all i know are sad songs

I saw Garden State for the first and only time when I was seventeen with a boy I thought I loved who kissed me too rough too heavy too urgent like he had something to prove and it wasn’t about me but I was there. I didn’t think it was a good movie but I cried anyway and I cried again when the sweater he let me take with me to college stopped smelling like him. I still don’t think it is a good movie but I get why it mattered to people and I find myself forgiving it more as I get older, the pitiful shout into the void that it is, the pointless rage against a machine of which it is a part. I haven’t thought about it in a long time but the other day I heard this new Mike Posner song and all I could see was Zach Braff sitting on a couch while the world happens around him.

There is something very uniquely appealing to me about dance songs about sadness. Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own”, Katy Perry’s “The One That Got Away”, a lot of Tove Lo’s body of work, almost all of Sia’s – these are all songs about pain, from the gaping wounds to the paper cuts, all of the varieties of hurt that exist, and they are all songs you can dance to. “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” is one of these, and it is a perfectly crafted song, because it sounds exactly like it feels.

They said “tell us how to make it cause we’re getting real impatient”
So I looked ’em in the eye and said

You don’t wanna be high like me
Never really knowing why like me
You don’t ever wanna step off that roller coaster and be all alone
You don’t wanna ride the bus like this
Never knowing who to trust like this
You don’t wanna be stuck up on that stage singing
Stuck up on that stage singing
All I know are sad songs, sad songs

There are days when writing hurts me more than it helps, when it feels like I am dragging my organs out of my body through my mouth and when I get them out into the light it wasn’t even worth it. There are days when I am convinced that everything I have written and will write is garbage. I am not alone in this; this is not a unique feeling, but it is very isolating, isn’t it? To be convinced of your own terribleness is a weird and addicting form of narcissism, poking at a bruise to watch it bloom purple, I don’t know. But the thing about it is – even when I feel like I am a terrible writer, that my writing is vain and self-serving at best and vain and self-serving and poorly written at worst, what do I do? I keep writing. I don’t know how not to write, so I keep writing. I write that I feel terrible about writing, that I hate writing, that I am sad and alone in the world when I am neither. This is why I forgive Garden State now; this is why I love “ITAPII”. Sometimes the thing that keeps you alive, the only thing that makes you happy, doesn’t really make you all that happy. Sometimes it doesn’t make you want to live. But it is the only thing you have, so what do you do? You make it self-referential, you keep digging it out of yourself. Mike Posner is disillusioned and lonely and tired of making music but he knows it makes him happy, he knows it’s what he is for, and so he wrote a song about it.

I’m just a singer who already blew his shot
I get along with old-timers ’cause my name’s a reminder
of a pop song people forgot
and I can’t keep a girl, no
‘Cause as soon as the sun comes up
I cut ’em all loose and work’s my excuse but the truth is I can’t open up

I think it’s easier to talk about pain in a dance song because people don’t listen as hard; people don’t expect it to be sad. You don’t listen to the Ryan Adams cover of “Shake It Off” if you’re in a good mood, is what I mean. So when Mike Posner calls himself a one-hit wonder, when he says the truth is I can’t open up it almost gets lost, sounds like a throwaway line because he needed a rhyme, and I think that’s how he was able to let himself say it. The original song was an acoustic number, a little ditty with a voice and a guitar and nothing else, but that’s not the song that’s on the radio. Mike Posner decided he was ready for people to hear him again but he wasn’t ready to be quite so honest with it, and so – this remix.

This song feels like sitting on the couch while the world happens around you. It feels like dancing alone in a crowded room watching someone you used to love kiss another girl. It feels like closing your eyes and giving in to your sadness, just for a minute, letting it pour into you and fill you tip to toe and somehow, ultimately, it feels like a kind of happiness. All I know are sad songs, but some of them you can dance to, and that is enough.

In (a Kind of) Memoriam: School of Seven Bells’ “SVIIB”

“Confusion” is the name of the penultimate track on School of Seven Bells’ SVIIB, and although it comes near the end of the album, it is the clearest encapsulation of SVIIB as a whole — a delicate, emotional paean. This album is the two-member group’s final record: guitarist and co-writer Benjamin Curtis died of lymphoma in 2013, halfway through the creation of SVIIB.

Now that you’ve been armed with this knowledge, you’re going to read this album in a certain way, picking it apart and finding the death in it, hidden beneath gentle ethereality. You’re going to find the sadness in its beauty, to notice how so many of its songs end on a single, poignant note. And once you know, is it possible to divorce yourself from that knowledge, to keep from applying it where it doesn’t belong? It’s hard to say. Some tracks, like “On My Heart”, seem to be more a reaction to ending a romantic relationship. The sharp sting of jealousy in lines like You won’t give her the ground, just forget her puts it clearly in context. This song isn’t about dying at all! It’s upbeat, but biting and confused. What are we now? At the same time, you get a sense of the unending in the repetition at the end of the song: With me, your love’s safe. It’s not a stretch to say that What are we now? is a question in two contexts — what are we now that you’re gone? What do we mean by gone?

Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin began their musical relationship in tandem with a romantic one. That romance ended before Benjamin was diagnosed with cancer, developing into a more platonic partnership — best friends and c0-creators. While “On My Heart” reigns as one of the most upbeat, enigmatic tracks on the album, others read like melancholic odes — “Elias” and “Confusion” are some of the more mournful of the bunch. “Elias” is nostalgic, focusing on specific moments and memories, and “Confusion” is a sweeping representation of SVIIB’s (theorized) thesis.

“Confusion” washes over you, bathing you in somber synths. It’s a lullaby, singing you to sleep — whatever that sleep may be. Assuming an assured tone, breathing in and out with every change of a note, Alejandra sings, over and over — again, finding the unending in these repetitions — Confusion weighs heavy/And I understand/Nothing of these changes/Changes, these changes. She reverbs and repeats so much that you don’t know what’s real and what’s just an echo.

The song takes forever to fade out, the instrumentals persisting long after Alejandra’s vocals end. You know that she’s playing you to sleep, but she’s waiting for that explanation — waiting for the confusion to clear. She’s not demanding or sad, but she seems almost haunted as she comforts you, watching you drift off into the ether.

While you should listen to “Confusion” last, if you can, “Music Takes Me” provides a good follow-up — a middle ground between School of Seven Bells’ most somber and most optimistic pieces. The steady, solid synths feel, to me, like they are attempting to discover the unknowable. I feel you as I breathe, sing the songs you sang to me/I hear you in my sleep/Seeing you with me as I dream. Magic and mystery prevail, the song showcasing psychedelics and 80’s new wave at the same time. And just when you think it’s all over, the synths melt into elongated, distorted guitar notes, a smoother hum emerges, and the song’s meter shifts, almost imperceptibly, into an uncomfortable 2/6. But soon the idyllic 4/4 returns to soothe us, and Alejandra’s voice fades out with her background music.

The greatest aspect of this album — and when I say great, I mean the largest, grandest, most all-encompassing aspect — is that it’s not sad, exactly, or angry, or even understandable, all reasonable things to expect from an album assumed to be about a loss. It’s tinged with so many different things, sadness and yearning — hints here and there — but ultimately it is a eulogy for something we can’t quite grasp. The greatest aspect of this album is its explanation of death, which is an enigma, neither positive nor negative. It just is.

You can listen to SVIIB in full on NPR’s First Listen, found here.

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

Where Have You Been All My Life? Villagers Re-imagined at the WAC

Villagers, a band very much defined by their frontman, Conor O’Brien, released their first album in 2010. Becoming a Jackal had its own little promotional poster in HMV, and I bought it to impress my new friend Grace. It was the second album I ever spent money on, and I put it on my mp3 player (a Creative Zen Stone!) immediately. That anecdote tells you everything you need to know about where I was, musically, when I was thirteen.

I have Villagers to thank for a lot; not least the realization that I could actually find the music that I liked myself. Becoming a Jackal is an amazing debut album. It opened my eyes to the fact that a good album does not necessarily have to be a sad album, and not every song has to be about love. Sure, Villagers do write about love – just not exclusively.

That first album and its follow ups, {Awayland} and Darling Arithmetic, have underscored a lot of bus journeys in the six years since then. They are albums that exist in a very self-contained way, each song like a jigsaw puzzle piece fitting neatly together. Their most recent album was released last April, so I was surprised and delighted to see Where Have You Been All My Life hit the shelves in January.

The album is a reworking of songs from all of Villagers’ albums, performed live but audience-less at the RAK. Some of them, chiefly those from the earlier albums, are radically transformed. These turned out to be some of my favourites in the set. I especially loved the changes made to “Set the Tigers Free”. On the original album, the syncopated rhythm contrasts sharply with the songs on either side of it. That rhythm lends a distinctive feel to the song, but it’s completely abandoned in the 2016 version. The melody is slowed down and the refrain tune is lengthened and sustained. It makes for a different experience, but a lovely one.

WHYBAML‘s instrumentation is ethereal and eerie, but not insubstantial. Electric guitars are the root of the music, although it is still less electronic than {Awayland}. “Memoir”, a song written by O’Brien for someone else, is punchy and uptempo. The choral parts highlight just how lonely are the lyrics that he sings solo, and his falsetto adds to the haunting atmosphere. Desperation builds with the words Take my body/take it from me/it is not worthy of your memory and it doesn’t resolve itself.

