Track Review: ‘I Can’t Quit’ by The Vaccines

It is not news to anyone that The Vaccines are my favourite band. They have been for nearly six years, and this is not a fact that’s going to change anytime soon. I wear their merchandise as if it’s surgically attached to my person, their records exist permanently on my turntable, and when I was eighteen I got the name of one of their songs tattooed on my bicep. They are the longest and happiest relationship I have ever had. I’m stuck with them for life.

Because I am so heavily invested in this band, Wednesday afternoon found me sitting cross-legged on my bed, wearing my oldest band t-shirt, and anxiously listening to BBC Radio1 for the premiere of their newest track. I have done this multiple times, from the debut of ‘Melody Calling’ to the first play of ‘Handsome,’ and at this point it’s pretty much a sacred ritual. I feel weird if I don’t get to perform it at least once every few years. I was in my element.

I expected ‘I Can’t Quit’ to be good. I love everything The Vaccines have ever done, and at this point I automatically send praise and adoration their way whenever they release something new. What I didn’t expect was to hear it and have my entire world shift into a space that is largely better than the one I was in before. There is something indescribable about the return of your favourite band, but this was that feeling multiplied by a thousand.

The track marks The Vaccines getting back to what got them started – catchy pop tracks less than three minutes long with lyrics that you can’t help but belt out at the top of your lungs – but it’s also a step forward into territory that somehow feels brand new. The song is inherently different to anything they’ve done before, as if the band is moving forward and surrendering to the music the universe is telling them to make while also fulfilling their own desires to evolve as artists. I knew The Vaccines could write a perfect song, but this is even beyond that.

The Vaccines have always offered me a reflection of myself. What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? feels like the perfect representation of the emotions I find myself flitting between. It fluctuates as I fluctuate, lives and breathes and lets itself be whatever it is at that moment.  Come of Age gave me an album full of angst-ridden tracks that got me through the most angst-ridden parts of my adolescence. When I’m fed up or in a bad mood or confused out of my mind by where my life is heading, it’s the first record I think to put on. English Graffiti is experimental while still sounding distinctly like The Vaccines, and it’s a nice reminder that doing something new is not necessarily a bad thing. Although ‘I Can’t Quit’ is only the first track we’re hearing from Combat Sports, it’s already continuing the trend of mirroring my being back to me. I entered the year with the fiery spirit of determination bubbling up under my skin, and the new track is a three-minute repetition of a mantra. I really can’t quit, and apparently neither can The Vaccines.

I realize that I am overwhelmingly biased. Nothing I say has any basis in reality, because all my thoughts are coming straight from my heart and bypassing my mind on their way out. But sometimes a feeling is all you need to go off, and ‘I Can’t Quit’ makes me feel unstoppable and free and in alignment with everything around me. I have been listening to it on repeat for forty-eight straight hours, and I will likely choose to continue this habit for the rest of the foreseeable future. What I know for sure is that this is a spectacular track, and my excitement for the release of the full record only increases as time goes on. The Vaccines have gotten somewhere really good, and I want to be there too.

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Playlist: This Is It

I don’t think there’s anything I love as much as the new year. I am the number one fan of fresh starts and blank slates, and January first is the best blank slate you can ask for. I spent the last few hours of twenty-seventeen making a vision board and writing out my intentions for the next twelve months, and while having a visual representation of what I want to accomplish was good, I needed some music to go with it all. So here we are.

While I pride myself on being an expert playlist-maker, this one is more personal than what I usually share on the blog, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Like life itself, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and the fluctuations between tracks are sometimes extreme. Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground and Talking Heads and The Zombies cover the classic tracks department. Harry Styles is in there, mostly because I think the earnest way in which he belts out We don’t talk enough/ We should open up is how we should all approach our relationships with others over the next year. ‘Morning’ by Francis and the Lights is beautiful and it encapsulates a lot of great feelings. The National and The Walkmen and Broken Social Scene are included as well, the latter two because the tracks I chose are encouraging, and the first because, even though the song isn’t exactly motivational, I like the repetition of Gonna be a blank slate/ Gonna wear a white cape. I also included ‘Believer’ by American Authors, because I think we could all use some cheesiness to bring us into the present.

