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FKA twigs WRITES HERSELF A MIXTAPE

FKA TWIGS – CAPRISONGS

(image taken from Pitchfork)

Dear Deliverance,

Caprisongs, the 2022 album by FKA Twigs, brands itself as a “mixtape”. I should explain, for people with romantically untroubled adolescences: A mixtape is a collection of songs recorded usually on cassette tape. Traditionally, the mixtape is arranged by one listener of music for another; it is an act of communication. (A stereotypical phrase describing this: “Hey, I made you a mixtape!” ) Of course, the analog format of the mixtape has been upgraded from cassette to CD to digital and to virtually infinite ways of sending it through your cellphone, e.g. as a list you made on Spotify. And yet, gifting an analog mixtape is probably a gesture that will survive notionally through the ages.

The term ‘mixtape’ today implies a lack of cohesion in content; it’s the opposite of a “concept album” which is thematically focused on a particular idea.[1] Twigs’ Caprisongs benignly deceives us into thinking that it’s a ‘mixtape’, while in truth it is very much a concept album: It’s a collection of inspirational letters to herself which she allows us to listen in on. At the same time, she leaves the object open to interpretation; maybe her vague ‘you’ is referring to the femininity is us, i.e. the listeners, and not herself. (If the listener dislikes their feminine side they’re probably wasting their time here.)

A mixtape is a diachronically powerful move in flirting. It is evidence that you’ve devoted time and effort just so that this other person (who currently seems magical) will have a brilliant listening experience. And at the same time, as your musical choices are ‘keeping them company’ like radio produces like to call it, your one stone kills a second bird: you get the chance to insert secret messages in your track choices; inside jokes, heartfelt lyrics that might or might not be directed at the listener of your mixtape, and other codes that you wish your receiver will care enough to try to decipher. Flirtatious easter eggs. (And like the incisive Chris Krauss has written, “isn’t every letter a love letter?”) Whoever resorts to music for communication has something or other which they’re unable to express by way of words; like the ineffability of attraction. I believe flirting is one important parallel between Caprisongs and the concept of the mixtape: it is often flirtatious—even though not necessarily erotic.

In the album’s first seconds (song title: ‘ride the dragon’), we can hear a cassette clicking into play, and then some underwater synth piano behind low-pitched vocals, and then: Twig’s voice, with inviting and ethereal production, enters the mix to tell the listener in unambiguous terms,

“Hey, I made you a mixtape…”

Twigs essentially highlights the fact that she has arranged these songs for the benefit of the listener. This seems too obvious, and yet it is meaningful for her to repeat: Twigs passes her music out as a mixtape in order to remind us the plain thing we tend to forget: that, behind this communication process, there’s always an author and a reader. Consider, also, that Twigs has also written and performed these songs, so this puts her in a rare place as creator of a ‘mixtape’ in pop music. Then the next two lyrics,

Because when I feel you, I feel me
And when I feel me, it feels good

are preluding the album for an audience (‘you’) who lives in symbiosis with the artist (‘me’) in order for both to attain happiness. (“feel good”).

During the album’s 48 minutes there are many skits where Twigs (or someone who sounds like her) discusses life casually with their friends, but in a celestial and zodiac context of profoundness and universality. In many songs, Twigs urges her listener/herself to allow free self-indulgence although maintaining self-respect; she advocates for a decadence that fosters something ultimately wholesome.

“Throw in the fire
Ego in the fire
I’ve got a love for desire
I’ve got a pain for desire

But when I’m winning, I’m a flier
Soprano in the choir
I’ve got a love for desire
It gets higher and higher”

The album brings to my mind the futuristic ultra-femininity (of almost cyber-punk flavor) employed by artists like Doja Cat in her glistening audio/video ideas and productions (see tracks: ‘Need to Know’ and ‘Kiss Me More’). Twig’s sonic atmosphere in Caprisongs takes this femininity a step further, and adds the element of the eerie.

If we adopt Fisher’s intriguing definition of the ‘eerie’ as something that is there while it shouldn’t be–or that isn’t there when it should be–we can think of Twigs’ album as being ‘eerie’ because it addresses some higher power which is unseen yet is always there and moves the world (i.e. much talk about zodiac sign; in a skit, a friend tells her “the universe is so powerful”). The universe becomes a Fisherian presence, an entity that lurks benignly behind her music’s futuristic soundscape and promises a better life to those who crave to be free.

