It’s Astral Weeks Szn

Sunday formally marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring. For many of us, it’s been the toughest winter we’ve seen since at least 2014, when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl and Macklemore won Best New Artist and we realized that Seattle people had become just as insufferable as Bay Area people. But as vaccinations continue and days keep passing without the United States president showing his entire ass to the world, the springtime themes of brightness and rebirth feel more relevant than ever. 

My point is that we should lean the hell into Spring 2021. Things are getting better! Yes, they are still terrible, and they will always be pretty bad, because, you know, [gestures loosely at shitty world]. But we’ll take an improvement wherever we can get one. As the cold temperatures relent and the world blooms anew, so should our spirits. Not our physical spirits, of course, but like hard alcohol. It’s warm enough to drink outside again, and that’s a joy worth reluctantly renewing one’s hope in life. 

Other than assiduously getting buzzed al fresco, there are only two ways I know of to celebrate this season. One is eating Starburst jelly beans until you are absolutely ill, and I encourage you all to do that. The other is going on a walk on the first warm day of the season, popping in your headphones, and listening to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks in its entirety.

Why Astral Weeks? Well, I’ll tell you why. Astral Weeks is so goddamn vernal, you will have tulips growing out of your pores just from listening to it. 

You see, we talk a lot about the right music for every season besides spring. The “song of the summer” has been talked about for years, even though the only right answer is any hit by Katy Perry. Taylor Swift’s folklore album immediately elicited tweets of “omg fall vibes 


” by every beflanneled white girl in the lower 48. Any sparingly arranged Bon Iver song is at risk of being called a “winter classic” by people who don’t know what the real Winter Classic is. But for some reason, there’s never discussion about the right music for springtime — especially odd when you consider that Astral Weeks has been around for more than 50 years.

It’s hard to put your finger on what makes Astral Weeks the perfect springtime album, besides the fact that it just bangs regardless of season. It’s the combination of many features. It’s the references to Van Morrison’s home of Northern Ireland naturally evoking images of lush greenery. It’s the aural aesthetic of his arrangements, with his unrefined voice sailing over simply-strummed major chords, exuding brightness and warmth. It’s more than a few specific lyrics like these from “Sweet Thing”: We shall walk and talk / In gardens all misty and wet with rain / And I will never, never, never / Grow so old again. 

Above all, the album boasts a sort of je ne sais quois — or in Morrison’s local parlance, some fookin’ shite — that floods the listener with feelings of hope and renewal. It samples from across the entire range of human experiences that give life the potential for contentment and meaning, even in the hardest times. It evokes memories of youthful, optimistic abandon that offer a welcome reprieve from the caution and anxiety that have burdened us for the last year.

Folks, it is categorically Astral Weeks szn. Act accordingly.

who is each song on evermore by?

  1. willow. this is a taylor swift song. 
  2. champagne problems. this is an unreleased train b-side to hey, soul sister.
  3. gold rush. this is a kacey musgraves song.
  4. ‘tis the damn season. this is an american football song, but it’s about phoebe bridgers.
  5. tolerate it. this is a mitski song.
  6. no body, no crime (feat. haim). this, inexplicably, is not a haim song. this is a chicks song.
  7. happiness. this is a phoebe bridgers song, but it’s after she’s been granted access to SSRIs.
  8. dorothea. this is an avett brothers song.
  9. coney island (feat. the national). this, fittingly, is a national song.
  10. ivy. this is a haim song.
  11. cowboy like me. this is a brandi carlyle song. 
  12. long story short. this is an alligator-era national song covered by fearless-era taylor swift.
  13. marjorie. this is a maggie rogers song written by lorde.
  14. closure. this is a st. vincent song, but like, stripped down.
  15. evermore (feat. bon iver). unlike exile, this is a bon iver song.


On Sunday evening, news broke that Justin Townes Earle—singer, songwriter, and son of alt country legend and The Wire utility man Steve Earle—passed away at age 38.

There was worse news reported on Sunday. And you can’t really say that JTE’s passing was unexpected—the man was named for Townes Van Zandt after all. But the world is a little bit darker today because a man who made things a bit brighter with his music is gone too soon. 

