Caroline Polachek's 'Desire, I Want to Turn Into You' Is All-Consuming

BY Kaelen BellPublished Feb 16, 2023

When so much pop music feels like face cream and vape smoke, the invocation of true, real-world texture — abrasion and stickiness, grit and velveteen — can feel like a revelation. Few pop designers understand that quite like Caroline Polachek, whose second solo album under her own name feels like running full-tilt — ripe with sweat, skin beating with exhilaration — through a crowded red clay alleyway, whipping past an entire universe of fabrics and flavours and smells and shapes. 

Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is pop music as tangible object; you'll swear you could grab the scuffed leather reins of "Blood and Butter" and wrap them tightly around your fist, that you could empty "Smoke" over your head like from some silver chalice. Co-written and co-produced largely with PC Music mainstay Danny L Harle, Polachek's second record boasts none of that (ill-defined, now-diluted) scene's cotton candy artifice or icy plasticity. Instead, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You dresses the world-swallowing, sky-shattering nature of its namesake in swaths of silk and burlap, in lace and pearls and dirt and blood. 

"Sunset" is a jolt of sun-warmed skin and baked denim, riding a so-corny-it-works swirl of white girl flamenco courtesy of Sega Bodega. "Crude Drawing of an Angel" descends into the catacombs beneath the record's bustling oceanside streets as Polachek stumbles through the dark — weaving between chilly water-drip percussion and ghostly echoes — guided not by sight but by the kind of pained yearning that plays tricks on the eyes. 

The tantalizing richness of the record's textural world — check the baby gurgles and birdsong that underpin "Bunny Is a Rider," the flailing bagpipe solo on "Blood and Butter," the keychain-clatter percussion that drives the luminous "Pretty in Possible" — would be a meal on its own, but Polachek provides her own crucial grain to Desire: her voice. 

There's no other voice like Polachek's currently operating in the world of pop (left of centre or otherwise), and it's an endless thrill to hear her wield it, slicing across and dancing within these songs with operatic, pulverizing power. Listen to her clipped gasps of "I get dizzy" on "Pretty in Possible," or the wordless, hymn-like reverie of "Hopedrunk Everasking"; the orgasmic shriek that opens "Welcome to My Island" or the way she modulates familiar words into an unknown language on "Billions."

Equally important to that tumbling-down-a-cliffside wildness, however, is Polachek's understanding of restraint. She's as likely to dip into a relaxed half-rap or muttered whisper as she is to reach the cathedral ceiling, and it's this careful ear for moderation that makes her such a compelling diva figure; there is no texture without lack of texture, no heat without chill, no pleasure without pain. Desire, I Want to Turn Into You both understands these dichotomies and patently rejects them; in Polachek's lust-filled, wide-eyed world, you feel everything all at once — you become feeling, or at the very least you try your best to. 

After years spent as one half of the perennially underrated Chairlift and another few working out the kinks in her solo endeavours — her excursions into ambience and baroque experimentalism only pawed at her potential, while 2019's shimmering Pang was rich with ideas but sometimes light on songcraft  — Desire, I Want to Turn Into You feels like the arrival of Caroline Polachek, a statement of intent that finally lassos her myriad musical ambitions into something singular. In its sensual world — at once humid and arid, shadowy and blinding, silky and jagged — you feel the endless, vividly destructive possibility of all-consuming desire. 
(Perpetual Novice)

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