Ashley

“I’m All In”: Jenny Lewis’ Autonomy Celebrated on the 10th Anniversary “Rabbit Fur Coat” Tour

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And I think we’re at our best / by the flicker by the light of the TV set… Jenny Lewis was the formative female singer of my teens. In some part, my dyed red hair is simply an extension of wanting to be her. There are mornings where I still feel like I’m just trying to emulate her style, charm, authenticity. I know that for years my writing tried to do just that. I wanted her wry sense of humor, her sincerity as my own. Jenny made me feel less alone when I was an awkward teenager with unruly curls & strong convictions, and she continues to now. I’m not sure I’ve progressed much beyond ripping Teen People spreads of The Postal Service out to tape along my walls and shopping at vintage stores to find any and every gold dress to mimic her Under The Blacklight fashion. More Adventurous was the soundtrack to every journey to northern Michigan, every drive to Chicago. It’s memories of crying over boys who no longer matter & licking Burnett’s off shot glasses with the girls who still do. I devoured Acid Tongue savagely, ravenously in college. Last week, I was thrilled to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Rabbit Fur Coat. The lush, quiet solo album that made me believe in the importance of articulating my (day)dreams, aspirations. The poetry inherit in finding one’s own voice. They warn you about killers and thieves in the night / I worry about cancer and living right…

Seated in the upper balcony of the Beacon Theater, I was thrumming with energy as M. Ward took to the stage at 8pm. He originally toured with Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins in support of “Rabbit Fur Coat” in 2006. He was featured on Jenny’s cover of The Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care.” His set was the perfect reminisce as he played a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” and his own original “Poison Cup.” M. Ward’s sincerity has always been the right accompaniment for Jenny’s wit and generosity. While his guitar work is spectacular, it’s the way he bites and chews on lyrics that is most gripping. The sweetness of his words undercut by the rough reed of his vocals. One or two won’t do / I want it all…

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The auditorium reached full capacity as the intermission came to a close and the lights dimmed on the second night of Jenny’s sold-out reunion concert at the Beacon,  where she was celebrating a record that launched her now-expansive solo career.  As I clicked the heels of my silver Chelsea boots, bought earlier this year in partial homage to her and Harry Styles, I sat on the edge of my seat. The set began with “Run Devil Run.” Flanked by the Watson Twins, Jenny came out in a striking red ensemble, holding a candle to echo the record cover, her history in offering.

He forgives you for all you’ve done / But not me / I’m still angry… “The Big Guns” is a different song than it was in 2006. In 2016, Jenny Lewis’ lyrics have gained weight given the passage of time. Jenny admitted last week to Rolling Stone that she didn’t even realize the depth of the album until revisiting it. Rabbit Fur Coat was a brash announcement of Jenny Lewis’ new voice as a solo artist, and forecasted the self-assured and hard-earned persona that was to come. It was the work of a woman who has grown-up publicly and strengthened her voice and her writing on a diverse arrangement of projects.

Despite the aggressiveness of its message, Rabbit Fur Coat is, for the most part, a quiet work of art. “The Big Guns” is assertive in the best way possible, but the rest of the album focuses on lamenting softly, serenely. As a teenager, I gravitated towards the considerable weight of “Happy,” and I still do ten years later. With the passage of time, my concerns, and I’d like to think Jenny’s, haven’t really changed. I’d rather be lonely, I’d rather be free… As an eternally single gal, mostly on my own validity and intuition, I’ve clung to “Happy” for years. It was thrilling to sit in an auditorium awed into silence as we listened to Jenny strum and sing the verses of “Happy”:

But my mama never warned me about my own
Destructive appetite

Or the pitfalls of control
How it locks you in your grave
Looking for someone to be saved and not restrained….

Jenny builds narratives. She was the earmark for my writing as a teenager, and still is. I studied her lyrics in hopes of writing poetry that resonated as much. She creates stories to be inhabited. Lyrically, the songs are filled with friends, foes, and daydreams. Silver Lake is a backdrop, but so is the dust of the open road.  Her movements on stage, her claps and twirls, only add to the narrative. She embellishes her music with the beauty of light, life. The flourishes of her wardrobe enhance the timbre of her voice. Her look is as nuanced as Taylor Swift’s, but imbued with a touch that feels one-of-a-kind.

“You Are What You Love” and “Rabbit Fur Coat” were beautiful to see live. The lights dimmed as Jenny sang, “Let’s move ahead twenty years, shall we? / She was waitressing on welfare, we were living in the valley.” I remember I used to skip “Rabbit Fur Coat,” but last week I sat still, poised, as Jenny took us back in time.

After a short backstage change, Jenny emerged in a black suit with floral appliques to sing “Handle With Care” with the help of the Watson Twins and M. Ward. The cover of the Traveling Wilbury’s classic swelled within the auditorium, everyone clapping their hands and stomping their feet along. When the set ended with “Happy (Reprise),” I was eternally grateful that Jenny still had a voyage left to take us on.

The medley of hits that Jenny performed in the second-half of the night was generous.There were, of course, the recent hits: “Just One of the Guys” and “She’s Not Me.” However, to my delight, Jenny also returned to earlier work. She played “See Fernando” from Acid Tongue and “Silver Lining” from her days with Rilo Kiley. The latter took on new meaning as she celebrated her ten year solo anniversary singing, I was your silver lining / But now I’m gold…

The night ended with a song I played many an afternoon back in my teens. I used to belt out Rilo Kiley’s “I Never” after school in the basement as I updated my Myspace account and picked new AIM away message quotes. I longed to feel the passion Jenny expressed for any of the boys lining the halls of Royal Oak High. Now when I listen to it, I tend to focus on the confessions. As people in the auditorium finally started to leave their seats to stand along with Jenny in pride, we all celebrated the abundance of emotions and experiences as a woman that Jenny admits to living, embracing. I’ve lied, cheated, stolen and been ungrateful for what I have / And I’m afraid habits rule my waking life… If she has taught me anything over the years, it’s the sense of pride one should feel in being “only” a woman.  I’m only a woman / of flesh and bone… Aggressive, coy, depressed, reverent, mournful, fearful. Ultimately, Jenny tells us, a woman can be anything she imagines herself to be.

Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never
Loved somebody the way
That I loved you…

First set:
Run Devil Run
The Big Guns
Rise Up With Fists!!
Happy
The Charging Sky
Melt Your Heart
You Are What You Love
Rabbit Fur Coat
Handle With Care (The Traveling Wilbury’s cover)
Born Secular
It Wasn’t Me
Happy (Reprise)
Second set:
Head Underwater
She’s Not Me
Just One of the Guys
See Fernando
Silver Lining (Rilo Kiley)
Red Bull and Hennessey
Pretty Bird
I Met Him on a Sunday (The Shirelles cover)
The Voyager
I Never (Rilo Kiley)

 

I’m Holding Onto Gold: Jess Glynne’s Debut at Webster Hall

The atmosphere inside Webster Hall on January 20 was buzzing. Interest in Aussie Conrad Sewell’s material was palpable, but it was clear the audience in attendance was waiting for the curly-haired siren Jess Glynne, who took over radio airwaves with the Clean Bandit collaboration “Rather Be” in the summer of 2014.

Much like the British group Years & Years, Jess Glynne’s music is a fusion of pop dance tracks and emotional ballads of empowerment.  The show started with an intro of “Strawberry Fields,” and immediately gained momentum when Jess entered stage left and broke into “Ain’t Got Far to Go.” Hair slicked back into a high ponytail braid, eyeliner thickly embossed on her eyelids, a sleek sleeveless blazer on top of a black bra and pants, Jess was fierce, beguiling. The crowd was loud, hinged on every swing of her hips and sway of her braid.  There was a pulse inside Webster Hall as people clamored to teeter a little closer into Jess’ field of vision.

The smartest decision of the night might have been for Jess to perform  “Rather Be” and her other collaboration with Clean Bandit, “Real Love” early in the evening. “Rather Be,” her first chart-topping U.S. collaboration, was inescapable in the summer of 2014; however, the decision to play the track early allowed Jess to showcase her own independent voice, her own articulate songwriting. “Rather Be” was built for the UK Top 40 and Jess’ voice was able to catapult the song to long-term success. While Jess herself has not yet found large success on U.S. airwaves outside of this hit, she’s still poised for gold. “Rather Be” was pure fun; every concertgoer singing along at the top of their lungs.

We’re a thousand miles from comfort, we have traveled land and sea
But as long as you are with me, there’s no place I’d rather be…

Jess played “Home” followed by “Love Me.” “Rather Be” was a massive single that overtook the entire globe, but Jess’ own music feels far more personal. It’s meant simultaneously for a Friday night pre-game, and for a solemn Tuesday night. Jess manages to write and perform music that is both exuberant and remorseful. She’s a young woman experimenting, searching. There’s sorrow, regret, love. “Love Me” is Jess at her most straightforward, blunt. It’s specific, accusatory. Let’s have a party, the only guest is you / Don’t beat around the bush, we both want to… The entire audience tried on her bluntness for the night, asked for what they wanted. (Well, not me when it came to more space, but you get what I mean.) And I, I know that I’m not wrong / And you, yeah, you are gonna love me, love me… Personally, I long to feel the sense of self-assuredness that she embodied when strutting around the stage singing “Love Me.” Braid whipping around, her clothes utilitarian in nature, Jess wasn’t about making a fuss.

“Gave Me Something” was euphoric. Jess was truly in her element. The concert seemed to finally take shape. Her dance moves freer, her voice deeper. It seemed to me like she finally believed we were all there to see her “holding on to gold.” You gave me something that I didn’t have before / So I’ma give you something / To stop you saying more…

I was excited to hear Jess sing “Why Me,” the song I listen to regularly on the subway. It gets me excited for the day. It’s rummaging, exploring. Why me? / You left me all alone… The beat is in constant friction with the melancholic lyrics. You stole / My happiness from underneath my nose / My insecurities left on the floor… Jess it at her best when calling lovers out for their mistreatment of her, for asking for what she so rightly deserves. Her backup singers flanking her, Jess was reveling in the power of leading us all night.

Toward the end of the set, Glynne covered Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own.” It was a bold move by a young English songstress to cover Amy, the most enigmatic and bright shining star of British music to come out in the last ten years (besides, naturally, Adele), but Jess did the song justice.  Her voice was rough, raw. The entire audience frantically searched for their phones, myself included, as we sought to, for a few minutes, potentially recapture Amy’s words under the flash of the stage lights where they were meant to always be.

It felt appropriate that Jess followed her Amy Winehouse cover with the emotional linchpin on I Cry When I Laugh, the heart-wrenching ballad “Take Me Home.” The song is a bruise, exposed and tender. I listen to “Take Me Home,” late at night, underneath the covers, my toes cold, when I want to press down on the hurts of the day, the lingering doubts I don’t voice aloud. It was therapeutic to sing along with Jess, Will you hold me now? / Oh, will you take me home?

The tempo of the concert rose again with the follow up “You Can Find Me.” The conclusion of the concert was drawing near as she followed “No Rights No Wrongs” with the single “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.” The latter of the two songs debuted this summer as I was searching for a new job. It was my anthem as I filled out application after application, as my insecurities festered when I left job interview after job interview. The wounds heal and tears dry and cracks they don’t show / So don’t be so hard on yourself, no I missed feeling competent, confident. In my apartment after a long day of anxiety and stress, phone calls with recruiters and HR, I would blast this song. I waited patiently throughout most of the concert for Jess to finally reach her hand out, offer up her own experience to parse. I feel like I’ve been missing me / Was not who I’m supposed to be… All of us in the hall seemed lighter, dancing our cares away. ‘Cause I’m just tired of marching on my ownFor one night, we weren’t. Flanked on all sides by sweaty bodies holding beer and liquor, we were all dancing to the same beat. Jess came back out to do an encore of “Right Here” and “Hold My Hand.” I left Webster Hall with my friend Gretchen on my left, Jess’ lyrics gripping me still.

