One year on, Caroline Polachek reflects on Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

December 14th 2023

  • Caroline Polachek :: interview with Tanya Ali

Announced almost exactly a year ago, and released three months later (on Valentine’s Day), what hasn’t been said about Caroline Polachek’s Desire, I Want to Turn Into You? The album is a landmark moment for contemporary art-pop, a 12-track meditation on isolation, heartbreak, and, well, desire. It is is wildly innovative yet indisputably accessible, as any good art pop album should be, and has been lauded by critics and fans alike (at the time of writing it is the third highest rated album of 2023 on Metacritic).

In the midst of her first solo Australian tour, Caroline Polachek joined Tanya Ali in the studio for an interview on Lunch. The two spoke about her most recent album, the stories behind certain tracks, and the future of PC Music.

Desire, I Want to Turn Into You is a new exploration of ancient themes. Like a post-anthropic map of an obscure city subway, the tracks have a textured and taken-out-of-time feel to them. This warm, sand-worn landscape was created alongside long-time co-producer Danny L Harle, and made vibrant by Caroline’s beautiful and technically impeccable vocals.

“This album was mostly made using digital computer instruments. But when I was working with Danny, we wanted this album to feel very physical. We just weren’t particularly fussed about doing it in the traditional way of actually recording physical sounds. We were just kind of interested in effect.”

If her 2019 debut release under her full name Pang feels like a cabin feverish winter in New York, Desire feels like hot girl euro summer in Barcelona. Caroline’s world of humidity and restlessness is bold and all-encompassing, and has been built out with careful attention to both sonic and visual detail.

“A friend of mine who had a baby once told me a story about her first couple months with the baby. She said she was invited to this work awards event that she had to go to. She couldn’t say no. So she had to leave the baby at home. She goes to work at the work event. She comes back. And that was her first time kind of leaving her baby for more than five hours. She comes back and she realises, oh my god, it’s so small. In her mind, this child had become like the size of the room. It had become a whole environment. And she leaves and she comes back and it’s so tiny. In a lot of ways, that kind of describes my relationship with this album. It’s like, it’s a tiny thing. It’s 12 songs, whatever. It’s mp3s. But then in my personal world, it has just become so big and all consuming. And each lyric, each element of the visual world has really become its own sort of universe that’s bloomed outwards.”

The album’s smouldering universe explores a haze of themes: isolation in ‘Welcome to My Island’, untapped potential in ‘Pretty in Possible’, carelessness and distraction in ‘Smoke’. But of all of the songs on the album none strays closer to the boundary between the world of Desire and our own universe than ‘I Believe’. A song about contradictions and endlessness, the track is dedicated to SOPHIE, one of Caroline’s close friends and collaborators, whose accidental death two years ago was felt around the world. The production is urgent, a throbbing bassline heartbeat, autotuned ECG vocalisations, and UKG drum machine percussion all pulsating beneath Caroline’s soaring vocalisations. “I don’t know, but I believe / We’ll get another day together” she sings with heartbreakingly hopeful desperation “Violent love / Feel my embrace, oh.”

“I think loss, in any form it takes, creates the space for music to come in and stitch the two sides of, you know, experience that don’t make sense to us. Like you were here and now you’re not here. I know you and now I don’t know you. I think music is one of those forms, precisely because it lives in the realm of sensation and feeling and miraculousness that can help us make sense of that, help us make sense of loss.”

Chronologically, ‘I Believe’ was written in 2021 amongst an outpouring of musical tributes to the late auteur (do NOT listen to Sega Bodega’s ‘Um Um’ late at night alone), many of which came from SOPHIE’s friends and collaborators at PC Music. Both Caroline and SOPHIE were affiliated with (although not technically signed to) the British experimental pop label, which announced earlier this year that it was closing its doors at the end of December. PC Music and its impact on pop music has been formative for many artists including Caroline, who met label head A. G. Cook and friends Danny L Harle, Charli XCX, Hannah Diamond, Hyd at a pivotal moment in her life. Looking back, she cherishes the way the collective built a co-constitutive creative scene.

“It wasn’t really about credit or cuts or publishing or signalling anything, it was really just about having fun and pushing boundaries and keeping each other on our toes… I think that spirit of collaboration in this friend group is going to continue for many years to come, regardless of what label is officially releasing.”

Listen back to the full interview with Caroline Polachek and Tanya Ali to hear them discuss the meaning of the word “scony,” Caroline’s first time playing at the Sydney Opera House, working with Grimes and Dido, and more. Buy/stream Desire, I Want to Turn Into You on Bandcamp below.


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