The thing about the best Villagers songs is that they are simultaneously sad and happy, strange and scary and beautiful. They move me in ways that I can’t really express. One of the things I appreciate most about them is their willingness to write songs about friendship – how rare! How important it is, to be able to vocalize that feeling of grateful security with your friends:

And we’ll drink to the gentle, and meek and the kind
And the funny little flaws in this earthly design
From the Reeperbahn to the Sundarbahn
I will heed your call from the dust and the sand
And I’ll save all my stories for thee

Villagers aren’t exactly a famous band in Ireland, but neither are they completely unknown. It was a bit unbelievable to see our local little arts center on their tour posters. My mother, who liked the first album very much but hasn’t listened to the other three, thought at first that it must be a tribute band. It would be weird, though, to have a Villagers tribute band do a four-country tour, so – well, it must have been them. We bought tickets for my parents and I (I am the coolest teen in the world), and then I kind of forgot about it because so far this year my life has consisted only of taking down study notes onto flashcards and crying at the Daily Show. But then, almost without warning, we were at the Wexford Arts Centre staring up at the very real, very much non-tribute-band Conor O’Brien, and we were watching Villagers.

Villagers know how to perform. They played for almost two hours, and never seemed to flag or tire of the songs they were singing. Darling Arithmetic is a more personal album, with love songs more to the fore, and they’re beautiful live. The instrumentals were flawless, and what was really amazing to me was how clear Conor O’Brien’s voice is. It’s exactly like it sounds on the CDs. What you can’t get from the recordings, though, is how emotional his performance is. O’Brien gives – appears to give, anyway – his all to every song. He believes in what he says, and I felt and believed it too. To see Conor O’Brien standing up there with his guitar, singing I’ve been awake for so long now/and all I can see/is the light of your love/you’ve been dawning on me is, in my humble opinion, to be very, very lucky.

I think Where Have You Been All My Life is an album that is enhanced enormously by seeing it live. There is an understanding of what Villagers was trying to do with this album that I could only grasp when I saw it. The most powerful moment of this show was when they played “Hot Scary Summer”, “Little Bigot”, “Occupy Your Mind”, and “The Waves”, in that order. These songs are all about prejudice and hatred in one form or another. “Hot Scary Summer” particularly moved me; a surprising, beautiful song about modern homophobia and its consequences. Now I live inside you/and you live in me/and nothing’s gonna change that dear, he sang, eyes closed, looking angelic. We got good at pretending/and then pretending got us good. How did he take that feeling, crystallize it, and turn it into such a short and powerful phrase? All I can say is that I felt something melt and then solidify in my chest, looking at him, listening. He gets it. “Occupy Your Mind” was another star, a sneaky, funny little song released after anti-homosexuality laws were passed in Russia. To hear it live was so intense – that guitar line thumping! The whole (tiny) room was buzzin’! (I wish I could offer a synonym for buzzin’, but I can’t.)

O’Brien finished up with “No One To Blame”, which ends on an amazing little ethereal hook that I can’t really describe but that makes my heart hurt thinking about it. There’s a window in your eyes/a kind of swimming pool for swimming fools like me/oh, Mister Mystery.

The encore was the most intimate and wonderful thing I have experienced in my life. He smiled, shy, and opened up with I am the lineman of the county… “Wichita Lineman”! I had hardly dared hope, and it was beautiful.

After the show, we saw Conor hanging around outside at the merch stand, and I hid behind my mother (I can get very starstruck). My father got him to sign a ticket for me: it says to Claire love Conor, and it is worth more to me than anything in the universe. And then somehow I was meeting him, and I shook his hand and squeaked out something like long time fan and basically ran away into the January night. I have only now got over the embarrassment.

Since the gig, I have been floating on air. Nothing can bring me down. I have not listened to “Hot Scary Summer” since, nor will I, because no experiencing of it will ever again be so perfect or beautiful.

Claire Cullen is an 18-year-old who lives in Ireland. Recently she has been dealing with Hamilton-related problems, and it’s probably best not to get her started on why. Dedicated to furthering the Liberal Agenda.

Just Moving in Slow Motion: Daughter’s “Not to Disappear”

Not to Disappear is an apt title for Daughter’s latest album, which sounds like it’s always just on the edge of fading completely into nonexistence. That’s not to say the songs are insubstantial, just that they float very delicately in and out of silence. Daughter has always had a gentle, melancholy sound, and on their latest effort, there’s a subtle undercurrent of anger underneath all the surface beauty of the music. Where their earlier EPs and albums relied on Elena Tonra’s soft, soaring vocal delivery to ground the songs, Not to Disappear uses an electric guitar to construct the central hooks and melodies. Each song starts off simple and ambient, with a few plucked guitar or piano notes behind Tonra’s hushed voice, but builds to a rousing finish, adding one instrument at a time.