I’m ready for this, there’s no denying
I’m ready for this…

Setlist:

Strawberry Fields (intro)
Ain’t Got Far to Go
Real Love / Finally / Rather Be
Home
Love Me
Gave Me Something
It Ain’t Right
Why Me
Bad Blood
My Love
Tears Dry on Their Own (Amy Winehouse cover)
Take Me Home
You Can Find Me
No Rights No Wrongs
Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Encore:
Right Here
Hold My Hand

Bonus: Jess just released a new music video you should all check out!

“I’ll Be Chuck Klosterman For Girls”: Jessica Hopper’s Critical Examination of Rock

This idea that there is a right way to like music and a right music to like and a right way to express that—it all works together in this prescribed idea of how women are supposed to participate in music. Decades and decades of women being told we like music in the wrong way. It’s all just a myth.

TIME’s “Jessica Hopper: Stop Telling Girls the Way They Listen to Music Is Wrong”

There’s still very much this stereotype, especially within the music industry and even just within the music scene, that teenage girls are not serious consumers of music, even though they are the number one purchasers of music-of CDs especially, oddly enough. Teenage girls are the number one consumers of music, they are the number one drivers of taste, and yet they are still not considered serious music fans [….] you [can] like One Direction and the Carter Family at the same time.

-The Current’s “Jessica Hopper on Minnesota, local scenes”

Let me start this by confessing that at age fourteen, I was obsessed with Chuck Klosterman. Mid-twenties me is embarrassed that I was so willing to use men to define my identity, but I didn’t know of any females at the time getting shout outs in Entertainment Weekly for publishing pop-culture manifestos. In Klosterman’s writing, I found someone who made a living doing what I couldn’t put a name to then, he wrote about the convergence and importance of music, television and film as a means of categorizing our collective life experience. He took products my parents maligned—The Real World and porn—and examined what those cultural images said about us as a whole. He synthesized, manipulated, expanded upon ideas. At fourteen, this was revolutionary to me. In some ways, it still is. I reread Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs yearly. Klosterman’s words feels like an old friend, the pages worn and annotated. We’ve been having an ongoing conversation through his books for ten years about John Cusack, Mad Men, and KISS.

I’d already purchased Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic when she told Newsweek, “I’ll be Chuck Klosterman for girls. Maybe I’ll be four rungs down from Klosterman, or I become bigger than Klosterman. But he doesn’t get to be the only barometer anymore.” I flushed with embarrassment reading. Hopper’s insistence earlier this year while promoting the collection that she could be the new Klosterman for girls is apropos. (Author’s aside: Chuck Klosterman followed me on Twitter for 24 hours on September 21, 2015. I have to believe he unfollowed me post-One Direction’s appearance at Apple Music Festival and my subsequent stream of tweets. Hey, Chuck. I’ve read at least 123,765 of your words on KISS. The least you could do is read 10 tweets.) At fourteen, I was so happy to have found Klosterman that I didn’t even question whether or not there were female writers being shut out of publishing for writing similar content. At twenty-five, I’m happy to have found Hopper and her contemporaries—Maria Sherman, Ariel Lebeau, and Brodie Lancaster—writing thoughtful pieces on important music followed, consumed, and curated by young women. If Klosterman’s work now feels like an old friend, Hopper’s is—as a female rock critic—a mirror for my own experiences. Hopper’s book opens with her asserting, a paragraph that stands on its own before the collection truly begins, “I want it. I need it. Because all these records, give me a language to decipher how fucked up I am.” Hopper knows us, because she was and is one of us.

Hopper’s first essay in her collection is an essay published in 2003 about emo music, and the toxic community the men in the scene created. I saw Hopper speak earlier this fall at the Brooklyn Book Festival at a talk entitled “The Critic As Creator,” and she mentioned this early essay. It is hard to read Hopper’s indictment of the emo scene because it’s still so relevant in 2016. Hopper states, “Because as it stands in 2003 I simply cannot substantiate the effort it takes to give a flying fuck about the genre/plague that we know as emo or myopic songs that don’t consider the world beyond boy bodies, their broken hearts or their vans.” Hopper offers insight into the trouble women experience finding a space for themselves in the music world as performers or fans. Writing in 2003, Hopper emphasized, “Girls in emo songs today do not have names. We are not identified beyond our absence, our shape drawn by the pain we’ve caused. Our lives, our day-to-day does not exist, we do not get colored in.” It is perhaps for this very reason that I have become a fan of pop in the current decade as pop has readily embraced female performers.

Hopper references Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo, a book that I read at thirteen because, as I’ve always been, I was greedy to get my hands on any book that could define, critique, examine, illuminate my obsessions. I wish I’d known that Hopper was herself analyzing the lyrics and perspective of rock critics and musicians. Teenage me could have used a young woman to help her make sense of the Bright Eyes tracks she found refuge in and the lanky, lithe boys that couldn’t find the time of day for her opinions. As Hopper laments, “Men writing songs about women is practically the definition of rock n’ roll” but that doesn’t mean that there currently is not a real demand to broaden the definition of rock n’ roll. While emo is a great place to define this particular issue, I would say this comes up personally for me in the One Direction fan base every day where all of us young women are maligned for devouring their songs, interviews, hearts. Much like Hopper describes with Bikini Kill, I’ve found refuge in a community that is a safe haven for women like myself who adore music. I quite frankly don’t care if Zayn Malik doesn’t think One Direction’s music is “cool shit,” because I do. That’s all that matters. Teenage me could have used a woman as intelligent and articulate as Hopper to help me understand this back when I let boys drone on about how music made them feel. As she so deftly writes in “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t,” “Us girls deserve more than one song. We deserve more than one pledge of solidarity. We deserve better songs than any boy will ever write about us.”

