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JUST WATCH ME: Cher Lloyd is Getting Activated

How blessed we are to be alive in this, the second #summerofCher, even if it is kind of getting more into the #autumnofCher. I like fall better anyway, so I’m pleased. At any rate, the new season of Cher Lloyd is finally upon us.

Cher Lloyd is very good at this thing which I love, which is the use of straight up nonsense syllables to express emotion. I find something very pure and kind of transcendent about that – the idea that your love, or rage, or whatever else, is too much for language. It started with “Want U Back”, ramped up on Sorry I’m Late with “Dirty Love” and “Just Be Mine”, and now we have “Activated”.

The other thing about this song that makes me really excited for the album is the lack of a traditionally recognizable chorus. I’m seeing it more and more – “Dangerous Woman” is a good example, 5H’s “Flex” and Little Mix’s “Move”, Selena’s “Same Old Love”, Demi’s “Cool for the Summer”, and both of Meghan Trainor’s new singles. There’s still a recognizable refrain, which you can classify as the chorus: they like ‘ooh’, they like ‘ooh / baby just wait on it / when I do the damn thing just watch me. But it’s not as separate from the rest of the song as something like, say, the chorus of “You Belong With Me”. It’s more subtle, less musically distinct. Some of these songs even use the same lyrics as the bridge rather than introduce a new element, simply changing the pacing or the pitch. It makes for a different kind of listening experience, I think, because it’s more difficult to say when the song “should” end. I could listen to “Activated” on a loop for several hours, probably, before I got tired of it or really even noticed that it was repeating. There is nothing to snag, nothing to hang you up in the flow of it. You all know I love Taylor more than life, but you know when a Taylor Swift song is over. This song – and others like it – are less in-your-face. They’re not exactly background tracks; they demand more attention and care than that. But they’re not something that you have to drop everything to focus on. “Activated” is predictable, but in a different way than something like “Sirens” is. It’s difficult to describe, but if you listen to it, you’ll get it.

“Activated” feels more mature than Cher’s earlier work somehow, and that might just be me, but I am so ready for this album, for the direction she seems to be headed in. Hopefully we’ll see more from her soon, and in the meantime, you have this slinky neon video to watch.

Shura — “Nothing’s Real”

A dreamy, hazy intro is the first thing you get from our newest pop princess Shura’s debut album. Scraps of dialogue from Shura’s father and what sounds like a rocket blasting off in the distance tune in and out like a fuzzy radio. As “(i)” fades, it’s replaced by the album’s title track. Nothing’s Real shifts from ’80s homage in songs like “What’s It Gonna Be” to near imitation in “Nothing’s Real”. Shura uses this album to take on a presence like those of the early ’80s queens, each track presenting a girlish, almost naively feminine voice.

The defining measure of the album is Shura’s introversion. In songs like “2Shy”, Shura channels the spirit of Molly Ringwald in 16 Candles, right before Michael Schoeffling is about to kiss her over the cake. Shura is hesitant, whispering over a powdery synthetic build about her desire — maybe? — for a sort of relationship with this person she might just like.

Despite this uncertainty, Shura doesn’t stray from being articulate in “2Shy”. Each note is perfectly in place, never straying from the heartbeat of the song. She might be murmuring, caressing the lyrics, but the phrasing is too deliberate to ignore: Headphones on, got a cigarette rolled, I know / I shouldn’t light it ‘cause I haven’t had one for weeks.

Shura’s shy and sweet, but she’s also deliberate and aware of everything happening around her. It’s this deliberation that drives her individuality and really matches her to the early ’80s greats. “Nothing’s Real” shows off her power more so than any other track off the album. Instead of the soft thrum of a heartbeat, the album’s title track epitomizes the throb of restlessness, ticking through the dragging hours of dissociation and panic. There’s nothing soft or playful about “Nothing’s Real,” though the hesitation and uncertainty remains

Other songs are harder to categorize. “What’s It Gonna Be”, a track with a video you should have already fallen in love with, balances indecision (incidentally, the name of another song off the album) with a defined, upbeat assuredness. Nothing’s Real is all about going boldly forward into the unknown, and suddenly the sounds of the rocket in “(i)” make a lot more sense.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the final two tracks off Nothing Is Real. Each over nine minutes long, “White Light” and “The Space Tapes” feel unfinished and uncensored. “The Space Tapes” relies on instrumentation and has the vibe of an R&B song, so much so as to be tonally distinct from the rest of the album. Both pieces include slow fades to silence, only to pick back up again with an entirely new theme. It’s almost as if Shura were piecing together a few incomplete bits of her brain, unsure what to do with them — so she just stuck them to the end of the album. “White Light” and “The Space Tapes” share a refreshing distinction from the power and precision of the rest of the album, and they add yet another layer of humanity to Nothing’s Real.

