Immunity

Clairo unpicks each stringy vein of my heart from the inside out, worming her way out through my throat, collecting my words and nestling in my voice box until I know her lyrics as if they’re my own. I have no business writing about this album as if I know anything about music production, as if the reasons I love this album can be boiled down to a riff, or a chord progression. And yet, I know Rostam has left his fingerprints in neat drum patterns all over this album. He echoes over every melody, rounding them into full, weighty songs. I don’t know if its the words or the music or the production but something in Immunity feels like it was born from my body, my best friends body, my sister’s body. Everything is delicate and violent at the same time – regrets and twinges are as heavy as they will be in fifty years, heavier even. Everything is felt at double speed, in technicolour, in slow motion, in black and white. 

Softly is tingly, tender; nervous anxiety that sits in my sternum, bubbling and fizzing when eyes catch, hands touch. Joni Mitchell drifts through Bags; my heartbreak album and my one last time album talking, communicating, rubbing up against each other in my stomach and overlaying, sliding in and out of each other. Because Bags tells me that staying in discomfort, in uncertainty must be better than absence, than leaving altogether. Clairo gives us flushed cheeks and wine glasses and four minutes of opening a window to might-say and never-said and shouldn’t-say.

The pleasure’s all mine

This time last year I wrote about female songwriters as storytellers rather than confessional poets, even though their songs sound just like the thoughts in my head. Nearly a year later, Clairo arrives and hands my own diary back to me, rewritten and distorted but remarkable in its similarity, so much that I double-take, double-check, and those imitations I wrote about last time seem to fall short in this doppelganger’s shadow. 

Ice cold baby, I’m ice cold. Frank Ocean floats to the surface in Clairo’s lyrics, referenced from Pilot Jones on his first album. Flashbacks from years ago; a small girl’s voice jumps and squirms through the album, settling on the final track, I Wouldn’t Ask You, which stretches itself over seven minutes. Reminds me of Ocean’s Futura Free which lies at the end of Blonde, and revels in its open expansion, in its unmoored, roaming production free of beat and confinement. At the beginning of this year, I wrote in an essay about Blonde, about undoing hegemonic, fixed narratives through ‘queering’ traditional forms. Clairo sings about girls on Immunity, about the slippery unsure tender way that relationships between women can change and fracture and sit in a strange, magical in between. 

Finally, quickly – Sofia. A song that articulates loving, worshipping women older and more famous and more accomplished – directors and artists and singers and actresses and writers, so so many writers. Sofia feels like all the love I have for these women who will never know me, and all the love I have for my best friends. Clairo and Rostam, I think, have made an album of finely tuned love songs filled with whispered confessions. I’d like to think it was made just for me.

Father of the Bride

If you want to listen to this, instead of reading it, the audio version can be found here.

Before we start, here are some very real concerns I had before the album came out:

What if I don’t like it / What if it’s been too long / How can I be a true fan / I miss being 15, 16, 17, 18 / What if I cry in public / I really really miss being 16 / What if I don’t cry at the concert / What if I don’t understand it / What if no words come out / What if you write something I hate / What if it doesn’t mean anything anymore / What if I’m not who I was / What if I grew out of you / What if you moved on without me / What if I don’t like it

I don’t what this *identity* means anymore. It’s been 6 years, and I have cultivated myself around this band, around music, around music writing. I don’t how to write this. I’ve been planning this piece for six years and I don’t know how to write it. I’m worried about making all of this mean too much. I’m worried about making this mean too little, because I am not me anymore. I don’t know how to listen to this objectively. I don’t know how to listen to this at all. I don’t know how to react.

I think the only way I know how to do this is to write six letters. Six for the number of singles released before the album. Six for the number of years in the middle. Six for the number of months until I see the music live. Six for the number of times I will listen to this album before I really know it, really hear it.

We’re surviving, we’re still living, are we stronger?

Dear Vampire Weekend,

I’m writing this two weeks before I finish my degree. Of course you would release an album at the very end of my youth; at the moment I have to start living life for real. Impeccable timing, as always. Of course you would release your album the day after I realise that I’m okay with being by myself, I’m okay with being in love with music and me, and no-one else, not for now. Of course you would arrive in time to remind who I am.

Harmony Hall was the first song I listened to. It was the first release; a huge deep dive into an unknown ocean. Orchestral? You’re a bit orchestral now. Bigger, wider, and stretched out. I feel like the song has to be big, because it spans that whole mass of time. It runs from New York to LA, and across band members and non-members and producers and instruments and key changes. I was sat around a bunch of theatre friends when it came out – I was close to tears because I was so overwhelmed but also because I was about to finish my last big production (it’s so silly because these worlds are so separate – they don’t interact and yet?) I remember being too busy to listen to the tracks until four or five hours after their release. Everyone else heard them first. Starting to let that kind of thing go. And the familiarity of something like Harmony Hall sits comfortably in my chest. It still sounds like you. Your riffs are still complex and settle in the verses. Your bridge builds and builds to bring in the nostalgia of the hollow drums and plucking rhythms. Except now you use a big grand piano, not a keyboard. You’ve grown. Grown away from me, a bit. I don’t feel orchestral quite yet. I’m still unsteady.

And the end – begin with the end – the end is the hardest part. I will never listen to this album for the first time ever again. If you wrote Jerusalem, New York, Berlin for Modern Vampires of the City maybe it would be different. It wouldn’t be quite so much like a Leonard Cohen song. It would be tight (not musically, emotionally) – it would be in a minor key and surrounded by echoing, deep synth (maybe more like Hudson?). When you sing this, I feel like you’re content. You weren’t content before. Before you squished everything into ten songs, and every lyric was pained with anxiety, with dread, with some kind of morbid fascination with your own existence. Now you’ve let yourself stretch out in the sun. The ticking clock has faded into the background, and now you’re figuring out to live the rest of your life, maybe even live the rest of your life with someone else.

I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.

Dear Ezra,

We’ve entered into this contract together, I think. That unspoken unconfirmed contract between artist and fan, artist and critic, musician and audience. It’s a little bit of a one-way exchange; one where I gain everything, and you just give. I hope I’ve shown you what it means, even though you will never read this, I hope you somehow know you made me happy. I so often forget that you write about characters – that you’re a storyteller. It makes me think I know you – but I don’t know you at all. And you make these characters so that we can sit inside of them, and bask in the wide open landscapes you draw for them.

This Life and Unbearably White were my favourite of the single releases. They made me so happy. This Life follows that protagonist from songs like Campus, M79, and White Sky. I see his trajectory across North America, weaving through New England, New York, and now California. And he thought that this is where his life would end up, and he thought it wouldn’t rain here, if he’s a new man. That refrain “You’ve been cheating on me, but I’ve been cheating through this life” from iLoveMakonnen really captures that witty, charismatic, makes-you-think-twice lyric that you are so good at writing. And maybe this is that boat shoe, tucked in shirt, curly haired college sophomore aesthetic resurfacing in the most self aware kind of way. “Am I good for nothing?” – always a little self deprecating, a little self obsessed, a little annoying – this song is a bit like the posh straight guy in your queer theory seminar. And yet, in the second half of the song, you change gear. The rug is pulled from under me again, and suddenly I think this song is about America, and being American, and finally pulling away from the country that holds you. Because yes this is a love story, but it’s also a story about landscapes, cities, and feeling unmoored.

Baby, I know hate is always waiting at the gate

I just thought we’d locked the gate when we left in the morning

I was told that war is how we landed on these shores

I just thought the drums of war beat louder warnings

I feel like those lyrics are about a fractious and torn relationship with a country that ceases to want your faith. Maybe not, but that’s what I see. Anyway, I love the final outro because it really feels like a return to some of the theatricality of MVOTC, even though this is such a departure.

And then Unbearably White, which is so provocative as a title, but I feel like you aren’t trying to be shady to any of your critics. You’re too interested in what people have to say for that. I’m writing this as if I know you and of course I don’t, of course I know your characters and some persona but maybe that’s what this whole thing is about. I’m not sure I know how to separate being your fan from being a critic of your work. Because I’m the definition of die-hard. But I haven’t fallen in love this time round. Not completely, not quickly, not fast, not dramatically, urgently in love.

Baby I love you but that’s not enough

Dear Eve,

I am writing to you five years on from where you are now. I do this a lot, probably because I miss you a lot, and I hope somehow you can hear me. And also because I’m reaching for my quickly disappearing youth.

I am writing to tell you that you are about to experience so much LIFE, and you will love this band for so long, and you will love art and you will feel a lot of things quite intensely.

I am writing to tell you that your favourite band aren’t a band anymore, and your favourite member has left, and their music doesn’t sound like the inside of your brain anymore.

You will associate Big Blue with someone you don’t even know yet. You will associate 2021 with a feeling you don’t understand yet.

And you would love Bambina if you heard it. That would be your favourite song. You’d listen to it so intently, and sing it under your breath in Maths, and doodle the lyrics in the margins of your history books. And you’d be so interested in that overt religious imagery with all its symbolism and weight, just like you were with MVOTC.  

I am writing to tell you that you are going to change a lot. You are going to realise that you like theatre more than music. You are going to realise that you should have a fringe and short hair. You are going to listen to way more female artists. You will be single for ages, and you will be very, very happy about it. Things won’t be how you thought they’d be. Keep going though, it’s worth it.

For now, ciao ciao Bambina

Dear Dad,

The biggest fight (debate??)  we ever had, or at least, the one that sticks in my mind is when I told you I thought certain albums weren’t for us. I don’t know if you still disagree with me, actually. You didn’t get how music wasn’t universal, wasn’t all-encompassing and wide reaching. That is actually a really hopeful idea, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily true. I think I’m starting to realise that this album is made for someone like you. It is full of references that you get and I don’t. I have to work a little bit harder to be let in.

I’m starting to realise that all the music I love so much is because of you and that’s amazing, but it also means that it’s quite a lot of men, especially the 2000s indie scene that we both unashamedly love so much. I grew up with my favourite musicians being men. And now you introduce me to amazing women like LP, Japanese House, Patti Smith, Let’s Eat Grandma, Ibibo Sound Machine, This is the Kit…Billie Eilish?! And yet. And yet, this album feels further away than before. It feels not at all like my life.

This album and this band will always be a little bit about you and me and music. I think your favourite songs on this album will be Sympathy, My Mistake, and How Long. The experimental, chaotic bravery of Sympathy is totally your thing. Your jam. It sticks out in the middle of the album – it’s just over halfway through and it’s maybe one of the best things Ezra has ever written. You’ll appreciate the sheer audacity of it, the rampant musicality, the strangeness of it. I think it kind of sounds like a Fleetwood Mac song? Or a kind of odd Beatles track maybe? You liked Sunflower because it felt like an experiment in songwriting. I wasn’t so sure. And then My Mistake sounds like it could be a Strokes B Side or a low key Tame Impala song? And also has those Bowie synths we like. These are definitely the songs on the album that took me longest to warm to – they’re sprawling and melancholic and kind of odd. The interlude of rippling water in My Mistake is the kind of acute attention to production that you’d notice. How Long could definitely fit easily into the other albums. It sounds like it’s been recorded underwater. It feels transitional – like it’s clinging a little bit to the existentialism of MVOTC and the naivety of Contra. But the melodies pull it back. The clicks and crunches pull it firmly into Father of the Bride.

