Kristin Witko's 'A Course in Miracles' Is a Mirror and a Telescope

BY Leslie Ken ChuPublished Jul 3, 2024


"We're grotesque, but we're feeling right at home." Those were the closing words Kristin Witko spoke on her 2019 debut album, the refracted pop suite Zone of Exclusion. On the Abbotsford, BC artist's follow-up, A Course in Miracles, the central character, Sylvia, also feels grotesque in a sense: stifled by suburbia, she struggles to fit into social norms. "No ark will take you if you're one of a kind," Witko sings on the ascendant "I Want to Live Through Changes with You." This lament is the conviction that fuels Sylvia's search for a new religion outside the cult of buttoned-down suburbia.

Sylvia's life becomes an entanglement of missed connections and chance encounters. Often, she finds herself in a jousting match to seize control of her destiny. Other times, she welcomes the interaction, even craves the intimacy. On "I Want to Live Through Changes with You," she follows the titular sentiment with "That's all I ever wanted." And alone at a party on the bright, shuffling "I Would Rather Be Dancing," she looks past the crowd and yearns for one specific person in the room.

Throughout Miracles, the point of view seems to shift between characters, sometimes within the same song. It's as if Witko's interjecting and speaking directly to the listener, or Sylvia. It's even plausible that Sylvia is Witko. In her comments about Miracles, Witko has alluded to experiencing a deep loss and her own life crumbling while making the album. And though she's stated that Sylvia could be anyone who feels doomed about climate change, techno-fascism or anything else condemning the world to hell, it's difficult to deny the clue about the possible double-identity on the neon "Calling for an Angel," a thumping highlight whose backbeat and vintage synth sounds call to mind Gary Numan, Kraftwerk and European disco. "Darling, you're a stranger / But in you, I see myself," Witko sings.

"Something So Special" dwells on unfulfilled aspirations and shattered confidence. "'Cause you remind me of when I believed that / I had something so special to give to the world… Better not listen to a single word I say / 'Cause I'm just trying to fake it like I'm A-OK," Witko sings. But she's determined to get what she wants. "You say you want religion, and you won't back down," goes "I Want to Live Through Changes with You." And amid arresting swells, propulsive drum-fills and richly layered vocals on "Dreams Die," she even descends into schadenfreude: "But as long as I put these fools to the test, I will be alright …  May your dreams draw near so that I can watch them away from you now."

Despite moments of emotional defeat, musically, Miracles is pure triumph. If Zone of Exclusion was kaleidoscopic, Miracles is telescopic: more focused and further-reaching in depth. The compositions are grander without sounding cluttered. The breathable "Amelia" offers welcome relief on an otherwise tense, kinetic album, as does the ambrosial "Babylon." Pillowy textures that float atop heavenly piano and reverent vocal harmonies lend "Something So Special" a detached dreaminess that evokes the distance between the narrator and the people she observes.

Witko's music exists in the same realm of art pop as Petra Glynt, U.S. Girls and even St. Vincent. But A Course in Miracles is very much another star in Witko's own constellation of work, in her own corner of that pop universe. And if Sylvia really is an avatar for Witko, her latest gives its hero one less reason to despair, a victory she can claim.

(Kingfisher Bluez)

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