Moving on/Just moving in slow motion/To keep the pain to a minimum, she sings on “How”. It’s this lyric that really underscores the emotional truth of this album: loss takes time to overcome, and loneliness can feel endless and brutal. I don’t know you now/But I’m lying here somehow, Tonra says on “Fossa”, her voice simultaneously lifting and blurring the words together. She whispers over and over to herself, I can’t be what you want/I can be what you want. But it doesn’t matter either way, no matter which is the truth, because Not to Disappear takes place in the aftermath, after the dust has long since settled.

The instrumentation is what really shines here, like the driving drums on “Numbers” that could belong easily to a U2 or Muse song: heavy, stomping, and clearly written for an arena show. After a sprawling, sparkling opening on “Doing the Right Thing” that loses the vocals in the shuffle, the songs stops in its tracks as a lone acoustic guitar matches Tonra’s vocal melody while she sings Then I’ll lose my children/Then I’ll lose my love/Then I’ll sit in silence. It’s a rare moment where the lyrics are sung directly into the listener’s ear, with no filter, no layers of atmosphere between the bass notes. The electric guitar (with enough reverb over it to make the National jealous) is the album’s star, particularly on “How”, where it takes over the chorus in a little riff that’s equal parts messy and glorious and melodramatic. It’s one of the best moments on an album filled with great ones.

The songs bleed into each other, with the echoing guitar that opens and closes each track, the tone and tempo that rarely diverges from the simmering, quietly angry melancholy. The only outlier is “No Care”, which is about a minute shorter and at least twice as fast as all the others. Oh, I’m too drunk to fight/hurling curses at your surface, Tonra sings over a frantic dance beat. No care, no care in the world/I don’t care, I don’t care anymore, she says, and you barely believe her.

If I had one complaint, it’s that the simple beauty of the music makes it hard to connect to the emotional weight of the words. Tonra seems to sing the entire album in a light falsetto, never placing any pressure on her voice. The result is that she sounds detached from her lyrics, somewhat hidden in the ambiance, the lush instrumentation. I feel numb/I feel numb in this kingdom, she sings deadpan, and I’d tend to agree. In the kingdom that is Not to Disappear, she sounds numb and exhausted, especially in comparison to that electric guitar, which carries most of the emotional energy of each song.

A thorough listen reminds me of light filtering through a thin, translucent fabric, as if each song’s core is caught between layers of gauze. Beautiful, yes, but almost hidden in the haze, the carefully constructed bleakness of its atmosphere. But a daze of an album isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can lose yourself in its gossamer beauty, in the expansive, drifting sonic world it creates. If you’re lucky, you might even get to disappear.

Asif Becher is a 16 year old recently discovered cat lady who lives in the desert. She is often asked to “chill” about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Taylor Swift, a suggestion she finds absolutely ridiculous. You can find her on Twitter and on tumblr.

it’s our birthday and we’ll announce a contributor week if we want to

Well, y’all, witchsong turns 1 today. In the last year, we had 39 different voices contribute to content. We published nearly 300 pieces. I can’t even begin to count how many artists we talked about. It was a better year than I ever could have anticipated, even with my shortcomings as an editor. Even with my periods of absence. I got sappy at the beginning of the year, so I’ll spare you most of that, but know this: I’m proud of witchsong. I’m proud of the people who helped make it such a phenomenal first year. I’m proud of people who took a chance and reached out about contributing even if they had no public examples of music writing to point toward.

What’s next for witchsong? We’d like to cover an even wider array of topics and artists next year. We’d like to have even more contributors. I would like to come back this time next year and say that we passed 650 posts. Instead of one contributor week, we’re going to have two. And we’re opening pitches to other medias– books, TV, and movies. Beyond that, if you have something you’d like to see witchsong do this year, let us know. We’re friendly.

Speaking of contributor week, the main point of this is to announce that witchsong will be hosting another week of purely contributor-driven content this spring. We are particularly interested in hearing about new bands and acts from genres we haven’t given enough coverage to, although of course we will still be entertaining pitches about anything and everything pop-related, including new acts, reviews, and longer-read essays. If you have contributed before and are interested in doing so, feel free to reach out. If you haven’t contributed before and might want to, definitely reach out.

Here’s how it works:

  1. By February 26th, you email us at and include: a bit about yourself, a writing sample, and 2-3 pitches.
  2. By March 25th, you send us the draft of your completed piece(s), as discussed in the response to your pitch email. We’ll start the editing process and communicate with you about more specific dates for that process.
  3. Contributor week will take place from April 18-22. That means every day that week we’ll post pieces written by contributors, hopefully some voices we haven’t heard from before.

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.

lonelier and more in love: “death of a bachelor”

Death of a Bachelor is maybe the best Panic! at the Disco album. It is definitely at the top of my list, at least, and I am still trying to pin down exactly why. There is something about it that none of their albums have had for me since 2005, a magnetic pull that defies explanation. I think – what I have settled on so far – is that it is Fever You Can’t Sweat Out for grown-ups, or people who think they’re grown-ups, or people who want to be grown-ups. For me.

