Like a siren luring a sailor to sea, we are beckoned to explore the sea of Desire of Caroline Polachek’s making, and by God, we aren’t ever leaving.
Another masterpiece, Caroline Polachek lands on two feet at the island kingdom of her making and shares all her blessings with us.
Caroline Polachek trades in the biblical vortex of dreams from Pang for mythological depths of passion in Desire, I Want to Turn Into You. While Pang is like being whisked away by the wind, this album envelopes you in waves before sweeping you onto shore to be wined and dined as Caroline Polachek’s guest of honour.
Comprising of 12 tracks, with ‘Welcome to My Island’ as the grand introduction, the album is a blast of pop, electronic, rock, and trip-hop with heavy Spanish musical influences. Working from London until mid-2021 before moving to Barcelona with close collaborator Danny L Harle, tracks like ‘Sunset’ boast of Spanish influence through its use of the upbeat Spanish guitar mixing with Caroline Polachek’s romantic ethereal voice and fiery, eventide lyrics that make you want to run towards the horizon without ever looking back.
Desire, I Want to Turn Into You retains much of Caroline Polachek’s signature dreamy, eclectic whimsy. She channels desire, yearning and a lust for freedom that connects so intensely, and speaks of a wanton and expansive love that is captivating and all-consuming. In an interview with Our Culture Magazine, Polacheck stated that the opening track ‘Welcome to My Island’ was “emblematic of that kind of all-encompassing feeling of being in love and being in a state of passion…It doesn’t even need to be a romantic kind of love. It goes beyond wanting to be with someone…It’s about wanting to be subsumed.”
Starting with a howling, melodious wail, the song launches you into a fevered frenzy. You want to howl along with her, scream with all your might and free yourself. The song itself welcomes you to her forever-island: “Welcome to my island / Hope you like me, you ain’t leaving.” With an opening sound like this, it would be foolish to leave at all. Caroline Polachek then speaks to someone she loves; belting out how the love she has inside her is all-embracing: “Desire! I want to turn into you!” It captures the feeling of frantic passion, the type that threatens to burn from the inside out and catch all around you in its fiery clasps. With this perspective on love, it’s all the more marvellous that Caroline Polachek would release this album on Valentine’s Day, this year.
‘Blood and Butter’, ‘Sunset’, ‘I Believe’ and ‘Billions’ are my personal favourites from the album.
‘Blood and Butter’, having been written with her mother’s Scottish-English ancestry in mind, as well as drawing from images of linden trees (which are connected to the concept of love in various measures, as they are sacred trees in Ancient Greece, dedicated to the goddess Venus as well as the tree that represents the “Sacred Heart” in the Catholic Church), the song itself is curious and spring-like. Diving back into biblical imagery, the lyrics: “Paint the picture / In blood and butter / Holy water” draws us to visions of transubstantiation and “And what I want is / To walk beside you / Needing nothing” draws to the 12 disciples of Christ. With 12 tracks on the album, Caroline Polachek paints us a picture of a religion in her name.
‘Sunset’ draws from Spaghetti Westerns and is influenced by the late composer Ennio Morricone. Caroline Polachek talks about how the song itself is an anchor for the rest of the album which is otherwise eclectic musically, as ‘Sunset’ is the most traditionally structured track in the album. It’s perfect in that way as it draws you a familiar picture of riding off into the sunset as many Westerns do, and truly does anchor you through its recognisable rhythm and instruments. The love in this song is timeless, and everlasting and draws you in like a warm embrace.
‘I Believe’ is about immortality and dedicated to late Scottish music producer and songwriter, SOPHIE. The lyrics are like pillars, holding you up as Caroline Polachek sings out that “You’re not alone” and that “You made it home”. It’s a deeply sensitive song, and traces to a love that is impenetrable, and one that is essential to humanity. An empathetic love, a friendship, a desire to connect. A connection between ‘Sunset’ and ‘I Believe’ is the song ‘Butterfly Net’ which was created as a merging of these two songs which both contain an acoustic guitar as part of their instrumentals. If ‘I Believe’ is about holding on, and ‘Sunset’ is letting go, ‘Butterfly Net’ is very much like its title. Of capture and release, of the wind that still flows through the netting, of the things that are lost through the gaps and the things that you try your hardest to catch.
‘Billions’ feels like a kingdom beckoning. The choral singing of “I never felt so close to you” lulls you so deep, you get lost in the music itself. Having recorded with the Trinity Children’s Choir for this track, there is heavenly tonal quality to the song. The distorted guitar and lilting vocal colour present a certain rocking effect, like sailing in the sea, blinded by the sun, the map lost to the wind as you follow the sound of home.
Having been invited to be the opening act for artists such as Dua Lipa and embarking on her own North American tour in late 2021, ‘Smoke’ was a song which she had been workshopping during her shows. One of the first songs she wrote for the album, the scream at the end of
the song was taken from how she sung the song live and added to the track officially. The song shares a freeing catharsis with ‘Welcome to My Island’.
While ‘Blood and Butter’ draws from her mother’s ancestry, ‘Hopedrunk Everlasting’ draws from her father’s Jewish-Ukrainian ancestry. The balalaika, a triangular wooden 3-stringed instrument hailing from Eastern Europe, forms the peak of the song. It’s one of the more viscerally melancholy tracks of the album, which speaks true to its intention as the song represents both death and love, burrowing deep into the ground away from the world is mortally isolating and romantically tragic: “Deeper, dig it deeper / ‘Til the meanwhile slows / They’ll find out bones / And yet, they won’t / Pull close to me and never be alone.”
‘Bunny Is A Rider’ had been released prior as a single in 2021, and speaks of female independence and mystery. A woman that evades notice, freed from the optical capture of others and the physical trapping of being a woman observed, the song draws upon the same desires for freedom as the rest of the album and is a more lowkey, upbeat track.
A collaborative song with Grimes and Dido, ‘Fly To You’ is part of the warm triplet of songs that form the core of the album: ‘I Believe’ and ‘Blood and Butter’. About reunion and designed for the lines and instruments to intersect, featuring two other artists truly brings home the feeling of connection and re-connection. It’s heartfelt and somewhat sad in its way, the instruments being stripped away in the bridge: “Ooh, I fly to you / After all the tears, you’re all I need”. It’s a loneliness being stripped away at long last but the isolative sadness is remnant in the echoey vocal textures as if someone is speaking from far away.
‘Crude Drawing Of An Angel’ and ‘Pretty In Possible’ are tonally opposite from each other. While the former is deeply intimate, the latter is more running through a meadow during a later summer afternoon. ‘Pretty In Possible’ is based on a personal memory of being in the countryside and seeing mayflies drowned in the pool water. The song itself feels like it is constantly running away from you. While ‘Crude Drawing Of An Angel’ draws you in, almost literally. Inspired by thoughts of drawing your lover as they sleep, you immortalise their portrait and the love you share. The song being more subdued, like being in a dark room, there’s a sensuality and seduction of Caroline Polachek’s voice. The whistles and high pitches in the background like a siren song.
Overall, the album’s sound and lyricism are transportive to Ancient Grecian and mythological periods, as if we are experiencing the birth of a goddess of sound. An evolution from Pang, which is a stellar debut album in its own right, we watch the building of Caroline Polachek’s musical kingdom.
Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is out now via Sony Music. You can listen to ‘Welcome to My Island’ here: