shuffle: The Magician
words + playlist: Zoë Madonna
The Fool aspires and dreams. The Magician gets ready to make those dreams reality. The Fool explores the world with innocent curiosity. The Magician shapes it with confidence. When the Magician appears in a tarot reading, they’re sending a message about power: the power you have, don't know you have, or that you might be misusing.
I have a pretty large collection of decks, but my personal favorite Magician is not yet in my collection, because the deck isn’t out yet. (Less than a month to go!) Pictured here is Raven, of Emi Brady’s Brady Tarot, flying with an arrow in his talons.
The sky blazes around him, the river runs under him, the mountain rises behind him, and his home is in the air. And so he commands the elements on the wing. He’s selfish, mischievous, and he knows how to command the elements that are bigger than him and put those to work. He knows that when we reach out and pull those into ourselves, we can do things we never could alone.
Some decks show the Magician as a wizened Gandalf the Grey or Dumbledore type, but I prefer young Magicians because it more easily conveys the point that the Magician does not know everything. In this stage of the Fool’s journey, the Fool is still embryonic, and I see the Magician more as a trickster than a wise teacher. (The Fool is not a trickster. The Fool doesn’t have any reason to trick people, and couldn’t even if they wanted to.)
When a song is about getting shit done with confidence, or it motivates you to get shit done even if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s Magician time.
Peter Gabriel - “Sledgehammer”
“Sledgehammer” announces itself with a mystical flute and then a bang of horns. How magical is that? The video is pretty magical itself; to film it, Peter Gabriel lay under a sheet of glass for 16 hours while the team painstakingly took every shot of the stop-motion sequence. Also, check out those dancing rotisserie chickens. Nick Park, who later created Wallace and Gromit, animated those himself. The chickens went bad during filming because of the hot studio lights, but that didn’t stop the video from being MTV’s most played of all time. What the Magician does is hard work, but the end result looks effortless.
M.I.A. - “Paper Planes”
Peter Gabriel and M.I.A. synthesize many different styles of music into their unique sounds just like the Magician synthesizes elements. “Paper Planes” melds classic punk music, hip-hop, dance, and Indian music into an amateur hustler’s bop, swaggering and self-possessed. Nothing else on the radio sounded like it when it came out.
Partner - “Everybody Knows”
Speaking of hustling, there’s the Canadian band Partner. Josée Caron and Lucy Niles: two Canadian tricksters writing sunny, angsty songs about finding “a sex thing” in your roommate’s room, high school gym crushes, and in “Everybody Knows,” getting so stoned that you’re sure the whole world can tell. A fuzzy squeal slides through the speakers, followed by a barrage of Letters to Cleo-style punky-sweet guitar as a hook. Josée comes in full of breathy tang, and Lucy, who would be the hype woman of the band if there was one, ends the phrases with her bandmate, adding an extra punch. Then Lucy slurs through her verse, adorable and disaffected. (Everybody knew Lucy was high when I saw them play. She told the crowd herself with a proud grin slapped on her face.)
Waxahatchee - “Never Been Wrong”
If there’s one thing the Magician isn’t, it’s subtle. And heavy rock music with female vocalists make me feel very Magician. There’s still lingering sexism in the rock world about what people who aren’t cis dudes are and aren’t supposed to play, and how they are and aren’t supposed to sound. And with their sound, Waxahatchee says “fuck that.”
Bent Knee - “Land Animal”
This track is on this list for one of the same reasons as “Never Been Wrong,” as well as the fact that this voraciously talented crew sounds and looks like absolutely no other band out there. When they play live, I can’t look away. They ride those rhythmic twists and turns, they sweep you up to ride along, and it seems like it takes no effort on their part. The bassist, guitarist, and violinist always look like they’re having the times of their lives on stage. And I've interviewed them before: they don't take themselves seriously at all, which you wouldn't expect for people who work with such technically complex, demanding music. It’s different, it’s sexy, it’s fascinating.
Skeletons in the Attic - “Dance With The Dead”
If I were a Pokémon Gym Leader, this would be my battle music.
Isosine - “Radioactive Swimming Pools”
This makes me feel like I’m ready to command a room. Taking two separate things, making them one - that’s what the Magician is all about, and Isosine makes mashup magic. This isn’t available on Spotify, so check him out on Bandcamp.
Gorillaz - “DARE”
Gorillaz has fascinated me since I was 12. The team created a gritty, whimsical, and dark world of art, music, mythology and secrets for a band that doesn’t even exist, exploring the new possibilities offered by the Internet to draw people in. Now that was some magic.