Corbin

Corbin grew up in the bitterly cold boreal forest and doesn’t understand how she came to be living in a place where roses bloom in January. She likes rich strange foods, window seats, and corvids.

Teen Dreams with The 1975

It has been so long since I felt like this. Ricocheting against myself with the force of a slammed door traveling up a wrist, howling inside the closed room of my body but still somehow wide open to the mess of things, a sea spread flat and waiting for rain, waiting for sunshine, my surface dappled and troubled and permeable, a shivering mess of light and shadow: this is where I am these days, most hours awake and some sleeping too. I tremble a lot. Sometimes I catch a smell rising off my skin, hot and sharp, floral like the magnolia petals falling off the tree at the end of the block — ground into the pavement by someone’s careless heel, firm pearl pink cut through with rot.

It’s been three years since The 1975 released a full-length album and in that time I have mostly been getting to my desk job on time and remembering to pack a salad for lunch and hanging up my silk blouses when I get home. I’ve been steady. My skin has been okay. I’m grown, is what I’m saying, but lucky for me, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it dropped two months into the first time I’ve been off the birth control pill since I was sixteen, and this shitstorm of hormones leaves me in exactly the right emotional space to experience it for what it is. I’m a teenager again, utterly defenseless against the way the world moves into and through me, a conduit, bathed in my own electricity, jittering and dripping. I start splashing and sloshing and sparking hot when a wire touches me and there is a wire touching me almost all the time.

What I’m saying is, I was ready for this because I wasn’t ready for this.

This is music for teenagers, maybe even more than The 1975 was. This is sloppy and atmospheric and posturing. These are songs with brash dumb lyrics that are trying too hard, fake-cynical lyrics that don’t manage to disguise the emotion that brims and breaks and swells beneath them. Matty Healy chooses words like a stoned college sophomore whose midterm paper is due at noon, meaning mostly it’s a mishmash of messy diction masking ideas uncomplicated enough to shine through despite that, but sometimes he gets the glitter of something genuinely great. It’s fucked up to think that the same person who wrote “If I Believe You” — which muses on religious belief and atheism with all the nuance of a pretentious seventh grader who once read Richard Dawkins’ Twitter — can turn around and put out lines as biting and clean as I don’t want your body but I hate to think about you with somebody else.

A lot of these songs revolve around romance but rarely do the women in his songs function like traditional love objects; my favorite game is flipping the characters and marveling at how easy it is to imagine lines like you used to have a face straight out a magazine / now you just look like anyone as being sung at him instead of by him. The criticisms he levels at girl after girl become, in aggregate, a story more about him than about them, and meanwhile those criticisms are things like you took a picture of your salad and put it on the internet, which rotate their subjects from reductive intellectual-bro stereotypes into tiny narratives so perfectly relatable and nuanced that I kick the air with delight every time I hear them. Does he know he’s doing that? Is he trying to be mean, or has he been dedicating himself to ensuring each person who appears in his songs seems three-dimensional enough to sustain a full-length novel? I honestly can’t tell, but if I had to bet money, I’d say he has no fucking clue.

What is infuriating about Matty Healy is that he thinks he’s so smart, but even more infuriating is that he actually is smart, just not in the ways he seems to think he is. He loves to talk in interviews about what he writes about — fame, philosophy, the bitterness of love, questioning God — but, frankly, he’s not giving us anything new on those fronts. What happens in these songs that pushes them from the trash your local litbro writes to actual fucking poetry is the way he fails over and over to be convincing, the way he demonstrates that a self is most purely beautiful in the places where it is unable to disguise its vulnerability, and he owes almost all of that to how fucking good he is at writing and producing music. It all happens in the sound.