Mourning the death of an artist, especially one as untimely as JTE’s, often feels like an exercise in reflecting on what they meant to us. For me, Earle’s 2012 album Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now was one of the most impactful records I’ve ever heard by someone in our generation. 

In 2012, I was interning at Bloodshot Records, an alt-country record label with an otherworldly lineup of musicians who have come through its doors. This was not a company that expected to have interns, and I didn’t have much ambition for the job other than to say I got to do something cool and music adjacent (see the first sentence in this paragraph). So I ended up taking two trains and a bus every Tuesday afternoon in 2012 so that I could listen to Fresh Air and stuff media mail envelopes with records that would go out to buyers. That’s how I came across JTE: temporarily assuming title of a copy of Nothing’s Gonna Change from Bloodshot’s stack of CDs it sent out to college radio stations. 

The album sideswiped me. It is deceptively simple: 10 songs clocking in at 30 minutes. There’s so much space between the instruments in the mix, which allows you to practically hear JTE’s fingerprints sliding over the strings of his guitar. The drums sit comfortably in the backbeat, and every song has these beautiful, subtle horn arrangements that come in as cool as a breeze off the river on a humid Memphis night. Earle’s lyrics were vague enough to feel applicable to my own life: songs about quick calls home and half-hearted, self-serving apologies. All this is to say that the album sounded particularly good walking around campus at night, sneaking furtive, self-destructive Marlboro drags and feeling things. 

One of my pinnacle achievements in music (of which there are few) was playing with my band in the side lounge of the same venue where JTE was headlining. It was at a time when my performing dreams were still very much alive, and an artist like Earle made me think they were attainable. But it takes hard work to make simple songs sound as beautiful as he did. It’s easy for any asshole with a drinking problem to pick up a guitar. It’s so much harder to create something as emotionally resonant as Justin Townes Earle did. 

It’s fucked up that he’s gone so soon. And it’s fucked up that my way of remembering him is to think of what he meant to me, purely in the context of myself, and not to think of what his life was like on its own. 

It’s also notable how JTE shows just how much of our fathers we carry in ourselves. How our dads give us our name (“Townes” and “Earle” for Justin, as if one whiskey-and-cocaine-drenched chain wasn’t heavy enough to carry) and then give us the tools to deal with it, for better or for worse. How we take the good and bad from them in equal parts. 

For Justin, he built on his dad’s approach to songwriting—one that fused a traditional guitar technique and country feel onto modern subject matter—in a way that developed his own reputation rather than sit in father’s shadow. I know I’d rather listen to just about any JTE album than a Steve Earle record. I mean, just listen to that percussive way he fingerpicks his guitar here (my all-time favorite Bruce Springsteen cover) in a manner that’s clothed in decades of tradition but also 100% original.

But he also got the bad side of his two namesakes. The cocaine, the pills, the drinking, and the questionable facial hair. You don’t need to live like the people JTE wrote about to write such melancholy and honest songs as he did. But he tried. 

When you lay down to sleep that’s when it’ll hurt the most
When you wake up alone and still smell my smoke

Some stars are tragic, and we love them for it. JTE wore his tragedy in the tattoos on his forearm and in the grooves of his music. RIP to a real one.

The Spectrum of Autumnal Sad Music, As Drugs

Taylor Swift, folklorCBD
The National, I Am Easy to Find: Marijuana
Sun Kil Moon, Benji: Heroin
Sufjan Stevens, The Age of AdzEcstasy
Father John Misty, Fear FunCocaine
Phoebe Bridgers, PunisherLSD purchased from your neighborhood feminist co-op
Counting Crows, August and Everything After: Ibuprofen and white wine
American Football, American Football: Weed dust that’s been emptied onto a Pavement CD while you sit in your mom’s Corolla. 
Cannonball Adderley, Somethin’ ElseMethadone 
Elliott Smith, Either/OrKetamine
Bon Iver, Bon Iver, Bon IverMushrooms
Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: Revolution Anti-Hero IPA
Van Morrison, Astral WeeksSandalwood-scented incense candle

it’s offensive t-swift had to release folkore in summer

it’s ridiculous. preposterous. a miscarriage of justice? okay, not that far. but it’s pretty fucking bad. i’ll just say it: it is offensive that taylor swift, poet laureate and heiress to the stevie nicks’ throne of “forest fairy who also will wreck your life with a single song lyric”, had to release folklore, an obvious fall album, during the middle of this godforsaken summer.