I think I took myself too serious. It’s not that serious.   

Dear friends and fellow fans,

“To the fans:” That’s the beginning of the announcement. I’m sitting in the library and I’m deep in writing some essay and the album is announced. Just like that. And I reach across and I’m so excited and you look at me and smile.

Everyone messages me when it’s released. I am flooded with all of you ready to share it with me. You all have your favourites. I can see you all listening to it on my spotify. I get messages which all basically read: “I have LOTS of thoughts. I love it – do you?” I remember when Ezra teased Flower Moon back at the Ojai show last fall, and we all just went mad. And everyone is wearing their merch today. And everyone is always in the front row. And we are older and we are all saying how much has happened in six years, how much we’ve changed. “It’s gonna take a year. Let’s drink Coca Cola and red wine.” And this one too, feels familiar. It could’ve been on the last album, except that it works here because you’ve let your shoulders unclench, you’ve let the drums elongate, and imbued the riffs with lifeblood and joy, you’ve given some vocals to Steve Lacy. Tell me when you get to Stranger. This will turn out to be one of my favourites, I just know it. Again it’s a big country ballad, and they’ve got that brass section, and Danielle again. It all just screams golden fields, California sun, beer, and cowboy hats (??). And the little derivative in the outro is really nice actually. Rich Man is also a bit country. Lol. I really didn’t think we’d turn into country fans, but here we are. Let’s keep being fans. I will see you all at a concert in 10, 20, 30 years, I hope, sitting at the back drinking beer and wearing massive hats and with your families.

I remember life as a stranger, but things change. Things have never been stranger.

Dear Me,

Let’s talk about the love songs. Danielle Haim’s voice balances Ezra’s scratchy, wide vocals. Her voice is organically gorgeous – a tiny bit rough around the edges, but you can barely hear it. At each third, she intersects as his counterpart. The protagonist of these songs, of this album, keeps returning to her. He can’t hold her love in his hands, he can’t catch it all. It’s like sand rushing through his fingers. And it’s just all too good to be true.

You’ll play Hold You Now as you walk down the aisle, or for your first dance. It’s the song that plays over the montage. You’ll sing Married in a Gold Rush at a Karaoke bar. It’s the song that will remind you of 2019, 2020, 2021. You’ll laugh at We Belong Together with the only person it can be about. It will become about someone you haven’t even met yet. They will remind you of your youth, and all the ways that love will never be.

Hold You Now sits so strangely as an opener – it’s so choral? It sets itself up as a falling in love song, but it’s actually about falling out of love. And why would you open with that? It’s about an ending. So maybe, maybe we listen backwards. Start with We Belong Together. Rostam’s watermark stains each beat of this one. Particularly the piano in the background, and the strong strumming guitar chords. “There’s no point in being clever, it don’t mean we’ll stay together” And Married in a Gold Rush is openly romantic in a way they haven’t been before. Expanding their lexicon to country cringe in a way they would never have. “This is not some grand design” Is this what happens after the existentialism? Is marriage the solution to that ticking clock? Is that what you’re telling me? Really? But then, back to Hold You Now, and it’s ended. With each song, the voices and the characters they belong to fall out of love. Or realise that the love they have for each other just isn’t enough.

So when you remember the feeling these songs give you, remember summer and being 21 and falling in and out of love quickly and fiercely with everything and everyone. I thought you might learn the language. I thought you might learn to sing. I can’t decide if this is one massive end or a really new beginning. I think we’ll find out soon. I want to see what you’re like when the next album comes out. Will you stay up till midnight? Will you be in love? Where will you be living? Who do you know? Do you still use writing as a kind of ridiculous catharsis? What do these songs mean to you? Do you even still like music? I think you probably do.

I know I loved you then, I think I love you now.

I feel like those little spoken interruptions in between the tracks are like after thoughts, something said without really thinking. Process bleeding into practise bleeding into product. It’s a bit messy, it’s a bit different, it’s a bit more human.

Six years is a very respectable amount of waiting time for an album.

Here’s to the next decade.

We took a vow in summertime, now we find ourselves in late September.

Photo: Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride audio cover | Sony Music

a year of Half-Light

I was dead and born again / And soon it will feel all so long ago

Standing outside the venue I order an uber. Next to me, three women giggle about a setlist and whisper to each other. I look around, hopefully. I see Rostam exit the stage door but my uber’s just arrived and it’s central London. I get in. The driver asks me how my night was. We have a quick conversation and then I stare out of the window. I cry and cry and cry. The violins echo through my restless sleep that night. I dream of being front row again, knowing all the words but being a bit too scared to shout them – this night feels too special, too close. Bike Dream plays and I dance and dance and dance.

It has been a year since Half-Light was released. Feels far too long. How have we fit so much life, so much time in between? The album feels imbued with nostalgia – always associated somewhere in the back of my mind with a burgeoning love for music, new discovery via a band with New England in their song titles. Alongside me, the music has matured, the love has grown and expanded and stretched – grown taut. Something about the drum beats feels the same. Something about the play, the experimenting, the intelligence. That is not why I love this album, it’s only the beginning.

Every one of us has felt our heart beat pound / Every one of us has felt it on our own

In my room, second year of university, it’s the middle of winter. This bed, this space, feels temporary. My friend George comes round just to listen to music and talk. Just that. A special, close space. I have just received my Half-Light vinyl in the post. We listen to the whole thing start to finish. I tell him to listen out for Hold You, I think it will be his favourite. He waves goodbye to me from the street and I play the record all the way through once more.