If these were really rock songs, they’d be all wrong, but they’re all as pop as pop can be. Pick and choose any and all of the usual adjectives — lush, glittering, soaring, sugary, thumping, tremulous — they’re all there, but they’re new somehow, and that’s where the genius is. I mean, can you believe synths can still sound revelatory? Every third radio station is playing something that sounds like a Kygo remix (and don’t get me wrong, I love that), but this album is beyond that. “A Change Of Heart” starts out with a canned eighties-prom-slow-dance Casio beat and floats like a silver Mylar balloon into a theremin break which wavers gently through a sea of iridescent bubbly echoes that genuinely would not be out of place in an Enya song, and you guys, my heart! When I listen to this I forget I’m on the train, I forget I’m anxious, I forget I’m anywhere other than floating in a starry mist. I put myself at risk of stepping in dog shit every day because I can’t listen to “Somebody Else” without my chin tipping skyward while my feet move me forward over all those filthy streets that Matty Healy is pretending to talk about. This isn’t music for looking at the world clear-eyed and pointing out faults and spitting truth. This is music for feeling.

My favorite song on this album is “Paris.” I have a rule for myself that I’m not allowed to put repeat on for the songs I love, so their magic doesn’t wear thin, but I’ve broken it with this one. I think it will take me hundreds of listens more to find out why it makes my whole body sing with certainty and understanding, but for now I am preoccupied with how it sounds like acknowledging past selves — not any specific self, only those that once existed and are now gone, whether by accidental change or conscious growth. I never felt much heartache from Casablanca‘s classic “We’ll always have Paris,” and for me the buoyant refrain of how I’d love to go to Paris again, and again, and again and again, and— is its antithesis: you can choose to acknowledge an ending by glossing over your hurt with a certainty and finality you do not feel, or you can allow yourself to linger in how beautiful it would be to have it one more time. I always prefer to sink myself in the wanting. Besides, these days, walking past jasmine vines with a pink buzz of chemicals flooding my blood, it seems that sometimes it isn’t up to you anyway. No matter how much you believe a part of your life to be finished, it can always split you right back open.

I Put My Armor On: Sia’s “Unstoppable”

Billboard called this song a “new empowerment anthem,” which, okay. I don’t know that they listened to all the words. Sia’s voice cloaks the verses like crystallized honey, cutting into clarity only at the chorus — you could listen to this song on the radio a million times and never hear anything but unstoppable today, unstoppable toda-a-ay, dark and soaring. But a Porsche with no brakes is not unstoppable because it is powerful. It is unstoppable because it is lacking the piece it needs in order to stop.

The first line of this song is all smiles, I know what it takes to fool this town. It is very easy to trick people into believing you are empowered, because everyone knows what being empowered is supposed to look like. Lace up your black boots, shake down your hair, slap your palms on the sticky bar and demand another round. I put my armor on, show you how strong I am. Draw on that eyeliner sharp enough to kill a man, but laugh easily and love sex. Be badass. Strong Female Character. Cool Girl. Don’t need batteries to play.

I spent a lot of time play-acting at this role, wearing little black shorts over ripped glitter tights and sipping whiskey from plastic handles, but when the world rolled beneath me one too many times I went home and splashed cold water on my face and pulled the covers around me, shivering. I am lucky. I have always had brakes. Failsafe, built-in, so that even when my whole self is roaring with hurricane wanting I do not give it what it asks for. Sometimes I don’t keep going even when I should. It took me years to learn that not everyone has this luxury, that not everyone feels a compass needle in their chest swinging to point towards moderation and self-preservation. Not everyone knows how to lay down the mantle of wildness and begin soothing the startled kicking heart that caused them to wear it in the first place. Not everyone knows how to stop.

There’s fake it til you make it, and then there’s “we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be,” and that both of these are highly popular instagrammable quotes as well as possible readings of this song is not an accident. You can choose to hear I put my armor on, show you how strong I am as a rallying cry, a promise that those who grit their teeth and charge through their sorrow enough times will come out as conquerors in the end. Or you can choose to hear it as a sentence of entrapment: I put my armor on, show you how strong I am, meaning retreating deeper and deeper into a cavernous shell of your own making until it is impossible to bring your vulnerabilities to light again, no matter how violently you rattle and clang against the walls.

I mean, I’m invincible, I win every single game is much easier to sing loud and clear to anyone who’s listening than I’ve heard that to let your feelings show is the only way to make friendships grow / but I’m too afraid now, yeah. Equating unstoppable with powerful is much less terrifying than believing it to be a warning sign. Then again: I listened to this song all weekend. When I went out for the first time in two days to buy groceries I rounded the corner of the sidewalk mouthing I’m so confident, yeah, and sunshine blazed from behind a cloud, and in that moment I believed it.