let’s look at the facts:

  1. the song “august” clearly takes place in the past. knock, knock? who’s there? it’s still july you ingrates. i should be crying to this in september. 
  2. all of the photography for the promotion took place in a woodsy clearing. you know what sucks in the middle of summer? big, open, woodsy spaces. they’re too hot, and not appropriately moody. the amount of editing it must have taken to produce those photos is a travesty.
  3. “exile” required bon iver to come out of his annual summer hibernation, which is like inviting a vampire to an outdoor garlic festival at 1pm.
  4. say it with me: “cardigans are not summer appropriate.” 
  5. tears evaporate too quickly in the summer, and then you’re just sitting there like some puffy, sad salt lick.

now, i want to make one thing perfectly clear: i do not fault taylor swift for this, and not just because I fear her powers. taylor has managed to make us all feel a new flavor of sad during this hopeless summer, versus the standard lukewarm defeatist depression. no, i blame everyone who hasn’t worn their goddamn mask and every government official who decided that it would be supes cute to open businesses when we had “flattened the curve” at roughly one billion cases a day, because you created an atmosphere so devoid of anything to watch or do that our great cardigan goddess felt compelled to release this album now instead of waiting for a more appropriate season. she shouldn’t have had to do this. it is cruel, unusual, and seasonally inappropriate.

if there is any justice in the world, taylor swift will soon be releasing an album that, when played backwards, sends all of you back to the hell you crawled out of. for now, we’ll all just have to settle for knowing that, in the grand scheme of this hellpit summer, we’re all betty. 

the only correct responses to hearing folklore

it is the summer of folklore and we are *feeling* things. t-swift has dropped an emotion bomb, and while our response has been to sob into a decaying oak tree, that may not be your vibe. however, there are certain reactions to this woodsy attack on the heartstrings that are more appropriate than others. here are the twenty-three definitively correct things to do after listening to folklore:

  1. calling your high school ex, begging them to get back together, fifteen years later
  2. diving headfirst into a murky bog and proclaiming it as your new home
  3. screaming, “why don’t you look at me like you used to?!?” at your mailman
  4. renting a 2006 honda civic for an unnecessarily cramped make out session
  5. getting a bob, regardless of whether you have the face shape for it
  6. editing every profile photo you’ve ever uploaded to be black-and-white
  7. listening to early lana del rey and whispering and pointing out all areas where taylor has now done it better
  8. muttering, “i gave so many signs” whenever you’re asked to repeat yourself
  9. calling your high school ex to tell them you hate them now more than ever, then hanging up and blocking their number
  10. replacing all of your summer tops with cardigans and embracing the sweltering heat because suffering is love
  11. cyberbullying inez
  12. buying a baby grand piano that literally can’t fit in your apartment
  13. carrying out an illicit affair, but, like, sadly
  14. authoring a hamilton-esque chilean historical musical titled “my tears, pinochet”
  15. calling your high school ex and crying, “was it true???” over and over, at a higher emotional pitch each time, until they finally say, “yes.” it does not matter if they know what you’re asking about
  16. getting in a fight with bon iver
  17. installing a screen door in your fifth floor walk-up, just to be able to slam it
  18. saying “fuck” in dulcet tones
  19. increasing the thickness of various sweaters
  20. allowing august to slip away like a bottle of wine
  21. legally changing your name to betty 
  22. holding grudges, tenderly
  23. chamomile

how taylor swift avoided the lead single trap

as taytay has amassed wealth, fame, power, and cats over the last decade, she has been unable to escape one non-kanye-related nemesis: the first song released from her own albums. even as she churned out albums packed with chart-topping, introspective bangers, she seemed incapable of releasing any of those songs in the buildup to her album release.

instead, she continually opted for songs that could generously be described as “sonically foul” and which were wildly out of step with her actual albums. 

the most recent and galling example was a vile poptastrophe titled “me!” that inexplicably featured brendon urie, everyone’s third-favorite pop rock frontman. while lover itself was a delightful journey into the world of a young woman who feels it all coming together… “me!” was a terrifying descent into someone’s half-hearted and frankly reckless journey through the looking glass.

