Caroline Polachek’s Desire opens with a screech. Or rather, with something between a screech and a moan, equal parts piercing and orgasmic.
“It’s about simmering in your own ego, not getting out of your own head and spiraling,” Polachek says of the opening track. Where else could an album called Desire, I Want to Turn Into You begin? Desire starts with the self, stems from the self, and pours out of the self before it can be apprehended.
“Welcome to my island.” The opening lyric is more so spoken than sung, as Polachek grounds us in the world of her creation, reminding us that for the next 45 minutes, it is her world we will be living in.
Working with PC Music legend and frequent collaborator Danny L. Harle, Polachek’s second album is a celebration of multiplicities. It is new-age music for a new age of post-apocalyptic pop revelry. It is her second coming, reborn of pandemic ashes and crawling through the grim and soiled subway floors to a second awakening.
I do think it’s a bit of a cheap shot to label a sophomore album messianic. Desire isn’t really even the 37-year-old’s second album. However, I think the moniker is apt. Desire is heady, headless of linearity or narrative. It seeks atmosphere above all else. It is an exercise in world-building, an insight into dystopian paradise, full of lush soundscapes and brooding sensuality.
Desire features the bouncy staccato of “Bunny Is a Rider,” a single released over a year ago which was named the best song of 2021 by Pitchfork. It brings the listener into the world of Bunny, a girl whose unavailability and intangibility elude comprehension. Two tracks later, on “Crude Drawing of an Angel,” Polachek lands somewhere even more indefinable.
“Signing and drawing are really the same thing,” she says about the track. “It’s a line in space instead of time.” The track treads the line between minimalism and the impossible, with Polacheck’s voice clear and clarion over a primal percussive beat. “Draw the blinds,” she sings. “Draw the bath… Draw your brow with shaky hand. Draw your blood. Draw your breath.”
Polachek’s island isn’t alone in her sea. She is not interested in isolation, but rather in simultaneity She wrote “I Believe” as a tribute to the late, legendary producer and performer SOPHIE, also a close friend of Polachek’s. On later track “Fly To You,” a collaboration with Grimes and Dido, multiple melodies swirl and spiral together, as the three silky voices coalesce. Polachek’s wailing “you’re all I need” is layered over Grimes’s sharp delivery on “violence made me.” Dido’s soul brings us back down, resolving the song with the lyric, “Remember what’s come before, not loaded with regret.”
“‘Billions’ is last for all the same reasons that ‘Welcome to My Island’ is first,” Polachek said. “It dissolves into total selflessness, whereas the album opens with total selfishness.” “Billions” is a sweeping pop experiment, constantly aware of its uncanny assonance and overflowing with surreal luster.
“I’ve never felt this close to you,” she sings, and we believe it. We trust this 37-year-old pop messiah, nostalgic for a future she doesn’t quite know how to prepare for. For all of her orchestrated coalescences, Polachek is a singular artist.