Kat Dahlia – My Garden

Is Kat Dahlia a witch? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: She is a witch, and she is a girl, and she is a lovestruck teenager and a streetwise woman, she is a thousand different shades in a single body and she is amazing.

“My Garden,” the title track on this album, is a slinky, grinding incantation, and I wouldn’t say that this video sets the tone for the album as much as it sets the tone for Kat Dahlia’s presence in your life. She’s a terrifying goddess, just look at her – wrapped in snakes, wreathed in flowers, crowned and darkly radiant. I feel like Kat Dahlia is really into Medusa, and I feel like she should be.

The album itself is sultry, I think. It reminds me of dark red flowers, the ocean at night. There are bright upbeat threads running through it, moments of pure sweetness like “I Think I’m In Love,” and they don’t conflict with the velvety darkness that is the rest of it; they somehow make it more complete. Even those brighter songs have that soft roundedness to them, a roundedness that I hesitate to call darkness, because it isn’t. They feel grounded, I think is the word that I want, and a lot of that is Kat Dahlia’s incredible voice.

As a girl who has a relatively deep voice I am drawn, perhaps selfishly, to other girls with deep voices as sort of a validation. So much of pop music is dominated by a certain type of voice (which I love! I am not at all opposed to it!) that it is nice, sometimes, to hear someone in a lower octave. And I think that depth offers something different, something that I find very soothing and appealing. Kat Dahlia has a deep voice. More than that, though, she has this incredibly expressive, dynamic, weird voice. It’s weird! And I mean that in the best way. Listen to “My Garden” again, listen to the way she stutters out that my flower bed’s callin’ your na-a-a-ame, na-a-a-ame. It’s the vocal equivalent of static, of some kind of heart palpitation, a quick dark flutter that almost sounds robotic but isn’t. Every single song on this album manages to sound entirely different from the last one, which can be a challenge for a pop album, and I think that is primarily a credit to Dahlia’s voice. She has a mesmerizing ability to twist her vocals into living, breathing, glowing things.

Kat Dahlia contains many different women, and all of them are present on this album – well, okay, a bunch of them are present and maybe when she writes more music we’ll learn that there are even more sides to her. But she is multifaceted and complicated and very aware of that, and she writes to highlight it. “Gangsta” is an anthem of her youth, growing up in Miami as the first-generation child of Cuban immigrants. It is weary, somehow, but defiant, and it feels like clenched teeth as you walk forward into blinding light. I do it all on myself, I ain’t gettin’ help from no one – from no one. She released that one early, before the album, and it put her on the map. As well it should have! I think Kat Dahlia is tough before I think anything else about her, and that is calculated on her part but that doesn’t make it untrue. “Gangsta” situates her as a young woman of color in the musical world she inhabits, and it puts her agenda on the table. It’s so good; it’s so powerful. And then you trip forward a few tracks and suddenly everything is sweetness and light, bubblegum and Sunday swings.

“I Think I’m In Love” is notable, for me, because it is such a good encapsulation of the weird line between posturing and genuineness in emotions, like, the no-man’s land between “we don’t have a label, we’re just figuring things out” and anything you’re willing to call real. I make fun of your belly and tell you to do some crunches and you say “yeah well, your ass jiggles, go and do some lunges,” I say “FUCK YOU” while I’m thinkin’ of you as my husband. Like. Liiiike. Listen to that little lilt her voice does, thinkin’ of you, listen to the smile in it. We’re teasing each other, that smile says, because we’re too afraid to say how in love we are. But she can’t stop herself from thinking it, and that smile says she knows he thinks it too. How perfectly incredible, how small and sweet and simple, how utterly charming, how painfully real.

I could go on and on about this multiplicity, this presentation of so many different selves. We see the Kat Dahlia that lives in two worlds as a Cuban-American in “Tumbao”, we see the brokenhearted bitter girl in “Just Another Dude”, we see an aching, yearning lover in “Walk on Water”. Each new song is another facet of this gem and no two are alike. Every track on this album occupies a radically different space in the conception of Kat Dahlia as a whole, and I think that is such a feat, such an incredible demonstration of self-understanding and of musical ability. I appreciate this effort so much, is what I’m saying, this presentation of a self that is both calculated and shockingly honest. I came across this album literally a week ago, but already I know it by heart. Kat Dahlia is a new presence in my life but I have a feeling she’s going to stick around, and I really can’t wait to see what she does next. I really can’t wait to see what other magic she contains.

King of Wands

downloadI know exactly what I want and who I want to be
I know exactly why I walk and talk like a machine
I’m now becoming my own self-fulfilled prophecy
-“Oh No!,” Marina and the Diamonds

An arrow flies straight and true and deadly when it’s fired by someone hungry. Killing to eat is a way of life, and I mean that in a literal and a metaphorical sense. There is no shame in hunger, in the bare open want that you feel, that grasping driving need. Hunger has many forms, and many names, and your arrows are limitless. They will travel miles for you, over time and space, and they will strike any target you fix yourself on.

The King of Wands is a motherfucking go-getter. He is on a mission and he is about his business. Wands are primarily a fire suit and this card is a blazing, flaring comet. Fake it ‘til you make it is the phrase here, and there is no card more suited for it. The King of Wands asks one thing from you: set your goals. Know what you want and pour yourself into it. It wants pure, clear objectives to focus that fire energy on. It demands intent and vision; it is very much a long-term card. For this reason, it’s good to see the King of Wands when you’re facing trouble – know that any current hardships are short-term, and know that you have the drive to move through them. The King of Wands thrives on problem-solving, and his appearance means you will have the opportunity to do so as well. Fix your eyes on the horizon and don’t lose sight of what you want.

The sun has gone down and the moon has come up
And long ago somebody left with the cup
But he’s driving and striving and hugging the turns
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns
-“The Distance,” Cake

The King of Wands’ strongest trait is not goal-setting, but follow-through. Anyone can set a goal: the King of Wands carries it out. This card is telling you that there is an opportunity presenting itself in your life – you can take it, but you have to see it all the way through. Knowing where you want to go is only half the fight – you have to keep the ship on course through all kinds of weather. When the King of Wands shows up, it’s asking you if you are lacking follow-through in your life. Keep track of your goals, and know them intimately, but more than that be aware of your progress toward them. It’s not enough to simply know what you want – you have to be actively moving toward it.

