Caroline Polachek pushes pop borders in new album


‘Desire, I Want to Turn Into You’ released on Valentine’s Day under the Perpetual Novice music label. (Album cover courtesy of Spotify)

Dionte Berry, Editor-in-Chief

Nearly five years after her solo debut, Caroline Polachek returns with her sophomore album, and it’s bursting at the seams with energetic pop melodies.

Polachek is an American singer-songwriter and producer who debuted in the early 2000s in the indie-pop duo Chairlift. In 2019, Polachek debuted with her first solo album, “Pang.” 

Polachek became known for her potent voice and her delicate electronic instrumentation. On Valentine’s Day, Polachek released her second full-length album, “Desire, I Want to Turn Into You.” 

Polachek’s sophomore album takes her signature sound to a more up-tempo atmosphere. In an interview with Apple Music, Polachek said “Desire, I Want to Turn Into You” is her “maximalist” album.

“Songs like ‘Bunny is a Rider,’ ‘Welcome to My Island’ and ‘Smoke’ came onto the plate first and felt more hot-blooded and urgent than anything I’d done before,” Polachek said to Apple Music. 

“Desire, I Want to Turn Into You” is a 12-track journey kicked off by “Welcome to My Island.” The song starts with Polachek’s isolated vocals erupting like a flare illuminating the night, reminding listeners of the power and the range in her voice. 

“Welcome to My Island” is a strong introductory track for what lies ahead, as if Polachek is showing listeners a new piece of herself. After her bursting introduction, Polachek’s vocals devolve into a robotic autotune with a pitter-pattering synth, and overall, the song goes in between an electronic and indie-pop sound. “Pretty In Possible” follows and has a similar start as the opening song with Polachek’s bare vocals, but here, she sounds more delicate. Backed by a jangling beat, Polachek strings together a narrative about potentially  pursuing a certain love in a jovial manner. 

Hearing “Pretty In Possible” as Polachek sings it, the lyric and title can easily sound like “pretty impossible,” which makes this love sound sporadic and shifting.

“Bunny Is a Rider” dropped in July 2021, the earliest single from the album. It feels as if it exists somewhere in between “Pang” and “Desire, I Want to Turn Into You” sonically.

The song is springy, with a recurring whistle, chime and underlying bass. “Bunny Is a Rider” is one of the more minimal songs on the album, so it does not feel hot-blooded like Polachek said.

“Bunny Is a Rider” has a catchy tune, but feels extremely bare in comparison to the other songs.

“Sunset” sounds so distinct from all the other songs, and I love it. The song has a cheery flamenco-esque tune and feels like a hot summer day by the water.

Polachek sings about love being a risk and abandoning a safety net and diving in head first with no regrets.

“Fly to You” features Canadian electronic artist, Grimes and English singer, Dido, which is Polachek’s first song to have features. This song has a faster instrumentation in comparison to her other songs, having a racing beat often paired with a guitar. 

Having Grimes on this song, I was expecting a stronger electronic influence. Grimes’ vocals were featured, but I wish more of her engineering influence showed  because that could have brought a more diverse sound to the album.

In “Blood and Butter,” Polachek sings about wanting to be so close to her lover: “Closer than your new tattoo” and “Let me dive, through your face, to the sweetest kind of pain.” Although she is singing about closeness, I love the grotesque sense of bonding she dives into.

This song feels like a classic Polachek song and the collection of small sounds makes it feel like a more holistic version of “Bunny Is a Rider.” However, Polachek has acoustic guitar breaks and a bagpipe finale, which is unexpected but works with the song. 

“Smoke” shows a punchier side to Polachek’s lyricism. She compares the drifting of smoke to a lover drifting out of her life. 

Despite this person’s disappearance, she still feels strong and assertive, telling people to not worry about her. 

The album closes on “Billions,” which rings in with a scissoring metallic synth that brings an ancient feeling to the song, as if it was dug from an excavation site and dusted off. 

“Billions” highlights the trickiness of love, but despite Polachek seeing the flaws in her lover, she can’t help but remain by their side while seeking fulfillment. I enjoy the sweet choir ending. Although Polachek has these road bumps ahead of her, she seems as if she’s taking it in stride. 

“Desire, I Want to Turn Into You” further expands the potential of what pop music can be and is a breath of fresh air. I enjoy Polachek’s signature sound, experimentation and the blend of pop with her dynamic vocals. 

However, I would not regard Polachek’s work to be maximalist. Some tracks hit that bar, such as “Welcome to My Island,” “I Believe” and “Sunset,” but others, such as “Bunny Is a Rider,” feel simple and minimal. 

“Desire, I Want to Turn Into You” marks a high-power return for Polachek and deserves an eight out of 10. From her debut to her sophomore album, Polachek has kept the bar extremely high for herself, and I look forward to whatever she dives into for her next project. 

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