Album Of The Week: Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You

Our pick of the week is an epic of a sophomore album – a sprawling, self-referential collection of experimental pop

More of artists welcoming us into the world of their records, please! We had Beabadoobee’s fantastic Beatopia in 2022, and earlier this month Raye’s My 21st Century Blues positioned us at the table of a piano bar. Now Polachek has released her sophomore album (sort of – she’s released a lot of music under a variety of names) and opened it with a direct invitation. ‘Welcome To My Island’ is a hypnotic, disco-tinged first track, a confirmation that this will be a complete breakdown of what makes Polachek tick. “Hope you like me, you ain’t leaving,” she warns us. She’s right. We’re hooked.

Caroline Polachek - Welcome To My Island [Official Music Video]

Polachek doesn’t just want to do what she loves and only what she loves – she wants to be overtaken by her passions, to entirely become them. On ‘Sunset’, she doesn’t just want to end up with the person she loves, but to run off with them into an orange sky like the end of a movie. On ‘Smoke’, her vocal becomes almost overpowered by instrumentals as she slowly realises that she isn’t in control of her own desires. The album’s lead single, ‘Bunny Is A Rider’, shows Polachek as she wants to be – elusive, always on the move, impossible to pin down. Bunny is governed entirely by her own wants. She rides off to the tune of cheerful whistling melody and disappears round corners.

Caroline Polachek - Sunset [Official Music Video]

Occasionally Polachek’s desires are dark and vaguely threatening. ‘Crude Drawing Of An Angel’ is described by Polachek as a ‘scorny’ song, somewhere in the space between scary and horny, an obsessive expression of passion in which the singer watches someone sleep and the observed slowly grows aware. The whistling returns, not cheerful this time, but unsettling and distorted, like a hinge squeaking.

Caroline Polachek - Bunny is a Rider (Official Video)

This is not the only instance in which the album borrows from itself. ‘Smoke’ takes the chorus melody of ‘Pretty In Possible’ for its bridge. ‘Butterfly Net’ combines instrumental elements of ‘I Believe’ and ‘Sunset’ to create something new. Polachek paints around her songs with well-earned confidence and voice that effortlessly blends the raw sounds with the digital. ‘I Believe’, an emotive musing on death and the afterlife, sees her move from gasping, pulsing backing vocals to medical beeps and back, the transitions almost unnoticeable. Over a racing electropop beat she uses big orchestral punctuation, no less effective for being artificial.

Caroline Polachek - Billions (Official Video)

It all makes for an incredibly original sound, and in consequence Polachek is unafraid to wear her influences on her sleeve. ‘Welcome To My Island’ has shades of Madonna, ‘Pretty In Possible’ hints at Massive Attack and Christine and the Queens, and a giggling baby in ‘Bunny Is A Rider’ directly references Timbaland’s production of Aaliyah’s ‘Are You That Somebody’.

Looking beyond her own place and time, elsewhere on the album she draws on the music of multiple traditions – Spanish, Italian, Romani. A balalaika in ‘Hopedrunk Everything’ references the Jewish Ukrainian side of her heritage; a bagpipe solo in ‘Blood and Butter’ the Scottish side. It’s surprising without being eclectic. It is, in short, everything that has washed up on the shores of Polachek’s island, repurposed.

Released: 14 Feb 2023
Label: Perpetual Novice
On Tour: 29–30 May 2023