Hopper’s collection hinges on her critical essay of R. Kelly, an essay in which she herself confronts her earlier dismissal of rape allegations made against R. Kelly. The essay establishes how Hopper is unafraid of counteracting popular mainstream music criticism. There’s a critical examination of females in pop, including Taylor Swift’s identity on Red. Hopper’s music knowledge covers decades and genres. The collection includes reviews of Miley Cyrus, St. Vincent, and Chance The Rapper.

An essential essay in The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic is “Louder Than Love: My Teen Grunge Poserdom.” There is nothing more me than dressing up like my crush to garner their attention (Hopper writes, “I am not sure why I thought dressing exactly like Andrew Beccone might lure him to me”). I guess I was not alone in that. It made me think back to my unwavering crush on Nick Schmaltz in middle school with the swooping fringe, scuffed Converse, and permanent scowl. My affinity for pretending to like Slipknot to get his attention. I walked to the bus stop each morning and changed into torn-at-the-knees Gap bell-bottoms, picked at the frayed edges of the hole to make it larger, more authentic, inserted a studded white belt from Kohl’s into the loops, and adjusted a sweatband from Hot Topic onto my wrist away from the lurking eyes of my mother. It was only later that I would seek comfort in Jenny Lewis, Debbie Harry, Imogen Heap, Carole King and Regina Spektor long after my crush had ebbed. These articulate, fierce women helped me to understand what my identity could be. I ripped their magazine spreads out of Nylon, wrote their lyrics on my trapper keeper, and sang—off-key—along to their exquisitely spun narratives. Hopper writes, “Bikini Kill songs taught me something that neither Mudhoney, nor Andrew Beccone ever could—that my teen-girl soul mattered. That who I was mattered, what I thought and felt mattered, even when they were invisible to everyone else.” It took me a while to find “my girls,” the female singers who spoke to my life experience, passions; but once I did, there was no going back. Goodbye Nick, goodbye Hot Topic, goodbye music that didn’t represent me.

I implore you – if you’re a fan of witchsong – to pick up a copy. I read the book immediately the first week it came out, and I’ve reread it this year as I seek to find better ways to catalogue, confront, and love music.

Say It Ain’t So: Nostalgia Grips Adele on ’25’

“The record is about getting older and becoming nostalgic, she says. It’s about what was, what is, what might have been. It’s about missing things that you had no idea were so precious, like being 18-years-old and drinking two litre bottles of cider in Brockwell Park with your mates. ‘Those were the most real and best moments of my life and I wish I’d known that I wasn’t going to be able to sit in the park and drink a bottle of cider again.’ Not because she’s famous, but because her life – and the lives of her school friends – has moved on. No one is a teenager anymore. ‘I think the album is about trying to clear out the past,’ she says slowly.”

-Adele to Hattie Collins in i-D’s “adele interview: world exclusive first interview in three years”

Adele’s 25 is a reflective, weary album that recounts the passage of time and the loss of the youthful versions of ourselves who lived easily, thoughtlessly. Only Adele could announce her return to music with a song entitled “Hello” written to her past. Adele told i-D, “Hello” is “not about anyone specifically. It’s about friends, ex-boyfriends, it’s about myself, it’s about my family. It’s also about my fans as well.” My apartment senior year of college listened exclusively to Adele. You could hear the BBC performance of “Someone Like You” playing in the shower, kitchen, and dining room. It didn’t matter at what time of the day you stumbled into our apartment, one of us would be belting “One and Only.” She understood our heartbreak. Being twenty-one ourselves, Adele was our guide through our campus yearning and grief. It’s befitting that Adele has chosen to release a new album of material entitled 25, the age I am now as I long for the ease of undergrad’s frustrations and community.

 

“Hello” muses, I’m in California dreaming about who we used to be / When we were younger and free / I’ve forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet… The reminiscing on “Hello” continues for the entirety of 25. The success of Adele’s 21 depended on our ability to connect to her heartache, her reality, her ingenuity. In living her own life away from the public since the success of 21, Adele’s 25 reminds us of the emotive, intimate songstress she is by sharing her very real, very potent concerns about growing up, up, up and away from her former self.

“Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” avoids sentimentality, and instead focuses on the practicalities of the heart. Adele is too old for the entangled bitter sentiments directed towards exes on 21, she’s pursuing greener pastures. Send my love to your new lover / Treat her better / We’ve gotta let go of all of our ghosts / We both know we ain’t kids no more… Adele shocked the world when she announced her new relationship and pregnancy following 21’s smash success, but this new life of routine clearly has settled a lot of her prior irritations. She’s found stability amid the chaos of the success of a career-defining album. “I Miss You,” written by Adele and Paul Epworth, has a commanding drum beat that punctuates the entirety of the glimmering track. There’s a sense of agency, action. I want every single piece of you… It’s intimate, terse. I miss you when the lights go down…

 A linchpin of 25 is “When We Were Young.” Let me photograph you in this light / In case it is the last time / That we might be exactly like we were / Before we realized / We were sad of getting old / It made us restless… Adele has released a music video for a live version recorded at Church Studios that captures the kinetic energy that her studio albums cannot fully convey. The sense of longing that “When We Were Young” realizes. It was just like a movie / It was just like a song… I guess I still care / Do you still care…? Adele’s sound on 25, while not too far from the production of 21, has new flourishes and shimmers. She’s deftly chosen to collaborate once again with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and Paul Epworth, while expanding her collaboration team to include Tobias Jesso Jr., Max Martin, Bruno Mars, and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse).

