record. “Bunny is a rider/Satellite can’t find her,” only amplifies the concept of wanting to be intangible, or “non-physical,” as Polachek puts it.
The dynamic and bouncy “Blood and Butter” features a myriad of experimental aspects. The airy whistles of a synth, the popping drums, the acoustic guitar, and a surprise guest of bagpipes- that surprisingly do not feel out of place- are mixed perfectly under one of the greatest vocal performances on the record. The lyrics on the track are as great as the production. “Say you wanna show me a place, the place is here, the here is inside you,” “Let me dive through your face, to the sweetest kind of pain,” once again push the idea of being something bigger than your own body. Caroline uses the physical body as just a mere host of a greater entity, which she marks as desire.
Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is one of the most intelligent pop records to date. Caroline Polachek utilizes trusty pop formulas while incorporating experimental and unlikely production choices that differentiate her from the rest. Her songwriting and conceptual lyrics throughout the record only further push her atop the mainstream talents. Her vocals are seen at their peak, showing her full range from her belts on “Welcome To My Island,” to the high-pitched and yodel-like verses on “Billions.”
With the closer, Polachek presents some of her most layered songwriting on “Billions,” a sophisticated pop song with a backward-sounding instrumental that incorporates piano, glitches, and a children’s choir. While the rest of the album finds Polachek concerned with her own body and her own existence as a physical being with emotion and desire, “Billions” offers a rebuttal to the themes mentioned beforehand. She embraces her physicality, stating “I have never felt so close to you.”
The concepts of dissociation, physicality and the lack thereof, and romance are ever-present in the digital age we see ourselves in. Each song perfectly embodies these very concepts, creating a thoughtful and thorough visionary album. With every aspect amalgamated on her album, Caroline Polachek comes close to pop perfection on Desire, I Want To Turn Into You.
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The videos looked very high end but the vocals seemed over produced.
I’d like to hear one song that clearly exhibits her vocal abilities with little or no help from instruments or electronics.