Fever was what I needed when I was fourteen and bleak, neverbeenkissed cutting my eyes across a high school auditorium at a boy who broke my heart three years later, and I still think I’ve got more wit a better kiss a hotter touch a better fuck is the sexiest thing but it’s not what I need anymore. I still love it and I always will, but it’s not a mirror the way it used to be; I have moved further through the funhouse and now it is a reflection of a reflection, a shade of my younger self.

Lush is the best word, I think, to describe the difference – Fever had this urgency, this heat, this darkness, and Death of a Bachelor has these things too, but so lushly. It is bigger, softer, more alive, it is rich dark earth in which many things have decayed so that new things might grow. It is nightshade plants blooming beneath a velvet sky. The almost orchestral quality of this album, the harmonies, the horns, the vast spiralingness of it all – it is melancholy. But it is melancholy in a way that makes me indefinably happy, in a way that suggests that getting older isn’t a bad thing. It is growth, real growth, and it is beautiful. This is Brendon Urie’s first album on his own, without any of the other original members of Panic!, and it feels like it.

Death of a Bachelor opens with “Victorious”, a love song to success on your own terms – about defining success as what you have achieved rather than what you strive for. Brendon Urie described it as “giving ’em hell to get a taste of heaven”. You don’t have to win to be a winner; you don’t have to knock the other guy out to feel victorious. This is a song about the stupid wild nights of your life that you feel alive, drunk running down the middle of the street with a sparkler, proud of yourself for the simple fact of your survival. As I get older I have fewer of these nights, but I feel like I have more of them metaphorically, if that makes sense. There’s a part in the video where he doesn’t call his ex and they give him one of those gigantic novelty checks; there’s another scene where he walks an old lady across the street and gets the keys to the city. Your victories are what you decide they are – when you celebrate something, it’s an achievement. I drive work listening to “Victorious” and I’m like hell yeah I got out of bed, hell yeah I’m driving the heck out of this little red Hyundai. You take your wins where you get them, but you get to decide where you get them.

“Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time” starts with a sample of “Rock Lobster”, which is my favorite fact of 2016 so far. It’s driving and ominous and sexy – Urie does menace well. This is the morning after, pounding hangover and hazy memory, but there’s not a trace of regret in it. Sayin’ “if you go out you might pass out in a drainpipe” / oh yeah? Don’t threaten me with a good time, and that’s really all there is to it. Raise hell and turn it up.

(We talked about “Hallelujah” when it was released.)

The first time on the album that we really see Brendon coming to terms with essentially being Panic! at the Disco now is “Emperor’s New Clothes”, and what a time it is. Welcome to the end of eras he lilts, an assertion of his power, of his rightness. If it feels good, tastes good, it must be mine. It is a very vulnerable song for containing the line I’m taking back the crown, for being essentially a declaration of independence. I’m all dressed up and naked is the crux, the fear – here I am as Brendon Urie as Panic! at the Disco as a new and singular entity, take it or leave it (but please take it). The video starts at the end of “This is Gospel”, which is important – if you love me let me go.

“Death of a Bachelor” makes me want to peel off all my skin, in the best way possible. Like, we know Brendon Urie has a great voice, we’re all aware of this. And yet somehow I forgot? Or I didn’t really know, or something? It doesn’t matter – the point is this. “Death of a Bachelor” is an incredible ballad, a sweeping Sinatra-esque song that has just enough of a dubsteppy vibe to keep it interesting. And that voice! His fucking voice! There was a Chuck Klosterman essay once that was like, I don’t remember what the Would You Rather question was precisely but one of the choices was “Everything you hear for the rest of your life will sound like the lead singer of Alice in Chains”, and it was still better than the alternative, I think, if I recall, but what I am saying here is that if I could only hear one voice ever again it might very well be Brendon Urie’s. This is also a really beautiful song about love and what you give up for it, the way it changes you, the way it makes you better and worse and different and utterly the same. The lace in your dress tangles my neck / how do I live? / the death of a bachelor, but then – how could I ask for more? / a lifetime of laughter / at the expense of the death of a bachelor. 

There’s a lot of fun wordplay going on in “Crazy=Genius”, but the really important thing about this album’s “These Tables are Numbered” (it is, trust me on this) is that it is about Brendon Urie’s imaginary girlfriend telling him that you’re just like Mike Love but you wanna be Brian Wilson / said you’re just like Mike Love but you’ll never be Brian Wilson. No matter where it comes from, it’s something that you either have or you don’t. You can’t make yourself a Brian Wilson. You can set yourself on fire / but you’re never gonna burn, burn, burn.

