learning love songs

est. 2008


December 2013


So Pandora brought me to tears today. I didn’t realize I was feeling so emotional, until I was pulling on a sweater and brushing my hair back and listening to this song. It’s a beautiful track from A Great Big World, a singer-songwriter new to my ears, with guest vocals from Christina Aguilera, at her most delicate.

That phrase “giving up” is so powerful. Can we ever really surrender anything? I love the ambiguity in this song, it could be to yourself or to a failed relationship or to a dying loved one, as the particularly moving video suggests. Turning away – for yourself or someone else – isn’t a light endeavor, it is excising something from your soul, and there’s bound to be that one last moment of hesitation before the you cut it out for good, where you look around to see if anyone will stop you.

“Say something, I’m giving up on you.
I’ll be the one, if you want me to.
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you.
Say something, I’m giving up on you.

And I am feeling so small.
It was over my head
I know nothing at all.

And I will stumble and fall.
I’m still learning to love
Just starting to crawl.

Say something, I’m giving up on you.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you.
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you.
Say something, I’m giving up on you.

And I will swallow my pride.
You’re the one that I love
And I’m saying goodbye.

Say something, I’m giving up on you.
And I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you.
And anywhere, I would have followed you.
Say something, I’m giving up on you.

Say something.”
~Say Something
A Great Big World ft. Christina Aguilera, Is There Anybody Out There


So this Christmas Eve finds me home early from work with a little time to browse the Internet with speakers on, and I came across this beautiful album from Speak Low If You Speak Love, which came out today. From acoustic-led ballads to offbeat, upbeat choruses, the whole LP has a slightly emo, slightly indie, mellow pop punk vibe to it I find familiar and fresh, a hybrid of bands gone by. It also has some of the saddest, most relatable lyrics I’ve heard from a new artist in some time, and so I feel like I found a little Christmas gift on AbsolutePunk today as far as new songwriting is concerned. There is no overreaching here, no forcing the metaphor. It is all honesty, borne from broken relationships, like on the minute and a half long “Naive”: “You abused all my favorite books/I know you never read half the ones you took/Still all the pages are torn and frayed/memorized the underlined hoping to impress me.” 

This just may be too recent of a discovery to work into my top 10 of 2013 list, but I hope this is the start of something good for Ryan Scott Graham and his new project, and I hope I can find this as inspiring, comfortable and beautiful in 2014 as I do today.

“I remember those nights, the lonely sound of the service drive.
I remember those times I thought that I could make you mine.
Your dark hair and your coffee eyes,
I wanted to fix you, but you didn’t want to fight.
Your heart was sad, but so was mine.
Your heart was a stubborn slope that I couldn’t climb.

Every night we’d say goodbye, you’d shut the door with a sigh
You kept saying we didn’t have much time

It’s all your fault, and I’ll always blame you,
I dreamt a life for us and it could’ve come true,
But you packed all your things and said that ‘we’re through
because you ruined me and I ruined you.’

We were library lovers where no one could see,
Midnight diners always in secrecy.
Moonlit drives to your front door,
You wanted my attention but nothing more.
I couldn’t break it off, I had no guts
because you were one of my few great loves.

Now you changed the locks and moved on out,
You had abandoned your love for doubt.

It’s all your fault, and I’ll always blame you,
I dreamt a life for us and it could’ve come true,
But you packed all your things and said that ‘we’re through
because you ruined me and I ruined you.’ 

I ruined you.”
Speak Low if You Speak Love, Everything But What You Need


“If I go away
Well can I ever go back, can I ever turn back, no 
No nights that I can’t escape 
cause I ain’t living in the lack 
I ain’t living in the black
I know I could never make it alone.”
~The Economist
Mansions, Doom Loop

I’ve been on a huge Mansions kick lately, mostly because of the new LP “Doom Loop.” It’s album you’ll spot on AOTY from certain niche blogs, probably, but will probably be overlooked by most “popular” critics (mainstream or hipster), because what Mansions does is not what most do to get attention from the “right” people.

What Mansions does is write song of the most emotionally satisfying rock music I’ve heard in ages, and all the minimalist soloists or overdressed orchestra pop of more acclaimed artists of 2013 cannot compare. “Doom Loop” is a study in release and restraint. Mansions is proof of the following: You do not have to reinvent the wheel, you just have to spin it really well.

“I’ve got nothing left to prove. No, I’m too tired to be the nice guy.”~Climbers
Mansions, Doom Loop
This is a guitar-focused band, with straightforward, strategically placed parts. Unique phrasing and huge hooks are pop-friendly, occasionally, but there’s a borderline heavy, high-distortion feel that’s nothing of the sort. “Doom Loop” rock music with real instruments, something so refreshing in these days of manipulation, but it’s done with the sensibilities of 90s grunge and early 2000s emo, making it new and familiar all at once. Female back-up vocals are an excellent touch in this way, as are the consistently on-point bridges. Christopher Browder has a way of bringing it all out front, the heavy hooks and emotional daggers, and dialing it down just right before reaching the point of overdramatic.

