Arts and Entertainment

When Wanting Isn’t Enough

Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is Caroline Polachek’s triumphant and daring return.

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By Faith Choi

Desire seeps its way into every crevice of our daily lives. We are constantly reminded of its power, its seductive nature, and how completely it can consume one’s being. On Caroline Polachek’s new album, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You, she builds a tropical paradise filled to the brim with nods to that theme. Originally half of the indie band Chairlift, Polachek has since moved onto solo projects such as her debut album Pang (2019), a successful and critically acclaimed project that launched her into the spotlight. What makes Polachek’s music so distinct is not just her impressive vocal range but also her usage of her own voice as a replacement for instrumentals. While her debut felt grounded in reality, Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is Polachek’s daring venture into worldbuilding.

The album’s opener, “Welcome To My Island,” is a triumphant ‘80s synth-pop track that begins with an animalistic yet controlled howl from Polachek. The verses are a bold and ominous declaration of Odyssey-inspired entrapment based on Odysseus’s stay on Ogygia with Calypso, a nymph who ensnares him in her web of seduction. What makes this track so special is the immediate electricity it jolts into the listener and the introduction of desire, as Polachek shouts “Desire, I want to turn into you!” The conviction in Polachek’s delivery, combined with the impossibility of the statement, shows how much the emotion has consumed her.

The bridge at the end of the song is a tribute to Polachek’s complicated relationship with her father, who died of COVID-19 in late 2020. In an interview with The Guardian, Polachek explained that he criticized her work as too “commercial” and not “radical” enough. This reveals the very high expectations her father had for her artistry. One of Polachek’s trademarks in her music is her eagerness to experiment in and out of her genre. The reality of the lyrics about her father are immediately sidestepped as Polachek beckons the listener to follow her into the world she has built: “You gotta go somewhere where you can’t pretend / Go forget the rules, forget your friends.” From the subtropical bassline on “Bunny Is A Rider” to the lush synths and equatorial drumming on “Blood and Butter,” Polachek reveals desire as not only an emotion but also an escape from a cruel reality.

An ugly facet of desire is revealed on the album’s fifth track, “Crude Drawing of An Angel.” The track, though slow and bare, is saved by its atmospheric impact. The song’s vast soundscape features slowly dripping water sound effects that seem as though they are echoing through the cavernous chambers of Polachek’s prison. The lyrics of the song show a different side of desire—a side that is as anxious and afraid as it is lustful and wanting. Polachek sings about her fear of her lover perceiving her as anxious—“It’s a matter of time ‘til you wake up and watch me / Draw your brow with shaky hand”—and yet, in the second verse, asserts dominance over him, singing, “I’ll not be shy, no, I’ll not be gentle with you.” She expresses an inflexible compromise of “all or nothing” in the chorus; she will either hold her lover down or be left by him. The unanswered echoes of her offer reveal that the latter has occurred.

These themes are further explored on the album’s eighth track, “Blood and Butter,” an interesting alternative pop tune that has a new rush of energy toward the end, when bagpipes come in. An interesting detail of the song is that the melody of the bagpipes mimic the chorus of its precursor, “Fly To You.” “Blood and Butter” reinforces the theme of escaping into someone else’s love: “Let me dive through your face / To the sweetest kind of pain.” Polachek’s irresistible desire lands her in a suffocating embrace—the exact kind of love she lusts for.

The album’s memorably-titled ninth track, “Hopedrunk Everasking,” references a scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with Polacheck questioning her lover the same way that Lady Macbeth taunts her husband. The track features heavy refrains such as “They’ll find our bones / And yet they won’t,” alluding to the romantic nature of indecipherable artifacts. Despite this track’s provoking lyricism, it is still the album’s weakest track, with a stagnant progression and slow build.

Polachek is able to replicate the unique allure of her debut on her sophomore album. Desire, I Want To Turn Into You was met with critical acclaim upon its release—it holds the title of Metacritic’s album of the year—and it is easy to see why. The album is a triumph in worldbuilding via production and bubbles with lyrical mastery. With this latest album in her discography, Polachek has cemented herself as a staple artist in this generation’s rising stars of alternative pop music.