What we surround ourselves with – from the big things, like people and jobs and hobbies, to the little things, like music and posters and scent – plays a big role in how we move through each day, and eventually how we move through life as a whole. I like to think that this playlist is something I’ll come back to over and over again, and that listening to the tracks will instill me with renewed determination and will allow me to come back to all the reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing. I hope we can all find it within us to spend the next twelve months being the best we can be, and that we all understand that we’re worthy of a good life no matter how we feel in the current moment. We owe it to one another to be kind and supportive and loving, and we owe it to the world to use our voices to speak up and create change. We’re all worth something, and we all have something to give. Let’s use this year to get a little bit closer to all of those things. This is it.

 

Top Albums of 2017

As I write this, I am having a very difficult time believing that we’ve already reached the end of the year. Twenty-seventeen was not as easy as I expected it to be, and I experienced a lot of lows and a lot of highs. The world was divided and quite often terrifying, and I carried that anxiety within me in terms of my own feelings and of my concern for all of humanity. As cheesy as it is, music has always been my sliver of hope when things get difficult, and these are the albums that have carried me through the year.

1.Harry Styles – Harry Styles

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I hope you all knew this was coming. It was inevitable, wasn’t it? Harry came screaming into his place as a rock star from the second ‘Sign of the Times’ was released, and things only got better once the album came out. He channels Bowie and Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, exhibiting a kind of hesitant bravery in every track. It’s a comforting album, one that wraps itself around you and begs to be played on repeat – a plea I never deny. You can feel the breaking of personal boundaries, the sharing of experience, the self-discovery and self-expression. It’s pieced together, but it’s loud and hard to ignore. The boy has done incredibly well for himself, and I’m aching to hear more from him.

Favourite Track: ‘From the Dining Table’

2.MUNA – About U

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MUNA make music that is about healing, but also does a good job of offering healing as you listen. I was captivated from the very first song I heard, and they quickly became one of my most played artists of the year. They forgo gendered pronouns and speak directly about sociopolitical issues and emotional experiences, a combination that creates extremely relevant music for the current state of the world. They are both loud and quiet, hard and soft, and they strike this balance effortlessly. I would happily listen to them for the rest of my life, spending all my days relishing in lyrics that offer immediate connection and catharsis.

Favourite Track: ‘If U Love Me Now’

3.Wolf Alice – Visions of a Life

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This one crept up on me a little bit. I knew in my heart that I would adore anything Wolf Alice could possibly release, but it took a few listens for Visions of a Life to fully sink its teeth into my shoulder. The band does a fantastic job of being honest and open, crafting an album that perfectly showcases the constant flux of human emotion. They tell stories and weave vivid imagery and hit your heart like it’s a bullseye. It is very difficult not to find some part of this album to adore, and after you do that, I assure you that it’ll be something you carry with you for a while – a comfort, a sliver of life, a vision that feels like the past and present and future all at once.

Favourite Track: ‘Space & Time’

4.The National – Sleep Well Beast

I will be the first to admit that I did not give this album the recognition it deserved until well after it was released. I gave it an initial listen, but it wasn’t until I saw the band live that I realized just how spectacular it is. The National makes songs that feel like real life, with themes swinging from the mundane to the extraordinary. Sleep Well Beast fits the listener like a second skin, something you’d never want to scrub off. It’s intoxicating in a subtle way, and that’s what makes it special.

Favourite Track: ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’

5.HAIM – Something to Tell You

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We all know I love everything HAIM has ever done, and the fire of my adoration was happily stoked by their new record. Something to Tell You feels perfect. It is crisp and clean, an album that gives breathing room and dance space. Every note is purposeful, every lyric perfectly uttered. I like that HAIM isn’t trying to be anyone but themselves. I love how badass they are, and how their music makes me feel badass, too. This is the kind of empowering record that I needed to guide me through the year, and I’m sure it will remain a staple for a long time.

Favourite Track: ‘Nothing’s Wrong’

6.Rostam – Half-Light

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Rostam hasn’t gotten as much love as I expected him to this year, so I am attempting to remedy that in my own small way. This album feels like every good thing boiled down into fifteen songs. More than anything, it’s hopeful. It holds space for new things. It’s malleable, as if soft hands could form it into anything they wish the album to be. It flows in and out of you as easily as breath. It settled into my daily life without effort, and it has remained a staple for the past for months. Charlotte and I are seeing Rostam on my last day in England next year, and I can’t wait to feel every word wash over me.

Favourite Track: ‘Don’t Let It Get To You’

7.Alvvays – Antisocialites

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One of the most exciting things this year was the much anticipated return of Alvvays. The band has been playing some of these songs for ages, and to hear them recorded and packed into a selection of new tracks was something I’d been aching for. I’ve been a fan of them for so long that they just feel comfortable, slotting easily into my record collection and my Spotify playlists. While it’s not exceptionally different from the first album, it feels familiar and safe and good, and sometimes that is exactly the kind of album you need to hear.

