By Mia Hughes
If we take the definition of ‘art’ to be an outward expression of a piece of one’s soul, or heart, or whatever brain chemicals make us feel things, then vulnerability is inherent to art. Art is opening oneself up, allowing the inside to become the outside. That vulnerability can be masked, though, like a messy wound beneath a Band-Aid – hidden behind peppy melodies or pretty colours, so that at the glance of an eye or ear nothing below surface level is revealed; so that, if they so choose, anyone can glide through it without holding their breath and plunging any deeper. Petal’s Magic Gone does not allow that choice.
Kiley Lotz – Petal’s vocalist, songwriter and lone permanent member – has a way of writing songs as if she is turning herself inside out. She wrenches out the love and loss and anxiety and pain that would otherwise sit inside of her and presents it as she found it, raw and exposed. This is the backbone of Magic Gone, a collection of songs that are achingly and delicately beautiful in their vulnerability. With everything at surface level, they feel fragile, as if a heavy-handed touch would send them tumbling, but Lotz doesn’t possess such a thing. Her grip on each song is somehow iron and ethereal at the same time.
‘You could barely drive when I said / I don’t fucking care anymore,’ she sings on ‘Comfort’, an honest and devastating glimpse into a relationship falling apart. The strum of an electric guitar is the only cushioning between her pain and the outside world, and it’s impossible not to feel it; it’s in her voice, in the chords behind it and in every word that she sings, not a one wasted. ‘God, won’t you stay with me?’ she begs, her desperation palpable. ‘I can’t survive without your touch.’
Lotz’s vocals, rarely backed by any more than a single guitar or piano, are the pillar of every song. Her voice shifts from soft, delicate, as if on tiptoes, to powerful and intense so easily that it seems less like a human effort and more like a natural force; a wave on which every ounce of emotion and pain is swept along. In ‘Something From Me’, she dips to a near-whisper as she sings over forlorn piano chords: ‘It’s the silence after I finish washing the dishes / It’s the afterthought that I might be your best friend’. And then, later, strength gathers in her voice and the volume rises as if with a newfound confidence: ‘It’s the way that you slick back your hair and run your fucking mouth’. The song reaches its climax with a stunning belt (‘I see you’), one that simultaneously carries triumph and surrender.
So great is the power commanded by Lotz’s voice and words alone that moments of full instrumentation act as an accent rather than a support. There’s an enormous emotional potency in the titular refrain of ‘I’m Sorry’ as it’s sung over a lone guitar; it becomes transcendent, though, when in the last quarter of the song a full band crashes into life just as Lotz relinquishes the last syllable. ‘You are my star,’ she cries over pounding drums and guitars, a new kind of life breathed into her already poignant words. Meanwhile, the biggest emotional punch of the album is served as the closing track ‘Stardust’ explodes into its final chorus, having been brought to the boil from its opening piano backing with steadily rising instrumentation. The song is Magic Gone’s masterpiece, a masterfully served amalgamation of every stroke of genius Lotz has delivered along the way; from that cathartic final chorus, to the powerful emotional journey in her vocal performance, to her beautifully heartbreaking lyrics (‘Maybe we’d make good parents / Maybe not / I can’t say I didn’t love you’).
‘Better Than You’, which served as the album’s lead single, is the only song in which Lotz’s emotions don’t feel entirely open to the elements. A full band is featured for the entire song, a rarity on Magic Gone, and for the only time on the album’s run Lotz’s vocals and lyrics aren’t the sole focal point. The song is built around a storming riff held up by crashing drums, bookending an impeccably catchy chorus. But still, Lotz isn’t hiding. ‘Maybe if you were harsh / Maybe if you weren’t you / People would seem to care about what it is you even do,’ she sings as the chorus bursts into life, a reflection on insecurities and the struggle to find acceptance as an artist. ‘Maybe if you tried harder to pretend like you didn’t love it – but you do.’
That is the crux of Magic Gone: these songs, it feels, were not written for anyone. These songs are the baring of Kiley Lotz’s soul, with all of its devastating beauty and pain – to listen feels almost like to eavesdrop. If the purest of art is vulnerable and intimate and raw, then Magic Gone is art at its finest.