Sia’s new album is titled This Is Acting. It will be out at the end of this week.

You Are Here, It Says: Santigold’s “Chasing Shadows”

“Chasing Shadows” is about the conflicted reality of an artist’s life. Caught in the web we spin around ourselves, a mixture of hubris and the guise of perfection, we fear being swallowed up by our own ambition. Never in the moment, as quickly as we reach our goals, our gaze shifts to those still looming in the distance. We judge ourselves harshly for not being further on the path and revel in the anxiety of racing the rate of consumption. The lyrics weigh the value of going against the current to maintain artistic integrity, and the feelings of isolation and vacancy bred by a persona that is always “on” and ready for show.

That’s Santigold on her newest song, “Chasing Shadows,” which debuted Sunday on BBC’s Radio 1. It’s the third single she’s released in anticipation of her upcoming album, 99¢, which will be her first since 2012’s Master of My Make-Believe.

There are jams that create a mood, and then there are jams that melt seamlessly into the mood you’re already in, giving a sound and a steady beat to a feeling that might otherwise be mistaken for neutral. I can’t guarantee you’ll feel the same about “Chasing Shadows,” but for me, it’s the exact right mix of bright and dreamy, twinkling and thumping, to give a new sheen and shape to the thoughts I already have while carefully navigating a sidewalk at eight AM or sitting alone at the kitchen table watching the sunset fade into deep blue. The lyrics are difficult but not impossible to follow, slant rhymes stumbling and stuttering one after another, a mind trying to catch up with itself – watching through the window, flashing light on the bed / neon sign was red / you are here, it says; well, at least someone knows where I am – but it doesn’t feel frantic. Santigold is clear and purposeful in the articulation of her meaning, even when that fundamental meaning is uncertainty.

The video, out yesterday, is a dream-world of dark supersaturated color and flickering TV light, populated only by a languid Santigold who slowly grows to fill the little rooms that house her. Given her statement, it’s hard to watch the video and not see a visual representation for the creative process: a mind, left alone for a long time, swells to fill its confines and infuses the mundane with new vivid intensity. Hopefully, the rest of the results look a lot like this.

99¢ is out February 26th.

top five first listening experiences of 2015

Zayn Malik, “I Won’t Mind”

It seems impossible, now, that only a week elapsed between the shattering of One Direction’s utopian era and the “release” of this song, and it is a testament to the wretchedness of the world that its unveiling was intended as a blow in a fight. All night I sat alone at the kitchen table of my old apartment with cold hands tucked between my knees, shoulders pulled in, shivering, listening, trying to parse what everything meant for my heart and for the world. Jabs at Naughty Boy’s production value aside, the low quality of the leak lends the song an underwater atmosphere, and listening to it that night felt as much like sinking slowly in a swimming pool – eyes open, breath caught tight in your chest, body drifting deeper and deeper away from the bright fractured sunlight at the surface – as it did the relief of surfacing, the first drawn breath. I can’t wait to see what 2016 holds for Zayn Malik.

 

Hayley Kiyoko, “Girls Like Girls”

It’s not that I didn’t grow up with access to a set of queer narratives. It’s not that I didn’t manage to find them or make them or imagine them. It’s just that none of them ever looked like this: opalescent softness, television-perfect, pretty. I made do with what I could salvage from scraps and I dreamt of girls looking at girls with that golden summer haze over their skin but nobody ever gave it to me, because that wasn’t the way things could be. That wasn’t what was allowed. When I heard this for the first time it was August and I was alone in my new apartment and the warm pink sunset light split me right open. Hayley Kiyoko has a voice like breath on glass and even though it’s not quite what I need anymore it means so much to me that it exists. It exists. We exist. Lots of us are doing fine.