One-track mind, one-track heart
If I fail I’ll fall apart
Maybe it is all a test
‘Cause I feel like I’m the worst, so I always act like I’m the best
“Oh No!,” Marina and the Diamonds

You’re so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain
I’ll bet you think this song is about you, don’t you
Don’t you
-“You’re So Vain,” Carly Simon

The downside of being really, really good at accomplishing what you want is that your constant success and awesomeness can go to your head. I mean this in the best way, in total seriousness – the King of Wands is a very successful and auspicious card, and it generally means very good things. But it is worth it, when you see it, to ask yourself whether or not you’re being as humble as you can be, and whether you’re being too aggressive in your current pursuits. Fake it ‘til you make it is all well and good, but don’t fake yourself into feeling like you’re the only one who knows to achieve something. It’s not all about you – don’t let your drive for success cloud your vision, and don’t let your achievements take your humility. A pure focus on your goals will bring you what you want, but make sure the cost is worth the reward.

String your bow, now, and think about your target. Think about what you want, and why you want it, and how you are going to get it. Remember – others can help you. Remember – success is not inevitable, and killing yourself to get it helps no one. Set your goals with a clear mind; examine them honestly. Stay hungry.

Pin Her Down on a Photograph Album

What a strange thing, to be a teenage girl. What a strange thing, to be a person who is also a teenage girl. Do you know what I mean? When I was fourteen I didn’t know any music to listen to except what my dad listened to and my dad only listened to classic rock and the more known names from 90s alt rock, so I took his Walkman and his August and Everything After cassette and I listened to it over and over and over. In retrospect I don’t really even know why I liked it, because listening to it now is only good in the way where you understand that a twisting in your gut is important. It’s pretty, though. Maybe that was just it. It’s pretty and it’s horrible and it’s mine and that’s, like, life. Or whatever.

There was a certain point, I think, when I was still a round-faced child, when I wore the same coat every day and tied my hair in a ponytail at the base of my neck because I didn’t think of anything else as an option, when I was just a small person who read books with her claws dug into the awfulness of reality, that I realized sometimes people narrate me. Sometimes people–no, sorry. Sometimes men narrate me, sometimes men narrate me and I’m a character in some thing but never a protagonist. Sometimes I’m there but also not, which is a strange thing to feel when you are a human who is always there in real life. I have always known what it’s like to be seen but only sometimes do I know what it’s like to be. Men narrate me and it’s almost worse when the person they narrate, instead of being only secondary and flat, is–something that rings true in a part of me I wish they couldn’t see. If I am not to be described as a person, can I not at least silently own my own complexities?

And what do you do when some boy says “Maria says she’s dying, through the door I hear her crying, why? I don’t know,” when your own life or death is just a beautiful complicated mystery in somebody else’s story, when the response to “she says she’s tired of life” is “she must be tired of something, round here”? That reduction of reality and specificity and viscerality into some kind of quasi-literary observed melancholy, and the way that gaze isn’t not your own self-image sometimes too.

And sometimes it feels like you’re always the subject but never the narrator but the subject is still there, though, she’s right there in front of you and you get it. You don’t know if the guy describing it gets it in the way that you get it, but you know that what he’s describing feels strangely internal even though it’s all external.

And how angry it makes me, to be somebody’s subject and for them to have the gall to be right. To not just be looked at but seen. To identify with somebody that’s not allowed full narration, who isn’t the main character. The girl in the car in the parking lot, he sings, and I think, that’s me. I’m the girl in the car in the parking lot. I can feel the tender flesh of the palms of my own hands and I can taste the back of my throat and I am still the girl in the car in the parking lot. Just light on skin, just this exterior thing, but described well enough that you can feel the insides of it and you don’t know which makes you feel worse: that it might be ignored, or that the whole of it is seen, but still doesn’t quite matter.

The thing about August and Everything After is it’s a boy that says snap her up in a butterfly net, pin her down on a photograph album, but then when he does you look at that awful flattened thing and you realize he’s captured something a little too real, a gross picture of some tender part of you that you never meant to be visible. Especially to somebody who’d frame it.

I guess all I could really do when I was so young and so enraptured was what I’ve learned to do with a lot of things that are about me but aren’t supposed to be for me–take them anyway. It’s this complex damp incredible perceptive album, this album about exteriority and looking and pain, and those outsides, and those insides, and everything, belong not to an emotive singer-songwriter strumming in the background and watching but to Anna, to Maria, to the girl in the car in the parking lot. To me. Maybe you pinned me down, but that doesn’t mean I should be yours to look at.

Burned No. 1: Floccinaucinihilipilification

Burned is a column about the music men have given me to listen to ––  mixtapes, albums, entire discographies. Brace yourselves.

When I was in 6th grade the only other person in my class who was almost as smart as me was a tall boy with braces and budding swimmer’s shoulders who self-identified as “punk” –– this mostly meaning he wore a lot of black t-shirts and never washed the chlorine out of his shaggy brown hair in hopes of bleaching the tips. Once a week, the two of us got excused from class to go to advanced spelling –– a subject we conducted ourselves, unsupervised in the empty elementary school hallway, by passing a dictionary back and forth and trying to outdo each other. Triskaidekaphobia. Antidisestablishmentarianism. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. We scribbled lists of words on flimsy sheets of wide-ruled paper and made fun of each other’s handwriting. Thinking about it now, the crush I developed seems inevitable. At that age –– under those conditions? How could anybody not?

Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to think much of me. Or, more correctly –– he didn’t think I was punk enough. The year we sat in the hall picking spelling words was the year Avril Lavigne dropped Let Go, and the year I began to learn that music wasn’t just an impersonal atmospheric experience but also a means of constructing a personal identity. I’d always been a floaty, dreamy kind of kid, reasonably obedient and dressed in Gap t-shirts, and I don’t know if it was the exquisite angst of “Complicated” or just impending puberty but Let Go kindled new feelings in me. I wanted to be sharp and scrappy. I wanted to flout the rules and live in a real city and wear a lot of bracelets. I wanted a sk8r boi to whom I could say see ya later, boy. I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be like Avril.

This baby swimmer punk –– let’s call him Jed –– had other ideas. “She’s not cool,” he said. “She’s a poseur. She doesn’t make real music.”

“Oh really,” I said, with all the haughtiness my eleven years could afford me. “So what’s real music, then?”

He answered me with a stack of burned CDs.

I don’t actually remember many specific songs from the mixtapes he made. Hilariously, in retrospect, almost none of it was what would be classified as “real punk” –– it was mostly a mishmash of metal and math rock, which to my untrained ears sounded like nothing but crunching and howling, a miserable angry mess. What I do remember, with astonishing clarity, is how alien it seemed from the music I knew, and how uncomfortable I felt trying to reconcile it with my understanding of what music was supposed to do. If it provided an atmosphere, was this the atmosphere he wanted –– jarring dissonance and sudden shocks? If it provided an identity, was this the sort of person he wanted to be –– jaded, miserable, arrogant? Violent?

There was one standout among the CDs he gave me, one album I liked enough to devote repeat listening time to: cKy’s 2002 release Infiltrate•Destroy•Rebuild. It wasn’t what I’d have chosen for myself, but at least I could discern lyrics, so I sat at my desk and hit the “repeat all” button on my metallic navy blue boombox and tried to make myself see exactly what it was he saw in it. I stared into middle distance trying to picture the worlds these songs imagined: grimy, miserable, all flickering horror-movie lights and back alley puddles and sickbeds and basements. I tried to aestheticize their content in a way I could understand. I literally wrote compare-contrast poems –– the universe of my music against the universe of his –– in hopes that I would find the places where they overlapped, an attempt to measure the differences between our understandings of what it meant to be cool.

There’s a word Jed chose one week for our spelling list: floccinaucinihilipilification. I still picture it in his crooked handwriting, purple ink from one of my favorite pens, jotted down the week we picked all words that started with F and giggled when we insisted our teacher refer to the list as “F words.” To this day I can hardly spell or pronounce floccinaucinihilipilification –– instead I have a weird gut-level understanding of it that hinges on the sound of that cKy album, a kind of psychic association with words like flaccid and formaldehyde, something that sounds like pale dead flesh and medicine and fear. It seems like it should indicate a kind of scientific term, a disease, a poison. What it really means, though, is: the action or habit of estimating something as worthless.

Because of this one boy I don’t have my copy of Avril’s Let Go anymore. I purposefully left it at school one spring day knowing I’d never see it again. Because of this one boy I spent a great number of years thinking that harsher sounds made you better, that the smarter you were the more you hated the world, that the uglier you acted the realer you were. I want to say that I was susceptible to this because I didn’t know the first thing about feminism, but that’s not true. I did know about feminism, and I grew up hearing girl power and you can do anything you want and women are smart and tough and good. I just didn’t know how casually a boy could dismiss all those teachings simply by saying, Worthless. Poseur. Not real. It was not my first encounter with male self-absorption –– I grew up reading books, after all –– but it was the first time I remember a boy saying deliberately that his tastes and experiences were more authentic, literally more real than mine. It never occurred to me until much later that he was posturing as much as I was, that he too was busy constructing an identity that he could carry to protect him.

The last song on Infiltrate•Destroy•Rebuild is “Close Yet Far,” and its chorus goes And I’ll tip my hat to those who can’t believe it’s me / Though I never never never ever wanted this to be. When I was in sixth grade, that sounded like the words of an older, jaded boy: a person expressing wry regret for having lost his faith in the world. Now, it sounds like me –– it sounds like a girl who left her favorite CD at school so she could make herself more desirable. It sounds like a girl who spent a lot of years pretending she was a lot more harsh than she was until she woke up older and realized that she actually was pretty harsh, and it was because she spent a lot of time trying to impress people she didn’t like. It sounds like a girl who had to fight floccinaucinihilipilification every day and didn’t even know it. And thank god, it reminds me that I am unafraid to like what I like, and that I know no person is any more real than anyone else.

And that Let Go was the definitive album of 2002. Just saying.

Special Intentions

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 10.03.11 PM

A playlist for trying something in 2015.

Pink Champagne – Caitlin Rose
Every Year Until We Die – Lisa Bouvier
Spaceship – Kanye West, GLC & Consequence
Slippery Slopes – Jenny Lewis
I Am A Soul – Little Janice
Peach, Plum, Pear – Joanna Newsom
I Wanna Get Better – Bleachers
I Am Waiting – The Rolling Stones
Upgrade U – Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z
Closer to Fine – Indigo Girls
Name That Thing – Chumped
Body of My Own – Charli XCX
Help Me Mary – Liz Phair
Way Over Yonder – Carole King
Oblivion – Grimes
I Won’t Be Left – Tegan and Sara
Change Your Ticket – One Direction
Can’t Ever Sleep – Saturday Looks Good To Me
Peaches – The Orchids
Modern Girl – Sleater-Kinney
New Romantics – Taylor Swift
Torpedo – Jillette Johnson
This Year – The Mountain Goats

I got a tracksuit for fourth grade that was green and made sounds when I walked. I wanted to be President then. It was a vest and pants with a long stripe down the legs and my arms inside a long-sleeve white t-shirt looked like wiggling wet rubber from outside the school windows that were plastic for safety and made the whole reflected world seem round with possibility. New Year’s Eve, I turned nine. I remember that my birthday cake had a grinning clock on it instead of my name. That didn’t even seem depressing. It was 2000 and almost 1.