The simplicity of the production on “Million Years Ago” allows Adele’s voice and the lyrics to resonant. I miss the air, I miss my friends / I miss my mother, I miss it when / Life was a party to be thrown / But that was a million years ago… Doing promo for 25, Adele stopped by BBC’s The Radio 1 Breakfast Show with Nick Grimshaw to discuss the new album. She told Grimshaw, “I found myself yearning for my past, for no reason specifically other than… it had gone. It had happened, and I missed elements of it. I felt like all of us were moving on.” The song is a distillation of the all the doubts and fears I think about, but rarely vocalize when it comes to life in my mid-twenties. I never wish to be twenty-one, hungover on my living room floor, stretched out in the sunlight, bemoaning the boy I let crush my heart in his two palms with indifference and nonchalance. However, I do wish to be twenty-one, piled into my old apartment’s kitchen, freely pouring Captain Morgan’s into shot glasses and licking spilled Franzia off my fingers with seven girls who were (and remain) my entire world. Toasting each other’s achievements, recklessness. I miss the immediacy of our life. I didn’t have to schedule phone calls or trips; I just stumbled into their bedrooms and demanded their attention, advice, affection. Adele was (and is) the unspoken roommate of my college years. The young woman who taught me that I could and should love large, and foolishly. I know I’m not the only one / Who regrets the things they’ve done…

Adele’s 25 is steeped in nostalgia. It’s melancholic, wistful. You can love where you are, but it doesn’t mean you can’t miss the ease and simplicity of what once was. I’m so grateful, humbled I get to grow up alongside Adele.

New Music Trifecta: Little Mix, Ellie Goulding, and Grimes

We are incredibly blessed. It is November, and fast upon us is the release of One Direction’s Made in the A.M. and Adele’s 25. Today, however, we got a trifecta of women dropping their records on the music industry, their voices are strong, powerful, and personal. In the early hours of this morning, Little Mix’s Get Weird, Ellie Goulding’s Delirium, and Grime’s Art Angels arrived. How is a girl supposed to keep up? How am I supposed to choose which album to devour first?

Well, last night, I must say I giddily let Little Mix’s pre-order download to my iTunes while listening to a podcast that was reflecting on friendship, the intimate and personal relationships women are forging online (and in person) today. It was the perfect introduction to Little Mix’s Get Weird. I didn’t fall asleep easily last night. I pressed play, and I couldn’t have been happier to have Jesy Nelson, Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards, and Leigh-Anne Pinnock serenading me, empowering me.

I can’t shake “Love Me or Leave Me.” While I may think “Move” was the best pop song of 2013—and a contender for the decade already—Little Mix knows their way around a ballad. The shimmering instrumentation, the visceral and soaring emotion, the colossal vocals. Oh, oh, oh, oh… Love me or leave me here… Love me baby please… Little Mix, for me, is best when dealing with the fallout of relationships. It’s distilled,  specific. I’m not ready yet to write long form prose on “The End,” but it’s the track you should wait for. Perrie’s high note is heart-stopping. Little Mix has grown up, and I’m so happy they’re willing to share the complexities of their early twenties with us.

If you haven’t listened to Ellie Goulding’s Radio 1 Live Session with Annie Mac from Wednesday, I highly recommend you go to BBC Radio 1. I’m reluctant to discuss Ellie Goulding’s music—Gretchen Kast, a witchsong contributor, has done a brilliant job over at One Week One Band—but I will say that I jumped at chance to buy a ticket to see Ellie at Madison Square Garden in June before the album even dropped (coincidentally, with Gretchen!). Ellie posted to her Instagram that she had realized that after two albums she had written about love, but never covered the resilient and constant love between best friends. She released “Army” last Friday. I sent the song immediately to my college best friends the moment I heard it.  All the nights we’ve been drunk on the floor… We had a penchant for standing on chairs around our kitchen table belting Adele songs senior year so loud passersby on the street could hear us. Ellie captures the splendor of finding girls who relentlessly stand by, cover, and build you up.

You understand / Yeah like no one can / I know that we don’t look like much / But no one fucks it up like us… How many times did we say that senior year? “No one is having more fun than us.” “Can you believe we all found each other?” “I’m stronger for knowing you.” “You’re right, the first dress was better.” Driving down the interstate to the nearest mall, we’d belt out Lady Gaga tunes. “Did you hear she’s just released a piano version of ‘Poker Face’?” I love music, but I do not by any means have a “good” voice. My girls never tell me to shut up, they want me to shine. How you cringe when you sing out of tune / And yeah it’s everything / So don’t change a thing…

Delirium is the pop record we’ve all been waiting for Ellie to make.  As she told the New York Times, “I’m not always like my music, which can be quite brutal, quite powerful… I can be very shy, and there’s not much about my music anymore that’s shy. It’s the ultimate freedom of expression. It’s the one place where there is nothing involved other than me, my thoughts and my musings.” Delirium shows us yet another facet of Ellie’s effervescent and relatable personality.

I’ll be real with you all. I’m saving Grimes’ album, and I will be listening tonight. You should join me. In the meantime, I would highly recommend the single “Flesh without Blood.”

P.S. While we’re talking today’s releases, don’t forget to listen to One Direction’s “History” this afternoon. It’s what the rest of the witchsong girls will be doing.

Looking Out For You: Catfish and the Bottlemen’s Showcase at Terminal 5

Do you, don’t you want me to love you?
I’m coming down fast but I’m miles above you
Tell me, tell me, come on tell me the answer!
Well you may be a lover, but you ain’t no dancer…

                                 —The Beatles, “Helter Skelter”

Catfish and the Bottlemen made an entrance onto Terminal 5’s stage to The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” A bold move for a band from England trying to carve their own history as a British rock group breaking ground in the American music scene. Then again, this is a band that isn’t interested in making friends but instead announcing their arrival. Clad in all black and hair grown out from its earlier mop top, Van McCann—more than ever before—looked the part of a front man. This wasn’t a homecoming show, but a calling card. Surrounded on all sides by teens, I waited to hear the music Catfish and the Bottlemen has been perfecting since forming in their early teens.

I’ve seen Catfish and the Bottlemen perform before. Earlier this year, my best friend and I saw them perform at Mac’s Bar in East Lansing to a few hundred people. Squashed in a small bar on a cold evening in March, Catfish’s performance was raw and chaotic. Van was sick, but their onstage presence showed no lack of continuity and gusto. Drunk, I danced. I screamed. I loved.

