Absolution by way of Florence + the Machine’s HOW BIG, HOW BLUE, HOW BEAUTIFUL

Writing about music has always been wrapped up in the same language other people use to talk about the divine for me. I feel closer to some sort of central energy force when I’m standing at a concert with the floor vibrating below my feet than I do in any church or during any conversation about God. Nothing makes me feel like any sort of higher-plane communication is possible more than laying flat on my back with my hands crossed over my stomach and my eyes closed and headphones over my ears. There are albums that make me play at devout; sitting silent and steady somewhere, music turned up so loud that it’s almost overwhelming, letting it wash over me. Letting it absolve.

There is something here that does that for me. Maybe it’s because it seems like Florence Welch herself best knows how to write music when she’s using the language of the divine (saints are called out by individual name and by pluralized concept, we hear about crucifixes in the same breath as the Hollywood sign, “Mother” pleads with a lord figure and talks about heaven and talks about kneeling all in one pretty gospel-inflected package), but every time I open my mouth to talk about How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, I feel like I might choke on my tears. It’s why this review is a week late, actually. I couldn’t figure out how to put that sort of emotion, that much emotion, into words.

There is expansiveness at work on this album that feels almost overwhelming, although when you compare it to the non-stop witchery and heavy doses of harp on Ceremonials (an album I love, don’t get me wrong), there’s something nearing subtlety in a song like “Various Storms & Saints,” which starts slow and almost bare and steadily builds in arrangement, volume, and anger. What I mean about HBHBHB is that it doesn’t feel as fragile as Ceremonials, partially because Flo’s powerhouse vocals aren’t the only source of strength sonically here. There are swells of string and thunderous horn sections; the general feeling here is not a dew-flecked spiderweb in the light of a full moon like Ceremonials or even Lungs, but a lush, crowded garden in the noon sun, on its way to a little too hot and a little too much but god don’t the roses smell good this time of year? Even the softer songs, the slow-builders like “Long & Lost,” have an attitude to them, an almost bluesy swagger as the foundation, beneath all their bare vulnerability. The instrumental arrangements are as strong and as vital as her vocals and it’s an album standing securely, solidly, on two feet as a result.

At its most base level, the album is an exercise in catharsis. Not just despair, although there are certainly songs that could break your heart they are so sorrowful (like “Long & Lost, which I mentioned above, a song that includes the line “Are you missing me? Is it too late to come on home?”, or “Queen of Peace” asking “What is it worth when all that’s left is hurt?”). There’s also the bright burn of anger here, like Flo decided the best way to handle it was to contain and let it burn wild until there were only embers left behind. I talked about this a little when I talked about “Delilah,” about how the lead tracks seemed to have an almost righteous fury to them that stands out from previous efforts. It’s part of why this album resonates with me in a way the first two don’t; I understand anger. I understand “make up your mind, before I make it up for you / the executioner is within me / and he comes blindfold ready, sword in hand.” I get needing to scream until you can’t catch your breath to keep screaming because having it bottled up deep in your gut isn’t an option anymore.

But—and here is the vital thing, the thing that makes it an album about absolution and the cleansing power of fire, of fury, rather than the wrath of a woman scorned—through that all there is hope. There are the first tentative steps to piecing yourself back together on the other side of leveling everything you knew because there was something broken and rotten at the foundation. Look at “Third Eye” (you don’t have to be a ghost, here amongst the living; you are flesh and blood / you deserve to be loved). Look at “St. Jude” (and I’m learning, so I’m leaving). Look at “Delilah” (I’m gonna be free and I’m gonna be fine). This is Florence as phoenix, rising from the ashes, newborn and vulnerable but renewed and washed clean by the flames.

When you get down to it, I haven’t been able to listen to anything else, even though I’ve had to reapply my eyeliner three times right before work since the album was released. I’m devoted. (And, for what it’s worth, my absolute favorite song on the album is “Which Witch,” even though it only appears on the deluxe version. For a particularly cathartic combination, I recommend “Various Storms & Saints” followed by “Make Up Your Mind” followed by “Which Witch.”)

I’m gonna be free and I’m gonna be fine: Florence + the Machine’s “Delilah”


I’m gonna be free and I’m gonna be fine
Maybe not tonight

Too fast for freedom
Sometimes it all falls down
These chains never leave me
I keep dragging them around

I saw Florence + the Machine at my first Bonnaroo, saw Florence stomp and jump and twirl her way across that stage in a sheer black dress and bare feet. It was post-Lungs, pre-Ceremonials, and that’s always been the Flo that is nearest and dearest to my heart. There’s an energy in that first album, like blood rushing through your veins, that can’t stop won’t stop feeling, digging your nails into your thighs just to remind yourself that you are still grounded in a physical body; it’s exhausting but it is exhilarating, at first. The songs from How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful have a different kind of fire; here it comes from anger, not exultation and celebration. But– well, does it make me a terrible person to want it all? I’ve been waiting for a song that melded the two, angry and celebratory, something to twirl to as you shout the lyrics.

