HiRUDiN, Austra

HiRUDiN, by Austra
Domino (2020)
Rating 4.5/5

Buy Online / Stream on Spotify

Austra is a band that will always be important to me. I discovered them on YouTube on Qtv 2011 performing “Beat and the Pulse” and I was instantly electrified. The video signalled a renaissance in my taste in music that was long overdue and induced a shift away from the gloomy European metals bands that I had been enjoying all through my teenage years. That video, which I feel confident I must account for at least a quarter of the views of, started me down a rabbit hole that I continue to descend upon even today. It is hard to believe that I have been enjoying this band for almost a decade. They have consistently been one of my top played artists every year since then, and I suspect that trend will continue. 

Austra’s fourth album HiRUDiN does not disappoint in the forward trajectory that Stelmanis has been forging for the band’s sound. This is a record full of addictive melodies, beautiful and at times dissonant vocals, vast textures, and it feels a lot more emotionally involved than its predecessors. Austra’s tried and true melancholy atmosphere, vocal harmonies, and classical elements are front and center on this record, but it also takes chances and deviates away from what I have come to expect–like new vocal effects, a children’s choir, and brighter sounding instrumentation. Making for new sounds from the band that are rooted in the foundations of their past work. 

The highlight of the record, for me, is the feeling that it is imbued with. While I do not know if it actually is, this record feels a lot more personal and vulnerable than Austra’s previous releases. Songs like “All I Wanted,” “Your Family,” and “Messiah,” have intense moments that are beautiful and harrowing. These moments are emphasised by music that is pulsing and swells and diminishes with feeling, and that is a perfect compliment to Stelmanis’s fraught vocal performances. There is also an interesting contrast at play in many of these tracks where the music presents moments that feel like genuine joy and the vocals sound fragile and dark. All of this together not only makes for tracks that are catchy, and, at times, very danceable (“Anywayz” and “I Am Not Waiting”), but beyond that, they are extremely interesting and have sonic and emotional textures that make each track worth listening to over and over again. 

Another aspect of this record that I appreciate is that it takes risks. Stelmanis has a very unique voice that has always been central to Austra’s sound, not only through her singing the lyrics, but also the way she uses vocalization to compliment the music. Without any altering she has a very distinct sound, and to me, it was a risk to alter the vocals the way that they are in some tracks. Largely, however, those risks pay off and add emotional textures to a record that already has a lot of feelings. At the same time, I do not love all of the altered vocals on this record. I saw Stelmanis explain that she thought that they added vulnerability to some of the tracks, and on songs like “Your Family” I think that that is true. But, for me, it had the opposite effect on the chorus of the lead single “Risk It.”

It wasn’t until my third or fourth listen through of this record that I started thinking of it as the band’s greatest triumph. I think that it is a record for the die hard fans in that it stays true to sound central to Austra’s identity to this point. That is not to say, however, that this album rests on its laurels. It takes chances and tries to open up in ways that previous Austra records have not. I can’t help but think that this might be the first Austra record that turned out exactly how Katie Stelmanis wanted it to. As a fan, I am proud to see the musical evolution that occurs here, and while I look forward to spending countless hours with HiRUDiN, it has me even more excited to hear what the next Austra record will sound like. 

If you’re looking for a record that is true to the emotional landscape of relationships in the age of the internet, this record is for you. If you like Kate Bush-like dissonance in your vocal lines, this record is for you. If you’re a fan of vocal harmonies and minor keys, this record is for you. If you’re looking for an introduction to Austra, this record is for you. 

Like cheese and wine, art can be best when consumed together. Why not try In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado with this post.  

“Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” Kelly Link

“Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” by Kelly Link
From, Stranger Things Happen (2001)
Rating 5/5

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In “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” a man writes letters from the afterlife to his wife. He tries to remember her name, or any connections he had to the world of the living, but all he can think of is the names of people and things that he knows are dead. He thinks of how if he could just remember her name his situation might improve. In his letters, he confesses, not only the things that he has done wrong to his wife, but also to the love that he feels for her, and to other things that he has done in life that have made him feel guilty. All the while, he explores the place that he is trapped. The story is an interesting examination of place, guilt, memory, and self-discovery.