Verdict: An album to either get intoxicated to, or have a very clean sort of experience with.


[1] In some rare occasions, concept albums depict such a clear story and/or setting that they resemble more of an audio movie than an album. There are old examples (Pink Floyd – The Wall) and new examples (Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.a.a.d. City) of this.

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Translation: The New Sincerity

Σε περίπτωση που δεν αρκεστήκατε στην μετάφραση του δοκιμίου ‘E Unibus Pluram’ του D. F. Wallace, σας παρουσιάζω την μετάφραση ενός άρθρου πάνω στο δοκίμιο. (#meta). Βρείτε εδώ την μετάφραση σε τρία μέρη.

(original article by Adam Kelly)

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Translating D. F. Wallace:

E Unibus Pluram:

Television and U.S. Fiction / Τηλεόραση κι Αμερικανική Λογοτεχνία


Here’s the translation in parts: / Ορίστε η μετάφραση σε μέρη:

Part I – Act Natural/Φέρσου Φυσικά

Part II – The Finger/Το Δάχτυλο

Part III – Meta-watching/Μέτα-θέαση

Part IV+Part V – Guilty Fictions+I Do Have a Thesis / Ένοχα Λογοτεχνήματα+Θέλω Όντως να Καταλήξω Κάπου

Part VI – Image Fiction/Λογοτεχνία Εικόνων

Part VII – Irony’s Aura/Η Αύρα της Ειρωνίας

Part VIII – End of the End of the Line/Τέλος του Τέλους της Γραμμής


I am immensely proud to have translated this glorious, creepy, mind-boggling, and deeply sensitive essay. In it, D.F. Wallace bypasses more conceptual layers of reality than any one of us could ever think of.

Many thanks to Culturebook.gr and my teacher and mentor T. Kotopoulos for hosting this translation; many thanks to the Wallace estate and their generosity for granting me publication rights.

Below are some thoughts.


TRANSLATOR’S THOUGHTS:

To the best of my (and my colleagues’) knowledge, this is the first translation of the essay ‘E Unibus Pluram’ in Greek. This makes me happy for two reasons. The first is pure vanity/childish bliss; the athlete’s joy of cutting the ribbon with the momentum of his body, if the race time was unspecified and the race track unknown.

The second is the pure magic one gets to experience when translating something previously untranslated. I didn’t know this. Never before had I seriously interacted with the Greek readership, and not at all in non-fiction terms. All my life my readings have been primarily in English, so I’d never thought about what it would be like to be unable to read something in English. (This had concerned me only passingly, when I wanted to share a reading with non-English-speaking friends and there was no translation available, or there was only a bad one.) But now, I realise that to translate something for the first time is to give a chance to your fellow natives to read what they previously couldn’t before. I’m probably overstating the importance of my deed, but I sincerely feel awe at that prospect.

Maybe it’s because this essay, in my opinion, is so necessary and true. And it has remained untranslated for 30 years. This probably has to do with the essay being impossibly long, dense, convoluted, and at times just weird, or simply because it speaks (or seems to speak) to American audiences. I know this won’t be a hit in Greece, or anywhere for that matter, since it’s an essay too academic in nature. I know most people won’t bother. No matter; 30 years is a long time to remain untranslated, and now the time has come. (God, I will be very embarrassed to discover some previous translation.)

The essay, as I’ve said, is pretty long, so its publication will be split in eight parts; one every fifteen days. See you at the finish line; wiser, weirder, and more concerned.

Love,

Manos


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Publication: Guest Blog Post (@sgsahblog)

(TWIMC: When I set up this website, I vowed that I would keep it up to date. This is never as easy at you think it is. After quite some time of definitely not keeping it up to date, I post this new publication of mine with the goal of working backwards to all the things I haven’t posted.)


