Her second album stands out as a glittering showcase for her encyclopedic musical knowledge and formidable voice
Caroline Polachek knows her way around a pop song—she’s written for Beyoncé and Travis Scott, collaborated with next-wave artists like Charli XCX and PC Music, and toured with the likes of Dua Lipa. On her second solo album, the former Chairlift vocalist uses her encyclopedic musical knowledge and formidable voice as vehicles for flipping the concept of the “perfect pop song” in unexpected ways.
Desire, I Want To Turn Into You opens with Polachek’s soaring soprano, which hovers in the air for a few seconds before narrowing into the more insistent call that introduces “Welcome To My Island,” a thumping cut in which Polachek veers between want-it-all brattitude and a sober reflection on her deceased father’s thoughts on staying true to herself. Polachek excels at depicting the crush of thoughts and feelings that the 2020s’ always-on cultural milieu can tease out musically and lyrically: “So many stories we were told about a safety net/But when I look for it, it’s just a hand that’s holding mine,” she muses on the quick-stepping “Sunset,” which incorporates the fleet strumming of Spanish guitarist Marc Lopez as well as tense “hey!”s to depict the tense world that love can help her escape.
Polachek’s music feels like a living response to (and embodiment of) the overstimulation of modern times. The skeletal “Bunny Is A Rider” glides along on rootless-cosmopolitan energy; “Fly To You” manages to stuff d’n’b beats, glittery synths, fluttering woodwinds, the velvet-voiced singer-songwriter Dido, and the synth scientist Grimes into an arresting four-minute capsule of the emotions surrounding a long-awaited reunion. When she does rein things in a bit, the results are even more stunning. “Butterfly Net” is a glowing ballad where the slow-burn instrumentation, including a drowsily played vintage organ, allows Polachek’s impassioned vocal to take center stage; a children’s choir comes in at the end, but only for a minute, dashing any hope for catharsis in a way that mirrors the frustration of the song’s central metaphor of a butterfly net “trying to catch your light.”
At times, Polachek’s knowledge of pop seems almost too well-deployed—the recurring “na-na-na”s and cracked-open-sky chorus of “Smoke” seem tailor-made to be reused by an ad for a new gum or relaunched financial-services app, and there are moments in the album’s middle that make one wonder if Sting’s moody 2000 single “Desert Rose” is about to have a serious pop-cultural re-evaluation. But her curious spirit, as well as her undeniable talent as a vocalist and arranger, make Desire, I Want To Turn Into You a kinetic example of what happens when pop sets out to transcend its own limits.