“LA Devotee” is currently my favorite song off the album, although I do reserve the right to fall more in love with something else. It is so sly and cruel and perfect; it yanks you off your feet into the passenger seat of a Mustang convertible, watching the lights flash past in the middle of the hot dark night. This is the only song I’ve ever heard about LA that makes me want to move there, makes me want to be a girl in a swimming pool under the desert sky, makes me want a life so fast I feel like there’s never time even while I’m standing still. It’s got a very retro feel, sort of sock-hoppy in the way it uh-ohs, that simple drumbeat that I know there’s a name for, the horns! It’s almost Britpoppy, the way it bounces forward. It is maybe a perfect song, and the phrase the black magic on Mulholland Drive isn’t not an entire lifestyle waiting to happen.

Oh don’t you wonder when the light begins to fade? And the clock just makes the colors turn to grey? Nothing stays, not even your memories, and here again we see Brendon negotiating the idea of moving forward into the future, moving by definition away from the past. “Golden Days” is a promise not to forget even while it admits that remembering is impossible. Forever young but growing older just the same, as he looks at a Polaroid – you are young in your photos, your memories, and that is a reality but so is the reality of your physical body aging. You are forever twenty, tan, sipping champagne on a yacht inside a tiny flat square (shake it til you see it), and you are thirty, sitting in a record shop looking at a picture of yourself, you are always becoming something different but you are always the same. These things can exist simultaneously if you are strong enough to let them. Let the love remain and I swear that I’ll always paint you / golden days.

“The Good, the Bad and the Dirty” is mostly just fun to listen to, a door-slamming fight song in its most literal sense. If you wanna start a fight you better throw the first punch / make it a good one. Like, this is a fact – if you want to start the fight you have to… start the fight. But in this aggressive cadence it has more meaning somehow, more threat, more swagger. Come at me with everything you’ve got – if you wanna make it through the night you better say my name. All of the good girls act so good til one of them doesn’t wait their turn and you’re nodding yes, yes, ready to swing. I’m gonna keep getting underneath you is this album’s more wit a better kiss and it is just as sexy, just as dangerous. Even here, as in-your-face as it gets, there is melancholy – truth is that it was always going to end.

The album winds to a close with two really stunning slow songs. “House of Memories” is this grand, gothic number, a love song in sweeping minor chords, a love song that is about being alone. If you’re a lover, you should know / the lonely moments just get lonelier / the longer you’re in love / than if you were alone. There is the large formless ache of loneliness that comes from missing no one in particular, and there is the sharp twisting knife of loneliness that comes from missing your other half. Heart to heart and eyes to eyesbaby we built this house on memories. Memory isn’t a strong foundation; it’s mutable and fickle, and it’s certainly not permanent. But that’s all Urie wants here, a place in your house of memories. Put me on a shelf, as long as I can stay there; don’t forget me. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all but it is also harder. Take my picture now, shake it til you see it. 

“Impossible Year” is almost cruel in its accuracy, its visceral realness. What a note to end an album on; what a way to make an entrance out of an exit. There’s never air to breathe / there’s never in-betweens / these nightmares always hang on past the dream. This, then, is what Death of a Bachelor is about, underneath it all, twining through it like blood in water. Loss, the kind that leaves you alone and breathless and waiting for the punchline only to realize that there is none. Urie can swagger and posture all he wants and we know he will be okay in the way that all of us will be okay, but that doesn’t mean it is easy and it doesn’t mean it will be the same.

Panic! at the Disco has become something entirely new and yet it is haunted by the ghost of what it was, and Brendon Urie lives with those ghosts every day. This album is his re-introduction to the world, his soul laid bare before the eyes of everyone who watched this band disintegrate over the past ten years. It is not an apology, but it is an acknowledgement of the part he’s played. There is bravado and vindication and bleeding rawness, and the brilliance of this album comes from letting all of them exist together. It is a very painful kind of growth, the cracking-open kind, the kind that leads to beauty and greatness and nothing but sky. It is the death of a bachelor, the birth of something new and incredible. It is lonelier and more in love than ever before.

carson’s top 5 new songs of the week

“The Sound” – The 1975

In which Matty Healy is, yet again, a bit of a dick to some romantic interest — You’re so conceited that I say that ‘I love you’/What does it matter if I lie to you — and acknowledges exactly how much of a dick he’s being — It’s not about reciprocation, it’s just all about me/A sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe.

Plus, you’ll note a few references to “Girls” — outright, And we left things to protect my mental health, but more subtly, She said “I got a problem with your shoes and your tunes/But I might move in. Layered with disco beats and abstract references to philosophy, “The Sound” is only the latest in The 1975’s fantastically self-aggrandizing, self-deprecating singles released for their upcoming album. Mark your calendars: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It will be released on February 26, 2016.

“Run” – Tiggs Da Author ft. Lady Leshurr

Apparently this song is on Fifa 16 (which has been out for quite a while and certainly before 2016). If I were you, I would be really angry that it only just now became available to stream on Spotify and the like. Not only is “Run” the perfect sports anthem, it’s also the perfect pre-gaming anthem. It’s the perfect lazy days anthem. A good song is one that can fit nearly any occasion, and this one does the job very well.