When I was younger I used to love reading anything epistolary, but, especially in adult fiction, you do not see much. In “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” however, Link uses the form to its full advantage. Reading this story is an exercise in discovery, not only for the reader, but for the narrator as well as he tries to reason out what is left of him as a person. Link manipulates the form to give herself plenty of room to build up the world around the story. This gives readers a chance not only to discover the world around the narrative character, but it also gives them a chance to flesh out the protagonist in a more intimate way. While this certainly isn’t on the epistolary novels that I enjoyed as a child, it does make exciting use of the form that is well worth checking out.

This story is fraught with emotional tension and a sense of unknowing that makes for a macabre read. The monster at the heart of this story is guilt, but the protagonist cannot face his guilt directly because he cannot put a name to it. Yet, through his letters to his wife he is still able to explore aspects of it as fleeting glimpses. This gives the story forward motion from start to finish and allows it to maintain a high level of intrigue while also taking topics that have become rather commonplace in literature—infidelity, death, bullying—and presenting them in a way that feels completely new and fresh. 

If you’re looking for a horror story where the monster is self, then this story is for you. If you want a study on the afterlife, this story is for you. If you’re looking for an impeccably crafted and compelling tale, this story is for you. 

BONUS: Listen to “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” on Pseudopod (read by Ansom Mount)

Like cheese and wine, art can be best when consumed together. Why not try “The Dream,” by Bourbon Princess with this post.

The Edweird World Show Episode 01 “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” by Octavia E. Butler

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We’re so excited to be launching our monthly podcast The Edweird World Show featuring our Editor-in-Chief, Edward, along with co-hosts Alicia, Candice, and Sveta. Each episode we take a deep dive into a short story and share our unadulterated opinions about the stories plot, characters, themes, and anything else that crosses our minds! This week, we’ll be discussing the short story “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” by Octavia E. Butler. If you would like to suggest a story that we discuss, or if you would like to be on the podcast to discuss your favorite short story, reach out to us here.

This episode’s discussion featured mentions of the following:

Read “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” by Octavia E. Butler, online.
Bloodchild and Other Stories,” by Octavia E. Butler
Warm Bodies,” by Isaac Marion

Like cheese and wine, art can be best when consumed together. Why not try Octavia E. Butler discussing Science Fiction and Fantasy at UCLA with this post.

“Death by Landscape,” Margaret Atwood

“Death by Landscape,” by Margaret Atwood
From, Wilderness Tips, Anchor (1998)
Literary Fiction
Rating 5/5

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In this story, Atwood examines a coming-of-age moment gone wrong. She pulls upon the levers of independence and liberation and batters them with the notion that there will always be experiences outside of our control. The story features a woman named Lois, who is old enough that her children are grown and that she is a widow, but she is consumed by a moment that happened when she was a teenager at summer camp. This obsession manifests itself in the form of an art collection that she has arranged on the walls of her retirement apartment to look like a European gallery. All of the art features vast landscapes and vistas, but when Lois looks at the paintings all she can see is the thousands of places that represent a traumatic moment at summer camp.

If you are familiar at all with Atwood’s work then the poetic prose will not come as any surprise to you. That is not to say that this story feels dense or hard to follow, but that it is not negligent when it comes to the details. Through language, it does a great job of portraying Lois’s connection to nature, both when she is a child, and after the story’s climax. This culminates in a disquieting portrayal of Lois’s trauma that makes this tale feel very much like a ghost story, though there are no obvious supernatural elements. Atwood’s use of language is masterful in this one, and worth studying. 

The narrative of this story focuses on two characters with similar names, Lois and her best friend (during the summer at least) Lucy. Though Lois and Lucy are cut from the same cloth, Lois defines them by the ways that they are different—for instance a maid is at Lucy’s house every day of the week and only at Lois’s house a few days a week. When they go the greater portion of the year without seeing one another, Lois is shocked to see how much Lucy has changed, but is sure that she has not changed—or that she could not possibly have changed as much as Lucy. While Lois looks past the similarities of her and her summer best friend, when Lucy is absent from her life it becomes so much of a  burden to her that she feels that she must live for that absence. What I can’t help but to keep considering is where Lois’s emotions are truly eminentaing from.