String sections flit in and out of focus, rising and falling with my heart. The drums keep in constant time with my steps. The vocals coast around me and wrap me tight. They feel unavoidably familiar. It is selfish to assume that these words are holding fast to my bedside alone. They keep company to more than me, of course. But for now, they are all mine. The words, when they come into focus, repeat this image of looking at yourself, feeling outside yourself. There’s a distance between ideas and reality; an idea of what love could, should, might have been, but then waking up and seeing it for what it really is. Dreams and naps and sleep also feels really important, both in the lyrics and in the melodies. When sunlight peaks through the curtains and you are half awake, but slowly, slowly, you drift back into a half-sleep. I’m not sure if it is the ethereal strings, or the heavy, heady bass and drum kicks but I really feel like this is what those dreams sound like.

All of these dreams keep comin back to me / Slowly slowly

The rising chords are carving out a space in my chest. Some of the sounds remind me of my childhood spent in a country I was not born in. Lyrics become poems become repetition become mantra become second nature. I send the Gwan music video to a friend; listen to this isn’t it amazing I am seeing him live and can’t wait! im going on my own bc i want to do smthg that’s just for me… She says; yes I’ve heard it! you played it in a rehearsal.

I find it sprinkled, like sawdust, across so many parts of my life. See the songs crop up on my friend’s playlists, they recognise the name, the sounds. I find it reminds me of a thousand memories at once. All strong and tugging at me, from the year past. It does not feel like a year. It does not feel like it has been a year since I sat up late in my room waiting for the release and trying and trying to write about it but not having the words. Not having the knowledge to analyse but wanting so badly to express the inexpressible. My dad still talks about the albums that stayed with him from when he was my age. That indelible impression on your heart that sticks like a third-degree burn. If Half-Light reminds me of anything it reminds me of my love for rooted and nurtured friendships and simultaneously my love for solitude, for sitting up and writing late at night like I’m doing now.

I just keep holdin on / To what I’ve got till it’s gone

Music, like food, plays a central role in my home. So when Safura cooks for me and I show her Rostam’s album and she asks me to play Wood again, it feels special, close. I record the whole song for her in London. Every time I listen to it, I’m reminded of how sharing is really the root of our friendship, a constant interchange. Or maybe we just both really like good food and good music and laughter. Saf lives in Malaysia now and I won’t see her for a year. Wood sounds different. Happy/sad.

Half-Light has bridged that gap between an album I have shared and shared and shared, but also an album that feels so tightly sewn to my chest that I can’t possibly let anyone else near it. Does that make sense? Can two things be true at the same time? In a River was just released. It is different, because I have not lived with it for a year. I love it, of course. It feels fresh, different to everything else that I listen to right now. It is as if Half-Light encompasses a lot of who I am now. Because of Rostam, I fell in love with Wet’s new album, with Cosha, with Maggie Rogers, with Santigold, Charli XCX, Carly Rae Jepson. A wealth of influential women with kick-ass songs. Because he composed music for This Is Our Youth, I go and see the first piece of theatre that really sparks something inside me. I go home and I write the first page of my first play.

When you tie and knot your connections to pieces of music, it is easy to forget that they are not just yours. That these lyrics are memorised by thousands of others as well. That these string sections accompany walks home. That the album cover stares down from bedroom walls just like yours. It is that thing of music being so utterly personal and so completely communal at the same time. This is not a review, it is not a diary entry; it is a bit of both. I like to think that at some level, every time we write and think about art we are giving up a little piece of ourselves. It feels only fair, since those people you are writing about have given you so much.

It’s still all up to you

 

image is a still from Bike Dream music video by Rostam

 

confessional poets

I started trying to write a review of the new Wet album, but all the things I was writing about made me think about the sad girl songs that have followed me for the last two years; Mitski, Lorde, Karen O, even Lana Del Rey. I thought about something I saw, or something someone said (I think maybe Mitski said it in an interview) – about the idea that female songwriters are seen to be sharing a diary entry everytime they write a personal song, or even an emotional song. How that idea is so gendered. They’re never telling a story, or narrating – they are always at the centre.

 

But what if these songs sound exactly like my diary entries?

Kelly Zutrau (Wet) starts her album with the line “I wanna go where the sun is shining and no one knows my name”. Still Run is probably the most romantic, most confessional, most revealing that Wet have been? It’s a really naked album. I think all of Mitski’s songs are naked and vulnerable. Ok even the album cover looks like she’s just stepped out of shower; like a Jenny Saville painting. Zutrau took control of the songwriting on this album (you can kind of tell – it’s great). I think ‘Lately’ is actually about songwriting and about writing and writing and writing and not feeling appreciated, or not feeling like your emotional turmoil is being reciprocated – “you never like how my songs sound but you give nothing of yourself”. She keeps opening herself back up to them, to us in ‘Softens’. The melodies and the lyrics feel like she’s pulling herself backwards and forwards, someone gently tugging on her shoulder, being methodically moved by waves in the ocean, by fights and hugs in a relationship, by tears and sighs.

 

They are my confessional poets.

They are rearranging my vital organs into three minute songs.

Wet’s new album, like Melodrama (Lorde’s second album), you can dance to it but you might be crying at the same time, and you might not even know why. Songs like ‘Sober’ and ‘Writer in the Dark’ feel a bit like she’s lurching into the chords (especially the synth underneath Sober). It’s a bit about heartbreak and a bit about returning to yourself. It’s like sad disco. Then there’s Liability and Hard Feelings/Loveless – songs that my friends texted to me saying ‘this is ME, how does she know’. Feeling like you’re too much for everyone. The album now feels so familiar that it’s like seeing an old friend. I’ve listened to it in the shower countless times. (why does it sound best in the shower??)