Favourite Track: ‘Your Type’

8.Lorde – Melodrama

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This is hands down one of the standout records of the year, and I loved it a lot more than I expected to. Lorde speaks to a generation of people who feel lost and upset and angry and blissful and anxious all at once. The lyrics, the melodies, they hold each of those emotions, whispering them into the world in a way that is hard to ignore. I think we all appreciate music that is relatable and honest, and Lorde achieves that impeccably.

Favourite Track: ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless’

9.Phoenix – Ti Amo

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In a rather divided world, Phoenix managed to create an album about unity. It was the burst of positivity I needed this year, a simple push forward that felt more like an orchestrated dance routine. It really is just fun – frivolous and groovy, an album that feels sunny and bright in the perfect way. I dare you to listen to it and not feel your mood lift instantly.

Favourite Track: ‘Fior Di Latte’

I realize that this was probably the most predictable and also the weirdest best album list in the history of the world. My music taste is all over the place and I love it that way – it keeps things interesting. This year has been a spectacular one in the sonic universe, and with new albums already announced for twenty-eighteen, I have a feeling there are even better things on the horizon. Just wait for my unrelenting screams when The Vaccines finally drop Combat Sports.

Gig Review: Wolf Alice at The Danforth Music Hall

I always get antsy before a concert. Always. I have lined up for hours at the end of November to get a good spot at Julian Casablancas. I have waited outside a venue for an entire day even though I had assigned seating. I have attended concerts just for the opening act, sitting through a headliner that I don’t necessarily love just because my favourite band was playing the previous slot. No situation ever makes it easier, and I am always overflowing with excitement by the time I get into a venue. The reality of finally being in the same space as an act, of them walking on stage after an excruciating wait, is something special. It shifts the whole world for an hour or so, twisting the truth so that all that exists is you and the act in front of you. The importance of the event and the days leading up to it and the anticipation that bubbles over while you wait all adds up to a very specific kind of suspense, and I simultaneously love and loathe the feeling.

Counting down the days until you get to see a band live is one of my favourite rituals, and as the date gets closer, things usually get easier. Wolf Alice, somehow, was the opposite. I spent the week before their Danforth Music Hall show listening to My Love Is Cool and Visions of a Life obsessively. I read all the lyrics and watched all the interviews and had an awful lot of one-woman bedroom dance parties. The day of the show went by painfully slowly and mostly involved lying on my bed watching their tour documentary and mulling over whether or not it was idiotic to wear a slip dress on the first of December just because Ellie always wears them. I made copious amounts of tea and sang at the top of my lungs as the caffeine raced through me. I sat in Pizza Pizza and jiggled my leg while I watched Charlotte eat. And then finally, finally, we walked into the venue and my heart knew it could slow its beating, and I returned to my brand of normal. The opening act walked on stage and it all kicked off and I found some sense of calm, until Wolf Alice graced us all with their presence and my universe was turned upside down once again.

Wolf Alice is the kind of band that you don’t really grow tired of. I listened to their debut album, My Love is Cool, on repeat the fall I started university, and it will always remind me of that time of transition, dipping my toes into strange waters and seeing what could come of it. Their second effort, Visions of a Life, hit me slowly, but once I understood the magic of it I could barely pry myself away. They’re a group that makes sense to my heart – their untethered glory, their poignant way of expressing the entire spectrum of human emotion. I often feel like I run parallel to them, or maybe their past stories are my present ones, and it’s something special to be able to relate to a band in such a way.

The first thing I need to mention is that they stepped on stage while Patti Smith was blaring over the venue’s speakers. When I saw Patti in New York City in September, Wolf Alice was the last band we listened to before parking the car and making our way through the metropolis, and this was nearly the reverse of that. It seemed kismet, and from that very moment I knew how special the following hours would be.

They began with ‘Heavenward,’ a song that is heartbreaking in its lyrics and yet somehow hopeful in the melody. It was the perfect start, and looking around me to see the entire venue mouthing along to the bridge in a shallow chant of I see you dancing on, you dancing on, was a powerful first moment. The second track, ‘Yuk Foo,’ stood in harsh juxtaposition to the opener, but the transition from a glowing ballad to an all-out, anger-filled punk song seemed to sum up the feelings of the band – and of the audience – in under ten minutes.

