learning love songs

est. 2008


September 2013


I have a piano back in my life! It’s a full-size Casio, no weighted keys but plenty of settings for weird sounds and modulation – beats, too, which are great for acoustic and timing practice.

I’ve come to appreciate a good keys melody over the years, and I think the best are simple ones. Obviously musicianship, style are going to make for the best, and the virtuoso jazz type will always own piano playing in my mind,  but a good line backing up a lyric-focused vocal do wonders for setting.

This tune, “Daydreaming” by Dark Dark Dark. has a lot of what I like in a piano-fueled song. A little bit of minor key, a little bit of jazzy technique, and a heartfelt message, one of wandering and wondering. There’s a little Tori in there, somewhere, maybe it’s just the piano, but it might also be the just-off vocals, the tendency to switch registers. I very much enjoy the overall setting though – and the band is from Minneapolis, a fact I discover just days away from one of my best friend’s move to the Twin Cities.

“Think of a place I would go,
I’m daydreamin’,
Where the sycamore grow,
I’m daydreamin’,
And oh if you knew what it meant to me,
Where the air was so clear,
Oh if you knew what it meant to me,
Anywhere but here.

Oh now look to the east,
Great mountains remember me,
Oh I wound around you for miles,

I sat down right there and stretched my bones.
And oh if you knew what it meant to me,
Oh if you knew what it meant to me,
Oh if you knew what it meant to me,
You would see, too.

Oh the unspeakable things,
It’s land I can see for miles,
With only the wind whispering,
Land I can see for miles,
With only the wind whispering,
Oh land I can see for miles,
With only the wind whispering,
Oh I’d run as fast as I can
Land I can see for miles
Oh I’m searching,

With only the wind whispering,
Oh if you knew what it meant to me,
Oh if you knew what it meant to me,
Oh if you knew what it meant to me,
You would see, too.

Oh the unspeakable things,
Oh the unspeakable things,
Oh the unspeakable things,
Oh the unspeakable things.”

Dark Dark Dark, Wild Go


Lately it seems all I can listen to post-hardcore, The Starting Line or The 1975, but today was dominated by the Turnpike Troubadours. I discovered them when I was listening to a Shovels and Rope Pandora station on a whim this week, but it worked out great because I was researching toll roads at the time.

Turns out they’re a pretty amazing bluegrass band, though I’ve learned that’s not necessarily the right term. Wikipedia says they’re “American Red Dirt” which is a new term to me, though I think I can get behind it. What a great way to describe something. Sometimes we all feel like American red dirt, amirite?

Seriously though, the straight-talkin’ lovesick lyrics, copious fiddle and swinging four-four time truly makes you want to whirl around a dirty bar, or barn, in cowboy boots ’til the cows come home. Lyrically, there’s plenty of narrative and scene-setting – the meter, rhymes and references are all quite poetic. Borderline campy, some might say, but I don’t think you have to entirely suspend reality to relate to the scenes of broken hearts in small towns. No wonder their third LP, “Goodbye Normal Street” popped off last year – it’s gotten me into their whole catalog, courtesy a YouTube playlist. I absolutely love the singer’s voice, the key choices and the harmonies. I’m thinking it’s time I get myself to a real roots-y concert sometime soon, because bands like this with many players, much soul and a dirty-party twinge to their down-home twang always put on a good show.

“Well I could go downtown and drink till dawn,
I could sing those sad old country songs,
oh but daylight finds me bored and blue,
the whole damn town’s in love with you
Well the neon signs light up the block,
its a livin’ breathin’ honkytonk,
and your hair’s wet with the morning dew,
the whole damn town’s in love with you
the whole damn town’s in love with you

Well all the cowboys in this bar,
oh and all those fools who play guitar,
well they’re well aware that we are through,

the whole damn town’s in love with you

Well the music pours out in the street,
just clean and cool as a cotton sheet,
well them long and lonley fiddle blues,
the whole damn town’s in love with you
the whole damn town’s in love with you

Well your worn out favorite pair of jeans,
oh I remember everything,
they were things i’d grown accustom to,
the whole damn town’s in love with you
yeah the whole damn town’s in love with you
the whole damn town’s in love with you.” 

~Whole Damn Town 
Turnpike Troubadors, Diamonds and Gasoline


“Now if you never shoot, you’ll never know
And if you never eat, you’ll never grow
You’ve got a pretty kinda dirty face
And when you’re leaving your home she’s begging you, “Stay, stay, stay, stay, stay.”

I’ll give you one more time
We’ll give you one more fight
Said one more line
There’ll be a riot, cause I know you..”

The 1975, The 1975

The first full-length from The 1975 is as good – if not better- than I expected it to be. I’ve been thrilled – it’s a great car record, great headphone record, morning or night listening. The sound is incredibly fresh, vocal-fueled and produced to the nth degree….these are stories of youth and sex and frustration, the lure of lust and luxury ever-present but more as plaything than temptation. It’s simply fun to listen to, which makes it comforting, but it’s complex enough to be thought-provoking, which makes it prime for repeat listens.

Verbally, it’s casual, often conversational, but sonic-ly speaking, it’s very decorated. There are wedding bells, there are sax solos, and they’re all complimenting and highlighting some real intense, reaching vocals. In reviews of The 1975 I think you’ll hear a lot of comparisons to R&B of the 90s, and electro pop of recent years, and there is a definite fusion going on, but it’s far more authentic than what you might otherwise think would be gimmicky. 
In the quiet moments, you here some real musicianship, and Matt Healy on piano is a treat I hope they use often in their live show. I think these were songs written out of what was fun to play, fun to write, fun to hear, from the point of view of rabble-rousers as fascinated and confused as most creative types are in their late teens/early 20s/entire lives. I’m immensely impressed – and from what I’ve seen of live footage, the live band might sound a little more raw and maybe even a little better than this record, coated in shiny ProTools glory, can reflect.