 

Wild women don’t get the blues but I find that

Lately I’ve been crying like a tall child

At the end of ‘Drunk Walk Home’ Mitski just screams into the microphone. At the end of ‘My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars’, she screams ‘Go on, kill me’ into her guitar. It’s kind of weird if it comes on shuffle but if you have the build up of the whole album it is So necessary. The chord progression in ‘First Love/Late Spring’ feels like it actually shakes with power. As part of a live art performance as part of an instillation as part of a show I screamed and danced to this song with two of my favourite women ever – we were protesting the way women artists do everything first, and then all the credit goes to the men. Sorry, Dad, but the Smiths do nothing for me – they don’t even come close to Karen O singing ‘Love is soft, Love’s a fucking bitch’, and then screaming endlessly into the microphone in ‘Body’. Her album ‘Crush Songs’, was recorded when she was 27, and is super scratchy and lo-fi. It sounds like she’s singing from inside a cavernous heart. I think she was my first foray into music that was written for women and by women. They are me. 

Mitski’s coming out with new music, too. I feel like her sound is ageing with me. ‘Nobody’, is her new pop tune. It’s still super sad and intensely emotional. The difference is you can dance to it. Then there’s ‘Geyser’ – a song (probably) about Mitski’s relationship with music, with writing, and with art. It’s jagged, jarring, and almost choral in it’s scale. It’s a statuesque song. I wasn’t sure I liked it at first. ‘Feel it bubbling from below, here it call to me constantly’ – it’s a bit romanticised but yeah, that’s it. That’s the guttural thing that makes you write down your worst fears and share them with, like, everyone. My best friend said she couldn’t be a writer because it wasn’t her first love.

I think it might be mine

Wet’s album brought all of this into focus. This endless love between young women and their guitars and their headphones and, yeah, their diaries; their words.

 

 

being a fangirl

I read this article and wanted to write something about being a fan.

I’m ten years old, sitting in the back of my parents Honda, listening to their CDs. It’s 2008. My dad has bought the Strokes, Adele, the Killers, the Fratellis, Vampire Weekend, and the Arctic Monkeys. I am still listening to Hannah Montana and I’m upset that we’re not allowed to play the new Kelly Clarkson song. The same year, my parents buy me a purple iPod. It is shiny and new and I can put all my favourite songs on it, and I don’t have to listen to their rubbish CDs.

It’s the summer of 2012, and I’m 14. I’ve left my purple iPod at home by accident and so I can’t listen to any of the music I like. Very Annoying. My dad lends me his iPod, and I find a song called Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. We are staying in a place called Cape Cod so I think that’s pretty cool and I listen to it. What follows is the start of my teenage fangirl identity. Not a phase so much as a way of life, I think. I’m obsessed.

It’s November 2013, I’m 15 and oh boy am I excited. I found tickets to Vampire Weekend’s London show the week before they play. I don’t even have time to get properly excited because once we’ve arranged how I’ll get there and back home again, the day has arrived. I don’t get there very early because I don’t really know the etiquette of being a huge fan just yet. I’m quite near the back, but I think that’s okay. I’m quite small and not sure I’m ready for the huge speakers on the front rows. It’s my first experience of unadulterated joy and it’s my first experience of letting go. My shoulders unhunch from their clenched position up by my ears. I am surrounded (literally) by men over the age of 25 (Very Old in my 15 year old brain). They don’t scream the lyrics like I do, and they kind of edge away from me. It’s fine, I don’t really care, but one of them sighs really loudly and another few roll their eyes. It’s my first experience of being looked at like that. With such patronising contempt. But whatever, at least I’m enjoying seeing my favourite band.

I start a music blog in 2013 as well. It’s mainly so I can write up a lengthy, analytical, loving review of Vampire Weekend’s third LP. No-one really reads it. (If you want to, it’s here. I was 16, be kind).

I see them once more. It is Reading Festival in 2014. I’m crying and screaming so much that a boy asks if I want to go on his shoulders to see them. I look worried; I know what that sometimes means. He reassures me he likes boys so won’t try anything. I grin. Up in the air I float on clouds of love and joy. I feel like I know the people on stage. It’s strange but it isn’t unusual. I don’t think I have quite got to grips with how far this whole thing will go. Still happy, still judged.

As a teen, I am really one of the only people I know that loves them this much. That’s probably egotistical, but I don’t think that at this point, any of my friends have the obsessive personality that I do, and I begin to hide it. I look for comfort and community in other places. Twitter is just entering my world for the first time. I make a separate account, which doesn’t have my last name attached to it. I make friends. Girls, mostly. Girls who are like me and who cry when Ezra (that’s the lead singer of VW) comes on stage. We all in live totally different lives, in loads of different parts of the world. It is a cacophony of angst and love and passion. Again, no-one really knows it exists outside of us. And of course when we tweet a member of the band and they reply to us, nothing really feels better. It’s a rush that someone we think about on a daily basis acknowledges us.

I could intellectualise this and say we were different from the One Direction fans, because the music we listened to was better crafted, more intelligent, and unique. But that would be a betrayal. A betrayal to the fan base as a community of young women and a betrayal to all the other girls who dedicated their hearts to a different band.

By 2016, I can tell you everything and anything about this band. I can tell you that they sing about a chandelier in their third album because they feel the weight of the success of their first album which had a chandelier on it. I can tell you how many side projects the bassist has put out since 2013. I can tell you who Hannah Hunt is (a name of a track on the third album). I can tell how much they got sued for when they used a polaroid they found in their house for the second album’s cover. (They were found out when the woman in the polaroid saw her own face on her daughter’s newest CD).