before that, there was the evil and wretched “look what you made me do,” a right said fred ripoff that would have been more at home in an off-broadway parody of the mean girls musical. reputation surely wasn’t as complete as her other pop albums, but from “getaway car” to “call it what you want” and “delicate,” there were plenty of more appropriate options.

and let’s not forget that the lead single for the world-altering, record-crushing, career-defining 1989 was, inexplicably, the entirely forgettable “shake it off.” this faux-empowerment anthem featured taylor claiming people said she stayed out too late (no one has ever thought you partied too hard, sorry tay) and ogling black women’s asses (take the video down, tay)—and was somehow selected from an album that featured, in no particular order: “style, “blank space,” “wildest dreams,” “style,” “new years day,” “clean,” “out of the woods,” “style,” “this love,” “style,” “how you get the girl,” “style,” and “style.”

but this time around, taylor managed not to fall into the same trap. so how’d she do it? she started by filling the album with only good songs, then didn’t release any as lead singles. she just released the dang album, let us vibe to it, and peaced out. 

and we are truly grateful.

Is Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” an Allegory for the U.S.–China Climate Pact?

Taylor Swift is having a moment. If you’ve been anywhere near an electronic device in the last month, this is no news to you. Her album 1989 debuted to critical success she’s never seen before and commercial success no one’s seen since Britney’s hayday. But if there’s been one knock on our pop star du jour, it’s that she’s a relative lightweight.

While Beyoncé samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s feminist poetry, TayTay sings about mean boys and fun nights and how old she is. Right? WRONG.

Turns out, T-Swift is using her noted lyrical prowess to comment on the great Issues Of The Day with biting analysis—we just haven’t been looking hard enough. And the proof is in her latest smash-hit single, “Blank Space.”

“Blank Space” has been praised as many things: a self-aware take on her “boy crazy” reputation, a strong repudiation of the stereotypes placed on women, a pure-pop cakewalk that’s easy to listen to and hard to forget. But what we’ve largely ignored is Swift’s intriguing commentary on the recent climate deal struck by American President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Right now you might be thinking, “What on EARTH is [name redacted for legal reasons] talking about, that makes no sense.” Or, you might be thinking, “Wow [name redacted for legal reasons] is so smart I’m glad I’m reading this.” If you’re thinking the second thing, you’re right. Let’s look at the lyrics to find out why:

Swift starts off with “Nice to meet you/ where you been?” as a way of politely chastising China’s absence from previous rounds of climate discussions. It’s as if she’s saying she’s happy to see China finally at the negotiating table, but there really is no excuse for their previous refusals to consider action on climate change.

In the next stanza she moves on to “New money/ suit and tie/ I can read you like a magazine.” Here she acknowledges that it has only been in the last half century or so that China has fully industrialized, and in the process has become an economic powerhouse able to rival and likely surpass the other richest countries. Plus—and this is really getting a bit weird—if you look at the attire both men wore while speaking to the press during Obama’s visit… it’s actually a suit and tie! Spooky!

“Ain’t it funny/ rumors fly/ and I know you’ve heard about me” is an interesting take on President Obama’s known hatred for leaked information coming out of his administration. She wryly calls such leaks “funny” while pointing out that China’s vast intelligence operation has likely already heard plenty. 

When she sings “So hey/ let’s be friends,” I’m 99% sure she’s actually just quoting President Obama’s opening line in the most recent round of negotiations.

“I’m dying to see/ how this one ends,” is one of the more macabre lines in the song and the lyric that makes clear where Swift stands on the issue of climate change. Always one to turn a phrase, she points out that we’ll all be “dying”—in flooded cities, burning hillsides and drought-ravaged plains—to see how HUMANITY ends if we fail to act.

One of her least subtle lines comes next: “Grab your passport/ and my hand.” Yes, Taylor, we understand that this agreement was hashed out on President Obama’s overseas trip last month, and that Obama and Jinping like holding hands.

But she’s right back at it with “I can make the bad boys good for a weekend.” China has long been the proverbial “bad boy” of climate change discussions, but over just a few days of intense negotiations, President Obama was able to make them “good.”

“So it’s gonna be forever/ or it’s gonna go down in flames” is a dire warning once again. Either both nations stick to this hugely important pact for the long run, or the planet literally runs the risk of being consumed by flames fanned by higher temperatures, more severe droughts, and increased lightning strikes.