It seems okay not to know what you want to be. How many movies have made me promise to the tune of that pop song you already know from the Honda commercial that people don’t know what they want? It’s charming. All that falling into one’s own life, fingers laced like by surprise. I don’t mind that I can’t decide who I should wish I was, but I get a little hot at the edges– I become something that needs a sign please do not touch, I begin to shake, and it starts low in parts of me the sun won’t ever touch, before suddenly I’m vibrating the chair, the room, your car, his hands, I can’t breathe– when I let myself wonder what exactly it is that I already am.

Britney Spears was a birthday present when I was small and it snowed all day. My hands and my t-shirt were red just walking from the car. Everybody grinning with their coats on while we shuffled across the streets. From our nosebleeds half a nation away I could taste the rising pyrotechnic smoke better than I could see the performance. She was sparkling. I already knew that. I could watch a thousand heads follow her body when it moved. I gave the t-shirt to my sister who had cried when we left the house and woke up the next day only half-forgiving. Bitney Spee-uhs. She cried but didn’t have her Rs yet. She was sparkling. A spring night when I was nineteen I drank wine five feet from a folksinger by accident. And we were blessed, all of us, even though mostly what everybody was was high, because she carved herself open under a shoddy orange spotlight and didn’t seem embarrassed at all. Me, I was mortified when I saw my own face everyday, when I remembered other people saw it too. I hated my shoes that night. My date wasn’t blinking often enough. The girl with the guitar didn’t care. She made me feel brave and all my skin hurt. I wanted to be lost somewhere alone after that just moving but I left with who I came with like the rules say, I tried to walk my way back to it in the morning but it was already too late. That whole year my mouth was always stained purple from something, for staining. I needed all the marks. When I turned twenty-one I saw Pauly D from the Jersey Shore bowling. They played the “1985” music video three times that night and I drank something banana three times because I didn’t say no to the first when it made my whole body wince. My dress was all sad mosquito net and that seemed honest.

(more…)

Scream Queen Daydream: Charli XCX’s Sucker

Several Forever 21 employees recently told me I looked like Charli XCX & honestly that’s the whole reason I’m writing this review. At that point, I only knew her from the chorus of “Fancy” & was already mildly irritated as a result of her portrayal of Tai in the music video (I have been told for years that I look like Brittany Murphy in Clueless so I took personal offense). I saw her AMA performance & compared it to a Courtney Love impersonation but then the universe truly intervened to melt my green jello heart: her Nylon cover was delivered to my house & her label sent a promo copy of her latest release, Sucker, to my work.

I love pop music but I live for female pop stars from the UK (Spice Girls, Little Mix, Cher Lloyd, Lily Allen). I feel like UK pop is the pinnacle, the gold medal. The UK has given us the biggest girl bands on earth across several decades. I learned a lot about self-love & general girl love & the unique bliss that comes from girlhood from UK pop (this is the abridged version of my feelings on this topic, more to come later).

Sucker conjures a lot of Spice Girls-related feelings for me. The girl power vibes are high; Charli is stomping around in platforms & channeling the 90s. She has achieved what I consider to be a near perfect 90s equilibrium. She’s bringing together the two things I love most about the decade – Spice Girls-style pop & the inherent restlessness & dissatisfaction coming from female artists. Sucker is definitely a pink glitter bomb dosed in some fluorescent colored alcoholic sugar water but the songs extend beyond the flash.

The vibe of this record is Self – self-love, selfishness, self-ownership, self-worship. Sucker is throwing glitter all over feminism – this isn’t equality, this is queenship. The love songs on this record are mostly from Charli to Charli. “Body Of My Own” stands out to me as the truest, purest love song of all, praising the self instead of erasing or compromising it. Charli makes herself the subject & the object of her love & attention: “I don’t need you/My touch is better” … “Got my darkness/I’m into myself/Don’t need you/Cause I’m gone.” The title track is an anti-fuckboy anthem – the chorus is a chant of “Fuck you, sucker!” which reminds me of a boot-on-neck version of “Wannabe” in that it essentially shares the sentiment of girls making all the rules & rejecting boys who dare to not obey.

charlixcxI love the glare that pop music emits, the atomic shine, but sometimes the glare is so bright it inadvertently distances the audience. It is necessary to temper the glitz with human flaw & authenticity, with normalcy. Sucker does this well and often. Charli doesn’t seem to view herself as a pop star but pop star adjacent at best. She’s bored, she’s lazy, she’s a gum popping, hair twirling, daydreaming girl. She isn’t rich but she pretends to be, she isn’t famous but she drinks until she feels like she is. The track “Gold Coins” is an elaborate $$$-laced fantasy in which she hides in bed behind a wall of money & jewels. She’s dreaming the same bedhead trash queen dreams we all are. She wants to smoke weed & eat pizza & steal the crown from the prom queen.

I’m remiss over the amount of time I spent questioning Charli XCX & failing to immediately realize the true impact of the work she’s doing. I’m not remiss over calling her a Courtney Love impersonator. She performs with an all female band in sunglasses & prom dresses. She’s attacking “Just A Girl” levels of unrest with a shrug & pink champagne. She loves & answers to the self above all else. I feel like pop music has reached a place where the impact of the artist isn’t lost or ignored as a result of the historic dismissal of the genre as a whole. For those of us looking to Beyoncé, Taylor, Lorde or Nicki for lessons in girl love, self-love & ever growing levels of female celebration, add Charli XCX to your list of women to watch.

photo by flickr user Jenna Million

O. The Fool

Hello! Welcome to the witchsong tarot column. My name is Aly, and I am not a professional.

This column will run weekly and sometimes twice-weekly, highlighting one card per post. My goal here is not to do tarot readings for you, or to teach you the mechanics of tarot reading, but to familiarize you with the cards in a way that is hopefully more grounded and meaningful to you than just memorizing things. To that end, I’ll be selecting songs for each card as a way to personify them to you, the reader, and to help you remember the cards’ meanings when doing your own readings. Knowing the cards more personally was, for me, a huge step forward in my tarot practices. Having something to associate the cards with – in this case, some songs that you’ll hopefully enjoy – makes the process of reading a lot more fluid and intuitive, which often leads to more focused and productive readings.

