Caroline Polachek’s Adventurous Pop Reaches a Bold New Peak With ‘Desire, I Want to Turn Into You’: Album Review

There’s a moment in “Tears,” Caroline Polachek’s 2017 song with Charli XCX, where she vaults her sky-scraping voice into a stratospheric high note, which is then autotuned into a wild digital screech that soars far above the song’s chorus like a wraith, tuneful and hideous at the same time.

In a lot of ways, that song and that moment launched the pop innovator that Polachek has become over the past few years, creating music and imagery that is lithe and pretty, disciplined and orderly but provocative and messy at times as well. Polachek is no newcomer: She was lead singer and focal point of the group Chairlift, which split in 2017; she wrote songs for Beyonce and Travis Scott; and released a couple of solo albums under alter-egos, presumably while figuring out what the next chapter would look like. But her solo career didn’t launch in earnest until she began collaborating with the PC Music collective’s Danny L. Harle on 2019’s “Pang,” the first album released under her own name, and it moves confidently into its next phase with her latest — released today, yes, on Valentine’s Day — “Desire, I Want to Turn Into You.”

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As the album’s title suggests, Polachek can be precious, and she sometimes veers into pretense or self-absorption. But she’s a deeply imaginative songwriter with the vocal range and skill to execute her unusual, intuitive melodies that recall Kate Bush and Bjork but also possibly a Japanese musical influence (her family lived there for several years when she was young). On “Sunset,” the verses unfurl across the busy, Brazilian-influenced rhythms in a way that contrasts without jarring. The previously released singles “Bunny Is a Rider” and “Welcome to My Island” and are more straightforward pop songs, with big vocal hooks and burbling electronic rhythms; the latter even features her rapping a verse. The likely next single “Fly to You,” is a generation-spanning tag team with electro shape-shifter Grimes and Australian singer Dido that pairs a spiraling melody with a rapid-fire drum n’ bass beat; “Hopedrunk Everasking” almost sounds like a madrigal, with loads of echo and distant, choir-like voices (all hers, of course); and “Billions” closes the album with an actual choir on the final chorus, bringing it to an appropriately momentous finale.

The album is another close collaboration between Polachek and Harle, although Daniel Nigro (Olivia Rodrigo), Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Vampire Weekend) and Spanish producer Sego Bodega all pop in for a song. But Polachek’s soaring, powerful voice is always the centerpiece, a fusion of Bush and Joni Mitchell that she’s unafraid to flex, suddenly bounding up the scale to a near-piercing range, liberally sprinkling the songs with “Hah!”s and “Hoh!”s and more than a few “Haaaaaaooowwwwwowwwwww”s.

“Desire” is clearly her vision all the way, a forceful and determined effort that vaults her to the front of adventurous pop music.

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