Shura’s debut album didn’t strike a chord with me because her music sounds exactly like the theme to a John Hughes movie. It didn’t strike a chord because she’s a British pop princess, or because she made a cute LGBT music video (although that certainly didn’t hurt). It resonated with me because Shura leans heavily into teasing out different aspects of what we, the audience, are led to believe make her a person with doubts and fears. Making music in itself is a scary thing, but deliberately making your art reflect a deep, true part of yourself is even scarier. So here Shura goes, boldly forward into the unknown.


Carson is a 23-year-old who discovered the joys of the Backstreet Boys two years ago, when she fell down a pink fur-lined rabbit hole into the world of pop. She has since taken it upon herself to make an exodus into the underbelly of the glitter-covered beast. You can find her Spotify account here and you can also find her on Tumblr

New Video Monday: Haley Bonar’s “Kismet Kill”

I’ll be honest. I am not a person who hated high school. In fact, I kind of loved it. I went to a small, tight-knit school that didn’t have an issue with smart kids (to a certain extent) or theater kids (as long as they were “normal”). I feel weird sitting next to friends who told me they hated their high school experiences. And with good reason! Being bullied or excluded is brutal, and I know that — although my high school wasn’t exactly tolerant — I’m very privileged to have been able to speak my mind and be myself, more or less. And I don’t think I’ll ever wish that I could go back to being in high school! My brain is more developed, I have deeper friendships. I’m getting closer to chipping away at who I might be, and it’s all very exciting. No, I don’t miss high school. But the feeling of being a ball of potential? The stability of knowing what each day is going to bring, but that it’s not going to be forever? I do miss those feelings.

In “Kismet Kill” (“kismet” meaning fate, a word I had to look up), Haley Bonar shows the worst of what my life could end up like. When the prom queen (I wasn’t a prom queen, but I had my own little sources of pride that no one but I will remember) wakes up, she’s in the post-apocalyptic world of banality. A cracked disco ball lying forlornly on the side of the road. Empty airports, empty parking garages, empty top floors of once-impressive buildings. Giving birth to a plastic doll (sometimes the apocalypse offers hilarity in its tragedy). Always stagnant in a world where you’re completely alone.

“Kismet Kill” strikes a chord in its almost overplayed dramatics, because sometimes being a grownup feels like a personal apocalypse. Every day I worry that this is the first day of the rest of my life (this? How can this be the first day?), my world is a little bit shaken. Sometimes, the gravity of growing up breaks us all.

You can watch the video for “Kismet Kill” on NPR’s First Watch. Bonar’s album, Impossible Dream, comes out on August 5.


Carson is a 23-year-old who discovered the joys of the Backstreet Boys two years ago, when she fell down a pink fur-lined rabbit hole into the world of pop. She has since taken it upon herself to make an exodus into the underbelly of the glitter-covered beast. You can find her Spotify account here and you can also find her on Tumblr

Send Me Your Magic: Paperwhite Live in DC

I want intimacy in my music. I look for emotion in songs and yank it out with my bare fists, ingesting it into myself. And what is a concert but a way to project music’s intimacy into three dimensions?

While a successful artist — the one with “the X factor”  — can entrance a stadium full of thousands of people, a different challenge presents itself in the smoky back rooms of shady concert venues. An intimate venue calls for an intimate presence: We’re all in on the secret, shared between the back room’s enclosed walls.

In one such back room at the Black Cat (semi-discovered DC dive bar and concert venue), Paperwhite frontwoman Katie Marshall invites us inside her secrets. Throughout her performance, I imagine her standing in front of the gates of the Secret Garden, finger crooked towards us. She deftly breaks the rusted lock and pushes the gates open, hair swinging behind her and catching impossible glints of sunlight, allowing us to see the most intimate parts of her.

Katie occupies all of center stage, constantly reaching out and pulling us into her. She makes eye contact with every audience member in the venue as we crowd closer. Her eyes are at times fierce and passionate, but the warmth — the invitation — never leaves her face. Her bandmates, including brother Ben Marshall, drink in the audience with warmth, too. While they tend more to frame Katie than to draw attention to themselves, they’re happy to do so and bask in the atmosphere of the stage.

