I Wish All Pop Records Could Be As Phenomenal As Caroline Polachek's Latest
From an indie darling with Chairlift, to working with Charli XCX and Dua Lipa, Polachek becomes a full-blown pop star on 'Desire, I Want to Turn Into You'
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Ten years ago, indie pop group Chairlift buzzed the press with their second album, Something. The duo of Caroline Polachek and Aaron Pfenning met at CU Boulder and, after recording an EP, did what many hip kids did at the time: move to Williamsburg. It paid off, and Chairlift found itself with major label support and tickled the charts with its second record.
They were indeed on my radar, with Something being one of those albums that were a morning staple while waiting for the train. So when they played a free show in Prospect Park with Neon Indian and Bear in Heaven sharing a very 2013 bill, I had to go. Chairlift rolled through the record on a swampy June afternoon, but my biggest takeaway was that Polachek was a commanding frontwoman and the group was destined for bigger things. They continued for one more great record but called it quits in 2017. Enter Caroline Polachek’s big move toward pop stardom.
Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is the follow-up to her solo debut (the first time using her name as a performer, as she has two other records under Ramona Lisa and CEP), Pang, and is easily my most anticipated record in a stacked February calendar. The past few years have been kind to Polachek, recording a feature for Charli XCX’s “New Shapes” and acting as the supporting act for Dua Lipa’s North American tour last year. This work in the pop world was noticeable on the album’s first single, “Bunny Is a Rider,” which teased this new era all the way back in the summer of 2021. Thanks to some slinky bass, a good whistling hook (this is done annoyingly 99% of the time, but Polachek pulls it off here), and samples of a giggling infant, it’s immediately catchy.
Five of the twelve songs on Desire, I Want to Turn Into You are now singles, but here’s the thing: everything on here could easily be a hit. The most apparent song that isn’t already a single is also the first to include features for Polachek with Grimes and turn-of-the-millennium hook machine, Dido. “Fly To You” is a throwback rave ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on Madonna’s Ray of Light record, and these three women pair wonderfully for something that recalls the early aughts with a contemporary twist thanks to the production from Grimes. It’s not the only tune indebted to that William Orbit/Ray of Light sound, as “I Believe” features some wicked pads thrown over a classic house beat, while “Smoke” takes a gentler approach.
From the primal call that kicks off “Welcome to My Island” to the ethereal closer “Billions,” Polachek delivers her best project yet with Desire, I Want to Turn Into You. It’s also probably the poppiest record I’ve featured during my run of reviews over the past few years and deserves all of the high praise. To watch Polachek go from an indie darling to a full-blown pop star has been incredible yet unsurprising. Anyone that followed Chairlift shouldn’t be surprised by this move, and the work she has done with Pang’s returning co-producer Danny L Harle has no interest in genres or decade worship. It’s an art pop record that bounces around from house to trip-hop and straight rock in certain parts - hell, there’s even Spanish guitar on “Sunset” that fits right in with the assortment of influences.
If the rest of the current pop world was as forward-thinking as Caroline Polachek, I might be more interested in visiting it regularly.
Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is available now on Perpetual Novice via Sony Music.
I agree that it’s truly a phenomenal pop album. Will end up being one of my favorites of this year, as well.