I’m actually quite proud of this publication, since it’s my first English publication. It’s a blog post of mine published in SGSAH’s blog. Take a look, if you often feel paralyzed standing at the crossroads of choice:

Happy new year,
Manos

Publications (List of)

[2021]

  • Short Story | ‘Διχασμένος’ (trans. ‘Split’) in Crime & Horror, vol 5. My story featured as the title story for that volume.
  • Postgraduate Conference (UoDundee) | Interdisciplinary Forum (UoDundee) |  Presentation: ‘This is your brain on Autobiography: Detective Fiction, Neuroscience, and the Self’

[2020]

  • Interview | Greek literary blog Θεματοφύλακες Λόγω Τεχνών.
  • Flash fiction | Greek literary Website, Culture Book. | Story Title: ‘Πλατεία Περιστεριών’
  • Poetry contest (1st place) | Greek poetry contest ‘The Kiss Venture’ | Poem Title: ‘Αλάτι στα Μάτια’.
  • Flash fiction | Emblematic Greek literary Magazine ΕΝΤΕΥΚΤΗΡΙΟ, vol 120-121. / Story Title: ‘Συμπληγάδες’.
  • TED talk transcript Translation | (English to Greek) | As a volunteer for MAPS, I translated Rick Doblin’s talk titled ‘The future of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy’.
  • Poetry translation | (Greek to English) | Esteemed Greek literary website Culture Book, Two poems by Triantafyllos Kotopoulos for the 3rd Patras Poetry Festival.

[2019]

  • Flash fiction | Greekliterary magazine Book’s Journal, vol 94. / Story Title: ‘Μην κάνεις πως δεν ακούς’.
  • Reading | Short storyreadingin ‘8η Λογοτεχνική Σκηνή’ festival, organized by the emblematic magazine ΕΝΤΕΥΚΤΗΡΙΟ.

[2018]

  • Short story contest (1st place) | Greek contest, published in respective anthology (ISBN 978-618-5271-75-6).

[2017]

  • Short story contest (unranked distinction) | Greek contest, published in respective anthology (ISBN 978-618-5278-04-5).

[2016]

Short Story Publication (@Culturebook)

Read the short story here, titled Pigeon Square.

This short story feels happy to be accommodated alongside its peers, written in turn by my peers, some of whom I’ve met through my studies in Creative Writing. Also, let’s not ommit Alexandros Myroforidis, my first teacher in detective fiction, also known as Inspector Alekos. Inspector, I salute you.

Three Poems, by Manos Apostolidis (Publication @Φτερά Χήνας)


Read the poems here.

But before you do, let me express my gratitude to Giorgis Saratsis, editor and owner of Φτερά Χήνας (Goose Feathers), the beautiful and elegant literary journal that hosted my poems. Apart from his hospitality, I’m also thankful to Giorgis for a thought he shared during a private conversation of ours, a thought on poetry. I cite my translation of his words below, with his consent.

“Let’s write simply, that’s the only rule. Let’s write only when we have something to say. We usually don’t. The universe is brimming with self-referential empty words. Even triteness can at some point be read, or sound good—but at some point it tires us out. And we all live in a tired literary scenery. In short, if poetry isn’t (or doesn’t become) a philosophical meditation, then it isn’t poetry. Oftentimes the reverse is also true. I’m not talking about didacticism. I’m talking about verse and its reason for existence.”

EDIT: Many thanks to Dimitris Troaditis in Melbourne and his literary blog tokoskino for re-posting.

“The Sugar Rush / The Constant Hush”: Lyrical Worldbuilding in Big Thief’s Capacity


This is an album review—of sorts. Good luck.


INTRODUCTION: MY PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE ALBUM

Feeling as if I’ve sat through infinite variations on the theme of Indie Folk Group (guitars, voice, bass, drums), I was fascinated to find myself fascinated by Big Thief. The organic sound of their album Capacity (2017), which I would have otherwise dismissed as respectable yet obsolete, [i] somehow captivated a part of me I didn’t even know I had.

What is it that made Big Thief exceptional? Countless hours of practice? Talent in the magnitude of millions? Academic education in music—which all four band members share—in one of the world’s foremost colleges? (Berklee.) Maybe a miracle of production and sound engineering? I really wouldn’t know. I was brought into their Capacity world after listening to the song ‘Pretty Things’. First time I gave the whole album a listen, I was underwhelmed. After a few more listens through and through, although I didn’t dislike it, I was still uninterested. Months had to go by for me to give it another go—craving to hear ‘Pretty Things’ in a long drive, then letting the rest of the album play. But this time something inside me was magnetized. Today, a few months and dozens of listens later, I’m led to writing this article.