Paperwhite’s music is itself an expression of intimacy. Epitomizing dream pop’s ‘80s-synth movement, EPs Escape and Magic reach out to us the same way Katie Marshall does during her performances. We feel hypnotized by airy positivity; our heads nod and our bodies move until we’re all grooving together amidst shimmering electronics. All of Paperwhite’s songs — though particularly ones like “Wanderlust,” “Storm,” and “Magic” — encase us in a longing that eclipses words.

When we experience this three-dimensional performance of intimacy, longing, and shared secrets, we are connected by the synths, the movements, and the words alike. But best of all, Paperwhite’s reaction to us (the audience) is just as awestruck as ours to them. Katie let us into her secrets, and we somehow did the same for her. Just by collectively releasing our inhibitions to enjoy a shared experience, we lowered the barriers between audience and artist. We had as much to give Paperwhite as they had to give us.

The concert ended and Katie talked, took selfies, and signed phone cases, but the audience/artist dynamic had not been restored. We were still equals. We thanked her for her performance, told her she didn’t need to be so surprised that people deeply connected to her work. She thanked us for showing our support, for understanding what she was trying to give us. Our mutual respect and adoration allowed us to share that most intimate experience — the concert — in a way none of us are likely to forget.

I want you to notice/Some moments are rare/Don’t take me for granted/Just take me there
-“Take Me Back”


Carson is a 23-year-old who discovered the joys of the Backstreet Boys two years ago, when she fell down a pink fur-lined rabbit hole into the world of pop. She has since taken it upon herself to make an exodus into the underbelly of the glitter-covered beast. You can find her Spotify account here and you can also find her on Tumblr

Press Play: Catfish and the Bottlemen’s “7”

If you’re looking for new rock tunes to check out this week, I’d highly recommend Catfish and the Bottlemen’s “7.” Catfish has been playing the song in acoustic sets for radio stations for the last several weeks, but the song finally had it’s official release last week on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 show.

Catfish and the Bottlemen are releasing their sophomore album The Ride on May 27. The guys have been nonstop touring since the release of their first album The Balcony—I’ve been lucky enough to see them twice—and the lyrics and production on “7” speak to the growing up they’ve done since writing their first album (much of which had been written by Van McCann as early as the age of 14). The lead singles from The Ride live in the present day. There is no ruminating or lamenting on their prior circumstances, but rather a confrontation of their current situation.

“7” recounts the struggle of touring while maintaining a relationship. “Soundcheck,” their lead single from The Ride, was about the allure of a hot girl in the audience. “7” is about the relationship that predated.

Promise again that I would call her
Forget the time because I’m 7 hours behind
It’s probably good I didn’t call though but I always want to…

The late-nights and grind of loving someone who is thousands of miles away. The constant repetition of waiting for a call. The magnetism of the open road and flashing lights of the main stage. While the demands of life on the road aren’t necessarily universal, Catfish and the Bottlemen succeed in writing a song that connects. Van’s longing for freedom and, ultimately, independence despite but I always want to is frank and heartbreaking.

I’d beg you but you know I’m never home
I’d love you but I need another year alone…

little mix is having a sleepover and we’re all invited

There is not a single member of Little Mix that I would not kill a man for. These four precious angels are so beautiful and talented and funny and they love each other so much! I had a dream the other night that Little Mix was in a fight and I woke up near tears, okay? They are just paragons of female friendship and/or secret love (song pt. II) and they are perfect. And now there is a video for “Hair” and it is just a big slumber party and Jesy’s eyes are so green and Perrie feeds Leigh-Anne pizza and I am so very alive.

lol

 

What else is there to say? Silk shorts + crop top + unbuttoned silk shirt is definitely the only pajama ensemble anyone should ever wear again. Someday I hope Jade Thirlwall lovingly wraps a boa around my neck. That is all.

ICYMI: Tegan & Sara

You probably know this, but I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t share it anyway. This year of our Lord 2016 is maybe the best year ever, so far, and it is definitely the weirdest, but it just keeps on giving and giving and giving.

In brief: Tegan and Sara are finally following up their (amazing, Taylor Swift-inspired) pop triumph Heartthrob, and their eighth studio album Love You To Death is coming out on June 3rd. The first single off the (incredibly titled!) album is called “Boyfriend”, and if you are looking for the perfect track to put on the mixtape you’re making for the cute-but-confusing girl in your life, it’s right here. You treat me like your boyfriend / I don’t wanna be your secret anymore. It feels like the perfect followup to Heartthrob, and I can only hope that the rest of Love You To Death is as dancey, as bubbly, as blisteringly pointed.

Love You To Death is out June 3 from Vapor Records. You can pre-order it on iTunes for an instant download of “Boyfriend” and “U-Turn”.