Again, I just want to reiterate – not a professional! What I’m doing here is presenting my own understanding of the cards, focused through the lens of (mostly pop) music. If this isn’t the mnemonic for you, that is fine, and if the cards speak differently to you, that’s fine too. This is only one way of many that you can use to get closer to the cards; I just hope it’s one that works for you. So! Without further ado, here is the beginning of our journey together.


 

RWS_Tarot_00_Fool

You are standing at the edge of a great precipice. You are standing on a low plain, thunder rolling in the distance. You are standing in the middle of an empty road and the world stretches infinite around you. Close your eyes and breathe in, now, in this moment, this moment before, this moment that is just another moment but that is also the beginning of everything. Don’t be afraid.

Walkin’ through the heavy light
The streets are empty and you don’t feel right

You didn’t wanna let yourself down, so don’t be scared to get out
There’s a thousand voices saying
The time is now
-“The Great Unknown,” Jukebox the Ghost

The Fool is, most simply, a card of beginnings. It is an answer to a question you have not yet asked, but it is also a question in itself. The time is now; are you ready?

When the Fool shows up in your readings, it’s letting you know that you are at a juncture in your life that requires initiative, and a decision – the start of a journey is upon you. The Fool is the card of potential, waiting to be realized. When you see it, you have to ask yourself if you are ready to walk forward into whatever is waiting for you, out there in the great unknown. A lot of times, you might not be – one of my favorite depictions of the Fool is as a baby bird, which I find apt. Think about that tiny bird; how unsure, how small and fragile! But – remember – how full of potential. Seeing the Fool should remind you that you are going somewhere, that incredible things beyond your knowledge are awaiting your discovery. That baby bird will spread its wings and own the sky.

There is always the temptation to say that “the journey begins with a single step,” or some iteration of that tired, tired sentiment. It’s true – you literally have to take one step – but like, come on. Anyone who has ever embarked on anything new knows that it’s not one step but a series of steps, sometimes in the face of insurmountable odds, sometimes through sleet and uphill and in dark cold nights. The baby bird can leap and fly, and then its life will change forever, and it will persist onward. And its life will keep on happening, and that is the journey. Not the initial leap, but all the flight that follows.

We’re young and we’re reckless
We’ll take this way too far
It’ll leave you breathless
Or with a nasty scar
-“Blank Space,” Taylor Swift

The Fool presents a warning, too, and it’s one that you should make note of every time you see it. A tarot card’s secondary, often darker qualities technically come into play when the card makes its appearance reversed (upside down), but it is always helpful during readings to keep this darkness in mind no matter how the card presents. Each of these cards has all of its qualities inherent in it, and although different contexts will elicit different meanings, keep in mind that lightness and darkness are two halves of one whole.

In darkness, the Fool stands alone. Remember: spontaneity is not the same thing as recklessness. Remember: unpredictability is productive only to a point. The Fool may be asking you to look for the consequences of any actions you’re considering taking – where is your journey leading you? The danger lies in plunging headlong down the road, over that cliff. There is no journey that you should embark on without regard for the consequences or for others around you. Don’t leap before you look, before considering where you will land. The Fool’s naiveté is something you must guard against – those opportunities that seem too good to be true, that ex-partner that really seems to have changed – remember to trust your instincts. The Fool is the card of beginnings, of adventure, this is true, but look back – he has packed supplies for his adventure. Don’t leave yourself behind.

Where, where do we go?
Where the, where the wind blows
We’re the youth on our own
Waiting for our call
Where, where do we go?
Where the, where the wind blows

-“No Mythologies to Follow,” MØ

So, the Fool is the beginning of a journey. It is possibility, it’s new experiences, it’s the unpredictable. Will you fly? Will you fall? You have to trust yourself enough to acknowledge what the Fool is asking you, and you have to be honest enough with yourself to answer. When you are prepared, when the time for you to take that flight is right, there will be something for you to land on – a person, a place – something will catch you. Be brave, and know that you have all the tools you need to make this journey safely, with purpose and clarity. There’s something waiting for you in the great unknown.

“We’ll Do It All Again”: Fall Out Boy’s American Beauty/American Psycho

Island Records; 2015.

It’s pretty impossible to talk about one Fall Out Boy album without talking about every Fall Out Boy album, at least a little bit. That’s most true for their post-hiatus material, which has appeared more prolifically and more quickly than I think any of us could have expected. If you’d asked me in 2008 what another Fall Out Boy album would sound like I would probably have just said “perfect,” fresh off the high of Folie à Deux. If you’d asked me after Save Rock and Roll I would have had no idea. American Beauty/American Psycho is not a perfect album. Save Rock and Roll almost was. AB/AP feels, in some ways, to be the spiritual cousin not to any of Fall Out Boy’s past albums, but to the space between them, to a fundamental acknowledgement that the band is older now, that its member are older now. It’s filled with regret, with waiting, with the past, with Pete Wentz’s undeniable Peter Pan complex. That being said, this is a deeply dynamic album. Every song is catchy, every song is produced to a shine—“Irresistible” opens with a trumpet, “The Kids Aren’t Alright” with a catchy whistle. The first half of the album, up to “Uma Thurman,” is almost entirely up-tempo, and feels shorter than it actually is. “Uma Thurman” is probably the standout non-single on AB/AP. We get some of the record’s ugliest, growliest vocals, and those vocals lead nicely into the later mid-tempo songs. It’s a good song on a good album, and it really is a good album. Still, at times it seems to be missing something.

There is loss, here – loss of sense of place, so integral to Fall Out Boy’s earlier material. Not a mention of Chicago, but plenty of mentions of Seattle and Los Angeles, even France (there’s a surprising amount of French scattered throughout the album, as if in quiet homage to their 2008 album Folie à Deux, not widely loved but probably a quiet masterpiece in and of itself.) Their production is slicker than it’s been before, it opens up more space – the songs feel bigger, less intimate, more anthemic. Part of the appeal of early Fall Out Boy was the unpolished ugliness, the sense that you were almost too close to Patrick Stump’s voice. They gave you emotional truth via claustrophobia. There’s not a lot of that on this album. Lyrics have been pared down even more from Save Rock and Roll, especially the choruses—you still have to work to parse Pete Wentz’s intricate, rapid-fire metaphors on first listen, but they’re more sparsely spread. Much of the melodic heart of this album rests on oooh-ooooh-ooohs, on repetition, on chanted choruses that are going to sound great in stadiums. That’s not a bad thing—Patrick Stump has only become a better singer as he’s gotten older, and there’s something about his voice, repeating the same thing over and over and over that makes it feel almost like a ritualistic experience, listening to these songs. Your headspace changes when you’re trying to hear yourself into all that emptiness.