I’ve been just as much enjoying rediscovering “Dig Up the Dead,” the last LP and an equally cohesive album. This album is masterfully crafted, as far as “emo” goes, by never surrendering to gimmicks and never straying from the emotional center. The tracks are seamless, the vocal dynamics are just right. I’ve listened to it before, but not this in-depth, not when I’m driving around solo with the volume on 27 and a cigarette out the window. It’s hard for me to decide which album I like more, but it’s easy to get lost them.

“If you don’t write it down, then this never happened.
Tell yourself out loud, “not overreacting.”
Cause no one ever hears your voice
The way that they did when they had no choice.
Their headphones are filled with that useless noise
That swears that you’re not there.

And the one thing that you need
Is the dreams back in your sleep
Where they belong
I’m where I belong, you’ll see
This means everything to me

I don’t want your life where everything’s easy
That Midas touch will unwind
That gold has no meaning

And when you’re in that awful place
Where you call up your friends and it rings for days
Well I never saw a smile that I could not fake
But now what’s left to talk about?

And the one thing that I need
Is the dreams back in my sleep
Where they belong
I’m where they belong, you’ll see
This means everything to me”

~Yer Voice
Mansions, Dig Up the Dead


When I first learned to express myself,  it was through dance. I’d already learned to speak English, by this point, but I hadn’t learned to communicate — I was the kind of kid who certainly didn’t say anything at all, if it wasn’t nice to say. So learning dance was a new language, one that was all my own.

I spent a solid five years spending five days a week dancing, dropping my study when I went off to college. But I never dropped the interest. My classes, at the brand new, 10-student Western New York Ballet, focused on ballet, both classical and contemporary. By those standards, I was passable at best, occasionally placing in local competitions if I had a good day and an unusually low amount of anxiety. I had naturally good feet and extension, but my control never caught up. My thin, lithe arms failed to fit the right angles. My body never listened the way I wanted it to. For me, the real benefits came in classes, where discipline and artistry were the gods, the church basement floors and portable barres were the alters, and the prayers came in the form of the blood, sweat and tears poured into getting it better, getting it right, getting it as close to perfect as mere mortals could possibly come.

This was all around 10 years ago, and 10 years later, my former teacher is taking students to perform at Lincoln Center in front of international stars. She is one of my favorite people in the world, and I am proud to call her a close a friend, knowing she’s the kind of person who would never give up on her dream, just might die without her dream.

For awhile, I thought dance was my dream. My bedroom walls were covered in posters and calendars and magazine pictures of the ballerinas I idolized. For awhile, I thought I could still make a go at a performing career, even though I’d never make it into a ballet company barely pulling off a clean triple pirouette.  I thought I could cover it up with singing and acting skills and make a shot for Broadway. But by that point, I knew how many proteges were out there, I knew how cutthroat the industry could be to half-bred talents like me, and most everyone told me I was smart and would do well in college.

Nowadays, dancing alone feels equal parts freeing and awkward. It’s tough for me to feel the strain in my muscles, to know my tendons would rather snap than stretch. My legs don’t listen like they used to; instead of rising seemingly effortlessly to my ears, they stop short, barely reaching 90 degrees, it seems. But at the same time, everything in me is so much more aware, spatially and internally. Every inch of a stretch feels magnificent until it doesn’t, then it feels like hard work well done. My feet roll through every position, much to the thrill of every bone, my eyes follow my hands the way they were trained to.

The rules are so ingrained it feels like living in a memory, revisiting a skin I shed years ago as I step and fumble to see if I can still fit. But one part feels as amazing as it ever did, the part where my mind shuts off and my heart short-circuts to tell my limbs what to do. That’s the part where dancing is your insides turned out. That’s the part that kept me coming back day after day, class after class, no matter how much I failed before. Just chasing that moment of stillness inside, movement outside, silent thoughts and physical energy igniting every cell. Even now, dancing alone, when there are only so many steps I remember correctly and there’s a million positions I’m probably destroying, I can feel the tension and release, the suspension and fall, the freeze and frenzy in every step illuminating and expressing the very feelings I don’t have anyone around to share with. No one can take that from me, no matter how many years it’s been since I called myself a dancer. It’s a small comfort when I see professional dancers, young or seasoned, classical or contemporary. I know just what their feeling as they hit all the right moments and I am full of envy for what they get to feel, when all I get is my words and my bedroom and faulty, flailing ponche.

It would be nice to take a class, maybe someday. I wonder if I would look silly, my now-curvy body in a leotard and pink tights. I don’t know how much of the steps I could recreate. But I do know I’d feel something.

(The video above is from “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 9, which aired last summer. I remember watching it live, alone in my central Pennsylvania apartment, and crying a little. I chose to attach it because I don’t think you should choreograph to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” unless you can induce chills, which choreographer Stacey Tookey most definitely does, and also because I very much enjoy Witney, the blonde female in the video. She’s a ballroom dancer by trade — and you can see it in her hands and arms sometimes, the way they don’t turn slightly more out or in the way a ballerina’s would — yet she pulls of this contemporary with so much beauty, grace and pain that I think she understands exactly what you need to pull off performing to a song of this magnitude.)

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