When I visit New York for the first time I go on a tour of the city, guided by VWs spots and inspirations (I made the tour myself, having mapped it out weeks before). I know every word to every song and every back story so well and the city is so interwoven with their sounds and songs that it feels like home.

***

This is quite weird to write about. I don’t think it’s very interesting, but I think it is genuine and it’s a part of my life I didn’t share with many people.

I don’t think my appreciation and love of their art was any less legitimate because I was young and it was expressed in tweets and posters.

***

It’s 2017, and Vampire Weekend are maybe realising a new album, maybe not. One of the members of the band has left. My twitter account is left untouched for the most part. I’ve formed real life friendships from it. My love for music has expanded and morphed and manifested into a love for theatre.

**

I saw Father John Misty the other week, who is someone I discovered because of Vampire Weekend and I knew all the words to his songs, was quite far back, and just jumped and lost my voice and it was excellent. At the end, someone turned around and said ‘Wow you must be his biggest fan!’ I apologised because I was scared that my joy had infringed on his watching. He said ‘No it’s lovely, thank you’.

It’s a little about forming communities, a little about appreciating art, and little about sharing.

I’m quite proud of how much I loved Vampire Weekend and all those other bands back when I was 16. I’m so so happy that I waited outside venues for over seven hours. I find it hilarious and lovely that I missed the last day of NSDF in 2015 (and so missed finding out I’d won an award) to go and wait outside a concert venue on the other side of the country. I love finding fans in weird and new places (some new university friends often surprise me with similar stories of love and fandom).

As a fun side note, having moved back to my main twitter account where I talk about theatre and stuff, it doesn’t feel much different. We have created a weird little mini fan base in our twittersphere. It is so insular that I don’t think we realise it, but we are all little fangirls writing blogs and tweeting about our favourite directors. It’s good. I’ve moved into a new sphere of fangirling, one that is maybe more accepted because this fan base includes way more men, and less teenagers.

 

(also if you were wondering the gif at the top is VW winning their first grammy in 2013)

comfort and debauchery

END OF THE ROAD 2017

This past weekend I did something completely unrelated to theatre. I went to a music festival. After Edinburgh, this was a gift and a sanctuary of hedonism and tents. It wasn’t perfect, nothing is, but it was a rest for my weary heart. It reminded me why I love music, especially live music, and why I love the people who watch it. No one is really there to be cynical, because what’s the point? You’d just go see another gig. It reminded me why I love writing about music. It’s a mixture of joy, escapism, spectacle, and romance.

I have made this post fun and interactive! There’s a playlist to go alongside your reading. It features some of my favourite artists from the weekend, and I’ll talk about all of them on the post, so you can get a feel for what and who I saw.

It’s embedded and everything. So fancy.

Before I start, I will also be mentioning someone called Tilly during this post (which as you might’ve already guessed, is going to be quite long). She is one of my most lefty right-on pals. As well as being caring, incredibly intelligent, and totally funny (in the least arrogant way possible), she is also just great fun and lets me dance my silly little heart out. I love her a lot and so should you. It was also her birthday over the weekend, so that’s fun too. Here is a little picture for reference:

21392774_10210059468310564_2127495368_o

Tilly and I arrive with high spirits and also actual spirits, hidden in our bag. Turns out they didn’t need to be hidden as this was the most relaxed festival I have ever attended. We were allowed to bring whatever we wanted from the campsite onto the festival grounds. This meant no buying expensive beers and overpriced shots and especially no binge drinking shitty wine at 3pm, which is SUCH a rarity in any festival now. The stages are small, adorned with green leaves and wooden signs. Everything looks like it was made by a woman draped in scarves, probably in her back garden. I went to another festival in America earlier this year, and the screens beside the stage were as wide and as high as the stage itself (which was massive). Here there are no screens at all and yet really good sight lines. End of the Road is tucked away in Larmer Tree Gardens, just outside of Salisbury. It’s known as music’s best-kept secret. It could be a country fair, with its cruelty-free alpaca jumper stall and ‘Vegan Junk Food’ line stretching far beyond any other beside it. The crowd is divided into families/older fest goers, and young things like us. Think lots of boys with nose piercing and dungarees, lots of girls with pink hair and cardigans. Everyone was beautiful. The first two days are perfect. The temperature is hot, but not so hot that I wanted to sweat my entire skin off. Tilly and I switch between floating dresses and high waisted trousers, but always accompanied by glitter.

First day, first gig. We had a little bit of inside information and had heard that Mac Demarco, the Canadian born indie rock star, would be secretly interviewed for a podcast on the Comedy stage at 1pm on Friday. We arrived there at 12, to find the longest queue in the world waiting for us. Clearly not that secret. No matter though, Tilly and I are intrepid women so we ran down to the front of a huge grassy slope to a sit in front of a very small stage. Mac did indeed arrive at 1, and was incredibly charming. His demeanour was soft and he almost recoiled from the crowd at times. He played ‘This Old Dog’, off his new record, and ‘Still Together’, an older song from 2, his second album. His stripped back acoustic guitar matched his retreating personality. He was apologetic of some bum notes, laughing with us at the long, high wails of ‘Still Together’. Afterwards, we met him and obviously both froze, because what do you say to the coolest guy ever?

We leave a little flustered but just totally happy. End of the Road was kind to us in the early hours of that first day. Later, we see Parquet Courts and Real Estate in a double bill on the main stage. Both indie folk bands have a weird appeal that made us stay. Real Estate are a band I’ve known about for a while, but have never really appreciated. ‘Talking Backwards’ is a song from my Vampire Weekend days and it was actually excellent live. Martin Courtney has a bashful smile that guides him through each song; lilting twangs bumble along into catchy choruses. They seem quietly happy to be there, grateful of our dancing and the sunset. Alex Bleeker, who looks like a cool and charasmatic dad, leads us in a unified farewell to the sun as it sets over the trees. These songs are like coronas; crisp and light. You don’t feel too heady afterwards.

