learning love songs

est. 2008


December 2011


Amidst scanner traffic in my right ear, and the dull static of muted televisions in my left, a variety of songs are running through my head. They are comforting, but I am cynical in spite of their hope.

“These things will change….
Can you feel it now…
These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down…”
Taylor Swift, Fearless

“Till the day when I stop making big mistakes…
And the clouds, they roll out of this whole damn state…
I believe in a place that I wanna go…
Honesty will leave me feeling liveable…
Once I change…”

~Good Things
The Dangerous Summer, War Paint

I’m feeling changeable. Maybe it’s the new job. Maybe it is because it’s New Year’s Eve. Maybe it’s because I don’t like the changes this year brought.

I think we need songs about change, especially when we’re going through it. We want to know that there is another side to our present, that there are new seeds to be a sown on a yet-undiscovered field. It makes it triumphant, it gives you something to stick your chest out for, but really it’s all for show. Really, change is frightening.

I just know I had what I wanted and it all changed. Now I have nothing but time, plus boatlods of frustration and sorrow to channel into something creative, a life’s mission I’ve done everything in my power to avoid having to succumb to completely.

You can change everything about your life – your job, your friends, your community, and you can mark time all you want with days, weeks, months, years. But you can’t change who you are, and you can’t run away from it.

I can tear down all the barriers I want to get to where I say I want to go, but it won’t change these desires. It won’t make them go away.


Heart. Floor. Broken.

“You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don’t want me to
Oh your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
I always will

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give the more I get back
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choise but I’d still choose you

Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
I always will”

~Poison & Wine
The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow

With words this strong, you don’t need many of them. True ballads tell stories, and often songwriters take this out to six or seven minutes of several verses and bridges, naming characters and time and places. This is a love song, for that long-lost yet still-here type of love. I cannot stop listening/playing it (for the record — it’s capo 6, I think).

On a different note, this album, “Barton Hollow,” quickly captured my heart. It’s three parts Americana, one part pop-folk. The match-up of incredible harmonies and value in simplicity seem fit from a 19th century midwest farm, but purity, drama and honesty create a lyrical quality no era can avoid. “Poison & Wine” is a radio-bred tune, to be sure, but “I’ve Got This Friend” and “Forget Me Not” almost surely grew up drinking midday sweet tea on Tennessee plantations.


My Top 10 Favorite Albums in 2011

I’m hesitant to call this a “best of the year” list, because best is a very subject term. So, here are my favorites:

10)Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
They still got it. No lie. I’ve seen enough live performances from this album to know that NO one can rock a room like the Foos. “Walk” is likely one of the best mainstream rock songs that came out this year, and Dave Grohl & co. continue to make their messages known and connect with society. Even thought “Wasting Light” may not have the staying power of their other catalog titles, the band still sure does.

9)Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math
A band we hadn’t heard from in a minute came back with power, with perspective and punch. Take a listen to the title track, or “Apprehension” and you’ll see that Andy Hull pours out his heart like it’s made of cheap vodka. True, that’s the biographical text we’ve come to know and love from this band, but this time around in it’s a new glaze. Emo chords are traded in for darker, twisted sounds, and there’s as much layering as there is stripped-down, laid-bare musings.

8)The Dangerous Summer – War Paint
This band captured my heart early in the year when I discovered “Reach for the Sun,” and when their sophomore “War Paint” came out, the band quickly became the soundtrack to my summer. Loss, redemption, struggle, rinse, repeat. The title track is a rallying call to rise above, “Work in Progress” is a retreat from the world. Album closer “Waves” could make you conquer the world, while reminding your loved ones to do the same.

7)Bon Iver – Bon Iver
It had been too long since “For Emma, Forever Ago” and we needed to hear from Bon Iver again. We did, this fall, and the self-titled album captures a place that feels snowy, warm, effervescent. “Minnesota, WI” is just one example of how production should enhance instrumentation, not bury it, and “Towers” clips along almost like an Old West saloon song, maybe one that mated with binary. I dig the style.

6) The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
I discovered the Welch trio on Pandora around the same time this album came out and holy shit was I blown away. Shoegazey rock? Big guitars? Chick singer? Count me in! Don’t let the radio edit of “Whirring” fool you – these guys know their riffs, they know their layers, and they know how to blow your mind.