“Delilah” is that song. It’s angry, make no mistake. There’s still the anger that you hear in “What Kind of Man” and “Ship to Wreck,” but the sound, those almost glittery pop-vibes, is much more reminiscent of “Cosmic Love” or “You’ve Got the Love.” I’m trying to keep this brief because there will be a full review of the album when it is released but this is the song I was waiting for; I should’ve known Flo would deliver.

It’s a different kind of danger
And their bells are ringing out
And I’m calling for my mother
As I pull the pillars down

It’s a different kind of danger
And my feet are spinning ’round
Never knew I was a dancer
Until Delilah showed me how

baby we were born with fire and gold in our eyes


99% of what you need to know about me can be gleaned by watching this video, which is a little embarrassing because I think X Factor alum Bea Miller is like, 5 years old now and she’s wearing the same sort of choker I used to beg my mom for at the salon. (She’s actually 16, but that’s still younger than my baby sister, so that is why I’m a little threatened.) Anyway, this is clearly a song about fire sign sisterhood, no matter what it may seem like at first glance, so it’s only appropriate that an Aries twin sent this to me (hey Sadie). A flawless red lip, talons, so many gold rings, a leather jacket. This video is like a tumblr Aries aesthetics post come to life, which is weird because Bea Miller isn’t even an Aries, or a fire sign at all. (Get in touch, Bea, we’ll look at your full chart.)  “I believe in me and you / Baby, we were born with fire and gold in our eyes,” COME ON.

On Trying, and Crying, and Patsy Cline


I only know Patsy Cline’s music because of my mom. I learned the words the way she sang them, learned their patterns through hers. The “I” in any given Patsy Cline song has the unfortunate habit of always making the same mistakes, of opening her heart over and over again to the wrong people, of feeling too much, of feeling so much it makes her feel a little unhinged, an exposed nerve, a heart ripped out and sewn, still bleeding, to her sleeve. So does my mom. The symmetry is almost too easy here; if this were an essay going to creative writing workshop, the boy with the thick black glasses and bun whose piece inevitably talked about fucking and chainsmoking would accuse me of being obvious, heavy-handed, but this is the truth and it’s the day after Mother’s Day and if I want to talk about learning at the age of 8 to recognize my mom’s broken heart by whether she’s listening to the same three Patsy Cline songs on repeat, that is what I’m going to do.

I’m crazy for trying
And crazy for crying
And I’m crazy for loving you

I watched her take him from me
And his love is no longer my own
Now they are gone
And I sit alone
And watch one cigarette burn away

There’s something so fucking sorrowful no matter what Patsy sings, but what sets her apart from the other scorned women country singers both now and then is the strength in her voice. In “Crazy,” when she sings “Worry, why do I let myself worry?” it sounds like her heart is breaking but she’s belting that line; it’s an audible catharsis. Even as her voice wobbles and wavers like she’s on the edge of tears, there is sureness and certainty there. Listen to her at the end of “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray!” If you want to sing along you’ve got to raise your voice and practically yell the last few words. Your voice might crack, but hers doesn’t. Hers never does.


It makes her excellent for quiet rainy days, those days when you feel like your heart has maybe always been broken and always will be. So what if you have to take a break to cry? It’ll probably help you get closer to the tone in Patsy’s voice. I can see why she was the soundtrack to so many dark days growing up, every time someone broke my mom’s heart, every time a depressive episode stuck her in some corner of her mind where all she could think about was all the ways people had broken her heart and let her down before. This is music made for letting a cigarette burn to ash in your hand essentially unsmoked, for crying and singing under your breath. It fits.

You want me to act like we’ve never kissed
You want me to forget
Pretend we’ve never met
And I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I haven’t yet
You walk by and I fall to pieces

I spent my whole life singing “I’ve cried and I’ve tried” in “I Fall to Pieces” because that was what my mom sang when I was a kid. I’ve cried and I’ve tried. I can see why my mom thought those were the words—Patsy sings about trying and crying in “Crazy” too, and anyway isn’t it this constant trying that gets her into messes to cry over? Get knocked down, watch as someone grinds your heart into the dirt with their heel, and then get up the next day and do it all over again. Groundhog’s Day for the broken-hearted.