Metric, “Office Towers Escalate”

I take the train to work every day and I stand at the back, slouched against the glass doors that open to the space between cars – I lean all the way into the corner, as far as I can go. The first time I heard “Office Towers Escalate” I was hurtling backwards through West Oakland at a quarter after seven in the morning, swaying on my tired feet, thinking I knew what was coming next because I had listened to the album the night before, but what I didn’t know was I hadn’t made it all the way through and this song swept over me the way caffeine sweeps into your blood, with a startling thump. On its own it is maybe unremarkable – it sounds something like a club remix of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” seeping spookily through a locked door – but it kept going, and the train kept going, and as I kept going along with them, I felt a sort of prowling hungry vengeance that made me want to square my shoulders and stare people in the eye and take quick clipped steps over the tiled floors with my boot heels snapping beneath me. I felt awake. I used to say I’d never get an office job, but it seems the promise of financial solvency has triumphed over my intrinsic shiftlessness, and while it’s still a trial for me to get on the train every morning this song crawled into my head like a secret energy and propelled me, day after day.

One Direction, “A.M.”

Everyone has their own opinion on the ethics of leaks, and that’s fine and good; I don’t think it’s my place to make any kind of moral assertion for or against their consumption. I will tell you, though, that I did listen to the first leak of Made in the A.M. – the one recorded surreptitiously from inside the theater, filtered through the hubbub of the audience – and, having listened, I cannot imagine a more perfect way to have heard it for the first time.

“A.M.” starts like an old Taylor Swift song and takes a sharp right into the chorus with we’re just swimming round in our glasses / and talking out of our asses: a dumb line objectively, a lyric for an adolescent boy whose desire to exude swagger doesn’t match his capacity to carry it off, but that made it all the more beautiful to hear a theater full of (mostly) girls react to it. The first time they heard it: uproar. The second: uproar, even louder, shrieks of delight and horror and mocking glee that the boys would do this more than once. But the third time, everyone sang along. There is a real sadness to this whole album, a note of finality that tinges everything with sorrow, but in the midst of that sorrow there is still a whole community of people learning the words, howling them with conviction. It wasn’t until the album actually dropped that I heard the line which rounds out the chorus: we’re just swimming round in our glasses / and talking out of our asses / like we’re all gonna make it.

 

Enya, “Echoes In Rain”

Shortly before 11:30pm on the day before my golden birthday, I boarded a plane. When I turned 24, I was thirty thousand feet above the earth, staring at the stars and listening to this song with a lump in my throat made of raw diamond. Really it’s a miracle I got five songs into Dark Sky Island before I had to press back tears – the alleluias were what did it, the sincerity and serene joy of them, the way they seemed made for me at ten years old swinging my arms loosely at my side and feeling the wind lift my hair and believing all of creation shared in my happiness. There has been no point in my life when, asked whether or not I believe in God, I would answer with a definitive yes – but I can’t say that what made me cry wasn’t the surety that the universe loved me, at least sometimes. For years my body has moved through space and time and felt the wideness of the world and sent euphoria floating out like motes of light and received more euphoria back. So much has happened but the plane soared above the sleeping earth and tiny towns glowed like incandescent cobwebs underneath and everything that Enya sings about seemed true, all those opaque fragments about everything flows – change is the only constant and doesn’t that sort of mean everything stays the same, a sea of neverending movement? It was my golden birthday and that means this year is my golden year and I got to watch dawn crack into the horizon, a ring of lavender light. Here comes another new day.

Now I’ll Take What’s Mine: Metric’s PAGANS IN VEGAS

Today marks the release of PAGANS IN VEGAS — the sixth full-length album from canonical Canadian Indie Band Metric, and a record title so spectacular that I cannot seem to keep myself from writing its name in all caps.

Metric’s hard-edged, glinting brand of dance pop is sharp as ever. Album opener “Lie Lie Lie” slinks its way through a melody both snap-along and sinister until slipping into a hypnotic one-word chorus that recalls Chasidic chants; second single “Cascades” bops along to a toe-tapping beat with lyrics barely discernible through a shimmering curtain of robotic distortion; “Blind Valentine” seesaws between flat petulance and bright, anthemic nostalgia. These songs are blue neon, silver glitter, black leather, electric current — the same stuff Metric has always been made of. What differentiates Pagans most from its predecessors is how emotionally resilient it seems. To date, Metric’s most popular single (“Help I’m Alive,” from 2009’s Fantasies) is a song about the terror and confusion of being alive; 2012’s Synthetica starts with a grandiose proclamation of I’m just as fucked up as they say, and Emily Haines herself wrote in a letter on the band’s website that the album was “about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection… about what is real vs what is artificial.”