The four of them mixed tracks from their first and second releases, fitting them together in a puzzle that felt like one of the best setlists I’ve ever experienced. Nearly a third of the way into the set, they played ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ and ‘Bros’ back to back, and I felt my heart drop to my feet in an instant. The former is perhaps my favourite track of the year, and hearing it live and attempting to keep up with Ellie’s effortless muttering of the lyrics is a moment I’ve made every effort to burn into the skin on the back of my eyelids. I often spend concerts picking out the minutes or seconds that feel like they’re only for me, and that song is what did it this time.

They went on to play ‘Silk’ and ‘Lisbon,’ their movements practiced and nearly second nature. A few songs later they barrelled into ‘Beautifully Unconventional,’ a song with a chorus that holds my name and yet another moment that allowed me to block out the rest of the world and hold space for myself. My mouth opened against the lyrics (Hannah! She lives! She breathes! She’s beautifully unconventional!) and a smile came out with the words and my heart swelled to ten times its usual size. Sometimes I forget that music makes my heart stop and start, and this felt like both.

Afterward they went into ‘Sadboy,’ an honest, lilting track and one of my favourites from the second record. The first few verses make you want to rock your hips back and forth in a steady rhythm, and the bridge comes in like a call to arms, expressing emotions every one of us has felt. It’s nice to feel the energy of a crowd shift and a thousand people join together to sing I was waiting, waiting for anything to happen, waiting for love?, I was just waiting for this not to hurt.

The final trio of tracks rounded out the show in the most satisfying way, and yet I still sent a silent prayer to the heavens that Wolf Alice could stay onstage and I could stay in that venue until the end of time. ‘Space & Time’ is frustrated and anxious and I connected with it the very first time I heard it. There is unparalleled honesty in the lyrics – I hope my body gets better, do I mean my body or my mind? I hate the word “forever,” I hate the word “change,” I just need time – and the whole thing felt like a much-needed release. That rolled into ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ and ‘Fluffy,’ the band ending on the highest note they possibly could before heading offstage. They returned minutes later with ‘Blush’ and ‘Giant Peach,’ an encore that had me reeling. I really could not have asked for a better gig.

Wolf Alice is the kind of band that breaks down walls. Yes, they’re performing for the crowd, and yes, they’re the artists, and yes, this role is something they’ve had to work for. But they feel like they’re part of the same entity as the people watching them. They turn an entire venue into one living, breathing being. Lots of shows make you feel like you’re just watching something, but it’s even better to feel like part of it, and Wolf Alice does the latter effortlessly. Bodies pushed against mine and Theo danced for the crowd and Ellie yelled with everything she had in her. I screamed until I couldn’t force anything else out of my mouth and I watched Joff shred through guitar solos and Joel sit at his drum kit and do what he’s good at. I felt like my lungs expanded at the same time as the bands’, like my heart beat through the same rhythm and my blood pumped through my veins on the same magnetic frequency. I could live my whole life feeling like that, and I’d say yes to seeing them again in a second.

I Measure My Life In Music

Music reminds me how cyclical everything is. Putting on a certain song or artist can bring you back to an exact moment – me on a bus in Nicaragua listening to “Teenage Icon” by The Vaccines on full blast because I was spending two weeks with twenty other people and my introverted self just needed time alone, or Abby and I running errands and singing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” at the top of our lungs after one of the worst nights of my life. Music draws parallels to who you are now, things that connect you to your past self and your future self, threads that pull time into cycles. It always makes me feel like I belong to the whole world and the whole world belongs to me.

Last night I bought a ticket to see Patti Smith play with Nick Cave in London. To be quite honest, my heart acted before my mind could and I clicked “Buy” before I had even registered what I was doing, but those impulse decisions are often the best ones. I discovered Patti when I was sixteen and in a place where I didn’t really understand who I was or who I was supposed to be. She spoke to the parts of me that I didn’t like, the parts that felt unworthy and untalented and unimportant. I look at her and how much she’s done and how she gives herself over to the world and I think that one day, maybe I’ll be able to do that too.

I’ll be seeing Patti at the tail end of my time in England. Moving to the UK has been my dream since I was nine years old, and it feels good that Patti, who believes in her dreams and who makes me believe in mine, will be the one to see me off. I’ll be accomplishing something I always imagined but never really thought I’d reach, and she’ll be there, watching me come out of it. That’s what alignment feels like.