5)Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire
One of my most-anticipated albums of 2011, and it didn’t let me down a drop. Ryan is back with a pillow-soft smile, but the beat-up, broke-down desperation lives on. “Lucky Now” will hopefully be played on Grey’s Anatomy when the second half of this season airs. If I’m lucky. Songs like “Dirty Rain,” “Save Me” and the title track show that Ryan Adams is a master of the ballad formula in its truest sense, and with this album he’s shown us no age, illness, marriage or critique will keep him from developing his talents.

4)Wilco – The Whole Love
Wilco is an awesome band. We knew this, we knew this because of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” we knew this because of “Sky Blue Sky” but Jeff Tweedy continues to come up with some of the catchiest, sly-ist little songs I’ve ever heard. “Born Alone” is the type of song that makes me want to dye my hair dirty blonde, wear daisies behind my ears and hop in a pick-up owned by a guy with just the right amount of stubble on his cheeks. This album should be enough to make this band triumphantly mainstream, but for some reason I still feel like they are kind of under everyone’s radar. Maybe that’s where they want to be.

3)The Decemberists – The King is Dead
“Don’t Carry it All” is, in my opinion, the song that sums up where we need to go as a society. And for that, I give them extreme props. While it’s lacking a strict storyline, you know what this record is about all the same and I think that’s a strength. Instead of a script, characters and drama, we have scenes and messages. I also know that “Down by the Water” was overplayed like a motherfucker on indie radio, so we can only assume that means The Decemberists, with this release, are cemented in indie history. Applause.

2)Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
“What good is it to sing helplessness blues?/Why should I wait for anyone else?” If you’re looking for political philosophy musings as you yearn for an apple orchard to run through, Fleet Foxes will certainly soothe your desires. This is a band who I respected and enjoyed, and that’s only been furthered by this record. It rises, peaks and falls like an orchestra might, uncovering safeness in smallness and boldness in triumph.

1)The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing
Just when I thought I was maturing out of pop punk, The Wonder Years came along and gave me a reason to stay. I was familiar with a few songs from their last release, “The Upsides,” and picked up “Suburbia” on a whim ’cause I liked the title. I am a little amazed at the story they’ve woven through this record. You can see the sad town, you can feel the bitter winter, and you can hear the kids partying in backyards late at night. The opening track is an anthem for recovery from the toughest falls, the longest stretches of self-deprecating doubt. “And Now I’m Nothing” is acceptance, surrender to the now and the way it is. In between, “I Won’t Say the Lord’s Prayer” is an atheist seeking not answers but apathy, and “I’ve Given You All” is my favorite song I’ve ever heard about a homeless man. If you were about to write off the genre, don’t, because the honesty is still there. This is the record for those who want to get out of this town and start again, even if there’s no way out yet.

Honorable mentions to the following albums which I enjoy but have not listened to thoroughly enough to rank against the others: The Black Keys – El Camino; The Civil Wars – Barton Hallow; Laura Marling – A Creature I Do Not Know; Dia Frampton – Red.

EDIT: Aw shit I forgot about Taking Back Sunday. With John Nolan! I missed them in concert ’cause my car died and I was kind of homeless for a couple days. But good record, blasted it many times on 5 and 20 in Canandaigua.

EDIT 2: Iron and Wine! I suck at this.


Brian Fallon acoustic – better or not better than The Gaslight Anthem? Discuss.

He seems kind of drunk? Then again it’s pretty. Then again, it’s not terrifically complicated guitar playing. But it is quite beautiful, so who cares? He’s kind of working a soft-punch punk Ryan Adams vibe, and it’s pretty fantastic.

Need to see a show. Stat.


Obligatory. Beautiful. I don’t know if there are any books out there about “Clarity” as a whole, a la the 33 1/3 series which I am very much a fan of.

But if there is such a literary work, I hope it mentions how it takes a special band to capture the sadness/emptiness that comes with the holidays without being slit-your-wrists depressing. Truly we all feel some kind of desperation this time of year — we’re single, we don’t like our job, we have no money, we’ve let the ones we love and care for slip out of our fingers as we self-serve day after day.

It’s OK to feel those things. And it’s OK to sing about them.

