[Apologies for the wonky imagery. My very old laptop crapped out, and with it, my very old, not-very-legally-acquired copy of Photoshop disappeared forever. Now I am legit paying for it! But I’m still getting used to a new version.]
Greetings! Here are some frips I’ve been obsessing over this week. And let’s pretend I’ve been posting Friday Fripperies on a weekly basis instead of twice yearly, shall we?
[As we near the end of 2016 and folks are posting their “best of” lists, this album stands alone for me as my favorite recording released this year. This was a review I’d written earlier this year and was previously published at Dirge Magazine. It is no longer on that site, so I am taking this opportunity to give it a home here, where I think it best belongs.]
There is a surreal stretch at the end of an evening of good times that have carried on perhaps an album’s length or a bottle too long. A half-lit, fuzzy spell between two and three in the morning where you’ve had far too much too drink with friends and the euphoric effects of the alcohol are wearing off: you’re left with a sleepy nostalgia for the good times you were having mere hours before and tomorrow’s hangover is a distressing memory that hasn’t happened yet.
You’re in the cramped backseat of a car, cocktail-fevered forehead resting against the cool glass of the passenger side window, your reflection too dark to see. The palm trees are towering overhead–mesmerizing, celestial giants as far away as the distant planets–and the glimmering streetlights are stars that stretch and fade to the edges of your vision like you’re jumping into hyperspace. You want to laugh at the absurdity of the imagery but all of a sudden, and from out of nowhere, this late night is on the other side of too late. This beautiful, astronomical onslaught is too much; it’s triggering memories more terrestrial and summoning that nostalgic, aching void that’s perpetually lurking at the edges of your experience.
I overheard a conversation recently in which it was mentioned that oftentimes one forgets that words ending in “-algia” indicate some sort of pain. So while we frequently refer to nostalgia in a terms of sentimental longing or wistful affection, we cannot deny the twist of the heart that accompanies it, the grief and distress that tinges it. The pain that gives definition to these wispy, amorphous moments, this euphoria we summon and cling to for far too long on evenings like this.
I’m reflecting on these things during my initial listen to British trio HÆLOS’ debut album, Full Circle, which has been described by some as “darkly euphoric dance music”– but I don’t immediately feel like dancing when I hear it. I’m instead reminded of the hair standing stiffly at the back of my neck and my worldview shifting slightly but irreversibly after having heard the tinny, ominous strains of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” on the radio while my mother sunbathed on a sunny afternoon in southwestern Ohio. In my brightly colored J.C. Penney’s sundress I sat still in the flower bed and listened intently, internalizing a despair I couldn’t possibly understand at the age of six, and yet somehow recognizing that one day I would know it all too well. I didn’t feel like dancing then, either.
It was this same visceral reaction that HÆLOS’ nocturnal, throbbing first single, “Dust,” conjured in me when I initially heard it in late fall of 2014, released quietly on Soundcloud. This song, with its otherworldly, multi-layered, airy vocal tracks, reverberating melodies, and the repeated lyrics, “what happened to us?” almost begs the question: You and Me, us? Or the bigger picture Us, all of Us, humanity as a whole? It evoked the compulsion to desperately dial a loved one at the darkest hour of night, just to hear their voice, and have them assure you that they are okay. Or… to assure yourself that you are okay.
There is faint light dawning on the horizon which soon becomes a blinding corona in the morning sky, faithfully moving throughout our day, infinitely shining above. The darkness of the night, the void, and the loneliness abate in the face of this splendid constancy. And too, with a closer listen to the shadowy trip-hop, shimmering electronica, and hushed, intimate lyrics that comprise the entirety of Full Circle, you will hear this gentle movement, this infinite tenderness. It reveals something deeply human, achingly authentic and at its heart, a far cry from the bitter angst of that iconic hit from 1981 that unnerved me so at such a young age: breathtakingly explosive hope.
Hope and human connection are pervasive themes throughout the album. Uneasy reflection on the pain of emotional distance, and “the moment when you are choosing between staying or leaving and the underlying love that keeps you there”– as explained in a statement from the band–is explored in “Separate Lives,” the album’s eighth track and most recent video release.
The band has noted a love of the atmospheric trip-hop and turntablism of the ’90s–Portishead, Massive Attack, and the like–and there is much of that smoky, late night ritual and narcotic, reverberating poignancy to be heard weaving in and out and linking the songs on Full Circle. In particular, “Earth Not Above,” the album’s fifth track, is brimming with this down-tempo, melancholic dissonance, but along with lustrous synth, and cinematic, kaleidoscopic strings, HÆLOS’ sound is wholly their own.
These are songs of grief, and of vulnerability, but ultimately of release: “Some of us need kindness… some people need love” they sing. And in these lush, hauntingly beautiful harmonies on this sweeping, meditative album, it becomes clear that this is the sound of one no longer being alone in the dark; it’s the steady, gorgeous thrum and throbbing heartbeat of a hand in your own.
I had insisted that HÆLOS’ Full Circle doesn’t move me to dance, but perhaps this quiet realization is a still, joyous, hopeful dance of its own.
I have previously written on the importance of holiday shopping for one’s self. No one is going to get you what you really want, so save yourself the trouble of those painful, plastic grimaces you must flash when acknowledging a gift that missed the mark–if you already have a treat or two at home waiting for you, you can give a genuine smile when you thank so-and-so for that fruity nightmare Bath and Body works candle or that weird tea sampler that is mostly comprised of herbal tisanes but still has the gall to call itself “tea”. (Ugh! Major pet peeve.)
I joke. Somewhat. I’m always grateful when someone has thought enough of me to buy me a gift, but let’s be real. No one knows me and what I want better than I do. Here’s a few things on my hexmas list this year. They may already be on their way to me now! What are you going to surprise yourself with in 2016? Tempt me in the comments!