For most indie folk albums, my personal metric of success is sonic intimacy; when I’m listening to them play and, if I close my eyes, it feels as if I’m there beside them in the studio. In Capacity, instead, Big Thief takes me to a hyper-room of their own design, where laws of nature have been slightly bent for my benefit. The overall experience resembles the buzzing sweetness of a “sugar rush”, mixed with the saltiness of tears.


[i] Let’s face it, fellow guitarists: this is the age of… synths! (Cue in: Ominous electronic music).


INTRODUCTION: THE ALBUM’S OWN HISTORY

Capacity came out in 2017. Big Thief’s debut was Masterpiece (2016),an album that made quite the critical splash: Tracks warm but also vibrant and sometimes all over the place, lyrics of shocking imagery and swooning beauty, solid rock moments of good-old fun, and, finally, a touch of darkness. In contrast, Capacity was much more contained; it was also immeasurably poetic. Then, in 2019, followed two albums—both in the same year—which the band describes as related: U.F.O.F., with a title that reveals the album’s strangeness and simultaneous relatability, and Two Hands which is the more forest-y relative. Both of them enjoyed many favorable reviews, and, in my opinion, deserved every word.[ii]


[ii] Sometimes, I wonder how come these guys aren’t more famous. How come they’re not the center of every indie folk discussion today? To be fair, though, Big Thief probably already enjoys as much fame as their genre allows. They have gathered an impressive list of accolades. For example, here’s a list just for Capacity.


THE SUGAR RUSH / THE CONSTANT HUSH

Vital to this article—I say, well aware that it probably doesn’t reflect the reader’s opinion—are the lyrics. Adrianne Lenker, singer and songwriter for Big Thief, builds autofictional worlds of rare, if not singular, beauty. Below, you will find me elaborating on the lyrics disproportionately, sometimes at the expense of music. That’s because, for me, lyrical content is the focal point when experiencing Capacity.


MUSIC

In no way am I trying to undermine the role of sound in Capacity. The Brooklyn-based quartet boasts masterful musicians.[iii] Each instrument is present subtly but never lacks substance. There is no fluff and flourish in the licks. The players never call undue attention to their persons, and they seem well acquainted with silence. In instances, there is electrifying dissonance in the soundscape, but nowhere exaggeration.

Surely, when giving credit for sound, it would be unfair to omit the band’s producer, Andrew Sarlo. Either way, in Capacity, the band gives its listeners a sense of absolute control in what it’s doing—a band on top of its game—, and the subsequent success in the underground scene only validates this assumption.


[iii] The following is pure speculation, but I can think of two ways in which the band was influenced by their Berklee studies: a) Their academic training blended perfectly with the art and craft of their raw folk indie sound. b) Said training offered a signpost for a place they wanted to stay far away from. Either way, formal studies—especially in an institution of such high status—must have been seminal.


LYRICS

Here’s where the really interesting part begins for me. (Here’s also where it probably ends for you, reader.) Here come the lyrics.


NAMING

Lenker hardly ever leaves her characters nameless: Mathew, Evelyn, Hayley, Mary, etc. This is a pattern we find not only in Capacity, but also throughout Big Thief’s discography, with the protagonist’s name often giving the track its title, or occupying its first lyrics. Yet, it seems as if the characters are named with no agenda. The names rarely (or never) carry symbolic meaning. On the contrary—regardless of whether they refer to real people or not—, it seems that their purpose is to inspire mundane life into the characters; to make them real like our friends and family are real. The name of you father or your sister rarely expresses deeper etymological truths about that person’s essence, or their role in your life. And still, those magic syllables ring in your ears with special significance.


HIERARCHIES DECONSTRUCTED

Track #7, Mythological Beauty, is the story of the singer and her young mother. According to the autobiographical lyrics, her mom gave birth to her at 22; arguably, a girl herself. Thus:

“There is a child inside you who’s trying / To raise a child in me”.

This convolution of motherhood between child and parent, almost recursive in nature, perfectly encapsulates Capacity’s deconstructive approach to hierarchies of two.[iv] For example: Mother-Child (see ‘Mythological Beauty’), Stalker-Victim (see ‘Watering’), Pureness-Deflowering (see ‘Black Diamonds’), and above all else: Feminine-Masculine (see ‘Pretty Things’, which gets a separate section below).