If Real Estate are a light beer, Mac Demarco and his headlining set is the Jameson whiskey he swigs in between songs. Tilly says Jameson whisky is ‘top class’, and so is Mac’s set. He swaggers on stage with his band and he opens with ‘On a Level’ from his latest record, arguably a much more mature collection than his previous works. Somehow a crowd of sweaty teenagers find they can jump around to Steely Dan style guitar and crooning lyrics. It’s pretty great. His stage persona is like a different person to the shy guy we saw in the afternoon earlier that day. He is more drunk, more sweaty, more carefree. He covers ‘A Thousand Miles’ but only repeats the first line; Making my way downtown, over and over. It’s sarcastic, ironic, cynical. Everything End of the Road isn’t. But it works, and his genuine love for his craft is glimpsed in songs like ‘The Stars Keep on Calling My Name’ and ‘A Heart Like Hers’. There is a generosity in his performance, as he accepts a cigarette from a fan, as he talks about Kiki (his long time true love), as he praises EOTR for its kindness, as he crowd-surfs across the crowd and all the way to Pond. That takes a certain kind of trust and love and irony to let your fans do that. He loses a shoe along the way. It’s fairly brilliant, really.

We reach Pond. That is, me, Tilly, Mac, and the whole of his crowd reach Pond all at the same time. Still on a high from Mac’s set and after-set-surf we get quickly absorbed in Pond’s psychedelic durational indie-rock. A band that has titles like ‘Man, It Feels Like Space Again’ and ‘30000 Megatrons’ have got to be incredibly annoying, right? Well, they aren’t. They’re again pretty humbled and have the best light show of the whole festival. It’s funky and dirty under your nails, clouded by Tame Impala-ish riffs.

First up on Day Two is Moses Sumney. A recommendation from my dad and an excellent one at that. Sumney is iconic; dressed in reflective sunglasses and high waisted linen. He quips that he’s going to play more ‘sad, boring songs, sorry’. We don’t mind. His set is intricate and experimental. He sings a lot about death and recycling. It’s giving and also very private. We are allowed glimpses into his process and his humour, but it is soon masked by his loop pedal chords and piercing vocals. Tilly says he’s like Bon Iver, but way better. She’s right of course. He is way better, and he hasn’t even released his first album yet.

Then we head to Alvvays, a high school sweetheart Canadian band, and it’s pronounced ‘always’ by the way. We got it wrong, too. Their set is so cute. We dance along to lyrics about Canadian streets and prom queens and matrimonial harmony. I haven’t been able to get ‘Party Police’ out of my head. It’s the one on the playlist, so do be warned before you listen, that it will probably be stuck on a loop. Also, it’s where the title of the post comes from (sort of).

You don’t have to leave, you could just stay here with me
Forget all the party police, we can find comfort in debauchery

So I thought Friday couldn’t be topped. We met Mac DeMarco like HOW could that be topped?

Turns out it totally could be. We head back to the stage where we saw Moses Sumney and settle ourselves into the third row for Car Seat Headrest. Fronted by Will Toledo (who had released eleven(!) full length albums on band camp before being picked up by a record label) Car Seat Headrest are an oxymoronic cocktail. The lyrics drip with pretentious authenticity and the music is both incredibly inventive and soulful, as well just being angry noise a lot of the time. Over the past year, I have listened to their album most. It has stuck with me and I’m not really sure why? It’s just very good. The song ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ is my favourite and it was like a spiritual experience when I saw it live. Everyone around me loved that band as much as I did, and we let them know. We danced and pushed and shouted and laughed in the night.

Then we run to Father John Misty. Tilly hates him. She has hated him ever since I played his second record in our dorm at school in December of 2015. She was determined to see Ty Segall instead. But I drag to the first half an hour of Misty, promising she will at least be able to laugh at him. Once she sees how hard I scream when he comes out on stage, she decides we should stay. I lost my voice during this set. FJM is such an asshole. His stage personality oozes cynicism and the gloating misogyny that follows some of his lyrics make me want to hate him. But all rational thought leaves my brain when his songs start. I know every single word and it annoys everyone around me. Tilly loves this and joins in when she can (luckily she doesn’t have the same obsessive personality I do and everyone around us was a little bit less annoyed with her). He begins the set with tracks from his third album, ‘Pure Comedy’, where he tries to distil modern hopelessness with cackling irony. He wades so deep in sarcasm in those songs that it seems like he is stuck there, and can’t return to the humour and love of Fear Fun or maybe even I Love You, Honeybear. However, as much as these songs frustrate me, I still sing along. Then he finally gets onto songs like ‘Nancy From Now On’, and ‘Strange Encounter’. He thrusts his skinny body around the stage and throws his sweaty hair about. As ironic as Josh Tillman wants to be, his sets still give people unadulterated joy.

Third day. So. Much. Rain. Like, So Much.

We take shelter in the Tipi tent, it is warm and comfortable and has some lovely folk bands hiding away. We arrive to see the end of Allison Crutchfield and the Fizz, afterwards taking a nap on the woven flooring. It smells damp mostly, so that’s a little unpleasant but we get over it because we’re pretty damp too. Next up, Spook School. They are an incredible queer punky indie band. Tilly and I dance harder with every song. They sing about being non-binary, about abusive relationships, and about bisexuality. It’s clever, anarchic pop and we dance so hard. It’s so much fun.

