Every album tells part of the story of the artist who made it. An artist grows and changes over time, and the period when they’re writing an album is linked to what goes into the music. Even if it’s a concept album, the artist chose the stories and themes contained within for a reason. The best albums not only allow the listener to understand the artist, but also let the listener draw meaning, feeling, and lessons that can apply to their own lives and journeys. When I talked to Petal‘s Kiley Lotz in April, she shared her journey coming out as a queer artist and growing into a more confident and assertive person and artist. That personal journey has been captured in Petal’s second album Magic Gone, a fantastic album that builds on Petal’s sound and reveals stories we can all learn from.
The new, assertive Petal is evident from Magic Gone‘s opening track, “Better Than You.” From the jump there’s a full-bodied guitar riff that rips along at a quick tempo, immediately jolting the listener to attention. Listening to the lyrics, that’s entirely the point, as “Better Than You” is Lotz’s message to rude and disrespectful concertgoers who talk over her set. Lotz has a wonderful voice, a voice that always conveys her emotions and thoughts with crystal clarity. Across all of Magic Gone that voice goes through a huge spectrum of emotion, and on “Better Than You” there’s a satisfying fire Lotz gives to her words. Who among us can’t learn from speaking up and demanding the respect we deserve?
That invitation into Petal’s world continues on the second track, “Tightrope.” As the name implies, “Tightrope” evokes lots of images and themes of balancing a life, and Lotz’s upper register is on breathtaking display as she sings over the satisfyingly punky drums and guitar. Here is a good place to mention producer Will Yip, who supplied inspired and perfect production on Magic Gone. Every instrument, vocal line, harmony, and flourish is expertly stiched together, always showcasing what needs to be heard to the listener. For example, the subtle key change that happens in “Tightrope” leads to a slightly warmer, more hopeful sound, which perfectly matches Lotz’s story of growing into herself. An album can live or die by these small details, and Lotz and Yip have mastered them in writing and execution.
This level of detail is sustained throughout the whole album, on the punkier songs and the slow, soft moments of Magic Gone. “Shy” starts off quietly, with just Lotz and a slow, mournful guitar. As “Shy” progresses more and more tiny riffs, musical ideas, and instruments are added until Lotz is belting over a blooming musical expanse. “Something From Me” is Magic Gone‘s piano ballad, and Lotz can croon and bring the tears to listeners’ eyes as well as anyone out there. The title track combines the best of all of it, with a biting riff that nonetheless remains subdued, and Lotz singing some of the most personal and revealing lyrics about her journey, telling us that while it can be tough, exploring and embracing who you are and standing up for yourself is always worth it.
Magic Gone is wonderfully cohesive and consistent throughout its 10 songs. Some songs naturally hit higher peaks (“Better Than You,” “Carve,” and the absolutely beautiful “I’m Sorry”), but there’s not a bad song in the bunch. There are barely any “just good: songs, with most qualifying as great. From the instant intensity of “Better Than You” to the last notes of the quietly confident “Stardust,” Lotz never wavers in the delivery of great music and the telling of her story.
Kiley Lotz’s story is a moving one, the story of a person finding who they are and completely owning it as they grow and mature. Magic Gone puts that story into music in a way that’s illuminating, thoughtful, expressive, and put to some of the best music Petal has ever produced. Magic Gone is Lotz at the peak of her musicianship and is an absolute must listen, as you owe it to yourself to hear Petal’s story.