Let’s Eat Grandma I, Gemini

[Transgressive; 2016]

Styles: “she is like a cat in the dark/ and then she is the darkness”
Others: Kate Bush, Willow, The Marble Index

There was panic when we first heard the noises. We craned toward the wood, heard drones and echoes, the stomps of a black mass shoving its bulk through a rotten jelly and then… twin handclaps. Girls laughing. Girls screaming. There was panic, but there was wisdom: “There is prodigious danger in the seeking of loose spirits. I fear it, I fear it. Let us blame ourselves and—” the noises got louder. Palms on drums, flutes from an older, less certain world, a honking phantom wrapping its gnarls around trunks. Our wisdom dried up and panic reigned: “There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires! Find the sound and the witches, find them, and burn them.” And we tramped out into the woods looking for sounds, wondering, really: what were we out into this wilderness to find?

Not witches. Not really. Witches, like all the things we find in the dark and in the wilderness, are a grappling mechanism. Witches let us talk about other things; witches let us avoid talking about any things. The witch is foreign and migrant, invader and accused, the fever pinpoint of the abode’s “low-flying panic attack.” The witch is the crack in stability, the second-class citizen that scraps back. In The Witches: Salem 1692, Stacy Schiff boils it down: the witch is the woman, and Salem is the first and maybe last time women occupy the central role in an American story:

Salem touches on what is unreal but by no means untrue; at its heart are unfulfilled wishes and unexpressed anxieties, rippling sexual undercurrents and raw terror. It unspools in that fertile, dreamlike expanse between the uncanny and the absurd. There had been New England witch trials before, but none precipitated by a cohort of bewitched adolescent and preadolescent girls.

We move to make others of our long-dead Massachusetts cousins, the accusers and the judges who seem like monsters to us. But we also move in a world where we still make others of women and our witches: why do we only listen to girls when they start to shriek?

Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth are the teenage conjurors of I, Gemini. They shriek and enchant and they possess, like Abigail Williams, an “endless capacity for dissembling.” Those twin voices shriek out at the end of “Chocolate Sludge Cake,” but not before the slow-burn of medieval recorders and the saccharine-murk harmonies of the girls cooing all sweet treats they’re going to bake you into. It’s Hansel and Gretel jabbing a finger at their witch, smiling, “let’s eat grandma. ” That’s the name of the band, a prank on language, a lyric from “Deep Six Textbook,” but it’s also a statement of intent: I, Gemini is an exorcism of youth, pointing at grandma’s history and consuming it, an echo of pop’s past and an ahistorical shriek of arrival.

“Chocolate Sludge Cake” is too long by half, a cauldron of musical moments that all assert themselves as the most essential sound ever made. It is half-cooked and confident and emblematic of lots of the songs on I, Gemini. “Deep Six Textbook” is all twinning, a collision of fake organ and human hands clapping time, of two voices burying each other, of the hit of the drum and the sound of its echo. The song works, as washing goth-pop, a song you can chew. “Let’s Eat Shiitake Mushrooms” adds xylophone and electric guitar to that false organ setting, cracks open into blurbly club beats and Walton and Hollingworth rapping. The girls commit to every single syllable, snap off the hook — “And he was never invincible/ And he was never predicable” — before immersing those shrieks in another verse. It does not work and it is thrilling and it is a mess.

You could diagnose I, Gemini as a frustrating text, a scattershot indulgence that only occasionally succeeds as a collection of songs: it is. But something about levying that weight against it feels too close to our ministerial Salem cousins, the ones who disregarded and then disappeared people because of things they didn’t understand. The thrill in the fabric of I, Gemini is spun by its youth, by Walton and Hollingworth’s endless jumping across instruments and genres and aspirations, in the thrill they get from being free. Like the way we talk about witches, I, Gemini imagines pop music as a safe space for girls to assert vision and identity. There’s vision in “Welcome to the Treehouse,” in the twinning contradictions that suite-structure skims out of songs and there’s identity in the self-quotation of “Uke Six Textbook.” And there’s “Rapunzel,” a genuine chamber piece that imagines the fairy-tale character as a real girl (“My cat is dead/ My father hit me/ I ran away”) and then asserts a real girl’s existence (“I hate my name/ And I’m not that Rapunzel.”)

Rapunzel was at the mercy of her witch, locked in a tower, separate and less than the rest of the world. But texts like I, Gemini and The Witch, voices like Stacy Schiff and Abigail Williams, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth remind us that the witch is both parts of that story, a twinned expression of celebrating and estranging female agency. “A group of young, disenfranchised girls unleashed the crisis, displaying forces no one could contain and that disturb still today,” writes Schiff, “which may or may not have something to do with why we have turned a story of women in peril into one about perilous women.” Women and witches and Let’s Eat Grandma still move in a world in peril. “Witches can be right” and girls still shriek because they must.

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