The Creeping Museum is the nonprofit creative vision and labor of love conceived between two friends and a grilled cheese sandwich in a North Portland laundromat in the spring of 2016. Their remarkable mission? To help artists and independent creators give back to their communities by turning their strange and unusual work into tiny pieces of affordable art in the form of collectible enamel pins– for which to support wonderfully worthy causes.
The Creeping Museum continues their mission of making the world a better place through kind hearts and spooky arts with the release of their most ambitious and highly anticipated collection to date: Beautiful Monsters. Inspired by the night creatures of Penny Dreadful, in support of the marginalized and forgotten, Beautiful Monsters is now available. Read more at Haute Macabre today.
Bonus! I was honored to have made a small contribution to The Creeping Museum’s Eviscerate The Patriarchy auction (proceeds to benefit the Joyful Heart Foundation); believe it or not, I actually knit these mitts up in about 6-7 hours!
Photo credit: B. Brandt / Styling: Maika Keuben
Bonus! Should you like to wish to swan about in a spookily elegant ensemble inspired by The Creeping Museum, Beautiful Monsters, and Penny Dreadful, see below. As always, click on the image to see a listing of items used.
A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about related to matters of death & dying & mortality.
Currently: enjoying the brief window of opportunity we have to open the house up to cool breezes and fresh air (during which time I start burning all the incense and candles, stinking up all of our newly acquired fresh air); hand-writing letters to far flung friends, drinking up all the tea in my cupboards and queuing up all the Hildegard Von Bingen and Loreena McKennit that I can find, for I am a creature of habit, and that’s what I like to listen to when the weather frosts my fingers and numbs my lungs. It was 45 degrees this morning when I woke up! In November! In Florida! Wow.
Creepy doll jumble at Uncommon Objects
Ramen and bride of the fox sake at Tatsu-ya
Holly Bobisuthi creations at Blackmail Boutique
Precious mouse friend at Uncommon Objects
Currently: recovering from our yearly trip. This time around, instead of visiting Portland, we visited Austin…which I guess is sort of like “the other Portland”. Well, that’s what everyone says, anyway, but I don’t quite get that. I like both places very much, but I will say that folks seem a lot chattier in Austin, more willing to engage (as someone who is not keen on chatting, I am not sure if that’s a plus, but I’d sound like such a grinch if I indicated a city of friendly people is somehow negative, right?)
In Austin I:
ate all of the tacos on Torchy’s menu (I liked the Baja shrimp taco best!)
waited in lines for three hours at Franklin’s for barbecue on our first day and walked right in to Terry Black’s barbecue on the last day (I found Terry Black’s to be superior)
saw some art at one location of the East Austin Studio Tour
finally met my darling Lau and her husband; we dined on caviar and pirozhki at The Russian House and afterwards, sipped on secret speakeasy cocktails at a clandestine location nearby
Stopped by Austin Books and Comics, which now rivals Powells (in my opinion) for best bookstore on earth. Also stepped into The Dragon’s Lair, which was pretty groovy, too, with an amazing selection of comics and graphic novels. And games, if you are into that.
Enjoyed delicious ramen at Tatsu-ya; amazing pizza at Home Slice; several breakfasts at June’s, more cocktails at Gordoughs, and marveled at the TARDIS of yarnshops–Hill Country Weavers–which is totally bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside, and is stuffed wall-to-wall with fantastically beautiful yarns.
Over the course of our week in Austin, I had a surprising amount of downtime. While the lads were adventuring (in the next room with dice and character sheets), I curled up on the sofa and read the following:
My Sweet Audrina: Prompted by last month’s Bad Books For Bad People podcast, I thought I’d re-read this gem from my childhood. At 11 years of age, I don’t think I fully appreciated the scope of how truly fucked up this book was–it is beautifully bonkers.
The Girl On The Train: For me, this is a read that falls into the “good for what it is” category… something I would probably not pick up unless I was traveling…something with a little mystery, very little depth, and a moderate to high trashy-factor. If you liked Gone Girl, you will probably also like The Girl On The Train (I actually liked it better than Gone Girl.)
The Singing Bones: The brief synopsis is, “a convicted killer’s imminent parole forces a woman to confront the nightmarish past she’s spent twenty years escaping”, but it’s a richly layered story with a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, and fascinating folkloric elements that elevates it to something beyond a typical thriller. Highly recommended– and thanks a million for the suggestion, Leslie.
The Ritual: This book about four friends and their nightmare hike into dark, primal Scandinavian wilderness has been on my to-read list forever, but of the books I read while away last week, it is probably my least favorite. The first half reminded me of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo”, or “The Willows”, the former which always freaks me out a little but more than the latter, but they are both hauntingly intense and give me shudders whenever I ponder them overlong. The second half of the book seems silly in comparison, but I found that after the acute anxiety caused by the first half, I was okay with some ridiculousness.
The Other Side, An Anthology Of Queer Paranormal Romance: “Featuring 19 comics by 23 different creators, THE OTHER SIDE is a celebration of queer romance and the paranormal… featuring a wide variety of queer and trans protagonists – as well as poltergeists, shadow monsters, guitar-playing hypnotists, lost angels, genderfluid vampires, trickster ghosts, and many more!” There were definitely hits and misses here; a few left me wanting much more, one or two left me scratching my head, and a handful of them were just perfect. On the whole though, I thought it was a wonderful collection and a highly satisfying reading/visual experience.
And lastly, what have I been watching? Here are some one(ish) word reviews for you…
Time to revisit ye olde Friday Fripperies! See below for the deets on the things that I currently have on my grabby want list: blood-thirsty scents, gold accessories (I must be going through a phase), tote bags expressing my contrarian agenda, and black clothes, always.