Through Lenker’s introverted “sugar rush” / “constant hush”, reality is re-examined. Her stories display an infinite, borderline psychedelic, potential for revisiting the human condition.


[iv] The album cover of Capacity is a photograph of Lenker as a newborn baby, held in her uncle’s arms. Her uncle is 14 years old at the time, and looks uncannily like adult Lenker—and also like the baby in his arms. Note that the uncle is, well, male. Arguably, it is the perfect cover photo. If, by any chance, you make it to the end of this article, return to that comment and reread.


ESTABLISHING IMAGERY

The first three songs perfectly demonstrate Lenker’s talent in literary creation: To construct whole worlds with laconic lyrics as her building blocks. At the same time, these songs conveniently establish for us the recurring themes of Capacity.

#1. ‘PRETTY THINGS’ (or what I call: THE FEMININE)

It all starts with the darkest and loveliest song of the album, which could be read as a statement on femininity, masculinity, and their intertwining. For some, the feminine and the masculine are two sides of a coin; for others, they’re ends on a spectrum. ‘Pretty Things’ views the two terms more like points on a mobius strip.[v]

The male protagonist, represented by the name “Mathew”, finds nurture and warmth in the violence he wreaks while making love to the singer. She in turn croons: “I will warm you” and “I’ve got lips like sugar”. At the same time, she warns,

“Don’t take me for a fool / there’s a woman inside of me / there’s one inside of you too”.

In Lenker’s next lines we find honesty, beauty, ugliness, and gender role philosophy:

“There is a meeting in my thighs / Where in thunder and lightning / Men are baptized / In their anger and fighting / Their deceit and lies / I’ve got lips like sugar.”

The singer incarnates total subjugation, and yet it is evident that, if there ever was a hierarchy between the feminine and the masculine, then she is the one in control. And if this hierarchy feels paradoxically entangled—the two terms on top of one another—then the last line deconstructs the hierarchy completely. The singer lets us in on the secret: namely, that “She”, meaning the woman present in both of them, “don’t always do / Pretty things”. But if there’s a sinister side to that woman, and there’s also a woman inside the man… And so on, ad infinitum. [vi]


[v] Incidentally, that was also Pitchfork’s simile of choice for the guitar lines in U.F.O.F.

[vi] Notably, depending on the perspective, the last line could also be read like a veiled threat.


#2. ‘SHARK SMILE’ (or what I call: LOVE AND DEATH)

The second song/story is about two women[vii] and their reckless road trip: One is the singer; the other is “Evelyn” with the “shark smile”, intriguing and inviting. The singer is unable to resist her. They run off together in Evelyn’s “yellow van”.

In ‘Shark Smile’, the magic of worldbuilding can be narrowed down to an utterly simplistic chorus:

“…And she said woo / Baby / Take me… / And I said woo / Baby / Take me too…”  [viii]

Every chorus is the same, and the musical vibe remains upbeat and feel-good throughout the track; a generic indie-pop affair. But it’s the verses that set the story up in a certain way, so that the choruses with each repetition end up painting a bleaker picture.

In the first cycle, Evelyn the “vampire” finds our singer in a “bad time”, and the latter wants nothing more than to run off with her. In the second cycle, it is Evelyn who is having the “bad time”, her shark smile turning into a “part” one, doing 90 mph in a “dead end dream”—still, they ask to be taken by each other. In the third one, on the peak of this wild fling,[ix] comes the bloody climax: The car crashes and Evelyn dies a gory death, by being “impaled”. In the final repetition of the chorus, once again the women ask of each other: “baby, take me”—but this time, arguably, Evelyn asks to be taken back to the land of the living. Our protagonist, having had the misfortune to survive, asks to be spirited away alongside her dead lover.

The blood—of Evelyn, or of the singer, or maybe there’s no difference at all—is a recurring theme in the album. In ‘Shark Smile’, its (implied) presence represents death; in Mythological Beauty it’s innocence and motherhood; in Watering it’s sensitivity and lust. In those crimson droplets, I find Lenker’s all-encompassing worldview reflected: the feminine and the masculine, life and death, the universe.


