Caroline Polachek ‘s new album is like an egg. The exterior is brittle, full of light timbres, unique blemishes, always carrying the possibility of smashing open into a dozen fragmented pieces. But when the egg cracks comes the thick yolk: tenderness, earthy flourishes, warm tones, and, of course, deeper pleasures.
Her previous album, 2019’s Pang , found the alt-pop songwriter embracing a futuristic, icy persona, with sharp imagery and some irresistible hooks (lead single “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” remains Polachek’s standout work and one of her most precise exercises in pop craftsmanship). But the egg hadn’t quite broken open yet — though the work as a whole is an excellent introduction to Polachek’s unique musical language, there was a coldness in her stylistic approach that made these songs feel strangely impersonal, like they weren’t meant to be offered in this universe.
Now, for her fourth solo album and her second under her given name, Desire, I Want To Turn Into You (out Tuesday, February 14th), Polachek is determined to crack the egg and ground these songs on planet Earth. After all, within her pinpoint vocals, innovative production, and acutely surreal lyrics, is the enjoyable detail that she is, in fact, a human being, teeming with desire. Though she’s brought back Pang collaborator Danny L Harle to produce, she’s mostly ditched the hyperpop-adjacent sheen that characterized Pang songs “Hit Me Where It Hurts” and “Ocean of Tears” for warmer, more naturalistic fare, complete with more organic instrumentation than she’s ever incorporated.
All of these new choices are in service of Polachek’s grand theme: desire. It’s one thing to write about wanting sex or participating in the physical act itself, but Polachek digs significantly deeper, likening her body and psyche to an island and setting out to mine the most impactful features from it. She’s not simply “with” her partner; she’s getting “closer than your new tattoo” like on “Blood and Butter.”
She writes incredibly sensual songs using lyrics that are actively not sexy; on “Bunny is a Rider,” Polachek switches between the third and first person to announce, “I’m so nonphysical,” before asking “Can you cut that check?/ Crush that wreck?/ Run out empty on ’em?” She may not be singing explicitly about her partner’s sex appeal, but the way she hits her consonants — which end up being more important than the literal words she’s singing — is dripping with sex.
Indeed, Polachek’s vocal deliveries are crucial to Desire, I Want To Turn Into You . Her rapid-fire descending arpeggios on the latin-influenced “Sunset” are busy and loaded, mirroring the energetic exchange of physical intimacy in a new relationship. Her soaring, ethereal highs on “Crude Drawing of an Angel,” which contains an opening motif that feels indebted to the Twin Peaks soundtrack, are euphoric and breathtaking representations of sensual bliss. The precision with which Polachek can transition from her chest voice to head voice is absurd, as exemplified beautifully in the album’s closer, “Billions.” It’s in her own vocal and musical versatility that Polachek can create a new map to discover, and the results are nothing short of thrilling.