“I didn’t mean to leave you hanging on
I didn’t mean to leave you all alone
I didn’t know what to say.”
Jimmy Eat World, Clarity


See I got this soul. It’s all fired up.
~All Fired Up
Interpol, Our Love to Admire

Interpol is the intersection between sexy, druggy rock and socio-political philosophy. Then again, most of my favorite music is.


We like to say “It’s complicated,” or “We have a history.” We like to pretend the goings-on between two people are layered and deep and meaningful to some unidentifiable depth.

But it’s not, really. You either want something, or you don’t. Everything else is just denial, justification, semantics and poetry.

“Hunter eyes
I’m lost and hardly noticed, slight goodbye
I want to rip your lips off in my mouth
And even in my greatest moment doubt
The line between deceit and right now

Simple math, it’s how our bodies even got here
Sinful math, the ebb and flow to multiply
What if I was wrong and no one cared to mention
What if it was true and all we thought was right was wrong?
Simple math, the truth cannot be fractioned
Either way…

I imply to mitigate the guilt, we could align
A perfectly constructed alibi
To hush the violent guilt that eats and never dies
In actual blame, they call me once the dark divides

Simple math, it’s why our bodies even lay here
Sinful math, the truth cannot be fashioned
What if you were crazy, would we have to listen then?

What if we’ve been trying to get to where we’ve always been?
What if I was wrong, and started trying to fix it?
What if you believed me? Everything is brilliant

What if I’ve been trying to get to where I’ve always been?
What if we’ve been trying to get to where we’ve always been?
Simple math, believe me, all is brilliant
What if we’ve been trying to kill the noise and silence?

What if I was wrong and you had never questioned it?
What if it was true, that all we thought was right, was wrong?
Simple math, the truth cannot be fractioned
I simply I’ve got to get it back then”

~Simple Math
Manchester Orchestra, Simple Math


I’ll find that the more I think about what could be, what might happen, the more I retreat to bad habits, insecurities and sleeping pills. There is no need for this. Looking ahead is the only direction that truly matters.

Perspective is inevitable. You don’t have to try to learn from it — your instincts will tell you where not to go again. The same gut feeling will tell your head to make your jaws pry open your mouth and spit, scream or say the words that make change happen.

*Note the sad song/muppets contrast. Pretty cool, guys.

“Yesterday when you were young
Everything you needed done was done for you
Now you do it on your own
But you find you’re all alone, what can you do?

You and me walk on, walk on, walk on
‘Cause you can’t go back now

You know there will be days
When you’re so tired
That you can’t take another step
The night will have no stars
And you’ll think you’ve gone as far
As you will ever get

You and me walk on, walk on, walk on
‘Cause you can’t go back now

And yeah, yeah, you go where you want to go
Yeah, yeah, be what you want to be
If you ever turn around, you’ll see me

I can’t really say
Why everybody wishes they were somewhere else
But in the end, the only steps that matter
Are the ones you take all by yourself

You and me walk on, walk on, walk on
Yeah, you and me walk on, walk on, walk on
‘Cause you can’t go back now
Walk on, walk on, walk on
You can’t go back now”

~Can’t go back now
The Weepies


It’s difficult for me to explain why I’ve made some recent decisions in my life. But when your insides don’t match your outsides, sometimes complete departure, forcing the fall to rock bottom, is the best way to build a new life. A better life, even.

But the intermediate is a dark, lonely place, where everything you pass might the window you should’ve opened, the path you should’ve taken. But there is no should, there is only going through now to get to the later.

“I was born in a town where the rivers flow free
On a January night when the cold winds freeze
I got an Irish name and an injury
Blessing and a curse cast down on me
Ain’t nobody got the blues like me
Ain’t nobody got the blues like me

Was a blood red sky on the morning tide
Was a cold wind blowing when I left that night
And the morning bells rang, alright, alright
Shoulda stayed home with you that night
Ain’t nobody played the fool like I
Ain’t nobody played the fool like I

Things got bad and things got worse
Half like blessing, half like curse
It’s these blessings so hard to see sometimes
Gotta little clearer about dusk last night
Ain’t nobody got a blessing like mine
Ain’t nobody got a blessing like mine

It’s a red sky night and I’m doing alright
It’s a red sky night and I’m doing just fine”

~Red at Night
The Gaslight Anthem, Sink or Swim

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