I’m going to so many shows when I’m in England that it kind of feels like I’m not even going there for school, but for fun. Spector just dropped a new song and are expected to announce a bunch of tour dates, so hopefully I’ll be able to stand in a club and sing “Chevy Thunder” and “All the Sad Young Men” back to the band. Charlotte and I are seeing Rostam on my very last day in London, and I can’t wait to be enveloped in his calm and brought to life in front of him. In April, you’ll catch Abby and I in the last row of the floor at a Harry Styles concert, having the time of our lives. I’m also seeing The Vaccines, which I’ve already talked about, but now I have tickets and it’s really actually happening. The only time I’ve ever seen them play live was as Mumford & Sons’ opening act in 2013, and almost five years later, I’ll be seeing them play to ten thousand people in their hometown, and I’ll be there marvelling at how good life feels in that moment.

The girl who discovered Patti Smith was a different girl than the one who will be seeing her on June third. Some things have remained the same – I’m often still scared to share my work, but at least I’m creating it and believing that I have something valuable to give to the world. I’ve gotten rid of the awful black eyeliner I spent a summer smudging onto my lids, but I still put on a white button-down every time I want to feel like Patti’s with me. Spector became one of my favourite bands when Moth Boys became the soundtrack to a pivotal moment in my life, a time of letting go of all the old and stepping hesitantly into the new. And I’ll be seeing them when everything is new all over again.

Harry was my teenage crush, and I will admit that he is still my crush as a twenty-year-old. When One Direction first took over the world, I bought blazers because he wore them and I picked up things he said in interviews and tried to use them in daily conversation. Six or seven years later and I’ve grown as he’s grown, and when I see him in April, we’ll both be different than we were when I saw him in 2012 and different even than when I saw him in October. Rostam was an integral part of Vampire Weekend, and I am so interested to see how he’s flourished on his own, just as I’ve learned to flourish on my own. The Vaccines have defined me since I was fifteen. They’ve been next to me during all the high highs and all the low lows. They’ve been there for the awkward in between parts and the figuring it out and the making it up as I go. When I’m standing in Alexandra Palace five months from now, I’ll probably be feeling the same things, and they’ll still be there. And, quite frankly, that feels magical.

I don’t one hundred percent know where I’m trying to go with this post. I guess as I’m about to leave Toronto and move to Leeds, I feel like I’m getting somewhere. I’ve spent years wishing for something big to happen, and now that big thing is happening. I’ve also spent years dying to see all these bands, and they’re coming back to life just as I’m entering the most exciting time I’ve ever felt. It feels good to have them right beside me, like all of us are reinventing ourselves at the same time and trying to see where life will go next. We’re all making art and sharing it with the people who will listen and supporting the people around us who are doing the same thing. It doesn’t matter that all of them will be on a stage and I’ll be in the crowd. It matters that I feel a magnetic pull to every single one of them, and they’ve all marked important moments in my life and will continue to be there as life keeps getting better.

All these musicians have been with me at pivotal moments in my life. Often they were the catalysts for those moments, the ones who made me strive for better or pick myself up or gave me the courage to freaking go for it. I haven’t even left for my semester abroad yet, and I already feel like it’s the best thing I’ve done, the climax of the believing in myself and the working hard and the chasing of my crazy dreams. I’m glad all my favourite bands get to be part of it in a physical way. I think it would feel wrong if they weren’t.

I’m seeing Wolf Alice tomorrow. They’ve had a permanent place in my heart for a long time, and they played in Toronto a couple years ago around this time, but I was too young to go. I get to step into the Danforth tomorrow, Charlotte by my side, and waltz up to the stage that Ellie and Joel and Theo and Joff will stand on. Compared to who I was two years ago, I’m unrecognizable. The people who are around me are different, the way I think about myself is different, my mindset is different, and my goals are different. But I like that my favourite songs are still the same, and I’m so happy that I get to sing some of them with Wolf Alice tomorrow night. Change is inevitable, but it’s the best feeling to be able to hang onto something that reminds you of how connected everything is.

I’m going to leave you with Wolf Alice’s “Don’t Delete the Kisses.” It’s about romantic love, but it also kind of celebrates loving something so much that it makes you feel on top of the world, and that’s how these artists make me feel. (Also, the music video might just rip your heart out.)