When Swift sings “You can tell me when it’s over/ if the high was worth the pain” there are actually two reasonable interpretations. Either she’s acknowledging that reducing carbon emissions will be a painful process for an industrializing economy like China’s—and that there’s no guarantee it will be worth it—or she’s pointing out that for decades China’s carbon levels have been too high and that we are all now due for the pain that is sure to come as a result. I’m inclined to believe it’s the former, but you can form your own opinion on this one.

You can’t, however, form your own opinion on the next line: “Got a long list of ex-lovers/ they’ll tell you I’m insane.” That’s because there’s no doubt that Swift is using “ex-lovers” to mean allies, of which the U.S. certainly has a long list. Yet would any of us be surprised if allies like Germany, Brazil, or Israel would refer to America as “insane” in light of recent NSA revelations? In fact, perhaps only Great Britain among our allies would be willing to stick up for us at this point; but in Swift-parlance, that special relationship is more likely to be considered a “soul-mate” than an “ex-lover.”

With “Cause you know I love the players/ And you love the game” Swift offers perhaps her biggest critique of Obama. While he tried to lead through the sheer force of personality and likability, Jinping has successfully mastered the “game” and led China to economic strength and international acceptance that no other communist nation with such a frightening human rights record has achieved.

“Cause we’re young and we’re reckless/ we’ll take this way too far” references the knee-jerk reaction from many American conservatives who said that Obama—despite a term and a half in the White House—is an inexperienced negotiator who made a poorly-thought-out deal with China.

“It’ll leave you breathless/ or with a nasty scar” is actually a little bit rude. Referencing China’s devastating pollution and smog issues (which have been known to leave residents with asthma literally breathless) in a song about their new efforts to reduce emissions just seems like a low blow. The kind of blow that could leave a nasty scar, actually.

After referencing America’s “long list” of allies once more, she goes to the crucial line: “But I’ve got a blank space, baby/ and I’ll write your name.” If there has been one nation missing from climate negotiations in the last few decades, it has undoubtedly been China. Each time an agreement is drawn up, their space remains blank and the pledge remains unsigned. Finally, after years of trying, President Obama is ready to write in China as a partner in the fight against climate change.

“Cherry lips/ crystal skies” is a quick paean to the literally brighter environmental future the two nations share—though I would argue that “cherry lips” is rather offensive if it’s intended to describe Chinese traditional white-face-red-lips makeup, but hey, this wouldn’t be the first time Taylor’s been accused of cultural insensitivity. 

At the end of the stanza she dives into a bit more of a realistic take: “Wait the worst/ is yet to come, oh no.” And she’s right. Even with this historic climate pact and a renewed worldwide effort to reduce carbon emissions, we have already done too much damage. We can do our best to mitigate the effects, but things are bound to get worse before they get better.

“Screaming/ crying/ perfect storms” seems to acknowledge this further in startling imagery. Is this the future we want? Death? Destruction? Massive hurricanes wreaking havoc?

Yet just a few lines later she’s back to describing the negotiations, with a line sure to please both Obama critics and his supporters: “Darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” To fans of the president, this line encapsulates the success of Obama’s trip to China. He smiled for the cameras. He wore Chinese garb. He glad-handed the elites. But behind closed doors he took it to China, getting them to agree to a deal that could limit their economic expansion in order to secure a better future for us all. The president’s detractors are sure to read the line as an indictment of Obama’s attempts to use his charismatic personality to cover up a failed presidency. 

After this, she repeats the chorus a few times for emphasis (as if to say, “Do you hear what I’m saying, America? THIS IS ABOUT INTERNATIONAL CLIMATE NEGOTIATIONS!”), then Swift has one more line of interest: “Boys only want love if it’s torture/ don’t say I didn’t/ say I didn’t warn ya.” Here, she tees up what we can expect from her next album: a scathing critique of the ‘enhanced interrogation” techniques employed by the United States during the War on Terror and the flimsy legal justification used to permit such practices.

I think we’re all looking forward to listening to that, but for now we’ll just have to make do with what we have: a catchy ear-worm of a pop-hit that doubles as a well-researched take on the U.S.-China climate agreement.