“Made My Decision To Test My Limits”: Ariana Grande and Willa’s Artistic Impulses

Being a woman shouldn’t feel like a political act in 2016, but there are still days that I navigate my commute to and from my Bushwick apartment as men holler, cars honk and bodega workers sneer at my ass and I forget how I mustered the courage to leave my apartment at all. My wardrobe is not utilitarian in nature. It’s impractical and loud. I wear patterned dresses, sparkly boots, and sheer crops anywhere and everywhere. These days, since moving, every morning as I go through my closet I find myself reaching for pieces that will allow me to blend into my new surroundings. For perhaps the first time in my life, I don’t want my fashion choices to be noticed at all. I once had the luxury of hiding behind my car, the tinted windows and blaring bass. My chances for interactions in public with strangers wanting to comment on my outer appearance with whispered comments were slim. There was rarely vulgarity; outside of “nice skirt” from women who understood the pains of finding a well-fitted pencil skirt, there were rarely any comments at all. That is not my current reality. Just last week a man followed me to the subway, muttering about what he’d like to do to me given the opportunity. Quite frankly, my iPod has become a lifeline. When men shout, “Didn’t you hear my compliment!” I can walk past truthfully—eyes on the ground, paces brisk—knowing that I didn’t hear whatever choice of words were their idea of a “compliment.” Turning the volume up, I am soundproofed. I can no longer hear the tasteless comments. If I put on the right track, I can even feel bulletproof.

Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman,” released on March 11, replaced Rihanna’s “Needed Me” as my kiss-off track on my iPod last weekend as I walked (stalked down the pavement like it was own personal runway) to the grocery store, Forever 21 and Rite-Aid.

I have a confession to make before I discuss “Dangerous Woman.” Ariana’s appeal has long eluded me. Don’t get me wrong. I pined for her hair during the years of Victorious. I have her collaboration with Childish Gambino on my iPod. I danced in my car to “Problem.” I longed for Harry Styles’s demo version of him singing “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” as I listened to her soft, hushed ballad. I paid for “Bang Bang” featuring Jessie J and Nicki Minaj. I highly recommend her Christmas Kisses EP. It’s that, quite frankly, I’ve been mystified by Ariana’s image. The image that at times seemed infantile. I’ve been trying to educate myself. I am well aware as of late that Ariana might be one of the most vocal musicians who is actually living the lyrical content of confidence and control her songs exudes to fans. Last year, I clapped alongside Tumblr as Ariana told off the media for insinuating that she couldn’t simply be “friends” with One Direction’s Niall Horan. Identifying as a feminist, Ariana told her fans and detractors, “I am tired of living in world where women are mostly referred to as a man’s past, present or future PROPERTY / POSSESSION.”

“Dangerous Woman” feels like an appropriate extension of Ariana’s brand. Weeks after coming to the defense of Kesha, an early collaborator of Ariana’s, amidst her longstanding legal battle with Sony and Dr. Luke over allegations of sexual assault, Ariana uses her pipes to speak up once again about another definition of womanhood. Right from the start, Ariana doesn’t “need permission.” Taking control of this kind of moment / I’m locked and loaded / Completely focused, my mind is open… If 2014 was the Year of the “Good Girl” in music, I am ready for Ariana to celebrate the bad girl. Or at least a girl with shadows, edges. I want a blueprint of how to sneer back, how to command my own potential. Makes me wanna do things I shouldn’t / Something ‘bout, something ‘bout… Performing the track on Saturday Night Live last weekend, an episode that also saw her hosting, Ariana, poised and controlled, asserted through countless sketches that she really does knows exactly what’s she doing. Nothing to prove and I’m bulletproof and / Know what I’m doing…

I’d like to thank Spotify for putting Willa’s “Swan” on their New Music Friday playlist after Ariana. There’s a fluid movement between singers. Much like “Dangerous Woman,” Willa’s track demands the listener’s attention. I’m not in love / Don’t have the touch / Don’t have the time to bend another little church boy’s mind (again)… This track feels like an extension of our current cultural climate of Tinder, social media, and Broad City.  While I could make the time for a relationship with it’s ease of familiarity and takeout orders and nights in sprawled on the couch, I don’t want to make the time to date. A few weeks back, I met a guy at a bar. There was promising witty bar side banter, but when he dropped he lived in Westchester I knew our “meet-cute” was over. It’d basically be the equivalent of a long distance relationship in New York City. Dating is engaging and thrilling at it’s best, tedious and tiresome for the most part. I don’t have the money to see friends for dinner on the off chance I’m not working late into the evening with production’s ever-changing schedule, let alone a night to offer potential OkCupid dates who will ghost. In a culture where you can list off in a profile who you are, it’s apt of Willa to inform the listener she isn’t an angel, trophy or debutante. If that’s what her suitor is looking for, they can move right along. Swipe left. I’m not a swan / Pretty in a pond…

