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Caroline Polachek's new album pulses with the sound of exhilaration and relief


This is FRESH AIR. Caroline Polachek has had a varied musical career that's included fronting the indie band Chairlift, co-writing a song recorded by Beyonce and releasing music under a variety of pseudonyms. Polachek's new release, "Desire, I Want to Turn Into You," is her second solo album under her own name. Our rock critic Ken Tucker says its music is passionate, playful and constantly varied.


CAROLINE POLACHEK: (Singing) These days, I wear my body like an uninvited guest. I turn it right and right and right instead of turning left. But, boy, your patience is a magic kind of medicine 'cause every spiral brings me back into your arms again. So no regrets 'cause you're my sunset, fiery red.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's "Sunset," which features Spanish flamenco-style guitar by Marc Lopez. It's not typical of the rest of Caroline Polachek's album because - well, because there is no typical sound on this collection, "Desire, I Want To Turn Into You." Its very eclecticism eventually becomes its signature style. The album includes a song Polachek released a couple of years ago that's never really gone away, surfacing again and again on social media. It's a snappy pop song about that elusive someone in everyone's life called "Bunny Is A Rider."


POLACHEK: (Singing) Bunny is a rider. Satellite can't find her - no sympathy. Ain't nothing for free. Bunny is a rider. Satellite can't find her - no sympathy. Ain't nothing for free. Bunny is a rider - no sympathy. Ain't nothing - Bunny is a, Bunny is a, a rider. Satellite can't find her - no sympathy. But I'm so non-physical.

TUCKER: "Bunny Is A Rider" is quick and concise. More often on this album, however, Polachek cooks up songs with layers of contrasting ingredients. "Welcome To My Island," for example, starts off with a swirl of operatic melodrama before coming back to Earth in a series of lines that cross hip-hop with a robotic staccato.


POLACHEK: (Vocalizing). (Singing) Welcome to my island. See the palm trees wave in the wind. Welcome to my island. Like me, you ain't leaving. Welcome to my island. See the palm trees wave in the wind. Welcome to my island. Like me, you ain't leaving. Desire - hey, hey, hey, hey.

TUCKER: Polachek is now more than 15 years into a very busy career, a decade as co-leader of the band Chairlift plus multiple collaborations with various musicians such as Charli XCX, Travis Scott and Dua Lipa. A song she co-wrote, "No Angel," appeared on Beyonce's 2013 self-titled album. Like I indicated at the start, she's got range. Another example of that is this dip into singer-songwriter melancholy called "Butterfly Net."


POLACHEK: (Singing) Earth went silent. London fell asleep. She dreamed of winter, where you appeared to me - perfect timing as new petals in November, a tender creature, a fever, disarming, fluorescent. There you were with your mirror, shining the world all over me. There I was with my butterfly net, trying to catch your light.

TUCKER: Until now, I've sort of held Polachek's music at arm's length, appreciating its technical skill but put off by some of its preciousness. But she's taken those skills to a different place on "Desire, I Want To Turn Into You." Many of the compositions here are fascinating puzzles in which a verse slips into a chorus that lifts her voice up, up and away into what amounts to a different melody. Listen to an example of this in the opening moments of "Crude Drawing Of An Angel."


POLACHEK: (Singing) Draw the blinds. Draw the bath. It's matter of time till you wake up and watch me draw your brow with shaky hand so that after you're gone, I got something to hold on to. Red light. Oh, my faults. Camera 1, Camera 2. Oh, my greed. On your side, on the carpet. Oh, your need. Camera 1, Camera 2. Angel, I'd hold you down. Forsake me here on the ground, all or nothing.

TUCKER: "Desire, I Want To Turn Into You" was recorded during a time when many people were emerging from pandemic isolation. And intentionally or not, it taps into the upheaval and disorientation we've lived through. It's the work of someone who sounds as though she's bursting with things she's been holding back, wanting to find someone to share them with. It's music that sounds like relief, exhilaration, freedom.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker reviewed Caroline Polachek's new album called "Desire, I Want To Turn Into You." On tomorrow's show, we speak with veteran character actor Clancy Brown. He's been working since the '80s and has played some memorable villains over the years in movies including "Shawshank Redemption," "Highlander" and, coming out later this month, "John Wick 4." But he may be best known as the voice of Mr. Krabs on the animated show "SpongeBob SquarePants." I hope you can join us.

Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Therese Madden directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.