The show at Terminal 5 opened with my personal favorite “Rango.” Catfish and the Bottlemen are great lyricists, and the proof is in “Rango.” Heartfelt and confessional. Vulnerable. Van sings:

I plan on coming back for nothing
But then again there’s you
And although this town does flaunt
All the stuff you need to feel at home
I plan on taking from it nothing,
But then again there’s you…

 Our twenties are about picking up, and leaving home. Finding new homes in people and places right (and wrong) for us. Catfish and the Bottlemen explore the temptations of home, the lure of the familiar, and the love for those we have left behind that lingers far after the initial break. The lilt to Van’s voice when sings “But then again there’s you…” might just be the most beautiful moment on any rock album to debut last year. Having recently left home for New York City, I connect with “Rango” the hardest. The desire to take “nothing” with me, and—yet—wanting to carry on my person those closest to me. I want my friends, their gleaming smiles and throaty laughs and whiskey tolerances. “Rango” continues,

And although this town does flaunt
Much thicker stories than I care to talk
Darling you’ve fought them in style
And I’ll always love you for that…

It’s hard to return to places we grew up and notice the veneers that have changed on buildings, and more pronounced—the ways the town and ourselves have morphed and transformed, and—occasionally—stagnantly fought to remain the same. “Rango” is the song I play for everyone I want to introduce to Catfish and the Bottlemen. It was nice to hear them introduce themselves to the crowd with it, to have them understand what I hear every time I turn the song up on my iPod. “Rango” is a proper introduction to these Englishmen.

Yes I know
That I’ll never work out exactly how you’re thinking
But let me know when I’m needed home…

The show is swift. Catfish and the Bottlemen don’t spend much time setting up songs, telling anecdotes. The music introduces itself. Steals your attention away from your phone, from the bodies pressed against your back, from the arms raised in the air in silent syncopation. “Pacifier” segued into “Sidewinder.” It was hard to keep my eyes off Van. In March, he’d been soft and sullen. He appeared smaller in a knit sweater. At Terminal 5, hair falling in front of his eyes and shirt unbuttoned, he looked like a proper rockstar. Shoving his fingers into his hair, he seemed to be acquiring the nuances of Harry Styles’ enigmatic persona (I say this mostly because there is nothing Van would hate more than a comparison to One Direction’s heartthrob, a band he has continually denounced in interviews when not tweeting Louis Tomlinson hate). He was lithe on stage, his guitar work both elegant and anarchic. His fingers fast moving, his mouth shoved against the mic as drops of sweat rolled down his hollow cheeks. His eyes were hooded, lowered. Seducing the crowd to come a little closer with “Business.”

I wanna make it my business
I wanna tolerate drunk you, honey
I wanna make you my problem…

The highlight of a Catfish and the Bottlemen concert, in my opinion, is always “Hourglass.” One of the rare moments Van paused to introduce. He dedicated the song that night to Ewan McGregor’s daughter who was in attendance (McGregor is rather famously in the music video—to the point Van noted that people think Catfish really did steal the song from him). “Hourglass” is bittersweet and indulgent. It demands you lean in, sing softly.

And I’m so impatient when you’re not mine
I just want to catch up on all the lost times
And I’ll say I’m sorry if I sound sordid
Cause all I really ever want is you…

My predisposition to love songs about yearning is high. I instantly fell for “Hourglass” the first time I ever listened to The Balcony. You can’t ignore these lyrics:

Offer my hand and I’ll take your name
Share my shower, kiss my frame
Cause I wanna carry all your children
And I wanna call them stupid shit…

All I want is what I can’t have. “All I really ever want is you.” Concise, and to the point. This is my mission statement. The part of me I try to hide behind Sephora brand lip stain and an American Apparel acquired scowl. I’m weak in the face of people I want. I want all of them, their attention and their focus. I want to devour them. I want gentle touches and soft murmurs. I want the fragility of loving someone, and them returning the feelings.

Catfish closes every show they’ve done with “Tyrants,” a song that Van wrote at age 14. Now in their early twenties, the song has earned and gained weight. We’re all trying to “get a grip” of Catfish of Bottlemen as they “make a racket.”

And I did my best to get my hands under your jacket…

Setlist:
Rango
Pacifier
Sidewinder
Fallout
26
Business
Kathleen
Homesick
Hourglass
Cocoon
Tyrants

brittle: playlist

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music to burrow into. music to lounge in bed with. music to listen to while wearing thick sweaters and wool socks. music to drink earl grey tea with. music to pull tights up your legs to. music to play as you fall into a pile of leaves, arms outstretched and waiting to be caught by gravity. music to hold close in your palms. music to comfort a broken heart.

playlist

Dead Man’s Bones – My Body’s A Zombie For You
I can’t fit in this skin
It’s worn and useless thin
The size of the eyes and the flies in the sky
Make it hard to see, to the end…

Troye Sivan – BITE
So kiss me on the mouth and set me free
But please don’t bite…

Disclosure ft. Lorde – Magnets
Let’s embrace the point of no return…

Years & Years – Without 
Oh, you keep shivering into the night
I can let you hold me
And tell each other that we might survive
If we keep it going
Oh…

Doe Paoro – Growth/Decay 
Change, it only goes one way
Cycle to the life ain’t a way
Maybe I could find out one day
Why I had to grow to this decay…

Carly Rae Jepsen – Your Type 
I’m not the type of girl for you
And I’m not going to pretend
That I’m the type of girl you call more than a friend
And I break all the rules for you
Break my heart and start again
I’m the type of girl you call more than a friend…

Taylor Swift – Enchanted 
Please don’t be in love with someone else
Please don’t have somebody waiting on you
Please don’t be in love with someone else
Please don’t have somebody waiting on you…

Sufjan Stevens – All of me wants all of you 
Traced your shadow with my shoe
Empty outline changed my view
Now all of me thinks less of you…

Halsey – Hurricane
I’m a wanderess
I’m a one night stand
Don’t belong to no city
Don’t belong to no man…

