Enigmatically talented indie-sweetheart-turned-superlunary-pop-star Caroline Polachek has been winning over hearts, ears, and off-beaten minds since the niche popularity of her mid-2000s indie band Chairlift, a group often mentioned in the same breath as fellow surrealist indie-sleazers MGMT. Yet Chairlift’s style was unique, influenced by such a multitude of areas that the end result cannot be placed on a map. Polachek’s latest musical venture Desire, I Want to Turn Into You follows in this experimental tradition, with some of her most refined songwriting and expansive production to date.
After writing songs for Beyoncé, Travis Scott, Charli XCX, and many other popular names, Polachek released her debut solo album Pang in 2019 to wide popularity and critical acclaim across the board. But, we’re not here to discuss the past.
Desire, I Want To Turn Into You finds Polachek once again teaming up with the obscurely renowned PC Music producer and Jack Antonoff clone Danny L Harle. Their sophomore project pushes the boundaries of what modern pop music can be — crafting a record as ear-pleasingly catchy as it is diversely creative in its various attacks, like their original debut.
In an interesting promotional move that I suppose is indicative of streaming’s authoritarian chokehold on audible art, almost half of Desire was released last year. “Welcome to my Island” is an anthemic, snappy tone-setter — tropically-tinged but with some kind of almost-’80s heartland feel to the guitars and vocals in the chorus. I didn’t love this track upon its initial release. However, hearing it in the context of the full album helps to make sense of it within Desire’s cohesiveness as an album. It is a perfect introduction to the project.
“Bunny is a Rider” is one of the catchiest songs to emerge from pop music over the last few years, and is in conversation for the best song associated with Polachek’s name. “Sunset” follows, threatening to become Margaritaville ambiance (for a brief, frightening moment I am transported to some beach-themed bourgeois purgatory), and yet, the bridge on this track may be one of the most harmoniously gorgeous displays of Polachek’s voice, ever. Here, she demonstrates the inhuman technical capabilities of her gift. She’s showing off.
“Crude Drawing of an Angel” slows the pace and slinks along, guided by airy, pulsating synths and Polachek’s understated, breathy, and at some points even spoken, delivery. The lack of energy threatens to make this one of the sleepier moments on the record, but something about the atmosphere captivates me and I remain present even after the track’s conclusion.
Polachek and Harle transition into the second half of the project with a foray into liquid drum and bass, as was only a matter of time. “Fly to You” is a nice kick of warm energy, and from a production standpoint is a high point for Desire. The fluttering side-chained percussion works perfectly with the track’s sunny guitar licks and Polachek’s distant, operatic wails. I was disappointed with Grimes and Dido, two conceptually exciting features that, in practice, didn’t add much to the track. The two are legends in their own right, but their verses here lack personality, both lyrically and in delivery. Additionally, they are simply outmatched vocally whenever Polachek’s voice bleeds through the mix, leading me to wish this track was featureless and that Polachek would’ve taken full advantage of this incredible instrumental.
The record’s third act sees a downturn in energy, but the songs make up for this with their lush, atmospheric production and narratives. “Butterfly Net” is a standout. Polachek comes across painfully and earnestly as she collects the ashes of a “tender, fluorescent creature,” hoping to catch their light in her butterfly net. The blend of organic instrumentation with Harle’s trademark high-tech synth work and Polachek’s abstract storytelling makes this track one of the best on the record.
“Billions,” one of the singles, closes us out strongly with “sexting sonnets under the tables,” and is complemented with a tight, hard-hitting instrumental. Stuttery, sarcastic, and at times so serious, this song hits all the bases that the album has previously laid down. Billions of choral Polacheks chant from every spare corner of Harle’s mix, “I’ve never felt so close to you,” and on that note, this fluid, sunny musical journey fades into a slow, celestial goodbye.
This project is, by pop music standards, a work of art. Desire’s final form is very cohesive, with well-mapped themes scattered strategically throughout and a very solid directional flow. Polachek remains one of the most talented and creative vocalists in contemporary pop — Harle and his PC Music cohort have once more breathed precious life into the genre — and, most importantly, we have a well-crafted, technically impressive, fun, catchy, and entertaining album to escape into.