Another piece of this story that I cannot keep myself from mulling over and over again is the way expectations play out against reality. While it is not a prominent feature of this story, it is one of its many layers, and one that speaks to me on the most personal level. At thirteen, like so many adolescents, Lois’s life has been about structure and control—which has seemingly never been hers. The canoe trip—which is meant to be the climax of her camp experience and symbolize her passage into adulthood and responsibility—merely presents the illusion of breaking out of this pattern, but at thirteen Lois cannot see this. When the canoe trip gets ruined, Lois seemingly becomes trapped in that gray space that the river represented between her childhood and adulthood.

If you’re looking for a story that will bleed into the cracks of your mind and stick with you, this story is for you. If you’re looking for a story that twists a coming of age moment and turns it on its head, this story is for you. If you’re looking for a ghost story that is more psychological than supernatural, this story is for you.  

Like cheese and wine, art can be best when consumed together. Why not try “Hello Scotland,” by EF with this post.

“The Ladies of Grace Adieu” Susanna Clarke

In celebration of Susanna Clarke’s forthcoming novel Piranesi, her first in over fifteen years, we will be reviewing her entire published catalog over the summer. Susanna Clarke’s work is beloved by the blog and we cannot wait to jump into it and share it together—and we especially cannot wait for her new book! Over the next few weeks we’ll be featuring reviews of the short stories from The Ladies of Grace Adieu, read along and let us know what you think!

“The Ladies of Grace Adieu,” by Susanna Clarke
From, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, Bloomsbury (2006)
Rating 5/5

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Women and power are in the forefront of this fantastic tale. Taking place in the same world as Clarke’s New York Times bestselling novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the story revolves around three women, the Ladies of Grace Adieu, who take control of their own fates. The women are all content with the trajectory of their lives and are diligent in doing the song and dance of appearing normal, but when a few new men enter town—among them the famed magician Jonathan Strange—the ladies take action to secure their way of life and show the might of magic in the hands of a woman.

While this story does not require reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell to understand and enjoy it, it does enrich the novel’s world and enforces the struggle that some of its characters (I’m looking at you Strange) are grappling with. Even without the novel, this story fills out its characters and the history of the moment that they are in alike. The result is a layered story that can be read once for pleasure and then be read again and again and again to construct the pieces that are before you. 

What I find most enduring about this story is the way that it resists the fantasy trope to make female protagonists purely wholesome creatures who would sacrifice themselves to change one leaf on a tree from changing in the fall. While there is a place for these characters, it is not in this story. “The Ladies of Grace Adieu” features a trio of women who are made multidimensional by the “unpretty” decisions they make in the name of their autonomy and survival. For instance, Mrs. Field did not want to marry Mr. Field, who is double her age, but she knew that it was what was expected of her, and also that it grants her a degree of security that allows her to pursue her other interests with the other ladies. 

The Ladies of Grace Adieu are not just women who pretend to go with the grain, however, they are decisive women who are not afraid to take action to protect what they have worked to build. They use what is at their disposal to deal with the obstacles that present themselves—unfortunately for their enemies, the weapon the Ladies of Grace Adieu have is magic. Free of consternation, they wield magic to do as they please and they will not be told otherwise. 

If you’re looking for a magical tale of empowered women, this story is for you. If you’re looking for a story full of rich history and dry humor, this story is for you. If you’re looking for a story that would be perfect to read before bed, this story is for you. 


Like cheese and wine, art can be best when consumed together. Why not try “Spellwork,” by Austra with this post.

7 Places to Read Short Stories Online

Are you interested in short stories but don’t know where to start? Do you need a break from your daunting TBR pile? Do you need stories to listen to during your commute (thank you), while you’re doing the dishes, taking a shower, or hiding from the rest of the people in your house? We’ve got you covered with these seven places to read (and listen to) short stories online!  

This speculative fiction magazine posts new material online every week. They strive to show a global and 21st century perspective of speculative fiction. They feature fiction, poetry, non-fiction, podcasts, and art.

Head over to Strange Horizons and check out “Inventory,” by Carmen Maria Machado.

Tin House is a name you’ve likely heard before, but did you know that every Friday they post a new piece of flash fiction? It’s a great place to start reading flash fiction.

