First Impressions: “The Coals” by Calista Garcia

(Screen shot from “The Coals” video)

I’ve been rewatching the Battlestar Galactica reboot series, which aired from 2004 to 2009, over the past few months. If you haven’t seen it, you should—there’s a reason why it made Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time list. I’ll skip an in-depth plot summary, as I suspect most people reading this know the basics: Androids (aka Cylons) turn on their former masters (aka humans) and the surviving humans then set off in search of what they believe is their ancestral home, Earth. Instead, I’ll jump ahead to a plot twist that occurs in the final third of the four-season/75-episode run, when—spoiler alert!—four characters are caught off guard when fragments from a song suddenly grab hold of their inner ears. (What that signifies, I won’t say.)

It’s a moment, I think, most music fans can relate to: A song fragment bubbles up from the abyss as if you just heard it just moments before, though it may have been weeks or months or even years ago. It happened to me a few weeks back, in fact. I woke one morning last month to the wisp of a melody dissipating into the clear sky of consciousness. A strummed acoustic guitar, that was it. The fragment replayed in my head while I showered and then again while I downed my first coffee of the day while perusing social media, and yet again after I’d logged into work. A strummed guitar and a harmonica… yes, a harmonica! I heard it clearly, but still couldn’t place the song. Rather than drive myself nuts, I plugged in my headphones and lost myself in a succession of albums for the next few hours.

The fragment resurfaced later in the day in extended form, with a strummed guitar, harmonica and a smile clearly audible. You can’t hear the last through headphones, of course, and yet you can—especially when listening to Calista Garcia, whose 2021 EP A Beautiful World is chockfull of acoustic guitars, harmonica and smiles. What I heard was a snippet from the opening track, the Dylan-esque ramble that is “Deep Blue Diving.” I listened to it and the EP a fair bit last fall, and named it my 10th favorite release of the year, but a slew of new releases soon demanded my attention. So, that September day, I gave the EP a spin for the first time in about nine months and was smitten with it all over again.

A few days later, on Sept. 13th, she announced that she had a new single slated for release on October 13th called “The Coals.” She wrote it a few years back about facing major life changes and the fear that often accompanies them. On Instagram, she explained, “[W]hat if dancing on the tightrope is worse than what’s below? What if there’s a safety net? I’ve learned that I can’t wait to take action until I’m no longer afraid to. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of things that I find scary, not for the sake of it, but because I know they’re the right thing to do. And because there’s so much sweetness on the other side.”

“The Coals” is heavy on rhythm, acoustic guitar and philosophizing, but also contains cutting wordplay (“I need answers, but all I’m getting is jive talk from you”) and lines where you can hear her smile. At song’s end, one can imagine an audience of beatniks snapping their fingers in approval. (The only negative is the knowledge that a new album or EP isn’t in the offing.) The video, too, is pretty wild—check out the flaming hula hoop! 

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