Mar 08, 2023
By Caleb Campbell
Though Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is nominally Caroline Polachek’s sophomore album, she is far from a newcomer. Indie aficionados most likely recognize her singular vocal stylings from the 2000s synth pop duo Chairlift, but she has always had a taste for creative eclecticism. She has released a pair of experimental albums under the monikers Ramona Lisa and CEP, amassed producer credits behind the scenes for Beyoncé and Solange, and dueted with other rising pop stars like Christine and the Queens and Charli XCX, all before finally earning renewed acclaim with her 2019 solo debut, Pang.
It’s been a winding road for Polachek, but one that has left her in an unusual position: on the heels of a celebrated breakthrough record, but with the experience and instincts of a seasoned songwriter. It is that rare combination of moment, artist, and vision that makes Desire, I Want to Turn Into You Polachek’s best album yet.
From the first opening salvo of “Welcome to My Island,” it is evident that Polachek is aiming for the heights of pop maximalism. She opens the record with stratospheric vocal gymnastics, epic arena-ready synths, and punchy background vocals, all before launching into a song replete with intensely layered detail, darting breakbeat rhythms, and even a rapped bridge. A series of similarly audacious moments populate the tracklist, including a rippling taste of flamenco pop on “Sunset,” a bagpipe-laden climax on “Blood and Butter,” or the odd-couple pairing of Grimes and Dido on “Fly to You.”
Over the course of the tracklist, Polachek and producer Danny Harle show off an expansive and eclectic range of sounds, pulling from drum and bass, glassy baroque pop, and ornate choral arrangements. The pair seem to relish in these unexpected choices, yet they also weave them into the record’s digital electro pop aesthetic in a way that feels natural, mixing it all with the distinctive alchemy of Polachek’s vocals and sharp songwriting.
The album itself operates on a kind of dream logic, one where elements that would normally seem out of place meld into the swirl of surreal imagery and abstract soundcraft. Polachek’s lyrics are more evocative than concrete, describing a lover as “mythicalogical and Wikipediated” and wishing she could “dive through your face/To the sweetest kind of pain.” This undercurrent of unreality stretches from her lyrics and vocal delivery to the contours of Polachek’s voice itself, which often rides the line between digital artifice and immaculate organic beauty.
Amidst the record’s many stylistic turns though, one overarching theme emerges: love. While love often serves as the perennial preoccupation of pop, few songwriters write about it the way Polachek does. In Polachek’s world, love and yearning are sumptuous all-consuming fantasies, so much so that the record’s titular lyric finds her dreaming of turning into desire incarnate. She craves intimacy that runs impossibly deep, wishing she could be “closer than your new tattoo” on “Blood and Butter.” The record itself is both a decadent fantasy and an escape, a liminal space where the painful and complicated realties of love can’t intrude. It’s an island of Polachek’s own making, one where “real life is a rumor,” as she sings on “Hopedrunk Everasking.”
However, most importantly for a pop album, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is quite simply intensely compelling and well-written. Songs like “Smoke” and “I Believe” are among the finest pieces of synth pop Polachek has ever made, while “Bunny Is a Rider” and “Billions” bring an accessible sheen to her forward-thinking electronic production. She delivers an effortless balance between ambition and accessibility, offering a record that is both a deeply layered work of art and full of euphoric escapist joy. Even though it is still early in the year, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is already a strong contender for the best pop album of 2023. (www.carolinepolachek.com)
Author rating: 9/10
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