We move outside, to see Perfume Genius, another incredible queer artist. Mike Hadreas is a sexy, leather trouser wearing, beautifully and unashamedly camp performer. His elegance and intensity is matched by the sharp skills of his band. We watch as he pulls himself in and out of shapes around the stage, contorting himself to fit different patterns and move outside of defined rhythms. His voice is beautiful and clear, cutting through the rain to the back of the crowded garden.

And that’s it really. It was a weekend of indulgence and pleasure and beer. There were only around 9000 people there. We saw all the same people at the same gigs, including two very young girls with very good music taste, who liked being on the barrier no matter the consequences. I find myself reaching back to certain moments. To the mornings of sausage and egg baps, to the shared laughs between artists and crowds, to humbled smiles from smaller artists given big stages, to the free plate of roast potatoes drowned in gravy. It was really fun to write this long and indulgent post about something I really love, even if no one reads it. Festivals feel like a place where I can let go of everything else, and just kind of enjoy having no real concept of time except to see the next set, and not eating real food for a couple of days, or sleeping in a real bed. It’s a pocket of nowhere and it’s taken down when we leave. It’s a small imagined community of sound and creation and I love it. I felt like this one wasn’t too capitalist either.

Thanks Tilly. Thanks End of the Road. Thanks Mac and Josh.

I’ll now go back to my blankets of hibernation.

X

Only Heartbroken Women are True Artists

‘women in music are allowed to be singer songwriters singing about their boyfriends . if they change the subject matter to atoms , galaxies , activism , nerdy math beat editing or anything else than being performers singing about their loved ones they get criticized’

Björk recently wrote a powerful Facebook status welcoming the winter solstice and damning the misogynistic music industry. In her post she talks about how her recent DJ set was reviewed compared to how her male peers were reviewed. A large majority of the reviewers said she ‘hid behind the desk’ and was not really ‘performing’, a criticism that, yes you’ve guessed it, her male counterparts did not receive. I don’t think she was surprised by this. No working female artist is surprised by misogyny anymore, it’s kind of a given, and at first I sadly kind of saw it as non-news. But after I read her status, I started to think about it differently. She was saying that women are often not legitimised in their art form until they are heartbroken.  As women, ‘if we dont cut our chest open and bleed about the men and children in our lives we are cheating our audience .’ And I think this is actually a really pertinent issue which we don’t think about enough.

It took me less than two minutes to think of recent examples in theatre. It took me another thirty seconds to think of some examples in art. This is something I haven’t thought about properly until right now and it’s now all I can think about. Because it’s not just about sexist reviewers. It’s about how we (or don’t, in fact) legitimise female performance.

To start – Yerma. I kind of feel like I can’t really pass judgement on this one because I didn’t see it but I read a lot of reviews on it and also I know the play. Billie Piper is one of the hottest picks of 2016 for all the ‘Best Female Performance’ awards. It’s widely agreed she gave a stunning performance as a woman heartbroken for her non-existent child, her lost lover, her neglectful husband. So many of the press photos surrounding the show were of Piper sprawled on the floor, broken and maddened with grief. I have no doubt she gave a wonderful performance, but I think it’s worth asking, as Björk does, whether we gave it more thought, more visibility, because she was so brutally torn apart by love and by men. Or perhaps this was not the reason why we legitimised it more, but it was a certainly a factor in why the performance was so well-received. There was a small backlash about the sexism of the play but widely it was dismissed because it was a good show, right? And that’s what the original story was, so it’s not like someone’s written something new and sexist, they’re just reviving an old sexist thing. Anyway, not the point, the point is we put, are putting, Piper on a pedestal because of her performance of heartbreak. It’s the same problem with the Medea’s, the Ophelia’s, the Blanche DuBois’s – according to our view of the great roles for women, we are only really performing when we’re broken.

It’s not just theatre. It’s in music, art, poetry – nearly every art form has this problem when it comes to legitimising female voices. In art, take Marina Abramović, one of the artworld’s strongest, most controversial figures and yet her most watched Youtube video is when she breaks down in tears in front of her ex-partner – Ulay. It has 14 million views where her other videos, where she talks about her art, have at most 500,000 views. She is one of the artists I respect most and yet that was how I first heard about her. When I was in sixth form I ran a workshop based on her practices in class for about an hour. I would say one of the only times everyone was really moved and engaged was when I talked about that video and her release of emotion. It really saddens me because her art is above everything about control and her most infamous moment is a loss of control.

This obsession with heartbroken women rears it head again in the poetry we read. Sylvia Plath is one of our most celebrated female poets, and one of our most infamous. Again I knew about her relationship with Ted Hughes and the nature of her death and heartbreak before I knew about Tulips, now one of my favourite poems. She is recognised because of her tragedy, not only her illness but the relationship with the men in her life, she was broken hearted because of Ted and because of her father. And, if you think this is exaggerated at all – I googled ‘great female poets’ and one of the first names to appear was Plath, and alongside it were her main ideas and themes – ‘Death, motherhood etc’. Whereas when I googled ‘great (male) poets’ the first to appear was Wordsworth whose main themes couldn’t wait to announce themselves – ‘Nature, the self, the body’. Notice a difference?

I could honestly go on about this for pages and pages, there are countless examples in all the art forms. I do think a lot of people will disagree with this but it’s just what I’ve been thinking about. Do we legitimise the performance of female heartbreak, of the broken and grieving woman, over other kinds of female performance? Do women need to bleeding and crying to be considered worth hearing, watching, or reading?

I want you to prove me wrong, I really do. But just before you jump on this, I think it’s worth asking whether these were just coincidences or whether this is something we need to think about.

Björk certainly thinks we do but she also wants us to move forward into a more positive and inclusive 2017. I want that too.