Definitely the soundtrack of this fall, and whatever it brings. 

“Well I stay tuned, listen to the news and try to fall asleep at night.
Because I’m living in a house with just three walls,
So I’m always getting recognized.

There’s a change in pressure
We’re never gonna lie to you.
Change in pressure
My broken veins say that if my heart stops beating
Change in pressure
We’ll bleed the same way
Change in pressure,

Oh, my broken veins say…”
The 1975, The 1975


“Mending” by The New Frontiers is still the most humbling, comforting album on days like today – days that are anniversaries of the worst days.

Today I heard a few “where were you” stories, from people who were journalists at the time. Their stories were much different than my own. I didn’t tell my own, but my age makes it obvious – I was in school when our principal came on the PA, and when our algebra teacher rushed into the hallway to talk to other teachers. I watched the towers fall via television screen in the chorus room, then a little while later, off a projector screen in the auditorium, large like a movie screen.

I remember crying for the people who died, realizing that nothing would be the same for them or their families, unable to comprehend death at this level. My Spanish teacher hugged me in the hallway outside Cafeteria A  and said it was OK, she cried too. I think I realized that nothing would be the same for me, either, or anyone who saw this happen – and truly, it never was or will be. But I also remember that feeling of togetherness, and the crisis friendships that form when boundaries fall. Weren’t we all helpless, hopeless scared Americans? No letters next to the politician’s name mattered that day. Yet here we are a dozen years later…if there’s one thing that I hope people remember when they’re told to Never Forget, it’s remembering that moment when you knew, instantly, how human we are all.

“This is the house where you were born

These rooms seem smaller than before
I turned 22 when were you found
Shattered and broken on the ground

They will rob you blind
They will take your peace of mind
And you’ll want to run away from here

I know you can’t escape from all of your fears
I made my peace with the world and all that it brings
I’m holding my own

We saw a spark within your eyes
Your face reflected in the light
We are all angels in the sky
We are all mirrors in disguise

We will lift you up
We will place you on your feet
We will pick you up
We will never let you go

I know you can’t escape from all of your fears
I made my peace with the world and all that it brings
I’m holding my own
The New Frontiers, Mending


Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue Acoustic may just be one of my favorite reissues I’ve ever heard. These songs sound so beautiful and the stripped down, less punky more patient treatment reveals the meaning that all us fans heard back in the day when this record was a soundtrack to summer nights with friends, fall afternoons alone, hallway head phone listens and so much after.

Truly love how they kept structures the same, as the songs were not rewritten. But the violin solos ring a little more mournful over acoustic – the setting on “Empty Apartment” is gorgeous – and the meaningful moments are spotlit with all this new space, like the “Believe” intro and the entirety of the title track. It’s also mixed and produced extremely well in terms of clarity.  These songs could be played in front of me right now and the guitar would sound just as clear, drums just as crisp. And I can hear harmonies I don’t recall, though that may be more my own distance from the original.

It’s not easy to revisit songs (as I noted recently about the goddess herself Tori Amos) and I love that Yellowcard, a band that was a pivotal listening point for many music fans today, was able to do so without sacrificing their integrity or musicianship.

“There’s a piece of you that’s here with me
It’s everywhere I go, it’s everything I see
When I sleep, I dream and it gets me by

I can make believe that you’re here tonight
That you’re here tonight
If I could find you now things would get better
We could leave this town and run forever
I know somewhere, somehow we’ll be together
Let your waves crash down on me and take me away”

~Ocean Avenue
Yellowcard, Ocean Avenue Acoustic


Don’t know if I have the right words for this one – Tori Amos music, this song in general, but this past weekend I heard “Gold Dust,” a recent album where she re-did a bunch of songs, set with orchestra parts. It was beautiful. I went to YouTube and while I didn’t find the exact version of “Cloud on my Tongue,” a longtime favorite song, I found a live version.

You might say that it was a good surprise. I loved listening to this, even out of terrible laptop speakers it was gorgeous and dynamic (and yes, the laptop speakers are extremely terrible and I try to never listen to music on them, but sometimes it’s the only thing around). Truly she is the kind of artist where if you don’t get her, you don’t get her and you won’t see what’s so marvelous about her songwriting. What she does with lyrics is one thing – one that is very hard to decode but overflors with feel and imagery – but what she does with counterpoint  and layering and tempo – just musically – is another. Before the first chorus, those violin trills, and the build under the “circles” part? Absolute chills, and I could not imagine a more beautiful way to re-hear one of my all-time favorite songs.

And good lord Tori Amos is talented, just a master of what she does, the complete owner of her sound and her work and her art. The idea of coming back to a song many years after the album was made and re-setting it with a freakin’ Belgian symphony behind you? And having it be this beautiful? You can’t pull that off. I can’t pull that off that. Eighty percent of artists whose name you know and music you buy easily could not pull it off, They’d succumb to early burn out or never getting the opportunity because they just didn’t know how to do what they do this well.

Lots of people can be artists every now again, it is an entirely different type of human who manages to embody it, live it, be fueled by it.

“Thought I was over the bridge now.” 
~Cloud on my Tongue
Tori Amos, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgiumw/ the Metropole Orkest

Blog at

Up ↑