This is an older Fall Out Boy, a more mature, restrained Fall Out Boy. Save Rock and Roll was powered by fury, by rage, burning hot: put on your war paint. AB/AP is less visionary than Save Rock and Roll, less precocious and political than Folie à Deux, less overwhelmingly lovable than Infinity On High, less hungry than From Under the Corktree. It is precise, though. It is vicious. It’s Fall Out Boy that remembers exactly what it means to be Fall Out Boy, fascinated by their own legacy. “Centuries” was the first released song from that album and that’s important, has always been important: “We’ll go down in history / remember me for centuries.” This is a band that has always been obsessed with being remembered, with us as listener looking in and them as watcher looking out at us looking in. “Centuries” recalls so much of their early lyrical content, obsessed with dying out and fading away. They’ve proved that they can withstand the passage of time, and they’ve done that sounding drastically different than ever before. “Immortals,” too, picks up this theme at the tail-end of the album: “I am the sand in the bottom half of the hour glass / I try to picture me without you but I can’t / We could be immortals / Just not for long, for long.” This is the natural thematic evolution of all the material that’s come before it even if sometimes the music feels a little hollow. And it does—sometimes Fall Out Boy seems to lose themselves underneath all that production, underneath the echo chamber. None of these songs feel intimate, not in the same way that even “Save Rock and Roll”, their last album’s title track, did.

Still, I’m sitting here and listening to “The Kids Aren’t Alright” and genuinely crying a little bit. In 2007 this band sang “we do it in the dark / with smiles on our faces” and they were talking about making an album but I always held that close to my heart like a token. “I’d do it all again / I think you’re my best friend” makes me feel the same way—protected, heard. An invitation: “empty your sadness / like you’re dumping your purse on my bedroom floor.” That idea, then, overwhelmingly domestic: come into my house and I will keep you safe. Come into my house and lay down your burden, make things easier on yourself, dump your sadness out with used tissues and candy bar wrappers, with old lipsticks and empty Tylenol bottles. This is not music meant to make you happy, not really, but it does succeed in making me feel like I can come home after a long day and put this album on and sink down into it, submerge myself, never come up again. The kids aren’t alright but they don’t have to be.

Listen: Fall Out Boy have always been in the business of taking care of us. Not in an evangelizing way, not in a patronizing way, just: Pete Wentz said on his blog in 2008 that you should “never trust a band that wouldn’t bleed for you” and this is still, years and years later, Fall Out Boy bleeding for you. It sounds different, and I miss parts of that sound—the claustrophobic guitars, baby Patrick Stump’s bellowing and still somehow little voice, the sense that you were right there in the room with them, “landing on a runway in Chicago.” But, in the midst of this album about navigating fame and the idea of your own legacy, in the midst of all this beautiful slick production something emerges: never trust a band that wouldn’t bleed for you. “In the end I’d do it all again / I think you’re my best friend. / Don’t you know that the kids aren’t alright?” Fall Out Boy has always been good at writing love songs that aren’t love songs at all, and this is one of them. Another is “Favorite Record”, which barely made it onto the album but was included because Pete Wentz thought the fans would like it: “do, do you, do you remember…./ you were the song stuck in my head, every song I’ve ever loved.” This is so close to things they’ve written about before that despite my fervent belief in self-reference as artistic process, I’m almost bemused: “We’re the therapists pumping through your speakers” (From Under the Cork Tree, 2005); “we only want to sing you to sleep” (Infinity on High, 2007); “I will save the songs that we can’t stop singing” (Save Rock and Roll, 2013). Fall Out Boy believes they are helping you because they believe that music can help you and so do I, and that is why I love this album even though it’s not my favorite (or the best, but what does that matter) album Fall Out Boy has ever made. I love this album because of “you were the song stuck in my head” sung not just to anyone but to me, to us, so that when we get this song stuck in our heads it’s like a strange reverse-affirmation. You are valuable because the music thinks you’re valuable, because you’re worth taking care of.

Never trust a band that wouldn’t bleed for you, and this is still a band that wants to. American Beauty/American Psycho doesn’t always sound like a Fall Out Boy album but it feels like one. There is loss, but there is gain as well. 3/5 incomprehensible choruses.

a graven image: the fallout of punk idolatry

I haven’t been to the Fillmore since I was very small, so when I step into the blue light and look up at the Banga bass drum I’m a little taken aback by how close it is, how close she’ll be. People are making sardines of themselves already, staking their claim in the splash zone. I take a wide stance. I, too, am a territorial fish.

Patricia “Patti” Lee Smith, godmother of punk and high priestess of my heart is somewhere in this very building. It’s a presence deeply felt: she’s just so much. Like, to culture, to music, to art, of course! But also to me. Just Kids is the best kind of comfort food, it’s a fire under my ass, it’s my favorite ode. I spent the final months of my schooling becoming crow-girl Cavale, a character in a play based on its authors’ (Patti Smith and Sam Shepard’s) tumultuous love affair. She is my work, my wail, my lullaby. Music is never not intimate, but some artists just crawl into your lungs, and sort of by accident, and soon you don’t really know what it is to breathe without their involvement.

That’s really dramatic. But anyhow, it’s personal.