Catfish and the Bottlemen – Hourglass
And I’m so impatient when you’re not mine
I just wanna catch up on all the lost times
And I’ll say I’m sorry if I sound sordid
Cause all I really ever want is you…

Waxahatchee – La Loose
And I’ll try to preserve the routine
And I don’t want to discuss what it means
And you’re the only one I want watching me…

Drake – Wednesday Night Interlude 
Been a minute since we’ve slept together
Gotta get myself together
I’ve been thinkin’ about everything
I don’t know if it’s because I’m lonely…

Tell Me What It Is You Want: Years & Years’ Confession at Terminal 5

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The minute I got inside Terminal 5 last Wednesday to see Years & Years, past the glimmering chandeliers in the entrance hall contrasted by the grime of the floor, I made my way to the bar. I was present to hear Communion, and I wanted my fill of alcohol. It’d already had been a long week. Though, I will say I was dressed the part for a New York City concert in my Topshop Chelsea boots, leather jacket, and leopard print skirt. Budweiser in hand, I headed to the floor.

The closest I feel these days to something akin to religion is attending concerts. The sense of community amassed as we all stand waiting to hear the lyrics we’ve whispered to ourselves before bed, jammed to in our cars at 5pm in standstill traffic or strutted down the sidewalk to. I love the moment that the album goes from being a personal to collective experience. The clamor of sweaty bodies, spilt (cheap) beer, and glimpses I catch of the band make an album tangible. I was ready for “Eyes Shut” and “Without” to become a live experience I could take home, a memory I could hold. Years & Years so acutely speaks to my constant state of longing and wanting. I always want more, more, more.

Years & Years started off their September 16 show with “Foundation.” The beginning of their debut album sets the tone for the dance party they are going to reign over. Communion is an album about want and desire, the latter a name of a track on the album. Communion—like the best pop records—is about love, loss, obsession, and sex. As the lights dimmed and strobes turned on, I downed the rest of my beer and threw my cup to the floor. I didn’t want anything inhibiting me. As Olly Alexander came out on stage, a force of boundless energy and long limbs and blinding smiles, I screamed into the lights, “And I wanna get older / All the things I want I really shouldn’t get…” I used to be shy about taking up space at shows, trying to contort my body as small as possible, make sure my purse wasn’t touching anyone, cautiously moving my hips but not enough to garner any real attention. I was afraid of being seen, mocked. I’m finally learning how to lose myself in the music, how that’s ok if not preferable. The sold-out crowd was immersed in every lyric. Thrashing along to the beat, lunging forward. “And your head looks so good / I wanna love it so much…” All of us understanding that all to familiar urge to drown oneself in someone new, “I wanna do what you love…” Years & Years hauntingly merges upbeat electronic beats with melancholy lyrics, the juxtaposition of uplift and disappointment constantly experiencing friction. The duality live was great. Olly reminds us of the reality of our expectations despite our adoration. The constant refrain throughout the night was our callback response of “ohhh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhhhhhhh.” It was like a dreamlike chant, all of us in the crowd wanting, needing, craving and freely admitting so.

Longing comes up again and again on Communion. Live it was fun to thrash, jump, and sing, “You tell me that you want me now / Is it desire / Or is it love that I’m feeling for you / I want desire…” It’s hard to listen to “Desire” and not think of the modern age of short-lived relationships and Tinder swiping. Is all we want desire? Do we know what love is anymore? Are we willing to find out? Olly was quiet throughout most of the night except from when he interjected, “If you’re here on a date now would be a good time to start hooking up.” The energy in the room palpably changed. Bodies moved a little closer, shook a little bit harder. We are a generation looking for “want.” This was never more apparent than on “Memo” when the crowd rose their voices along with Olly to exclaim, “I want more, I want more / I want more, I want more…”

As everything cracks and splinters on “Take Shelter,” I loved being held up by the audience as Olly sang, “I know I wanted far too much / Never thought I wouldn’t be enough…” I constantly feel like I want too much from people, and therefore I ask for nothing. I am so prepared, so deeply engrained with the belief that I need to be ready at any moment for the brush off. It was nice to seek sanctuary in the lyrics, to dance the loneliness away. “I’m not gonna tell nobody / I’m not gonna tell nobody ’bout you…”

“Gold” was beautiful live, an audience bathed in luminescent gold light singing, “I’m gonna be the one that sets it all alight…” The sense of agency and control. Pop music focuses on the exaltation and exhilaration, the powerful and defiant. Years & Years with “Gold” have written a track that echoes. We see the light, and the darkness within us all is momentarily transformed. I was blinded by strobe lights. I could only feel.

The show quieted down when Years & Years performed “Eyes Shut,” a personal favorite on the album. Olly sat at the piano, iPhone’s craned to get a picture of him poised with his fingers on the keys.

And nothing’s gonna hurt me with my eyes shut
I can see through them
I can see through them…

The audience was hushed. Everyone’s dance moves slowed. Eyes trained on Olly obscured in a halo of pink and blue lights. We stayed silent for “Without.”

You don’t belong to me, you’re too far away
And everything falls apart when I try to say

You’re enough
In love without me
So close your heart
You’ll never find me
Ooh you can hate me now
Cause I’ll be gone
And I’ll be with you or without…

Having relocated to Brooklyn this summer, I feel “Without” strongest. It’s been on my bedtime playlist for months. I objectively miss people, constantly. I just don’t know how to tell them. I understand Olly’s exclamation here that “Everything falls apart when I try to say…” As an English major, I love words. However, poetry taught me that sometimes the power is in the breaks, in the pauses, in the things left unsaid. Everyone I love is “too far away” and I often have to remind myself that they “don’t belong to me” anymore. Time will test the foundation of our relationship, but for now I have to allow us to experience life apart.

The show reaches its culmination with “Real.”

