So, we bark into another review diving into an artist I have never discussed before but have heard of based on features elsewhere. This entry is all about Caroline Polachek. Who is she? She’s a co-founder of the indie pop band Chairlift in the late 2000s until their disbandment in 2017. She has put out some solo work in the mid-2010s under different aliases like Arcadia (under Ramona Lisa) and Drawing the Target Under The Arrow under CEP (her initials).
Her 3rd studio album Pang is the first one released under her given name, and having listening to it prior, I can say that it’s an interesting piece of art pop. In addition to her solo output, lately I caught some of her features elsewhere. The most notable one for me is her providing vocals for Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Long Road Home” and “No Nightmares” off of Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, as well as her feature (along with Christine and The Queens) on the Charli XCX single “New Shapes” off her 2022 album Crash.
With her new album Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, some of the singles she released have been in the pipeline for some time now. “Bunny is a Rider” was released in 2021, and “Billions” was released in 2022; and yes, both tracks do make it in the list. “Billions” is one of my favorite singles of 2022, and it serves as the closer to the album. Three other singles – “Sunset”, “Welcome to My Island” and “Blood and Butter” – have also been released as well.
So, the question is… does this album make me want to turn into a full fledged fan of Caroline Polachek?
Alright, I’m sold.
The whole album has a pleasant aura from front to back with a gentle but experimental flourish: bagpipes, children’s choirs, Spanish guitar and even early 2000s’ style radio pop, as Polachek describes herself. “Blood and Butter” is the track that features bagpipes in its instrumentation and low-key, it’s like how the saxophone is often used in most songs these days, although it’s not often we hear bagpipes in a pop song but it’s intriguing to hear them in there.
Her vocals overall are often soothing and angelic in a way, such as on the songs “Hopedrunk Everlasting” and “Butterfly Net”, both of which have a soft, fluid flow that sounds elegant. “Billions” is a song I have listened to thousands of times when it was just a single, and it does make sense to serve as a closer with how the whole song is structured: the beginning, the build-up, the closing chorus with the Trinity’s Children Choir, and the way the choir sung the outro. It definitely has some emotional resonance, and I always go back to listen to those parts numerous times. Yeah, can you tell that I absolutely love “Billions”?
The first track on the album, “Welcome to My Island,” has her howling for 40 seconds and according to her, she’s going for it being bratty in the intersection of irrationally entitled and angsty, simmering in her ego and in her head.
I am my father’s daughter in the end
He says, “Watch your ego, watch your head, girl
You’re so smart, so talented
But now the water’s turning red
And it’s all your fault and it’s all your mess
And you’re all alone and can’t go to bed
Too high on your adrenaline
You gotta go somewhere where you can’t pretend
Go forget the rules, forget your friends
Just you and your reflection
‘Cause nothing’s gonna be the same again
No, nothing’s gonna be the same again”
Those lines are about her complicated relationship with her late father (he passed away in 2020 due to COVID), who never approved much of her music. The single “Bunny is a Rider” is described as a summer jam about being unavailable and impossible to get a hold of, and the production does make it a fascinating bop to listen to. The majority of the album’s production is handled by Danny L Harle and Polachek herself, with some additional help from A.G. Cook, Jim-E Stack, and Dan Nigro among others. The sound of it has a lot of melodic vibes within each song: whether it’s “Crude Drawing of an Angel” or “Smoke”, there’s something that feels like you ascended to another plane while hearing a track.
“Fly To You” begins with this melodic intro that quickly delves into a mix of angelic drum ‘n bass sounds, Ibiza guitar, and of course the vocals of Caroline herself, and with the two lone features on this track being Grimes and Dido, it’s a win here. Also, since I haven’t much about Dido in a while, turns out she is still active as a musician (with her last album being from 2019). And yeah, we heard all about Grimes and Mr. “Worst Thing to Happen to Twitter since Twitter,” but I’m here about their performances. The two of them both have a verse while Caroline handles the choruses, and the song is all about a reunion: meeting someone again after a long time and how you feel as you see that person again.
Driving through the dark
Lost but I’m free
I’m looking for something
That nobody else can see
Will you still love me
After the bend?
Remеmber what’s gone beforе
Not loaded with regret
Yeah, I have to say within a few listens of this, the album is slowly growing on me. Having only a taste of what Caroline Polachek had to offer, I was curious to see how an album of hers would be and I’m pleasantly delighted by the end result. It’s the case of me delving into new territory while being familiar with a few things they were in and this is a solid album. This is no sophomore slump from Polachek as she nails it.
FINAL VERDICT: BUY IT. There’s a desire to go back to this album. Especially “Billions”. Yes, even after a year, it never gets old.
DESIRE, I WANT TO TURN INTO YOU is released on The Orchard (Sony Music) and Polachek’s imprint Perpetual Novice. It is available on CD, LP, streaming services and digital download.