And good lord, is it incredible. Incroyable in the esoteric sense. She is electric. She shakes the ground because we shake the ground because she shakes from inside our bones and vibrates into our feet and we dance because we must. It’s moving. We are moved. Sixty-eight years old singing we explore the men’s room/we don’t give a shit/ladies’ lost electricity/take vows inside of it and I see her, we all do, young and wild and sonically entwined. I’ve never felt so like a witness of such exquisite fervor between a woman and a beloved ghost. Sixty-eight years old and caterwauling EOWROWROWROWROWROWROWROW, turning the crowd into a chorus of stray guitars in heat. Sixty-eight years old and burying Lenny Kaye in the curtain of her silvered hair as they play creature in an erotic rock-out shred dance that takes them both to their knees. She spits. She spits a lot. Maybe it used to be a defiance, a middle finger to the sky re: femininity, re: manners, re: appropriate places to spit, but now she does it because it’s a part of her. Patti Smith spits on the floor and I think Oh my god, I just saw Patti Smith spit on the floor. And then Oh my god, I wish she’d spit on me, because there’s so much history in her saliva and I’ve got this weird faith that her amylase could somehow dissolve my fears, catalyze me to make a grand thing.

That’s not how spit works, but that’s okay. Because she keeps going. She sings love is an angel disguised as lust, and I bathe in it, letting myself have a crystalline moment of belief in a love that will later betray me but it doesn’t matter because here it’s good and pure and in her words I see myself: take me now, baby, here as i am, and for now I escape the sorrow and only feel wonder at what a human can give to another human in a kiss.

We are given a parable. We are given a medium. We cry as wolf all together, and we taste it all, as she tastes it, each epoch of herself. She knights a girl in a turtleneck sweater who clambers onto the stage and takes Patti’s guitar in hand, playing not one song but several, singing backup, fucking rocking. It is a marvel to see a hero make a hero. Some kid from the crowd shoulder to shoulder with veterans and saints and holding her own. (I cry a lot during this show, but especially now.)

So we get all this and we stomp for more and this truly delicious riff is taken up by the band but suddenly I get this woozy feeling because then Patti is snarling baby was a black sheep/baby was a whore and I want to vomit, I want to curl up and die, but I don’t. Patti Smith and Her Band are singing “Rock N Roll N____” and suddenly these, like, 32 year-old white dudes are moshing at me in near-bacchic frenzy, more stoked to rock than they’re ever been in their lil bro lives. The room vibrates in response to the priestess’ call, a sea of ecstatic white faces taking full advantage of this permission they’re being given to say a word that is inherently ugly on their tongues. I push to the edge of the crowd, I disengage and back away from the stage, refuse to let the sheer visceral musicality of the song make me dance to it.

I feel sick. I feel sick because I knew this song existed and I knew she might play it but I came anyway and just hoped that she wouldn’t, that the set list would be clean. I knew it could happen but I wanted to forget, because it is easier to relax into the quasi-deification of an artist you admire if they don’t make shitty things and insist that it’s a compliment. That she, having been othered in her own domain, may call herself revolutionary in using the word, give it to her favorite white men, point us out one by one, giving it to us too, with the lights on so we all see each other, most people’s lips forming shapes of slurs with a grin.


I feel sick. I feel sick because I knew this song existed and I knew she might play it but I came anyway and just hoped that she wouldn’t, that the set list would be clean.


And look, I truly believe that Patti believes that all mutants and the new babes born sans eyebrow and tonsil-outside logic-beyond mathematics poli-tricks baptism and motion sickness-any man who extends beyond the classic are this new breed of rock n roll being, existing outside of society, the most noble-hearted of folk. But it’s wrong! It’s wrong for the white punx and their foremother to appropriate such a word, a poison doled out from white people to black people. Just because you know that black people exist and you think they’re pretty cool and radical doesn’t mean you can straight up position your oppressions and defiance thereof as equivalent. As worthy of so weighty a word.

One hour and fifty-four minutes of punk rock piety made illusion by one song clocking in at three minutes and thirty seconds. This isn’t about my time being ruined or wasted. This isn’t about me much at all. It’s about “how do you negotiate the simultaneity of great love for an artist and great disappointment in a facet of their art and, by extension, their concept of rebellion?” I shuffle out of the venue, and I think about it. I think about it in the cab. I think about it on BART. I think about it when I go to sleep and when I wake up. I think about it on the plane. I think about it while I write about thinking about it, and honestly I don’t know. I can neither escape what Patti Smith has meant to me, nor can I ever even try to want to justify the song and its 37-year tenure as the encore that’ll really bring the audience to its knees.

I hate that we live in a world where an artist feels in good conscience and just power conflating her oppression—as woman, as artist, as captive of capitalism—with the oppression of others, black people whose scars are directly proportional to this country’s growth, both industrial and cultural, who are eponymous to the song specifically because the slur has been hurled at them with such vitriol and accompanied physical and spiritual violence. To survive that? That’s nothing short of miraculous, but to call it a miracle would rob individuals of their ownership of the struggle. It’s artistically irresponsible at best to strip a word of its bearers and assign it to your sanctified self. Black lives matter because they do, not because you found in them a way to (en)title your own. You can’t shock the world out of racism and into revolution. That doesn’t belong to you. Cut it out.

It’s hard to allow yourself to be disappointed in an action and still treasure its overarching experience. I think we’re told that in order to be grown ups we have to know what to do about the uneasiness we feel. But I know no other way than to talk about it. To weave in and out of it. To look at it and call it for what it is. I don’t know how to kill my idols, couldn’t bring myself to burn the book and melt the wax and trash the merch tee. But I’ll be damned if I lionize or hasten to protect that moment of venue-wide complicity in a linguistic assault that got disguised as a moral high ground.

February (January) 2015

HELLO! Welcome to witchsong horoscopes. This is going to be a monthly column written by Aly, and we are starting the year late and pretending we didn’t. Forgive us. Or don’t, we’re not your boss.

You’ll get one playlist a month, one song for each sign, along with some advice that you can choose to take (if you want). Again, not your boss. Each month’s playlist is hosted at 8tracks.com/witchscopes.

Art for witchsong horoscopes is done by the beautiful and talented Briana Finegan of advicecollage.tumblr.com, and her work is available for purchase at Society6.

jan 27 horoscopes

WITCHSCOPES, FEBRUARY (& JANUARY, I GUESS) 2015

PLAYLIST

Capricorn: If I told you everything, you’d turn to run, I know that you would. “Midwest”, Grand Falconer.