If Fantasies is about being terrified by reality, and Synthetica is about interrogating it, Pagans In Vegas might just be about coming to terms with it. This is the kind of album you get after having torn your own guts out ten thousand times and traced your fortunes on the filthy floor so often that you can start poking fun at yourself, as in “Too Bad, So Sad,” the chorus of which intersperses flippant, sardonic, cowgirlish woo hoo! cheers between the pleas of a self begging get me out of this state I’m in.

The emotional crux of the album comes from lead single “The Shade” and the immediately subsequent “Celebrate.” They’re big songs, movie montage music, shiny and soaring and shot through with just enough melancholy to make your heart twinge. I want it all, I want it all, goes the chorus of “The Shade,” but there’s nothing desperate or gasping in the refrain, just a kind of expansive joyousness, the open-hearted revelation of someone who feels, at long last, ready to embrace the whole flawed beautiful world with a whole flawed beautiful self. We got the sunshine, we got the shade. This is an album about coaxing yourself along, about reassuring yourself to keep going, even when, as Haines sings, It’s hard to see from where I stand / there’s a future close at hand and it’s worth living.

This is an album about choosing to tell yourself you are alive, you are a real person, and you are deserving of being so. The lead single from Synthetica, “Breathing Underwater,” goes They were right when they said / we were breathing underwater / Out of place all the time / In a world that wasn’t mine to take. In “Celebrate,” Haines counters: I’ve been blessed and I’ve been cursed / I’ve been the best, I’ve been the worst / now I’ll take what’s mine.

Being Too Much: Of Monsters and Men’s “I Of The Storm”

I mean, I don’t want to be overly prescriptive, since Of Monsters and Men’s new single “I Of The Storm” has only been available to the general public audience for three days, but: if you are a person who knows what it feels like to lie up at night with fear clutching at your chest, thinking of all the things you’ve done wrong, working them over and over in your head to try and mete out enough peace to sleep, you should listen to this song. If you are eager to please and scared that you will fall short, you should listen to this song. If you have drifted uneasily in and out of your own skin, fighting against the insistent suspicion of I am a stranger / I am an alien inside a structure, you should listen to this song. If you are prone to fits of self-described ghostliness, shaking like a leaf or maybe it echoes when I breathe, you should listen to this song. If you are bowled over by the disgusting enormity of your own uncontrollable consciousness, like I feel it biting / I feel it break my skin / So uninviting, you should listen to this song. If you have ever felt afraid you will be denied a love you could have had, or that you will be responsible for losing a love you thought you earned, you should listen to this song. If you are always trying to map out the edges of where you end and your mind begins, if you struggle to ensure you create a distinction between all my thoughts and all my faults, if you are an I that both belongs to and stands apart from a storm of your own, well, I’m just saying. You should listen to this song. It’s right on the edge of being too much, but it all holds together. And really, isn’t that all anyone could ask for?

Kstewsday #3: Thurs(birth)day edition

Today is Kristen Stewart’s 25th birthday, and all day I will be thinking about one thing: how much I wanna slow dance with her while listening to the new Carly Rae Jepsen single, “All That.”

I hate slow jams. This song is a slow jam. I love it. I don’t know if it’s the intense glitter inherent in Carjeps’s voice, or the fact that from the first line I also can imagine every word in Kristen Stewart’s voice, a laconic murmur of I wanna play this for you all the time somewhere behind that salacious drum machine beat. “All That” may have the shimmering outer surface of an 80’s crooner B-side, but underneath all the showy synth is the quietest, gentlest promise, the kind of proclamation of devotion that comes from someone who wants to give you everything without showing all their cards. It asks without begging, it needs without desperation. Carly Rae Jepsen gets billed as a musician for teenagers but you can always rely on me to help you do what you want to do is a grown-up lyric, courageous and selfless, the kind of thing you’d hear from someone newly 25 who Jodie Foster once described as “fearless.” This song stands up straight and strong and delicate and rocks you gently back and forth across the kitchen floor in the middle of the night, as Kstew will surely do with me someday. Just let me in your arms, Kristen, just let me in your arms.