Consume Like an Artist

A while ago I read a quote about how a prerequisite to being an artist is the ability to consume. Artists collect things. Fragments of movies, the way the lighting looks in a specific shot, how the sun falls on an actors’ jawline. Corners of paintings or a specific line of graphite in a sketch. The soaring bridge of a song, the bass beat in the melody, the way the singer changes notes. We fall in love with how poets describe city streets and winter mornings, with the aesthetic our heroes project, with intelligent advertising campaigns and album artwork and book covers. All of it is important.

I keep notes of things that really interest me, always carrying around a notebook where I can jot down snippets of overheard conversation or a really good line in a movie. It’s something I refer back to often, and the things that can’t really be held in there are kept in my mind or on my heart. When we come in contact with things that affect us, there really isn’t a choice whether or not you keep it with you. Some of them find ways of burrowing themselves under your skin, stuck to you forever. It’s a nice feeling. All of that collecting means something, and a lot of the best art is made when people combine what they know and what they love and what they can do.

I had a moment at the beginning of the year when I saw La La Land three times in theatres and maybe downloaded it so that I could watch it on a daily basis. I read interviews with the cast, I bought the soundtrack on vinyl, I memorized the lines and tried – and then failed – to insert them into everyday conversation. (For the record, replying “It’s wool” to a comment about your outfit isn’t actually funny and most people don’t get that you’re trying to imitate Ryan Gosling. I wouldn’t recommend it.)

La La Land infiltrated everything I was doing at the time, influencing the art I was making and the things I was writing and the discussions I was having. I hadn’t been so inspired by something in a long time, and it was a nice change to feel so consumed by a form of art that I don’t always connect with so deeply. I eventually settled myself and went on to find inspiration in other forms, but I still like the idea of what we consume in turn being influential to what we make for others to consume. I thought I’d compile a list of things I’ve been loving lately, partly because I think I should share their glory, but also because it’s just nice to talk about what you’re excited by. It’s something I think we should all do more of.

Music

Rostam’s debut album Half-Light is a TRIUMPH. Charlotte and I were driving back from seeing Patti Smith on the day it was released, and I put it on Spotify and we sat listening to it in silence as she drove us home. I remember rock formations and quiet highways and wearing my concert t-shirt from the night before, exhausted but still in disbelief. The album mirrored my own joy, but it also mirrored the bittersweet feeling that came with the fact that the show, the road trip, the forgetting of daily life was over.  When I listen to it I still think about that day and the freedom I felt and the way the songs washed over my skin. I adore every single track, but standouts are “Bike Dream,” “Don’t Let It Get To You,” and “Gwan.” The third one opens with the lyric “Don’t listen to me I only believe in myself,” and the first listen felt life changing.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of solo Beatles albums, which I think came out of a desire to attempt to educate myself. The Plastic Ono Band’s Live Peace in Toronto 1969 is a bit of a hot mess, but I like how chaotic it is. Also, one listen to “Give Peace a Chance” makes me feel like a revolution, and sometimes music should inspire you to do important things like use your voice. RAM is the only Paul McCartney album that’s also attributed to Linda McCartney, and I started listening to this one after I bought a massive book of her photography and became enamored by their relationship. My favourites include “Ram On” and “Heart of the Country.” Last but not least, George Harrison’s All Things Must Past is really required listening at this point. “My Sweet Lord” has been one of my favourite tracks for a long time, but I also love “Wah-Wah” and “What is Life” – and the whole thing, really.

Film

I am fascinated by creative process. It’s intimate to look in on how someone gets from Point A to Point B, how they write a song or take a photo or make it through a months-long retrospective of their work. I’m nosy and I like getting under the surface of things and that means music and art documentaries are right up my street. I’ve watched an awful lot of them, but these are some I keep coming back to.

1. Harry Styles: Behind the Album

I realize I waffle on about him a bit too much, but I watch this at least twice a month and it doesn’t get old. Watching Harry create his first solo album is enthralling, and it was smart to juxtapose the creative process of each track with a performance of the finished song. I tear up watching him happily lip sync the words to “Sign of the Times,” and I get serious outfit envy every time he shows up in another vintage t-shirt or a billowy blouse. It’s also reassuring to hear him talk about the fear he felt when releasing the record, which makes me feel a lot better about my own hesitation when it comes to sharing my work while also motivating me to do it anyway.

2. Marina Abramovic : The Artist is Present

This follows Abramovic as she goes through the steps of her own retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. It’s poignant and emotionally charged and I love watching a female artist in a position of power. The woman is impressive as heck, and this documentary is and incredibly meaningful way to document such a monumental occasion.

