5 min read

Florence + the May Sheen

A twisting elm tree photographed from beneath its canopy, looking like a dancer arching her back against the sky.

Dear Friends,

During this month of May I had a perfect week. It was not this past week, which has been very difficult (we're OK), nor the one before that, which was probably largely fine. The week beginning on Monday, May 9, lives in my memory as one long lifting of my heart, this ribbon of warm days and golden light and ripening green, and I'd like to tell you about it. It was a week during which I left the house every day and did something entirely for pleasure, for indulgence, on no schedule except that of my joy. It was hot enough to swim outside in shockingly cold water, repeatedly, three days in a week; to drive to Chelsea for ice cream; to walk in the Gatineau park and lose my heart to trilliums; to celebrate the reopening of a favourite taco truck, and to go again; to walk in old haunts, haunt old walks, without feeling a loss or a pang.

This perfect week reached its apex on Friday, May 13, with the arrival of Florence + the Machine's Dance Fever, the band's fifth studio album. I'd been looking forward to it as an ecstatic event for months, playing each pre-release over and over until they wore grooves in my brain. That Friday morning I woke early, put headphones on, put my phone in Do Not Disturb mode and went out for a walk in the park with the album.

Bright yellow goslings clamoured around their parents. Trees brimmed with cool green light. Everywhere pushed forward the tender velocity of spring; this irresistible freshness, this fragility and power, butterfly wings still wet from chrysalis. The sticky, tangy scent of broken buds in the air mixed with warm wet earth, with leaves on water, with the voice of a woman who seems, every album, to tell me the story of myself at that precise moment in time.

Whenever I look forward to an album so much that I absorb every new single into my body like a sacrament, those songs form their own small record in my head. I listened to "King," "Free," "Heaven is Here," and"My Love" in that order for weeks, and the sequence of them was a kind of clenched fist, not wholly unlike a bud building towards its own release. Walking in the park, listening to the album burst and bloom out of that knot of songs, giving and receiving, something of Ada Limón's "Instructions on Not Giving Up" echoed in me:

I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

There's a specific kind of feeling I personally refer to as "is this revelation or is it my thirties," and this album – judging purely by the comfortingly feral catharsis my closest female friends and I are all experiencing from it – refuses that false dichotomy. There's a scrawl of lyrics that scaffold the story of my engagement with it – thoughts about mythology, futurity, art and violence and insufficiency – and since I experience Florence + the Machine's albums like novels, sinking into the narrative lyricism of them, their self-conscious aesthetics that are so thoroughly, viscerally my own, I thought I'd surface them for you here. Apologies to everyone who skips the italicized poetry in fantasy novels.

I need my golden crown of sorrow, my bloody sword to swing
I need my empty halls to echo with grand self-mythology
I am no mother, I am no bride, I am King

but for a moment, when I'm dancing, I am free

I listen to music from 2006 and feel kind of sick

I used to see the future and now I see nothing

Heaven is here if you want it

I couldn't help it, yes, I let it get in
the helpless optimism of spring
worn out and tired and my heart near retired
and the world bent double with weeping
and yet, the birds begin to sing*

Saw the future in the face of a daffodil

*this is where I started crying, this bait-and-switch in "Daffodil", Florence Welch's fluting ethereal voice feathering at the edges before crashing into loam and roots and a sly hungry beat.

I listened to the whole thing through and then some as the heat of the day came on, and took sweaty, dramatic photos against a charismatic river rock while unbeknownst to me a pair of mallards dabbled near my head. I was unavailable to anyone and everyone but them. And then once I'd thoroughly indulged myself, photographing the green and the river and the tangled swoops of my hair as if they were all the same thing, I went home, carrying the hazy golden cloud of music with me.

Every day of that week was a kind of opening to new wonder. I was aware of it, too – aware of thinking I should write about it, I should pin it in place with words, I should mark the revelry of my feelings. I did in texts to friends and helpless conversation with Stu, marvelling, over and over again, at how good it felt to feel good.

angled from above my face, a photo of me lying against grey stone with my eyes closed, my very long dark hair in wild snaking coils around my head, dappled sunlight at my throat. Wireless headphones are visible in my ears.

Please feel free to tell me about the music that makes you feel this kind of pattern-matching to your own life – or just tell me your favourite Dance Fever tracks, and/or, if you're Spotify-enabled, which of those songs has Chosen you.


  • I have a new column up at the NYTBR! It's a double-length one, covering seven books: And Then I Woke Up by Malcolm Devlin, Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White, Her Majesty's Royal Coven by Juno Dawson, Spear by Nicola Griffith, Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel, In a Garden Burning Gold by Rory Power, and The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah. I hope you find something to enjoy among them.
  • Ada Limón has a new collection of poems out called The Hurting Kind, which I'm very eager to get my hands on, especially having read this utterly beautiful interview she did with Nicole Chung.
  • Tochi Onyebuchi, a genius and wonderful human whose work and conversation I deeply enjoy, has just launched a newsletter, and I highly recommend subscribing to it. In this first offering he talks about what happens to the act of writing when people start paying you for it, and I found myself just nodding along in sympathy throughout.
  • The Nebula Awards were last weekend, and in addition to the excellent works of literature being honoured there, Petra Mayer was posthumously awarded a Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award. I contributed to the ceremony in a very small way by recording some remarks about her for it, and Petra's dear friend Liza Graham accepted the award on her behalf. Writing and recording my own words was very difficult, and felt wildly insufficient; in trying to write something I could read on camera without my voice cracking I found myself splitting the difference between formality and feeling. But as soon as Liza started speaking – with all the vivid warmth and love I wanted to access but couldn't seem to record – I felt like Petra was there among us.