I think I’m into you
How much do you want it too
What are you prepared to do
I think I’m gonna make it worse
I talk to you but it doesn’t work
I touch you but it starts to hurt
What have I been doing wrong
Tell me what it is you want
Don’t know what it is you want…

Years & Years deals with the unknown, the tumultuous. There is very little steady ground. Young, reckless. They’re looking for answers, and sometimes, admittedly, in all the wrong places (people). Standing in a crowd of young twentysomething’s, I felt like we were all admitting we were lost. Tell me what it is you want / Don’t you know what it is you want…

These two girls in front of me turned to each other after Olly bounded off the stage, saying, “He can’t not play ‘King’! He can’t not play ‘King’!” I wanted to pull an Amy Winehouse and tell them there was no way Years & Years would leave the stage without playing their breakout hit. As Olly came back onto the stage to an ovation of hollers and shouts, he smiled, his arms out, and sang, “Let go, let go, let go of everything…” For an evening—as I rose my arms and swung my hips—I actually did.

Woman On The Run: Halsey’s ‘Badlands’

My introduction to Halsey was “Ghost.” You’re a Rolling Stone boy / Never-sleep-alone boy / Got a million numbers / And they’re filling up your phone, boy… I was struck by the matter of factness. Saying that I love him but / I know I’m gonna leave him… I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that sure of myself when it comes to interpersonal relationships. I’m never ready to leave a boy. They leave. They reject. They go silent. I could hinge on a boy’s every word. It’s something I’m working on. The lyric I can’t get over—that loops in my head—is “You’re say you’re no good for me / Cause I’m always tugging at your sleeve.” Us girls forever a nuisance to a boy who wants more space. “Ghost” is Halsey’s brush-off. A hard edge. A clean break. Halsey is constantly on the move. Currently, she is on an impressive rise up the pop charts.

I haven’t sought out much information about Halsey, aka Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, 20, born and raised in New Jersey, despite desperately waiting for the release of Badlands. I don’t think I’ve anticipated an album so greatly since Lorde’s Pure Heroine. Badlands, in all its electro-pop glitter and sparkle, fills the void we’ve had on Top 40 since Lorde retreated to Australia and L.A. to work on her next studio album. I’ve been uninterested in Halsey’s persona, a first for me in this contemporary era of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I don’t need to know her influences. I just want to escape into the lush verses. Much like with Lorde, I just want to listen to Halsey bring a world unequivocally her own to life. I’ve been happy to live inside her lyrics, inside the atmospheric beats and raw presentation of her life. I’ve let her music speak for her, as opposed to The New York Times. I’ve fallen hard for the electric shock of blue hair that appears on my Tumblr dashboard, the vamp red lip stain that foretells the hidden sharp teeth.

I’m not taken with “New Americana” like Zane Lowe. I skip the track on my phone, turn the dial on the radio. It feels like a forced generational anthem, and I realize this an unpopular opinion. I just can’t help but laugh every time I hear her singing about smoking legal marijuana and being raised on Biggie and Nirvana (no matter the truth inherent in the chorus). It’s “Hold Me Down” and “Hurricane” that proclaim Halsey’s modern voice and identity far more articulately and subtly. I’m a wanderess / I’m a one-night stand / Don’t belong to no city / Don’t belong to no man… I relocated to Brooklyn in June, a reality I longed for but now inhabit in all its complicated manifestations. It’s been a dizzying journey of cross-country flights, a lonely summer of job applications and receding bank statements, a transient period of ever-present guilt and momentary excitement, of missing friends so much I can’t cry because I’m afraid I won’t stop. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to “Hurricane.” I am not a wanderess. I am too structured. But at my worst moments, I too have felt unmoored, a one-woman hurricane uprooting everything in her path.

There’s no use crying about it
There’s no use crying about it
There’s no use crying about it
There’s no use crying about it…

“Castle” opens Badlands. It was the moment I knew I would find refuge this fall in Halsey. The pop charts have a way of giving you the precise performer you need when you require them. This lyric has been a personal mantra of sorts all summer. Halsey vocally takes full ownership of her lyrics. I believe every word. I don’t question the spark. She’s a match (quite literally on “Gasoline”.) On “Drive,” she sings, “All we do is think about the feelings that we hide / All we do is sit in silence waiting for a sign…” This has been me all summer. Silently waiting behind the glow of a MacBook screen, hiding out in a bedroom on Scholes Street in East Williamsburg eating peanut butter and hummus. Sitting and waiting for phone calls from recruiters and human resources, sitting and waiting for texts and snaps from friends of Michigan’s familiar landscape, sitting and waiting for One Direction concerts to bring me out of my stupor. Unable to voice to my friends how much I miss them, how much anxiety I have over interviewing, how distant I feel from a boy I’ve obsessed over for years. The solace of the open road is something I long for. Going home last week, I felt centered to have the thrum of an engine beneath my feet, a steering wheel clasped in my palms. I felt in control for the first time in three months. I’m just as in love with the long stretch of highway and haphazardly planned road trips as I was at thirteen reading Kerouac’s On The Road. I may love New York City’s public transportation, but there’s nothing quite like locking the doors of your very own vehicle and turning up the radio until the rearview mirror shakes. Until all you can hear is the bass. Until all you can do is sing and thrash, vanish. It’s so simple but we can’t stay / Over analyze again, would it really kill you if we kissed…? I’m back in Brooklyn. We’ll see if it kills me.

At times, I’m overwhelmed by Halsey’s vision and scope on Badlands. For an album that feels like it was born from her time spent in New York City, down to her moniker being a name adopted from the streets of Brooklyn, Halsey is constantly on the move. She is constantly running. And we know that we’re headstrong / And our heart’s gone / And the timing’s never right / But for now let’s get away… I want to keep up. I want to follow her. I want to see where’s she going next. Could you imagine the taste of your lips / If we never tried to kiss on the drive to Queens / Cause I imagine the weight of your ribs / If you lied between my hips in the backseat / I imagine the tears in your eyes… Halsey breaks hearts. She leaves before being left. I just now have to hope she doesn’t leave me. I can’t wait to see where the open road takes Halsey next. After an arena tour opening for Imagine Dragons, the likely response is to bright lights and glossy magazine spreads.