Review Summary: Mythicalogical and wikipediated / New Age for a New Age
Do you like Enigma
? What about Enya
? Aside from all being one-word artists whose name starts with an E and ends with an A, they could also all be described as ‘New Age’, a style known for its themes of the natural world with often ethereal and electronic leanings. Caroline Polachek, with all of her Greek mythology references, nature-laden lyrical imagery, and adventurous co-conspirator in PC Music producer Danny L. Harle sort of ticks all the boxes that one thinks of as ‘new age’.
But to just slot this album into that one little box would be such a huge disservice to what Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
actually is. On her sophomore album under her given name, Polachek jumps with a deftness from track-to-track, picking up subtleties in pop music tropes like one picks flowers in a meadow. A Spanish guitar here, some garage beats there. We get a little outside the box, of course - a short bagpipe solo closes out Blood and Butter
alongside a cascading chorus of Carolines, and closer Billions
somehow manages to make a children's choir work, the mantra of ‘I’ve never felt so close to you
’ washing over the listener like a warm ocean wave.
In taking from so many influences, you would think that the outcome is some disjointed, cracked collection of tunes. But the result is the exact opposite - Desire
offers a panorama of possibilities, a Mediterranean wonderland with an attraction to visit in every direction. Smoke
is a volcano in the distance, ready to erupt with its shuffling rhythm and upbeat na-na-na’s. Hopedrunk Everlasting
sounds like a cavern, quiet and beckoning you deeper, ‘under the theatre’ - perhaps to marvel at some ‘starlight in the tunnel’. Fly To You
, that’s a walk on the beach. It’s an airy piece that smartly focuses on its trio of vocalists and a post-chorus guitar line that simply shines in the moment.
And let's talk about vocals and lyrics, now. First - Caroline Polachek, Grimes, and Dido on the same track might just be pop music moment of the year. Caroline as usual sounds pitch perfect, and Grimes has her fun little elf voice that fits the vibe. But hearing Dido’s voice in all of that felt like hearing an angel, a welcome slap in the face if you will. It helps that the whole thing is backed by these quick breakbeats in the background - it’s shades of something on Madonna’s Ray of Light
, but if instead of a dance floor, you had spotted a long lost lover on the shore from a parachute.
Desire is a complex emotion, much like the panorama that’s on display. And Caroline is pretty damn good at toeing the line between lyrics that invoke stunning and relatable imagery and feelings, but are also just obtuse enough to think there’s something going on beyond the surface level. Take Blood and Butter
- in the opening lines, we go from:
Say you wanna show me a place
The place is here, the here is inside you
Where did you come from, you?
Fair, someone wants to show some of their most intimate parts or feelings. How wonderful that someone like this is alive and around! And then we go to:
Lying at the foot of a linden
In a navel ring inventing June
Where did you come from, you?
OK, the foot of a what
? In a navel ring
? A quick google search gives the lines a little more context, but this kind of poetic sense for lyrics is all over Caroline’s work. It doesn’t hurt to brush up on your mythology for this record.
This is also the song that invents a few new words (look at you all mythicalogical and wikipediated). We love a queen with an entry or two in the Mirriam-Webster!
Desire shows up a lot in nature, here - the volcano on Smoke
, the palm trees in the grand entrance of Welcome to my Island
. Butterfly Net
is filled with mentions of Earth and flower petals and butterflies (well, the nets for them, but I think my point stands). Dirty like it’s Earth day. He’s the pearl, I’m the oyster
. Red hot passion also streaks the album - blood, sunsets, love, the lava of a volcano - all hiding in lines scattered throughout the record's runtime.
Everything feels so delicately placed on this record, both in sound and lyrics. Some might find the sheen a little too shiny, a little too mechanical, I imagine. To that I say - listen to this woman's voice. It is so smooth and pitch perfect, it doesn’t really deserve anything but the best of the best in terms of production. And Danny L. Harle, bless him, somehow makes this record very rarely feel overwhelming. The closest it gets has to be the opener, but that itself is supposed to be the wild statement piece, the taste of everything to come. It gets to be like that. Sophie devotional I Believe
also approaches a too-full roundhouse of sound with its big synth stabs in the chorus but the dialed back verses keep the airy sound of the album intact.
Let me state it nice and plain. Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
is an expertly produced album that feels new, but timeless all at once. It sounds almost like so many things - stadium rock, flamenco, garage, new age music - but it sounds like none of those, at the same time. Desire is filled with the new and the inventive, ideas that are realized with a ferocious sense of creativity. It took four years for us to go from Pang
, and through the chaos of a pandemic that cost her her father, this record feels like a green light to love and want and need - create relationships, feel new things, lose yourself in yourself. Turn into desire.
Do it. You won’t regret it.