Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

“You can feel a lot of motion and energy,” Caroline Polachek tells Apple Music of her second solo studio album. “And chaos. I definitely leaned into that chaos.” Written and recorded during a pandemic and in stolen moments while Polachek toured with Dua Lipa in 2022, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is Polachek’s self-described “maximalist” album, and it weaponizes everything in her kaleidoscopic arsenal. “I set out with an interest in making a more uptempo record,” she says. “Songs like ‘Bunny Is a Rider,’ ‘Welcome to My Island,’ and ‘Smoke’ came onto the plate first and felt more hot-blooded and urgent than anything I’d done before. But of course, life happened, the pandemic happened, I evolved as a person, and I can’t really deny that a lunar, wistful side of my writing can never be kept out of the house. So it ended up being quite a wide constellation of songs.” Polachek cites artists including Massive Attack, SOPHIE, Donna Lewis, Enya, Madonna, The Beach Boys, Timbaland, Suzanne Vega, Ennio Morricone, and Matia Bazar as inspirations, but this broad church only really hints at Desire…’s palette. Across its 12 songs we get trip-hop, bagpipes, Spanish guitars, psychedelic folk, ’60s reverb, spoken word, breakbeats, a children’s choir, and actual Dido—all anchored by Polachek’s unteachable way around a hook and disregard for low-hanging pop hits. This is imperial-era Caroline Polachek. “The album’s medium is feeling,” she says. “It’s about character and movement and dynamics, while dealing with catharsis and vitality. It refuses literal interpretation on purpose.” Read on for Polachek’s track-by-track guide. “Welcome to My Island” “‘Welcome to My Island’ was the first song written on this album. And it definitely sets the tone. The opening, which is this minute-long non-lyrical wail, came out of a feeling of a frustration with the tidiness of lyrics and wanting to just express something kind of more primal and urgent. The song is also very funny. We snap right down from that Tarzan moment down to this bitchy, bratty spoken verse that really becomes the main personality of this song. It’s really about ego at its core—about being trapped in your own head and forcing everyone else in there with you, rather than capitulating or compromising. In that sense, it's both commanding and totally pathetic. The bridge addresses my father [James Polachek died in 2020 from COVID-19], who never really approved of my music. He wanted me to be making stuff that was more political, intellectual, and radical. But also, at the same time, he wasn’t good at living his own life. The song establishes that there is a recognition of my own stupidity and flaws on this album, that it’s funny and also that we're not holding back at all—we’re going in at a hundred percent.” “Pretty in Possible” “If ‘Welcome to My Island’ is the insane overture, ‘Pretty in Possible’ finds me at street level, just daydreaming. I wanted to do something with as little structure as possible where you just enter a song vocally and just flow and there's no discernible verses or choruses. It’s actually a surprisingly difficult memo to stick to because it's so easy to get into these little patterns and want to bring them back. I managed to refuse the repetition of stuff—except for, of course, the opening vocals, which are a nod to Suzanne Vega, definitely. It’s my favorite song on the album, mostly because I got to be so free inside of it. It’s a very simple song, outside a beautiful string section inspired by Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy.’ Those dark, dense strings give this song a sadness and depth that come out of nowhere. These orchestral swells at the end of songs became a compositional motif on the album.” “Bunny Is a Rider” “A spicy little summer song about being unavailable, which includes my favorite bassline of the album—this quite minimal funk bassline. Structurally on this one, I really wanted it to flow without people having a sense of the traditional dynamics between verses and choruses. Timbaland was a massive influence on that song—especially around how the beat essentially doesn't change the whole song. You just enter it and flow. ‘Bunny Is a Rider’ was a set of words that just flowed out without me thinking too much about it. And the next thing I know, we made ‘Bunny Is a Rider’ thongs. I love getting occasional Instagram tags of people in their ‘Bunny Is a Rider’ thongs. An endless source of happiness for me.” “Sunset” “This was a song I began writing with Sega Bodega in 2020. It sounded completely nothing like the others. It had a folk feel, it was gypsy Spanish, Italian, Greek feel to it. It completely made me look at the album differently—and start to see a visual world for them that was a bit more folk, but living very much in the swirl of city life, having this connection to a secret, underground level of antiquity and the universalities of art. It was written right around a month or two after Ennio Morricone passed away, so I'd been thinking a lot about this epic tone of his work, and about how sunsets are the biggest film clichés in spaghetti westerns. We were laughing about how it felt really flamenco and Spanish—not knowing that a few months later, I was going to find myself kicked out of the UK because I'd overstayed my visa without realizing it, and so I moved my sessions with Sega to Barcelona. It felt like the song had been a bit of a premonition that that chapter-writing was going to happen. We ended up getting this incredible Spanish guitarist, Marc Lopez, to play the part.” “Crude Drawing of an Angel” “‘Crude Drawing of an Angel’ was born, in some ways, out of me thinking about jokingly having invented the word ‘scorny’—which is scary and horny at the same time. I have a playlist of scorny music that I'm still working on and I realized that it was a tone that I'd never actually explored. I was also reading John Berger's book on drawing [2005’s Berger on Drawing] and thinking about trace-leaving as a form of drawing, and as an extremely beautiful way of looking at sensuality. This song is set in a hotel room in which the word ‘drawing’ takes on six different meanings. It imagines watching someone wake up, not realizing they're being observed, whilst drawing them, knowing that's probably the last time you're going to see them.” “I Believe” “‘I Believe’ is a real dedication to a tone. I was in Italy midway through