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BERKELEY'S NEWS • JANUARY 17, 2023

Year! Review! Read our 2022 Year in Retrospect Issue!

Caroline Polachek invites mystique, enchanting bounty on ‘Billions,’ ‘Long Road Home’

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FEBRUARY 15, 2022

Grade: 4.5/5.0

In a tweet that arguably casts Charli XCX’s established anti-music industry polemic in dubious light, the hyperpop mainstay made transparent her intentions to release more commercially palatable music in the hopes that it would supplant a “platform to bring more avant garde music to the mainstream.” 

Caroline Polachek, despite being a close friend and frequent collaborator of Charli XCX, subverts her more recent mainstream success — earlier this month she began touring with Dua Lipa — in favor of experimentalism. The release of her latest two singles, “Billions” and “Long Road Home,” commence Polachek’s bifurcated dip into strange and ineffable waters.

During an appearance on Charli XCX’s podcast, “Best Song Ever,” Polachek expressed her interest in music she describes as “psychedelic sexy nonsense.” Listeners received a taste of this in appetizer form last year, with the scintillating and cryptic “Bunny Is A Rider.” Who is Bunny, and why can’t the satellite find her? The jury is still out.

“Billions” is without a doubt psychedelic, but sexy is the more apt descriptor. “Sexting sonnets/ under the table/ Tangled in cables,” Polachek sings in the first verse. This allusion to sonnets is just one of the classical, renaissance elements stitched in the tapestry that is “Billions.” Later, Polachek ornaments the track with lush abundance: “Cornucopia/ yeah my cup overfloweth.”

This abundance motif has a distinct visual corollary that takes shape in the song’s accompanying music video, which teems with images of weirdly erotic grape eating and stomping, as well as Cleopatra-esque milk baths. Some shots appear plucked straight from the canvases of Titian and Caravaggio, chiaroscuro enveloping Polacheck as she reclines atop decadent fabrics. It’s clear she is an aesthete as well as an artist.

All of this bounty is, of course, in reference to romantic and sexual desire. Polachek is, contrived as an oyster with its pearl serving as her lover, concentric within the shell she imagines to be herself. It’s a visual buoyed in part by its sheer pleasantry and palpabilit — oysters are, purportedly, an aphrodisiac — and in part by a motif of monetary wealth, evidenced by the track’s title. 

Known for her unparalleled agility and classical training, Polachek’s voice in all its malleability and ethereal contours, centers on “Billions,” where obtrusive production takes a backseat. While her 2019 LP, Pang, is studded with staccato gasps and forms axes on which weighty emotions teeter, the effect of “Billions” is more ambient, harkening back to her Arcadia days. 

“Long Road Home,” produced in collaboration with experimental composer Oneohtrix Point Never, feels distinctly pastoral, perhaps better suited for mist-mantled moors rather than a sterile recording studio. Strings quicken in pace until they finally usurp control. Vocals capitulate to synths, corporeality to sublimity.

Clearly, bombast and histrionics have not yet lost their luster for Polachek, nor has her assiduous commitment to experimentation even in the face of a TikTok hegemony that privileges frothiness, pithiness and, above all, danceability. 

“Pop music has always been abstract” Polachek doubles down on “Best Song Ever.” At the very least, there is something to be said for reverting back to a form of pop music that harnesses the power of abstraction to reveal truths otherwise unacknowledged.

Emma Murphree covers film. Contact her at [email protected].
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FEBRUARY 14, 2022


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