“I can tell you stuff / that makes you stronger. /
That lets you forget."

One of the reasons I wanted to start writing this blog again was to write about things I really like and one thing that I like a lot is GHOST RINGS by Half Straddle.

Half Straddle's GHOST RINGS Trailer from Half Straddle on Vimeo.

I saw the show last October at New York Live Arts and I bought the record (compiled from live performances during the NYLA run) as soon as it came out. It moved me deeply and so I wanted to write a reaction / review of it. I think it's probably my favorite record of 2017. I’m calling it early. They're going to tour it again soon. The album is released by 53rd State Press on delicious pink vinyl. Imaginary candy.

There's going to be a record release show June 16th at Pete's Candy Store.

I so rarely feel like I like new music. In that Richard Russell profile in the New Yorker he talks about how people are so stuck in their ways that they don’t listen to new music.
Most people, he suggested, eventually lose the impulse to discover new music, “because of what’s going on in their life.” He went on, “I suppose that doesn’t matter—you can listen to old shit. And that’s O.K. as well. People get a lot from that. But they’re missing something. Because, whatever it is they’re into, that thread’s right there, in something being made now.”
GHOST RINGS feels like new music that I can get into and I don’t get into a lot of new music. I mean this in the best possible way, but “Big Woods” sounds like a mid-90s sort of hip-pop pop admixture that I really needed when I was a teenager and I’m glad to have it now. It’s also the best title for a song I have seen in a long time. I always knew Erin was a good rapper but this song blew my expectations away. There’s a lot here.

Ghost Rings Excerpt, "Hellock's Brimble" from Half Straddle on Vimeo.

I first heard this song when Erin performed it as part of one of her solo shows at Joe's Pub. It stuck with me, especially the lines "It so could be real" and "all the Darkness you can bear".

I have such a crush on Half Straddle and it's thrilling and somehow not too surprising that it became a band, you know? I've already written about the time I saw a girl sneaking into a performance of Half Straddle's Ancient Lives.

Erin Markey leading a riot grrrl band is verging on a wet dream for me. It's a fantasy I couldn't ever declare out loud. And it's so obvious and perfect. Here’s how I imagine it came together: Tina wrote the story and the lyrics and Erin and Chris wrote the songs with her words. I’m making this up/guessing. I’ve been a fan of Erin for as long as I’ve known her and I’ve never heard her voice sound as amazing as it has over the last few years. I think because she’s singing more songs that she wrote. She has an amazing instrument and unfortunately a kind of ceaseless focus. She seems like she can always go more places, vocally. And now she makes songs where she gets to. She sounds amazing on this album and it shows off many (but not all) of her best tricks.

I mean everyone sounds amazing. I love Chris Giarmo. We danced in a Ballez performance together and I think we may have played drag bills together but I’ve seen him perform a lot and have always been intimidated by his talent particularly because he’s also very sweet which I find disarming. The songs they made are really wonderful. Tina Satter's thought process is inspiring and fearsome I was really into this interview she did about the project. It's funny to me that she describes this project was exploring virtuosity, because of course I took this to mean musically. And it is, it's insanely ambitious and technical and riveting and probably really hard to make and execute. But for me the sucker punch, the one-TWO effect here is that behind the sonic experience of facility is the emotional virtuosity. The use of great force and finely honed skill to articulate a frailty, a faltering quality. This skill and force and power of the musical chops are used in the service of describing an emotional experience that, to me, feels like a loss.

You can be strong and you can be beautiful and you can sing better and more wildly and louder than every before but you can't make them hear. You can exceed yourself but you can't make yourself into them. You can show them everything, but they still leave.

I feel cracked open by these songs, dressed up by these songs. Like someone comes to collect you before you go to a nightclub and they have good makeup, the perfect mix to listen to. A bottle of rum. I guess my one critical feeling is that I don't love the phrase spirit animals. I do, though, really love the puppet alter ego characters that the ones in this show represent. They feel like gifts. A sort of avatar of responsibility. Like how I imagine it might feel if your parents give you a car when you're a teenager. Or a pet. "It's a lot of responsibility." I'm a vegetarian; I love all animals. All animal voices. All animal desires. All animal romances resonate with me. I know how the beasts want to be together. I recognize that feeling from GHOST RINGS.

The show kind of feels like it's a secret message, but of course it's not. It couldn't be. It's about Tina and her sister. It's about Shawna and Samantha. And the baby. But it feels beautiful because of how conspiratorial it is. I love that they're not mad at each other, they love each other, but they know they can't travel arm in arm. They know they can't go together so they call out to each other from across the distance.

I desperately want that- a sister. An imaginary friend. A band from scratch. A powerful voice. Gorgeous outfits. A story. The thing of imaginary sisters. That the story is about someone you love leaving, wanting different things. Loving someone and being unable to keep them. It’s not just about sisters. I mean it is but it’s also different.

Like a hypothetical band, a side project, and imaginary project. And because of its putative imaginariness it’s so much better than any real thing, any real band or true human relationship. The fantasy is always so much more perfect than the real thing. And the memory, the story of the fantasy, the songs that incorporate the fantasy and the disappointment of corporeal reality, the band that you make about the story is so much better. It can go anywhere. You can write songs and those can be the story, the heavy lifting.

Listen to "I Love That."

... I mean, yes, sisters but I guess also it’s about drag too. In the sense of writing songs using someone else’s words, someone’s voice, someone’s melody. And singing about a whole other person. Speaking for/as. Imagining a shared understanding. That’s sisters and that’s also drag queens (or what I think drag queens is) but it’s not drag sisterhood. The love that exists outside of time/life, the perfect world of the imagination sister wife. When someone you love becomes everyone you love, when you love someone as much as and maybe sometimes more than yourself.

“8 ways to see us / 9 to die. / It’s all connected / it happens when you cry.”

I haven't cried in many years but when I listen to GHOST RINGS I feel as close to crying as I've come in a long time.

I've wanted to cry for so long and these songs feel like release. Or like cumming. Like when you feel yourself falling, turning inside out. Tiny, intimate, nuanced feelings. Things you'd need to invent a secret language to expressed. They're talking about these feelings and they made a band about them and they're belting. They're harmonizing. They're playing in there there. It's as if an attic room is finally opened and it's so much bigger than you thought, bigger than the house it sits atop of.

When was the last time I felt like this? Maybe seeing Khaela Maricich perform for the first time, sandwiched in between Dear Nora and Mirah. This would have been in 2001? 2002? At the 40th St Warehouse in Oakland. Khaela was performing as The Blow, but very recently. She was still selling CDs with her precious band name, Get The Hell Out Of The Way of the Volcano. And I was about to graduate high school as move to New York, though maybe I didn't know this yet. I felt transitional. Her songs felt like they were in a time capsule to me from the future. I saw a way to see the hard, funny, sad, huge, overwhelming and unspeakable feelings. And to sing them, get through them.

It's not like I'm jealous even. The way I am with so many other things. So often when I love something I think (sometimes subconsciously) "Oh I wish that I wrote that". I listen to music at the gym and I fantasize that I'm the one singing, playing the music. Or I'll see a movie or TV show and wish I was the actor. Wish I was the character. It's a quirk of my narcissism. I was literally raised by performers but I'm also a queer person into art and stuff so we have to read ourselves into the world. But with GHOST RINGS I don't feel jealous. I don't project myself into the music or read myself into the text. With GHOST RINGS I find some part of me confirmed. I find myself validated, reassured. The part of me that didn't know he needed to be seen, spoken, sung and made real.

Something about the size, the shape, the pink record also made me think of this Pussycat Trash 7" I rediscovered this weekend.

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