the pandemic and heard this song called ‘Ti Sento’ by Matia Bazar at a house party that blew my mind. It was the way she was singing that blew me away—that she was pushing her voice absolutely to the limit, and underneath were these incredible key changes where every chorus would completely catch you off guard. But she would kind of propel herself right through the center of it. And it got me thinking about the archetype of the diva vocally—about how really it's very womanly that it’s a woman's voice and not a girl's voice. That there’s a sense of authority and a sense of passion and also an acknowledgment of either your power to heal or your power to destroy. At the same time, I was processing the loss of my friend SOPHIE and was thinking about her actually as a form of diva archetype; a lot of our shared taste in music, especially ’80s music, kind of lined up with a lot of those attitudes. So I wanted to dedicate these lyrics to her.” “Fly to You” (feat. Grimes and Dido) “A very simple song at its core. It's about this sense of resolution that can come with finally seeing someone after being separated from them for a while. And when a lot of misunderstanding and distrust can seep in with that distance, the kind of miraculous feeling of clearing that murk to find that sort of miraculous resolution and clarity. And so in this song, Grimes, Dido, and I kind of find our different version of that. But more so than anything literal, this song is really about beauty, I think, about all of us just leaning into this kind of euphoric, forward-flowing movement in our singing and flying over these crystalline tiny drum and bass breaks that are accompanied by these big Ibiza guitar solos and kind of Nintendo flutes, and finding this place where very detailed electronic music and very pure singing can meet in the middle. And I think it's something that, it's a kind of feeling that all of us have done different versions of in our music and now we get to together.” “Blood and Butter” “This was written as a bit of a challenge between me and Danny L Harle where we tried to contain an entire song to two chords, which of course we do fail at, but only just. It’s a pastoral, it's a psychedelic folk song. It imagines itself set in England in the summer, in June. It's also a love letter to a lot of the music I listened to growing up—these very trance-like, mantra-like songs, like Donna Lewis’ ‘I Love You Always Forever,’ a lot of Madonna’s Ray of Light album, Savage Garden—that really pulsing, tantric electronic music that has a quite sweet and folksy edge to it. The solo is played by a hugely talented and brilliant bagpipe player named Brighde Chaimbeul, whose album The Reeling I'd found in 2022 and became quite obsessed with.” “Hopedrunk Everasking” “I couldn't really decide if this song needed to be about death or about being deeply, deeply in love. I then had this revelation around the idea of tunneling, this idea of retreating into the tunnel, which I think I feel sometimes when I'm very deeply in love. The feeling of wanting to retreat from the rest of the world and block the whole rest of the world out just to be around someone and go into this place that only they and I know. And then simultaneously in my very few relationships with losing someone, I did feel some this sense of retreat, of someone going into their own body and away from the world. And the song feels so deeply primal to me. The melody and chords of it were written with Danny L Harle, ironically during the Dua Lipa tour—when I had never been in more of a pop atmosphere in my entire life.” “Butterfly Net” “‘Butterfly Net’ is maybe the most narrative storyteller moment on the whole album. And also, palette-wise, deviates from the more hybrid electronic palette that we've been in to go fully into this 1960s drum reverb band atmosphere. I'm playing an organ solo. I was listening to a lot of ’60s Italian music, and the way they use reverbs as a holder of the voice and space and very minimal arrangements to such incredible effect. It's set in three parts, which was somewhat inspired by this triptych of songs called ‘Chansons de Bilitis’ by Claude Debussy that I had learned to sing with my opera teacher. I really liked that structure of the finding someone falling in love, the deepening of it, and then the tragedy at the end. It uses the metaphor of the butterfly net to speak about the inability to keep memories, to keep love, to keep the feeling of someone's presence. The children's choir [London's Trinity Choir] we hear on ‘Billions’ comes in again—they get their beautiful feature at the end where their voices actually become the stand-in for the light of the world being onto me.” “Smoke” “It was, most importantly, the first song for the album written with a breakbeat, which inspired me to carry on down that path. It’s about catharsis. The opening line is about pretending that something isn't catastrophic when it obviously is. It's about denial. It's about pretending that the situation or your feelings for someone aren't tectonic, but of course they are. And then, of course, in the chorus, everything pours right out. But tonally it feels like I'm at home base with ‘Smoke.’ It has links to songs like [2019’s] ‘Pang,’ which, for me, have this windswept feeling of being quite out of control, but are also very soulful and carried by the music. We're getting a much more nocturnal, clattery, chaotic picture.” “Billions” “‘Billions’ is last for all the same reasons that 'Welcome to My Island’ is first. It dissolves into total selflessness, whereas the album opens with total selfishness. The Beach Boys’ ‘Surf’s Up’ is one of my favorite songs of all time. I cannot listen to it without sobbing. But the nonlinear, spiritual, tumbling, open quality of that song was something that I wanted to bring into the song. But 'Billions' is really about pure sensuality, about all agenda falling away and just the gorgeous sensuality of existing in this world that's so full of abundance, and so full of contradictions, humor, and eroticism. It’s a cheeky sailboat trip through all these feelings. You know that feeling of when you're driving a car to the beach, that first moment when you turn the corner and see the ocean spreading out in front of you? That's what I wanted the ending of this album to feel like: The song goes very quiet all of a sudden, and then you see the water and the children's choir comes in.”

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