You are holding all your cards so close to your chest right now that you’re choking yourself with them. It takes faith in yourself and in the world to let anyone else see them, but the path you have walked has honed your judgment to a stinging razor-sharp point. Now it’s time to trust yourself. You don’t have to let everyone in – you don’t have to let anyone in, if you don’t want to. But your instincts are those of the hunted and the hunter, and they are much keener than you give them credit for. Listen to your heart this month.

Aquarius: There are some things that beg to be said without subtlety. “Ur the Shhh”, Amel Larrieux.

It is tempting – especially when you are as good with words as you are, Aquarius – it is tempting to use language as a barrier, as a shroud, as illusion. Don’t let it hide you. Nothing you think or feel is less valid for being unspoken. Spend time this month inside your own head; examine yourself honestly and straightforwardly. Think about what it means to share something with someone, and to not share it with anyone but yourself. Choose the pieces of yourself that you give away, and then give them wholeheartedly.

Pisces: You’ve spent many nights sleeping facedown again, for fear – for fear that your heart might leap clear. “All for Love”, Jukebox the Ghost.

Try not to be afraid this month. Try not to let your idea of yourself get in the way of yourself. Stop saving your love for certain things – I know sometimes it feels this way, but you won’t run out. No one cares who you’re supposed to be except you, and it’s tempting to let the past define the future, but you’re more than that. You are growing and blossoming and opening into something beautiful. You are what you love – love everything you want. Your heart is bigger and braver than you think it is.

Aries: I got your letter in the mailbox today, and I said thank you for your thoughts but I am done. “Coney Island,” Good Old War.

You are holding onto your hurt like you are clutching barbed wire. It stings, and it reminds you, but you can’t go anywhere else. It is the bravest thing you can do, to remember what you have suffered and to continue surviving it. You will always be surviving it. But there is a difference between remembering it and carrying it on your back. That barb will cut your palm until you let it go. The fence will still be there, but you can walk away from it. Don’t let them win after all you’ve been through.

Taurus: We are all our hands and holders, beneath this bold and brilliant sun. “Don’t Carry It All,” the Decemberists.

Open yourself up this month. It is so often your way to do everything yourself, to go it alone, and you have been walking down a narrow, lonely corridor of your heart for some time now. It is not weakness to share your burden. It is not weakness to need other people. Think about trust this month; how you get it, how you lose it. How you give it to others. There are those out there who are worthy of yours, Taurus, but you have to be willing to let them carry you for a bit.

Gemini: But I don’t regret falling for your fool’s gold. “Fool’s Gold,” One Direction.

This is a month for coming to terms with yourself; with the things you have done and the person you have been. There is no use in regret. The best and truest thing you can do in this life is to meet the things you have done face-to-face and learn from them, and you are strong enough to do it. Every part of the perfect creature that you are now is your past, pressed into the diamond that is you. You alone can choose the parts of your narrative that you wish to keep, to learn from, to weave into song, to never regret.

Cancer: He takes the day, but I’m grown. “Tears Dry on Their Own,” Amy Winehouse.

Don’t burn yourself out with anger; don’t let it eat you alive. You are bigger than the battles you fight. Things have a way of seeming so permanent, so endless, and it is easy to lose yourself down that rabbit hole, but licking your wounds for too long will infect them. This too shall pass, they say, and sometimes they are wrong but more often than not they aren’t. Sometimes there is a deeper victory than the one you think you want, and if you can keep hold of that thought through the red in your vision you may win it.

Leo: We thought we lost you. Welcome back. “Adventures in Solitude,” the New Pornographers.

It is a long winter, and you are buried in the soil of yourself like a seed, hibernating, waiting. You are always waiting, it seems. It’s never going to be as warm as you want it to be out there, but remember: you are the sun. You have such power within you, such a bright shining core. Take this month and think about your light, your warmth, what you give to everyone around you. It is easy to forget your value, but you are a marvel. Don’t run, don’t hide; don’t stay buried.

Virgo: My mind holds the key. “My Body is a Cage,” Arcade Fire.

Examine things closely and honestly this month. A lot of what troubles you is inside you – do you remember the Hunger Games? Do you remember real/not real? This is your task, this month: to play this game with yourself. There is enough that you have to fight in this world without fighting yourself, but it can be the most difficult thing there is, to be your own ally. Take small steps into caring for yourself this month, mentally and physically. Listen to Taylor Swift; think about “I was there.” Think about your truth.

Libra: I’m fully grown, but I’m on tenterhooks. “French Navy,” Camera Obscura.

No one is watching you this month. No one is watching you ever. I mean this in the best way, in a way that should be freeing and soothing and terrifying to you all at once. The spotlight that you feel on you is one of your own making, and it’s so bright that it’s obscuring you. It hides your ideas, your thoughts, and your feelings. It is a light that burns – the light of comparison, of fear, of insecurity – and it is one that you have the power to turn off. Hold yourself up, exactly as you are, in the pure light of day.

Scorpio: You can do what you like to please me. “Sexy Mistake,” the Chalets.

Paint your eyelids gold this month. Paint everything gold; gild your heart. Think about how elemental you are, how perfectly structured. Gold can be fragile, but it’s beautiful, and it bends before it breaks. Don’t let them break you. Melt for them a little; let them show you their cards. Let them think it was their idea. When they say something is “malleable” what they really mean is “adaptable.” Think about what you want this month, from the world, from others, from yourself. You know how to get it.

Sagittarius: It’s never winter when it’s Donna Summer all year long. “Disco Love,” the Saturdays.

You have started to learn, this last year, about independence. About how love doesn’t compromise it, when it’s right. About friendships deeper and wider and stronger than the ocean. You are one person, complete and whole, and you have always felt that way. But there is wholeness in being together, too, and completeness, and it’s this new feeling that I want you to explore this month. You have always been fiercely apart – now use that fierceness in being with others.