Caroline Polachek
Desire, I Want To Turn Into You

(Perpetual Novice)


A few weeks ago Caroline Polachek fired the starter pistol on the discourse surrounding her second solo record by taking to Twitter to politely ask that people refrain from “endlessly” describing her as “this generation’s Kate Bush”; after all, she reminded us, she is in fact “this generation’s Caroline Polachek”. One mischievous user in particular was quick to point out that a Twitter search for “Caroline Polachek is this generation’s Kate Bush” yields precisely zero results and Desire, I Want to Turn Into You further bolsters the idea that whoever might have been drawing such comparisons has not done so on the basis of a great deal of substance, beyond a shared taste for inflecting pop music with eccentricity and a theatrical approach to live shows.

This is not a criticism; it’s just that Bush’s music was so often so out of keeping with the mainstream tastes of the moment that she always sounded as if she was operating in her own universe, whereas Polachek’s output in recent years, for all of is diversions and stylistic flights of fancy, remains firmly rooted in present-day pop. If there is a direct frame of reference for the Polachek we’re presented with on Desire, it might instead be Imogen Heap; opener ‘Welcome To My Island’ recalls Frou Frou with its bold, technicolour application of synth, while ‘Pretty In Possible’’s freeform vocals and bracingly heterogeneous sonic landscape, with the beat dropping in and out, offer a glimpse of what we might have been able to expect if Heap had continued in the same vein as 2005’s Speak for Yourself, rather than be increasingly ensnared by the gimmickry of the tech world.

Elsewhere, Desire’s determination to leave few stylistic stones unturned returns mixed results. One on the one hand, curveballs like the introduction of flamenco-influenced guitar on ‘Sunset’ or the gradual introduction of a breakbeat on ‘I Believe’ are carried off with an endearing confidence; on the other, the decision to draft in Grimes and, of all people, the lesser-spotted Dido on ‘Fly to You’ only further clutters that track’s already over-busy musical environment. The pacing suffers towards the back end of the record, not least because of the placement of the glacial ‘Hopedrunk Everasking’, which in its clear similarities to ‘Hide and Seek’ represents the moment that Polachek’s parallels with Heap begin to work against her.

What also shines through, though, is her supremely sharp ear for hooks and melody – ‘Blood and Butter’ and ‘Billons’ offer especially salient cases in point – and, after all, it was that, in her superb work with the likes of Charli XCX and Flume, that saw her rise out of indie pop semi-obscurity and instead join the genre’s top table. At the end of what has been a convoluted rollout, though, is a muddled album that seems less sure of itself than 2019’s Pang; this kind of maximalism involves walking a tightrope between gaudy and glorious, and Desire is poised one minute, wobbly the next.