“Overcome” – Laura Mvula ft. Nile Rodgers

Taking the form of an inverted church song, Laura Mvula pushes soul through a powerful pop anthem. She adds a lot of gospel elements to the song overall, adding in a choir (complete with church organ) and creating general thematic and lyrical repetition, for example. It makes sense — a song about suffering and overcoming is a narrative told time and time again, always beginning with a single voice speaking out and finding its groove halfway through. A sudden explosion as more voices join the rising chorus, until the voices become an echoing refrain of strength and empowerment. “Overcome” ends up as a round — one Laura Mvula repeats the final line of the song, only to be overtaken by another Laura Mvula, unending.

“Conquerer” – AURORA

We’re brought to life with yet another Fifa 2016 track! I was at first surprised to find that a song with such a happy-go-lucky melody is on the soundtrack for a video game that mostly concerns people aggressively kicking a ball around. Then I listened a little more closely to some of its lyrics: But there’s no seduction only destruction/Oh fantasy take me over and break me. It turns out to be dark, exploring what may be a non-sexual attraction to Machiavellian characters. And suddenly “Conqueror” adds a layer of insidiousness beneath a fun, bubblegum melody. I’m still not sure why it’s on the Fifa 2016 soundtrack, but I’m happy it is.

“Small Talk” – Ekkah

Be sure to watch the video on this one. Gaze at these beautiful women with glitter packed onto their eyelids. Watch them dance inside glow-in-the-dark hula hoop and coordinate apathetic arm movements. Listen to the impassioned voices of these stunning ladies purr in syncopated harmony, and feel the synths rise to the occasion of a crystal-sugar one-night stand. What do you wanna do? They ask, already knowing the answer.

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

cake by the ocean: sex on the beach with DNCE

Joe Jonas has a new band.

He’s had one since 2015, apparently, and their name is DNCE. I didn’t become aware of them until mid-last week and now I can’t stop listening to their debut EP Swaay, which consists of four delightful songs that kind of sound like if Chromeo had been a little more into falsetto. It’s great, is what I’m saying, and I want you to know about it.

“Cake by the Ocean” is the first track, and the single, and to my surprise I actually heard it on the radio about two days ago, so I think they are gearing up for album release this year. The story about “Cake by the Ocean” is that one of their producers was trying to remember the name of the drink Sex on the Beach and came up with Cake by the Ocean, which Joe Jonas was very tickled/inspired by.

If “sex on the beach” is (duh) sex on the beach, “cake by the ocean” is going down on your girl in the hollow of the sand dunes, salt on skin, long lazy afternoon fading into night. It’s a sexy phrase, and I know we’re not doing anything innovative with cake as a euphemism but like, I like it, okay. Interestingly, though, it’s not really a sexy song. It is a great song – I want to dance to it on a yacht à la Point Break 2016* and/or One Direction 2013 – but I would not put it on any kind of sexy mixtape. I would put it on at the yacht party and catch someone’s eye across the dance floor, maybe an eye roll, can you believe he just said the word ‘funfetti’, but we’d both know. This is a dance jam like you wouldn’t believe; I am honestly surprised that they’re mobilizing this through the winter because this song – this whole EP, really, but this song in particular – is summer. It makes me want to throw a house party and I don’t even have a house. It makes me want to see DNCE in some kind of beachside concert and I don’t even live near the beach. Anyway, Gigi Hadid directed this video, so.

“Pay My Rent” is exactly what it sounds like, which is a request for your lover to pay your rent. This is probably a coy way to ask someone to move in, I guess, but I’m choosing to interpret it as what I will sing to Harry Styles when we eventually meet cute in a SoulCycle**. If you said you could, I would give you all the power – would you pay my rent? It’s the least you can do, Harry. Again – such a jam! This one I don’t know if I would need to full-on dance to, but I would definitely have to stop whatever conversation I was having to yell BUT WOULD YOU PAY MY RENT across the room when it came on.

“Toothbrush” is a very precious slow jam about how Joe Jonas wants to really commit to this relationship, he wants to take it to the next level – he doesn’t need you to rush out of his house! You can leave a toothbrush there! It is very stupid, and it is so endearing. Standing there in your underwear and my t-shirt from the night before / with your messed-up hair and your feet still bare, so evocative, like, it puts me right into that headspace, saccharine and silly though it is. Maybe you don’t have to rush; maybe you can leave a toothbrush at my place. Not quite a request, not quite a question, but a tentative faux-casual mix of the two, as if you haven’t been psyching yourself up to say it since the third time she stayed over. It almost reminds me of that scene in Romeo + Juliet where the sheets are billowing around them while they look at each other. It makes me think about a girl in a white t-shirt, dancing just a little while she gets ready for work.