3. The Vaccines – I Don’t Even Know You

This is only twenty-four minutes long so I’m not entirely sure whether or not it counts as a film, but they’re my favourite band and I had to include it. The video documents the highs and lows of the band, cutting together short clips of life on the road with past footage of early shows and recording sessions. I think part of me likes it so much because The Vaccines feel so close to me, but I forced Charlotte to watch it and she seemed to enjoy it, too, so it can’t be all bad. If you like scruffy indie band members and a healthy dose of angst interspersed with some nostalgia and milestone-reaching, this one’s for you.

Visual Art

I first set foot into Sandra Meigs’ Room for Mystics a few weeks ago, and I’ve returned twice since then to immerse myself in the environment she’s created on the top floor of the AGO. It is a celebration of joy and of pushing through pain to get to the brighter side of things. The pieces are striking, the accompanying score is trance-inducing and vibration-raising, and the entire thing leaves me in good spirits every time I visit.

Amalia Pica’s ears to speak of is currently being presented at The Power Plant, and it’s another notable exhibit. Touching on the failures of technology and communication, the exhibit raises questions and almost forces visitors to think about what we choose to listen to and how well we communicate with the people who matter to us. It also brings up the acts of listening and communicating as a privilege rather than a birthright, and I think that’s an important topic to consider. We can all be doing better.

Aside from the physical exhibits, I’ve also become completely enamored by Henri Matisse and Egon Schiele. Matisse’s cut-outs and nudes are vibrant and colourful, the kind of thing that confronts your senses in a good way. Schiele’s forms are spidery and romantic, and I like how they feel almost gothic. I can’t get enough.

Words

I’ve plowed through a couple Bukowski anthologies over the past few months, mostly because what he wrote is the complete opposite of what I write. I often find it challenging to wrap my head around his poems, and I like how gritty and ordinary his subjects are. I finished Love Is a Dog From Hell a little while ago, and I’m currently working through Last Night of the Earth Poems. I’d recommend both of them.

I nearly cried when I bought a signed copy of Patti Smith’s newest book, Devotion, at her concert in Central Park. I spend a lot of time pressing my thumb to the indentations left by her pen, and I have definitely considered getting the signature tattooed near my heart. The book itself is a masterpiece, like everything Patti creates, and it sits on my bedside table, reminding me of the allegiance I have to Patti herself and the devotion I have to my own writing.

A bit of an odd one is Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles, which like many French novels, is kind of weird and off-putting. I enjoyed it nonetheless, soaking up its quirks and relishing in the fast pace and the short amount of time it took me to finish it. Another quick read is Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, which made me ask a lot of questions and consider a lot of aspects of my life and ultimately changed the way I view the path I’m on and the person I am.

I could definitely talk about more, but I feel like I’m pouring my lifeblood out onto the Internet and I’m scared that my veins might shrivel up. It’s also probably a good idea to save some of my favourite things for another blogpost in a couple months’ time. I hope you enjoy the things I love as much as I do – or at least pretend you do. (Just kidding. If you don’t, tell me about all the things that are better than the stuff I mentioned. I’d love to hear about them.)

Let’s Get Vulnerable

A couple months ago I started an Instagram account to post my poetry on. My words are something I hold incredibly close to my chest, and I spent days and weeks and months afraid of ever sharing anything. My mind raced with thoughts of not being good enough, of nobody liking it, of the world not needing it. I didn’t want to take up space that doesn’t belong to me and I didn’t want to let go of something so personal and revealing and telling. But I felt like I had to do it, so I did it anyway. I still feel scared every single time I upload a new piece, but posting also feels like freedom, and I’m going to run with that feeling for as long as I can.

Sharing my poetry is a daily act of vulnerability, which is something I’ve been working on. The world makes us hard in places we should be soft, and I gave into that for a long time. I put walls up and kept my mouth shut and wore armour around like it didn’t add an extra hundred pounds of weight to my back. Despite all those bricks, everything ended up crumbling, and I gave up neutrality and blank faces and unshared emotion. I learned that being vulnerable means being brave and being vulnerable equates to strength and being vulnerable opens my heart up to the world in ways I still can’t quite fathom. Vulnerability feels good.

Art is inherently vulnerable. It has to be. Artists reach deep into their souls and pull out their lives and put their secrets on display for the whole world. Artists tell stories of pain and sometimes of triumph, of mistakes and sometimes of success. Artists peel back layers of themselves and reveal their flesh and bones without anything to protect them. And if we want to have any hope of turning our lives into art, we have to learn how to be vulnerable too.