For as much as I don’t think I’ll ever really understand the people who can keep putting themselves out there like that, the people that open up time and time again, I’m still in awe at the very particular kind of strength it takes to keep trying. Me, I’m the one scowling and silently following my mom around a house as she gathers her stuff to leave, another woman sitting on the couch and watching it all go down, and then quietly (and viciously) telling a longtime family friend that I hate him right before we step out the door. I don’t forgive and I sure as hell don’t forget. Patsy and my mom though. They forgive too much, sometimes, they forget too readily. They are eternally broken-hearted. They take the hits (sometimes quite literally) but they keep trying and trying (and crying).

Friends Tell Friends About the Gospel of Miranda Lambert

In honor of our very own Tess spending this entire week talking about ultimate country queen of our hearts Miranda Lambert over at One Week One Band, I wanted to bring y’all her favorite video. Go read everything Tess has to say this week (and always, I mean, but usually I hope you’re doing most of your Tess reading here).


And if you were wondering? She’s started with “Gunpowder & Lead” and no matter what she says, I think that’s a pretty decent place to start.

I wasn’t raised on country, I said. I think I’ve always needed it somehow, like how when I was three I cried because I wanted to go to Dollywood and there is my mother wanting only to know how I even know what that is. And, I don’t remember how. I still think a lot about a girl in a Brownies troop who whipped her long hair all around dancing to “This One’s For The Girls.” I saw the movie Walk The Line seven times in theaters when I was thirteen but that’s mostly because I’m obsessed with Reese Witherspoon’s heart-shaped face. “Gunpowder & Lead” was released as a single off Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in January of 2008, shortly after my sixteenth birthday, when Miranda was twenty-four, and I am still sad and sorry for those years I didn’t know it. In a bad bar on a bad night in a bad life, I couldn’t dance, I just looked at my hands. I couldn’t believe. I still almost don’t. This is the least cool place to start.

“Gunpowder & Lead” at OWOB

“You are the one that I adore”: Best Coast’s “Heaven Sent”


I was a late Best Coast convert, but I’ve been listening to “Heaven Sent,” the latest song from upcoming release California Nights, on repeat since it came out. The thing is, it isn’t a song with a lot of meat to it. It’s lean, it talks itself in circles. There are maybe like, twenty different words repeated in various configurations throughout the whole thing. (That’s an exaggeration. You get the point.) But goddamn, it’s good. It sounds like the late 90s-early 00s, sounds like Letters to Cleo, sounds like pout and anger and happiness all at once. It’s powerpop, pop punk, 90s alt girl band. And then there’s the video and it’s equally sparse and still somehow indulgent, just like the song itself. Flower petals and lens flares and red fingernails on guitars against a plain backdrop. The only problem is how much it makes me want to watch Josie and the Pussycats when I’ve got a night shift at work ahead of me.

Loud Girls Talking Loudly

Loud Girls
witchsong friend and writer Mariam has a brand new project and it is fucking brilliant. Last week, the world got the first episode of the Loud Girls podcast, which you can listen to and subscribe to new episodes at In it, Mariam describes the general premise behind Loud Girls and talks to her friend Michelle about “Michelle Rodriguez’s ‘we need to stop stealing white superheroes’, feeling slightly victimized by Taylor Swift, and Fresh Off the Boat,” among other topics. The title of this post was almost “you should care about this,” and really, that’s the crux of it. If you like witchsong (I hope you do) and read witchsong (you currently are) and you like listening to girls talk about the things that interest them, about pop culture, you are going to like Loud Girls. I like Loud Girls. I love Loud Girls. I love loud girls.

A Beautiful Fever Dream: “Talk Dirty”

I wasn’t around for 1D Day. I wish I had been. There’s something so indulgent about it, hours upon hours of the five of them in various configurations and with a variety of guests, playing games and video chatting with fans and throwing mini-temper tantrums during technical difficulties. But the highlight of what I know about 1D Day is without a doubt the video set to Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty.” This is the boys in all their weird glory, wriggling around shirtless, dancing poorly, pulling faces, antagonizing one another. Harry interpretive dances with a sheet of paper. Niall dances in just knee braces, underwear, and sunglasses. Liam is alternately upside down on some sort of contraption I won’t even pretend to understand and stomping around in pristine work boots and pouting directly into the camera. Zayn is so preciously goofy, doing coordinated dance moves (if you can call them that) with Harry and groping Liam’s chest. And you get some elusive footage of the dirtbag rat prince himself shirtless. It could only be the result of a highly medicated fever dream but here it is, on the internet, available for me to rewatch whenever I want.

What a beautiful world we live in.

Don’t Burn Out

(or, Loving One Direction Saved My Life)

If I had to paint a picture of what depression looks like for me, it’d be a small room, a twin-sized bed, a locked door, one small window with the curtains drawn. Everything the exact same color of gray. The light coming in through the curtains never changes; every hour could be noon, could be midnight. Sometimes, on your more ambitious days, you stand on the bed and peek out through that window, see things that look not-gray if you squint and tilt your head just so. But the effort of seeing it combined with the fact that it’s locked away from you stops being worth it eventually.

