new music

JUST WATCH ME: Cher Lloyd is Getting Activated

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

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

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

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

Shura — “Nothing’s Real”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

lol

 

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

ICYMI: Tegan & Sara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Saddest Songs Are in Major Keys

“Hallelujah California” – Luna Shadows

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

Limits EPMt. Si

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

“U Up” – Soft Lit

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

“Don’t Worry About Me” – Frances

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

“Souvenirs” – Cardiknox

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

“Good As Hell” – Lizzo

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


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

Teen Dreams with The 1975

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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