I’ll be your lighthouse when you’re lost at sea means I am thinking of Kstew on a sailboat, squinting into the sun as the brisk wind pushes her bangs back from her furrowed, freckled brow. I’ll keep my light on, baby, you can always come to me means I am thinking of Kstew turning on the porch light at two in the morning, holding open the screen door with one arm while the other gathers me up against the rumpled fabric of her white t-shirt, as she whispers to me that she’ll put on a pot of coffee so we can talk about it. When you need me I will never let you come apart, like, oh my god! And I’m not saying the chorus of this song is just a chilled-out mirror of Louis Tomlinson saying “I love you if you love me, yes,” but we all know Kristen Stewart is the chilled-out mirror of Louis Tomlinson, and there’s nothing more self-assuredly vulnerable and honest than asking for validation in the same breath that you give it to someone else.

This song is a dream, and the only thing dreamier is the idea that maybe someday I can listen to it wrapped in the tender embrace of my immortal cowboy girlfriend. Happy 25th, Kstew. I think I speak for all of witchsong when I say show me if you want me if I’m all that, and I will be that, I will be your friend.

“Legends ! Aha x” or, The Myth of One Direction

One Direction is a myth.

I mean, strictly speaking, that’s not quite true. One Direction are real, living people — I know this because I saw them (twice) with my own human eyes, and also because Harry Styles spat water out of his mouth that landed on my actual body (that only happened once, but good god was that a transcendent once). They tweet; they take photos with fans; they whisper distractingly to each other in interviews; they eat things that people throw at them. All signs point to their being real live humans.

Yet despite all their grubbing and fuckery, despite the maddening certainty that they are five twenty-something monster boys alive in the world, One Direction retain an aura of magic and power and unknowability that eclipses reason. They are the biggest boy band in the world, as we’ve heard so many times over; their stories have been repeated so many times by so many people and with so many embellishments that it is hard to say where events end and story begins. And that is where they cross into myth.

Myth is what happens when fact hits fiction. Myth is what happens when a tale gets repeated and twisted and embellished and outright invented until no one knows what really happened, only knows how the rightness of a story settles in their chest and makes them more whole. Myth is how you explain the unexplainable, the stories we tell each other to carry ourselves through the dark. Myth is ritual and mystery; myth is symbolism and magic; myth is truth by way of metaphor.

All this operates a little differently when we’re talking current events — no one, for example, is going to debate the historicity of Harry Styles the way they debate the historicity of Achilles. But honestly? We don’t really know anything about One Direction. You can look at a hundred thousand pictures of someone and still not understand what it is like to be in the same room as them. You can be in the same room with them, watch them cavort onstage or even interact with them personally, and still know nothing about who they are. You can research meticulously, write a hundred thousand words about the heat rising off their skin and the quickenings of their heart, and still never touch the truth of what they are feeling, what they have felt. We cannot reach their truths if they choose not to tell them to us.

They’ve learned to be guarded, and thank goodness for that, since this world is so hungry for access to them. The demands of celebrity, the difficulty of navigating a public life as well as a private one — it’s enough to warrant another essay altogether. Suffice it to say that when myths are at play, insisting upon truth is dangerous. Believe in them, if you want; believe they’re yours, but don’t believe they’re yours alone, and don’t believe you hold their secrets.

See, at this point, the truth — the capital-T Truth of One Direction — is mostly meaningless. We actually do know One Direction — it’s just that we know them as characters, as archetypes, as the stuff of stories. Lazy journalists like to talk about how rock stars are worshipped like gods but it is true that One Direction form a kind of five-point pantheon, a collection of figures with their own known attributes and traits that come together to be all-powerful. We’d recognize their symbols anywhere, well enough to ace a pop quiz: To whom is the banana sacred? Who is known alternately as the possum and the lion? Which member would you call upon for the lifting of a heavy object? We know that Zayn is as both as beautiful as Aphrodite and as merry as Pan; we understand that Niall is the heart of the band the same way we know Yggdrasil lives at the center of the world. They become stories so easily, cast and recast again into new shapes, fitted against existing stories to gain new perspectives. Their smallest moves become metaphors. Their grandest gestures can be enough to anchor us to a new day.