[vii] Here we assume that the singer-character is herself female, which might be a problematic assumption in an album like Capacity, where gender and sexuality are so fluid. The singer constantly refers to her person as “I”, leaving her gender vague. However, there are some indirect clues, like in ‘Pretty Things’ (see “there is a meeting in my thighs / where in… men are baptized”).

[viii] If there are sexual undertones in the line “take me”, one can only guess—and I guess that there are.

[ix] The singer tells us that “Evelyn’s kiss was oxygen”.


#3. ‘CAPACITY’ (or what I call: THE UNIVERSE)

Then, of course, there’s the homonymous song, ‘Capacity’. I found the core of this song summed up in a story Lenker shared in an interview. Lenker had a friend, a short story writer and novelist, whose head constantly brimmed with a hundred stories. When Lenker asked her how? —how did she retain all that information? —her friend answered that she believed humans had an infinite learning capacity (and thus the origin of that lyric). Lenker rejects a life obsessed with details; like her friend, she lets the stream of the universe flow through her.

‘Capacity’ is an otherworldly song. This quality becomes most evident in the final verse, where the singer offers us an image seemingly unrelated to the rest of the story, which stands apart like a painting in a movie frame.

There is a castle that stands / High in the canyon / The blue knights are crying together /
A child is holding my hand / She is directing / The red crystal pine with a feather.

It’s not just the content of the song that is otherworldly, but its origin as well: The verses, according to Lenker, are actually based on a dream she had. Nevertheless, there is great sense to be found in its non-sense.

In the second verse, the song breaks the centuries-old convention of lovers being petty and possessive towards each other. The singer recounts: “slipping away from the party / totally vacant / everyone gone from their bodies”. And then, outside, she finds her lover “kissing another”. Even worse, it turns out that the woman receiving the kisses “was a friend” of the singer. And yet, instead of picking a fight, or suffering an emotional breakdown, the singer hugs the guilty and describes her as “a beautiful figure”. Then, in the chorus, an almost psychedelic epiphany descends upon her:

“There are no enemies.”

Not to say that everything is blissful in the story; there is darkness around the light of the lyrics. For example, Lenker recognizes that she is “lost” in her lover’s “captivity”, and that they’re “make-believing everything”. A pessimistic note. Yet the overall sense is not one of imprisonment, but one of brilliant catharsis. As Lenker states in the first verse:

“Flight is a beautiful word / Flowered with consonance / That’s what I’ll follow / Forever.”


A BRIEF[x] RECAP FOR THE REST OF THE ALBUM

‘Watering’ tells the story of the singer being followed home by either a very sensitive stalker, or her role-playing partner who relishes in hurting her.[xi] ‘Coma’, with its mesmerizing intro, imagines the waking up from, well, a coma, which I interpret as an ode to body and memory. The tracks ‘Great White Shark’, ‘Objects’, and I’m tempted to include ‘Hayley’ as well, are less direct: they have a great sense of rhythm resembling children’s songs, but the lyrical content is vaguer than the rest of the album—indie variants of beat poetry. ‘Mythological Beauty’ (the emotional centerpiece of the album according to Pitchfork, is a love letter from Lenker to her post-adolescent mother. The closing track, ‘Black Diamonds’, with its atmospherically distorted guitar in the chorus, discusses, among other things, the vicious cycle of losing and taking virginity.

Finally, even though I refuse to single out any track as my ‘favorite’, I must admit that ‘Mary’ is for me the most remarkable. Either in its soft studio version, or in its groovier live version, ‘Mary’ is a track of staggering beauty where friendship transcends platonic love. Lenker’s slow flow weaves words into a lullaby-inducing pattern; a flowery lyrical outburst which never fails to move me, even when I can’t logically grasp it. The universal stream, the one that began in the title track ‘Capacity’, here turns into a river.


[x] The brevity feels almost profane in its reductionism, but I grit my teeth and write on.

[xi] Somehow, Big Thief manages to turn this disturbing scenario into one of the album’s most gorgeous songs, with warm wailing guitars and vocals.


VERDICT

This is an album to fall in love with. This is an album to buy in vinyl format even though you don’t own a turntable. This is an album that could double as a book of poetry.


RATING

10/10