This is a One Direction bonus track circa 2012. It is. I am literally convinced that One Direction wrote this song and should be singing it. Listen! Listen to this and tell me that Louis Tomlinson shouldn’t be crooning yeah I want to tell everyone / that you are, you are my only one / scream it at the top of my lungs / but i’m whispering i’m whispering i’m whispering / ’cause I don’t wanna jinx it. It is cringeworthy in that same way – think “Irresistible” – the way it is so sincere, the way it is unashamed to say things like like a birthday wish, don’t say it out loud. (There is a rather unfortunate use of the phrase wet dreams that I do not think 2012 One Direction would have pulled off, but they would cover this song today in a heartbeat and it would just feel so right.) Like “Toothbrush”, it is so trite that it tips back into being meaningful, the terror of scaring someone away that you can only express in cliches. Fingers crossed when I kiss you strikes a chord even as you roll your eyes, you know?

This is a great EP. I have been listening to it almost constantly, these four synthesizer-led songs on a loop, and I like it more and more each time. I am hoping they’ll release the album for summer – this music demands open windows, open air, those rafts that they tether out in the water that you race to. Honestly, it demands yacht parties. They don’t sell a t-shirt that says CAKE BY THE OCEAN yet, but I am sending this wish out into the universe and perhaps I will be rewarded.

*You should see Point Break. It is very stupid, and it is one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences I have had recently. It is very un-self-aware and they filmed it in a bunch of incredibly beautiful places; there are squirrel suits and a lot of parties and a lot of very intense bro eye contact, would recommend 10/10

**I would literally never go to SoulCycle and this is, I feel in my bones, the only reason that Harry Styles and I are not cosmically destined for each other


It’s not that the words “garage pop” have never tickled my fancy, exactly. They certainly sound cool, especially when they’re put next to each other – they seem in contradiction, one oozing grungy pretension and the other gently blowing pink sugar into your face. Unfortunately, the music itself is what I find… difficult.

But put “Spanish girl group” and “normcore” in front of those two words, and suddenly I don’t care how difficult my experiences with garage pop may have seemed. And so, the first LP presented by Spanish normcore girl group Hinds, Leave Me Alone, enters into my consciousness. You expect normcore girls to be the epitome of cool and of taste. But people don’t live in just one box, a refrain I must repeat to myself over and over again.

Hinds is pessimistic youth, from the way they dress to the content of their videos, to the overlay on each track — rather than harmonizing, they sloppily speak over each other. Often, they aren’t even singing the same things. As one member finishes a line, drawing out the last word, another intentionally interrupts, unapologetic, because she too has something to say.

“Warts” deviates from the sound of the first two songs off the album, just ever-so-slightly. The distortion on the guitar subsides, and while every song on Leave Me Alone sounds like a beach track, the mellowed-out instrumental backing in “Warts” brings the group’s overall sound right up to the shore. “Warts”, like each and every one of Hinds’ tracks, features a lot of meaningless noises and simpering shrieks towards the end of the track, which really ties it all together in a gloriously petulant way.

Speaking of chilled-out beach vibes, “Solar” — the only instrumental piece off the album — paints a picture of a perfect day, sitting in Retiro Park in Madrid by the lake. It’s May, the sun hotter than you imagine a spring day’s sun could be. You’re wearing a black, ruffled bikini top and cut-off shorts, and you’ve just found the perfect place to throw down your towel.

You kick off your Keds and stick your toes in the water, watching ducks heckle tourists for bread crumbs as the sun sparkles on the water. A paddle-boat passes by and you lay back, closing your eyes, as the song fades out and is replaced by snippets of Spanish coming from a nearby family you can only half-hear. The beauty of an instrumental track like “Solar” is its ability to create a visual behind its shimmering guitars, lazily floating in and out of view.

Four Spanish chicks getting drunk on a bottle of whiskey, alternate takes between angry and giggly, lip-syncing as close to the camera as they can get without actually touching it. Four silly girls throwing chips into each other’s mouths, pretending to pout to the camera only to burst into laughter, plastering themselves with temporary tattoos and trading swigs of a bottle of OJ. Add to these elements the lines I am stealing your cigars / just ‘cuz they’re closer than mine and the repetition of all I’m asking is for you to make a move and you get a syrupy sundae of ambivalence and lazy nights at local bars.

There’s so much wanting in this album, but the wanting is tinged with levity, of understanding that wanting to be famous and wanting sex is always there in you, but it’s not an important thing. It’s all about having a laugh, even if every song is dripping with vaguer notions of desire that Hinds-the-band and you-the-listener can’t quite reach. Sometimes the fun-loving stands strong against the ambitious. The desire for that perfect San Diego night to play on repeat is tempered by the knowledge that the perfect nights of the future will be just as endless.

What I’m trying to say here is that nothing else matters because you have your band, and you have your girls. Your life is the best kind of indie movie, and everything will be okay.

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