By Lexi Weaver || Copy Editor
Prolific singer, songwriter, and producer Caroline Polachek has returned with her latest project under her own name: Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, the follow-up to 2019’s Pang. Polachek, largely known for her work in indie pop band Chairlift, has also released music using her dark, haunting alter ego Ramona Lisa, as well as an ambient album under her initials CEP. Released on February 14, 2023, and preceded by five singles—Bunny Is A Rider, Billions, Sunset, Welcome To My Island, and Blood and Butter—Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is a captivating, alluring album that demonstrates Polachek’s impressive vocal talent and endless pop experimentation. Aided in part by a slew of remixes and features by other experimental pop artists, Polachek’s elusive lyrics and boundless charisma elevate her latest album through her innovative take on pop music.
Desire, I Want To Turn Into You has some of the strongest singles I’ve heard, with a particular standout being “Bunny Is A Rider.” The catchy, whistled hook immediately grabs the listener’s attention, and the song doesn’t slow down, using its strange, ambiguous lyrics to express the idea of freedom through being unknown. “Bunny Is A Rider” is also buoyed by what can best be described as a distorted laugh, alongside a pulsing bassline that carries through the track. Polachek’s backing vocals add depth to the performance, alongside other engaging production decisions such as panning to the extreme right of the mix for the spoken phrase “bunny is a rider” right before the second verse.
Opener “Welcome To My Island” kicks off the 12-track record, name-dropping the album title and featuring Polachek’s incredible vocal range on full display from the first seconds alone. The bridge is infectious and anthemic—the slight scream in the line “nothing’s going to be the same again” propels the song to the final chorus. Alongside another strong hook (an infectious “ha ha ha”) sung by Polachek and a guitar solo at the end, it perfectly sets up listeners for the rest of the album. Other singles like “Sunset” demonstrate the sonic experimentation that Polachek engages with, using flamenco-style dance beats and instrumentation to propel the song forward.
The album features a wide range of styles, from Polachek’s classic ethereal ballads to songs that could easily be large-scale pop hits. “I Believe” fits cleanly in the latter category, feeling like a callback to the 2000s pop hits that I grew up with and adore. The electronic dance beats and glittering synths keep up the energy, making it one of the most fun tracks on the album. However, Polachek’s ballads are where she truly shines, allowing her impressive vocal range to take center stage. The stand-out tracks in this regard are “Butterfly Net,” “Hopedrunk Everasking,” and “Crude Drawing of an Angel.” The sparse instrumentation on “Hopedrunk Everasking” serves as a feature of Polachek’s talents as a singer and songwriter, with her strange but evocative metaphors creating an ethereal atmosphere. “Butterfly Net,” my favorite track besides “Bunny Is A Rider,” is another gorgeous ballad, with dazzling percussion, brief hints of distortion, and a choir-driven outro. Other tracks like “Blood and Butter” highlight Polachek’s voice and creatively use unexpected instrumentation such as bagpipes in the outro, which is, in my opinion, the best use of bagpipes since Bright Eyes’s “Persona Non Grata.” I decidedly have a soft spot for Polachek’s outros, with the layered vocals and bursts of synths and spoken word on “Smoke” helping propel that song to be another favorite. Additionally, the use of strings throughout the album, especially on “Pretty In Possible” is another element that fuses the artistic sensibilities of pop with more unconventional instrumentation.
On the whole, Polachek’s gift as a lyricist stands out, with much of the material being thematically driven by the concept of desire and pursuit of love that is all-encompassing—and all-consuming. Images of smoke floating over volcanoes and lyrics like “And you are melting everything about me” fuse natural imagery and the potentially destructive, but equally enthralling, powers of desire. Relationships are depicted as “fiery red” sunsets, and recurring lyrical themes include escape and the inability to be held down, with the wings of butterflies and angels being at the heart of several songs. These themes and images are captured through the album art, which depicts Polachek on a subway, crawling into a desert, a fusion of unrestrained nature in the face of modern life. “Crude Drawing Of An Angel” concludes with the lyrics “all or nothing,” which encapsulates the central tension between extremes interrogated throughout the album.
The one track that really doesn’t work for me is “Fly To You,” the only song on the album that includes featured artists, which are Grimes and Dido. The beat of the song never seems to be on the same page as the vocal performances, and the lack of connection between the two, while an interesting artistic choice, doesn’t completely translate to an enjoyable listen. Additionally, I wish there were more of Polachek’s classic ballads, like “Door” or “Insomnia” off of Pang, which have a more dream pop-style production and beautifully showcase her abilities as a singer. However, Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is a confident and engaging sophomore album, which shows Polachek going all in on her thematic and artistic vision. This album is a reminder of what is so compelling about pop music—its energy, its unlimited creative potential, and its unexpected beauty. Caroline Polachek, like the subject of “Bunny Is A Rider,” is hard to pin down. Still, her enigmatic take on experimental pop will continue to take listeners on a dazzling journey—so welcome to her island.
Junior Lexi Weaver is a Copy Editor. Her email is email@example.com.