We’ve already heard this week about how One Direction has a unique capacity to awaken anew a sense of wonder and joy in the universe, to ease pain and to diminish wrongs. When I say One Direction is a myth, what I mean is: One Direction, like any good myth, help us tell stories about ourselves to ourselves. One Direction help us unravel the great mystery and terror of being alive in the universe. One Direction help us make sense of the shapes of things, help us see what a person can be or could be or could embody: luck, strength, charm, joy, grace. We adorn our bodies in honor of them, we paste icons of them on our walls. We whisper and shout and sing their words, in the good times and in the bad ones. They are for us, and we can always rely on their magic. They’ll be gone someday, of course, but that doesn’t mean they will be really gone; Troy fell thousands of years ago and my high school mascot was still the Trojans. One Direction will part ways and pass from this earth, as everything eventually must, but who knows the last time a mother will turn to her daughter and whisper once more the ancient proverb: “They were just normal guys, but terrible, terrible dancers.”

About Rebirth: Of Monsters and Men’s “Crystals”

In the fall of 2011, a friend of mine started circulating a thumb drive amongst my little insular college clique, insisting everyone download this one particular album he’d found somewhere in the dark corners of the internet where he went to hunt for the most obscure new music he could find. “These guys are so good,” he said. “They’re Icelandic, they won a contest or something. You can’t even get the album on American iTunes yet. It’s amazing.”

It was. We fell in love, all of us, turning it up and dancing in the living room and howling the lyrics into the darkened trees behind our apartment building as the first snows began to fall. So did everyone else — fast-forward half a year and the band, Of Monsters and Men, could be heard in cars and coffee shops and malls everywhere. Their album My Head is an Animal was not only available on American iTunes but on the fast track to platinum sales. For a time it seemed like they’d be a one-off sensation, burning out early from too much too soon thanks to a magic in their sound that most people assumed would evade duplication (an anxiety inspired, maybe, by the cringingly bombastic sophomore release from Mumford and Sons). But they’ve just announced a new album, and the first single, “Crystals” has everything that made Of Monsters and Men a sensation in the first place.

“Crystals” is pop magic touched with smoky softness, lingering and lovely and delicately occult. I will allow it to be called folk only if folk is preceded by fey, because their lush, orchestral sound has nothing to do with folk except maybe the implied sweaters and bleak landscapes. The instrumentals are dreamy and lovely with a thrumming beat that sets your pulse going — a sound as big as the sky, and as intimate. Lead vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s voice swoops from a high, iceblink clarity to a softer, spookier, almost feline mewl, never not ringing with otherworldly beauty.

I want to talk about the lyrics, but  Of Monsters and Men doesn’t do lyrics – they do the lyric, pure lyric, the kind of thing Erato would listen to as she danced in a clearing of white roses or across a deserted beach of volcanic sands. Cover your crystal eyes / and feel the tones that tremble down your spine / cover your crystal eyes / and let your colors bleed and blend with mine, goes the chorus, and as they sing it, it happens to you — it becomes hard to feel like anything but a bank of glittering clouds; a wide aerial shot lifting away and away from rocks below into a sky cut through with cold pure sunlight; a bright, clear thing taking in the world.

Of Monsters and Men write fairytales about the making and unmaking of selves, the way humans turn into landscapes and creatures and monsters and dazzling abstracts, and this is no exception. “Crystals” is about captivity and unburdening, vulnerability and terror and growth — as in I know I’ll wither / so peel away the bark / cause nothing / grows when it is dark. It is a song about anxiously anticipating change: In spite of all my fears / I can see it all so clear. It is a love song — not, as the chorus might have you believe, between the you of the crystal eyes and the narrator that peels and withers, but instead a love song to a changed self, a self that is both stronger and more fragile than the self left behind. I’m okay in see-through skin / I forgive what is within. “Crystals” is a transfiguration song. “Crystals” is a song of rebirth. Of Monsters and Men’s second album, Beneath the Skin, is slated for release on June 9th, and I for one am super excited.