Go peruse the catalog over at Tin House, and while you’re at it, start with “Alien Hunters,” by Dylan Brown.

A big name in the literary world, The Iowa Review features both established authors and the established authors of tomorrow. Celebrating fifty years of publishing, there is a reason they have been around so long. The magazine features fiction, poetry, non-fiction, translations, and photography in the 3 issues they publish yearly.

Want a story to help you dive into The Iowa Review? Why not try “Frosted Glass,” by Gabriela Garcia.

Looking for something a little scarier? This horror podcast has been producing audio horror stories for nearly fifteen years! They post new episodes every week. Warning, this content is for mature audiences only.

To have your life changed, check out “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” by Kelly Link (and read by Anson Mount) on Pseudopod.  

This podcast brings you writers reading their short stories and is the next best thing to going to a reading at your local bookshop. Features big name authors like George Saunders, Joyce Carol Oates, and Zadie Smith. They post new episodes every week.

For a proper introduction to The Writer’s Voice from the New Yorker, check out Garth Greenwell reading “Harbor.”

This science fiction and fantasy magazine has been producing content for nearly fifteen years. They post new issues monthly that feature interviews, articles, and fiction, and they also have their own fiction podcast.

Dive into Clarkesworld with “Things with Beards,” by Sam J. Miller.

The oldest publication on this list, Granta, from Cambridge University, has been in business for over one hundred years. This literary quarterly review is known for its “Best of Young” issues which have introduced a plethora of eminent voices.

For a taste of what Granta has to offer, check out “Days of Awe,” by A.M. Holmes. 

Like cheese and wine, art can be best when consumed together. Why not try my personal concentration playlist with this post.

Creative Inspiration and Finding Your Voice as a Writer with Margaret Atwood and Ira Glass

This is a video meant to help writers and artists find a source for their inspiration while navigating the difficult terrain of creativity.

Margaret Atwood “Why do you write?
Margaret Atwood’s Top 10 Rules of Writing
Ira Glass “The Perpetual Struggle to Find Your Creative Voice.

Like cheese and wine, art can be best when consumed together. Why not try “Running up that Hill,” by Kate Bush with this post.

“Worse Things,” Jenny Irish

“Worse Things,” by Jenny Irish
I am Faithful, Black Lawrence Press (2019)
Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5

Read Online / Buy Online

In this riveting short story, an unnamed narrator keeps track of the small success that granted her independence while also keeping an eye on her distant social circle. To support herself, the narrator runs a phone scheme preying on vulnerable women providing phony testimonials for an all but certain to fail small business starter kit. Still, as the title says, there are worse things. Setting aside the harm she does to strangers to survive, the narrator attempts to be a nurturing presence to those who are physically near her. 

What most shines in this story, is the way it weighs discomfort against security in many of the relationships it portrays. The women in this story, while not all on the streets, are in much the same situation as the homeless girl—they know where they could sleep, but they do not know how temporary that situation is, or what the cost of admission that day might be. This story boils down to the adversity born of putting those things against one another on the scale and shows the depths that are so easy to slip into in the name of survival. 

A fascinating aspect of this story is the role that distance plays in it. Particularly, how physical presence switches on the narrator’s empathy. When a person is near her—the homeless girl, the gothy neighbor, her boss, Lix—she tries to take care of them. When there is a distance in her relationships, like with her mother, she is capable not only of forgetting, but also manipulating and betraying. 

Something I have observed in reading Irish’s work is the way she favors anonymity when it comes to her narrative characters. In this story she continues to experiment with that, but in a new way. While the narrative character is never given a name, she does slip into the personas of her fake testimonials, Crystal and Mary, so easily that they themselves become characters who inform the reader about the worse things the narrator must do to survive. 

If you want to read a story about surviving at any cost, then this story is for you. If you want to read a story with complex relationships between people and between the narrator and empathy, this story is for you. If you want to read a story that you will continue to contemplate after its conclusion, this story is for you. 

Bonus: Check out my interview with Jenny Irish at The Spellbinding Shelf.

Like cheese and wine, art can be best when consumed together. Why not try “Machete,” by Amanda Palmer with this post.