Two weeks ago, I bought Rebecca Traister’s All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. I’d recommend it for witchsong readers. Traister writes, “Women find themselves growing into themselves, shaping their identities, dreams and goals not necessarily in tandem with a man or within a traditional family structure, but instead alongside other women. Their friends.” The thesis of the book, which I’ll admit I haven’t finished as of yet, can best be summed up by Willa’s declaration in “Swan”, Don’t have the time / Call it a crime, to find everything I need in me (mind)… The book focuses largely on the female friendships that make life in the twenty-first century feel whole, complete. We are increasingly a world of dangerous women no longer seeking to fulfill the archetypes of “sweet treats.” I’m glad Ariana and Willa are providing us the soundtrack to blast if we ever need to be reminded of just how perilous we can be.

Bonus: If you are a fan of Ariana’s “Dangerous Woman,” check out the A Cappella version she released yesterday.

The Saddest Songs Are in Major Keys

“Hallelujah California” – Luna Shadows

Daddy always warned that the saddest songs are in major keys is a line that kills me, because this song is not in a major key. But then, songs about California are usually not in major keys. It’s not a sad song at all; it’s just a melancholic California song, a song of mirages, of someone disappearing slowly into the horizon from your seat on the sticky pavement. It’s a song we hear over and over again, from “Hotel California” and “California Dreamin’” to everything Lana del Rey has ever written.

Limits EPMt. Si

Mt. Si unites the unstructured dreaminess of shoegaze with a heavily defined, often jarring beat. They allow a drop here and a chord there to push themselves out from the haze of lazy synths and floating vocals, bringing your attention to their significance in a song you could sleep through. The beat is often melodic and sounds like a natural noise, compared to all the electronica happening around it. While the harmonies and even the tracks themselves tend to melt into each other, that occasional beat gives Limits a sharp, resounding definition.

“U Up” – Soft Lit

From the title alone, I had been convinced that this song was by dudebros. Oh no, I thought, this is a song either relentlessly bashing or misogynistically embracing “u up” and I hate it. I’m so sorry, Soft Lit, for making this stereotypical assumption! Here it is: a lady (okay, and a guy on synths) giving that guy who texted “u up” an even more apathetic response. Sliding into nothing, she whisper-sings. You think like I got time/But you’re not on my mind. It’s not the “u up” itself that is the problem, it’s the dude who just can’t get over her hiding behind the lazy text.

“Don’t Worry About Me” – Frances

Frances reminds us that melodies, in and of themselves, can be sad and beautiful things in her single “Don’t Worry About Me.” If I were listening to it in my room or on a redeye flight far away from home, I would almost certainly cry. But this song eclipses a specific emotion, and my ears tend instead to focus on a single note, a pause, or an elongation. Because there’s so little to parse, I’m forced to focus on subtle changes in harmonies and cadences.

“Souvenirs” – Cardiknox

Thinking of yourself as a tourist in your own relationship is unique in just how cold it feels. “Souvenirs” is in a major key (the saddest songs are in major keys), and through it Cardiknox describes physical objects and scenarios instead of the emotions attached to them, as though they’re foreign to her. She wants — more than anything — to keep those memories as her own, but she describes them as though she’s borrowed them from a stranger.

“Good As Hell” – Lizzo

Lizzo (of “Let ‘Em Say,” a song I’ve been obsessed with since I first heard it for Broad City’s most recent season premier) dropped this single for the sure-to-be-amazing movie Barbershop: The Next Cut. And like any tried-and-true banger, the song comes with an incredible chorus: If he don’t love you anymore/Just walk your fine ass out the door/I do my hair toss, check my nails/Baby how you feelin’? Feelin’ good as hell. This is a love-yourself song that fits in perfectly with a movie that praises the inherent beauty in blackness and uses its community to fight oppression. Go listen to this song, then go reserve your ticket for Barbershop 3, which comes out on April 15.


Carson is a 23-year-old who discovered the joys of the Backstreet Boys two years ago, when she fell down a pink fur-lined rabbit hole into the world of pop. She has since taken it upon herself to make an exodus into the underbelly of the glitter-covered beast. You can find her Spotify account here and you can also find her on Tumblr

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.