That’s the world I was living in the first time I heard “Through the Dark.”

You tell me that you’re sad and lost your way,
You tell me that your tears are here to stay

To be clear, I knew who One Direction was. I’m not trying to pretend otherwise. I had all of them except Harry blacklisted on tumblr for a really long time, which requires a certain level of awareness. I’d seen some of the smartest people I knew give in to the pull of this boyband. And I know that plenty of people have talked about the meaning of “Through the Dark,” about “when the night is coming down on you, we will find a way through the dark,” and this isn’t that. (Well, not exactly.)

In December of 2013, One Direction performed “Through the Dark” on Saturday Night Live and it felt like everyone I knew was talking about it. I’m not sure what possessed me to do it, but I sat on my couch and I clicked play on the video and not even a full minute into watching these five precious, ridiculous boys stand in a line and sing their hearts out about wanting to laugh again, I cried. And I don’t mean my eyes teared up, or a tear or two fell down my face. I ugly-cried, I wiped my snot and tears on the sleeves of my hoodie, I choked on my tears, and I watched that video ten times. Back to back.

After months of gray nothing, even crying can feel good. At least you feel something. I made a playlist that night that was just Take Me Home and Midnight Memories, and I listened to it non-stop for the next two months. I wish I was exaggerating. Listening to One Direction at least let me feel like happiness still existed in the world, even if I didn’t have much of a grasp on it. But on days when the apathy of bone-crushing depression just felt too claustrophobic, I listened to “Through the Dark.” Let’s just say there were a lot of days spent in bed crying and listening to it on repeat. It can be overwhelming to have the lights go up and realize how fucking terrible things have gotten around you, and that is what “Through the Dark” did for me. I didn’t know how much of the spectrum of emotion had been lost to me until something shoved me outside of that. Until I watched the SNL performance. Until I saw Harry Styles wiggling around behind a mic stand in sparkly boots.

When I say One Direction saved my life, I mean it.

When I say One Direction saved my life, I mean that my depression had crept up on me so slowly that I didn’t realize anything was amiss when I thought about driving into oncoming traffic during rush hour, and listening to that performance was my lightbulb moment.

When I say One Direction saved my life, I mean that without that moment, I would’ve probably not realized anything needed fixing until it was too late.

But don’t burn out even if you scream and shout,
It’ll come back to you, and I’ll be here for you

The funny thing here is that the song became so important to me, such a crutch, that I stopped being able to listen to it. I removed it from my playlist. I avoided videos of them performing it. I was in therapy, I was medicated, I was laughing again, but all it took was listening to this one song to put me right back in that moment realizing I was suffocating under the weight of my sadness. I remember getting ready to see them play in Detroit last year and saying I wasn’t emotionally prepared to hear it live like it was a joke, but then they were singing the last few lines of “Right Now,” and I was already crying, chanting “I’m not ready, I’m not ready, I’m not ready.”

But. In that stadium, tens of thousands of the happiest people in the world stomped their feet and sang “don’t burn out” in unison, and the air felt electric with power, with joy. By the second time those lines came up, I was yelling right along with them. So what if I was still crying– I was smiling too. In less than three minutes, the force of that experience undid months of ingrained reaction to that song. In less than three minutes, a bunch of strangers unknowingly helped me cleanse that song of the stain of depression. It felt like happiness. It felt like healing.

When the night is coming down on you,
We will find a way through the dark.

ice cream melting down your hand: a playlist

ice cream melting

(an 8tracks playlist for reminding yourself what it feels like to sweat even when you’re sitting still, to lick ice cream off the back of your hand, to squint into the sun.)

I slept with the windows open last night. Ohio is going through its big thaw; the rivers are swollen with melted snow to the point of flooding, neighborhood cats are laying on concrete porches and sidewalks in the sun, my neighbors are all outside taking flower bed measurements (yeah, that’s a thing the people in my neighborhood do, planning their annual gardens down to the smallest bit of lamb’s ear). It’s making me anxious for the feeling of your skin drying in the warm air after you heave yourself out of the pool, for napping in sunbeams like cats, for evening walks to the ice cream shop, for the sweet fresh smell of cut grass. Skinned knees. Bonfires. A time for whatever we want, even if it is a little bad for us, even if it hurts a little, like peeling a sunburn. Spring is here, or almost, and we deserve the warmth.

Waxahatchee – “Grass Stain”
Charli XCX – “Breaking Up”
Tkay Maidza – “U-Huh”
The Tuts – “Worry Warrior”
The Kills – “No Wow”
Best Coast – “Boyfriend”
Lorde – “Buzzcut Season”
Lana Del Rey – “Diet Mt. Dew”