Thunderbolt and Shooting Star, or “Nobody Loves You Baby The Way I Do”

a playlist for best friends.

It’s hard to begin telling the longest love story you know, but mine begins with a bite. I was four years old and she was five; we lived in the same apartment building and I liked her toys and she liked the look of my arm, I guess, I don’t know, we’ve always told it as a single-sentence story. How’d you two meet? She bit me. Yeah, I bit her. It’s funniest that way, and at this point it hardly matters why it happened, only that it did.

We talk a lot about girlfriends on this site, “gal pals” with scare quotes like long lashes around an eyeroll, because, I mean, come on, but when I talk about this love I am talking about best friends and exactly that. Almost-sisters, other halves, as vast as the salt sea, love in a way that’s as different from romance as it is important.

She bit me and things happened. Hey, remember that time when. We blew bubbles and danced the tango at someone’s wedding. In first grade she fell and split open her lip and when it healed she let me touch the scar. We bought matching turquoise and purple wave-patterned bandeau bikinis at Target, not even on purpose, not even together, we found out when we were describing our new swimsuits to each other on the phone at the same time. We both got scabies on a school field trip and soaked ourselves in herbal baths and tried to hide our embarrassment. I taught her to eat guacamole, she taught me to drink lattes. My first-ever text was to her. We took swing dancing lessons in a class full of middle-aged couples and snorted with laughter over our partners’ shoulders. She came to every one of my terrible high school plays. I took her senior pictures. We sobbed in each other’s arms at high noon on the August day when I left for college, where I would be a literal thousand miles away; that night I slept in a motel in a town that means the same thing her name does, heaven, and started calling her every day.

We told each other about every boy and girl we met and kissed and fought with and hated. We were messy. Life was messy, like I’ve been sick and working all week and I’ve been doing just fine. She would call me crying or I would call her panicking and the other one would say, you just gotta remind yourself that you’re amazing, babe. Once or twice we fought, bitter and sudden and dizzyingly scary, and in the end we said we were sorry. We always will. Balayés par toujours, je repars à zéro. There’s nothing big enough to break us up. In part that’s because what exists between us is too big to break, too precious to remake. It is always possible to build a best friendship and it is always possible to build a sisterhood but it is not possible to build another childhood, not even possible to re-enact the whole of it for a new person. Both of our parents have since moved out of our childhood homes; all the schools we attended together have closed; our pets died. We are all we have left of our own pasts. I’ve never felt more alone, it feels so scary getting old. 

Every best friendship has different particulars and ends up looking almost exactly the same on the surface, so it’s funny: I am telling you what happened and you’ll know what I’m talking about even though you were never there. She’ll know, though. She was there. She’s always been there, and that’s the whole point, and that’s what I mean when I say nobody loves you baby, the way I do.

In fifth grade we designed a symbol for ourselves (I want to write ourself there, a word that doesn’t exist outside stories like these, people blurring together at the edges): a little cloud spitting out lightning and behind it, a star falling, four points of five visible. Thundercloud and shooting star. I haven’t drawn it in years but it’s still etched behind my eyes in silver gel pen and smudged pencil and chalk, a tag, a proclamation, a double signature. It didn’t have a name, it was just us. She was thunderbolt. I was shooting star. At the time there were reasons and there are still reasons but at this point my favorite thing about those two icons are how well they resist slotting into an easy, metaphorical dichotomy – both light up the sky and then go dark again, both move swift and unpredictable, both can change the face of the earth. So what if one of us is fire and iron and one of us is water and air; they’re the same thing, really, and neither one is static. And are neither are we, even after all the raging and the burning out, the way storms and stars are wont to do.

Anyway, she turned twenty-four yesterday. I’m so proud of her. Next year marks twenty years of friendship. And, like, since I know she’s reading this: happy birthday, favorite girl. Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.