Vulnerability shows up in painting and literature and film. Sometimes I find it in all of those things, but mostly I find it in music. I find it in the strained voice of a lead singer, in the way faces contort during performances, in the way words hang in the air and take shape and tell an unspoken story. It’s a beautiful thing to listen to your favourite bands and hear them sing about things that you understand, that you’ve gone through, that you know deeply. Musicians lay themselves out to the world for the sake of connection, for the sake of being honest, for the sake of letting go and finding a bit of the freedom that they once lost. And that’s really powerful.

So many of my favourite songs are vulnerable. Maybe that’s not on purpose, but I like that it shows up anyway. MUNA’s breathtaking debut album, About U, is the first thing that made me stop and think about it. Every track is raw and honest and open in a way that I hadn’t really heard before. They sing about what’s important and real and they make me feel less alone.

Out of all of MUNA’s tracks, I chose “I Know A Place” for this playlist, mostly because I bawled my eyes out the first time I heard it before proceeded to send a link to everyone I love. Months later, I saw them perform it live, and I cried again. Standing near the back of Massey Hall, Abby and I singing at the top of our lungs, flailing our arms around and feeling every word. The track fits into my heart like it doesn’t belong anywhere else. It reminds me to keep showing up. It reminds me that my past is not my present or my future. It reminds me that there are people in my life who love me better than I’ve ever been loved and that I don’t have to be afraid that they’ll leave, because they won’t. The track is a gift, and I carry it around proudly.

After MUNA, it became easier to notice how sincere music is as an art form.  The tracks on this playlist are some of my favourite examples of an artist putting trust in their audience, knowing their fans will keep their secrets safe under their skin. There’s Lorde’s “Writer in the Dark,” which sends chills up my spine with each listen. Melodrama is steeped in vulnerability, but this song has always stood out – the vocals that make my heart ache, the lyrics that express anger and sadness and everything in between all at once. From Patti Smith I added “Pissing in a River” because of the way it expresses putting everything you have into a relationship and never getting the same thing back. Patti is always honest, sometimes almost alarmingly so, but I love the power and heartache here. It begs and pleads and maybe it comes up empty, but at least she got her feelings out there.

It was difficult to narrow it down when it came to Florence + the Machine, but “Too Much is Never Enough” starts quietly and builds in strength and it comes across like an audible representation of how it feels to be vulnerable. It’s difficult at first, words nothing but whispers, but you do it often enough and eventually you feel as if you have the power to scream your innermost thoughts from New York City rooftops. After Florence is “Terrible Love” by The National, a song that makes my heart clench each time I play it. The entire thing is tender, but I especially adore the pleading repetition of “it takes an ocean not to break.” If I could choose to be swallowed up by those words, I probably would.

One of my favourite tracks of all time is “All The Sad Young Men” by Spector. It has been the soundtrack to a lot of my most candid moments – friendships falling apart and friendships beginning, driving down Bathurst at night in the rain feeling every word soak into my soul. It exposes truths and it speaks to things that a lot of us are hiding and it feels like real life. Following that, Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” is there mostly because I remember hearing it for the first time and being captivated by the integrity of the lyrics. It’s the kind of song that puts weight in your heart, and I really like that.

It wouldn’t really be one of my playlists if I didn’t include The Vaccines, and I love how frank they are in their tracks. I spent a lot of high school scrawling the lyrics to “A Lack of Understanding” into the margins of my politics notebook, repeating “is this everything you always hoped that it would be?” over and over again in my mind. Sometimes being vulnerable just means having the courage to ask that question. The penultimate track is HAIM’s “Night So Long.” It’s lonely and it hurts and the emotions are palpable, and that’s why I love it so much.

I had to end the playlist with Harry Styles. “From the Dining Table” is a song that I stop what I’m doing to absorb, a track so simple and stripped back that nothing can be hidden. I’m struggling to say more than just “this song makes me feel things,” but it does. It feels like everything all at once – the happiness that once consumed a relationship, the pain of the unravelling, the loneliness of loss. I like that Harry’s solo career means we get to hear more of him. More emotion, more experience, more life. More vulnerability.

Being vulnerable is difficult. It always will be. As hard as it is, though, it’s equally important. Nothing feels quite as rewarding as pulling the skin away from your chest and pushing your lungs aside and revealing your heart to the people who matter. It breaks down walls and brings us closer and builds up our power, and I think it’s something we should all tap into more often. Here’s to vulnerability and it being one of the best weapons we have.