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learning love songs

est. 2008

Month

February 2014

2/28/14



“And it takes more time than I’ve ever had, 

Drains the life from me,
Makes me want to forget. 
As young as I was, I felt older back then 
More disciplined, stronger and certain 
But I was scared to death of eternity 
I was saved by grace, 
But destroyed by naivety  
And I lied to myself 
And said ‘It’s for the best.'” 
~It’s For the Best 
Straylight Run, Straylight Run
This used to be one of my favorite songs, back in ’04 when this record and its emo counterparts were all my friends and I could take in. It soundtracked late night car rides with boys I couldn’t wait to kiss, basement sleepovers with girlfriends talking about the nerves and the newness of it all. I remember signing along, like we knew what it meant to stumble and settle. But this song, today, does not bring me back to those times. A decade later it is manifest, here and actualized in the present. 
I may have loved this song when I was 16, but I understand it now. 
Straylight Run may have only had modest success past their debut, but the way the self-titled has withstood the test of time makes up for that. Desperate and damaged but clear-eyed enough to know it, it is a timeless tribute to the pains and longings of self-realization, one that is beautifully played and performed. The production is meticulous, and so tasteful for a rock band of this era, with a blend of piano and strings supplementing John Nolan’s distressed belt and whispered whimpers. Everything about this record, from steady drum rolls to pounded-out chords and backing harmonies, is measured and polished, giving elegance to bitterness, and I think that’s why I can listen to it today and fall into it as much as I did once before. 
This is one of those albums where I’ve memorized the words to the point of mantra (“We’ll move forward/sad strong, safe and sober/We’ll move forward/And know where we went wrong”).  I connected instantly to the eloquence and desolation, and though my life hardly looks like what it did in 2004, such connections remain. On a day when no song feels sad enough and solace is hard to come by, I find a mirror buried under 10 years worth of life, lessons and memories. 
“And now faith is replaced with a logic so cold, 
I’ve disregarded what I was, 
Now that I’m older. 
And I know much more than I did back then. 
But the more I learn, 
the more I can’t understand. 
And I’ve been content with this life that I lead 
Where I drink too much 
And don’t believe in much of anything 
And I lie to myself 
And say ‘It’s for the best.’

We’re moving forward but holding ourselves back, 
And we’re waiting on something that’ll never come. 
We’re moving forward but holding ourselves back, 
And we’re waiting on something that’ll never come.

And I lie to myself, and say, ‘It’s for the best.'”
~It’s For the Best 
Straylight Run, Straylight Run

2/21/14

“What if I did not love you?
Where would that leave me
Would I wander through the avenues
Under a pall of misery

Would I be face down in the gutter
With cheap whiskey on my breath
The lonely life of a writer
Whose words could not pay his debts

Singin’ please don’t, please don’t pass me by
I am alive, oh can’t you see?
That I’ve been blinded completely
Please don’t, please don’t pass me by
I am alive, oh can’t you see?
That I am pleading for your mercy

What if we became strangers?
Would you notice my face in a crowd?
And you could you hear the sorrow in my voice?
Helplessly crying your name out loud

Would I be searching for a savior?
Burned and burning with regret

The lonely life of a writer
Only if one last desperate request

Singin’ please don’t, please don’t pass me by
I am alive, oh can’t you see?
That I’ve been blinded completely
Please don’t, please don’t pass me by
I am alive, oh can’t you see?
That I am pleading for your mercy

I’ve been on the lam
Being hunted, somethin’ fierce
They say time and tide, it waits for no man
But I was just hopin’
These storm filled skies would clear

Please don’t, please don’t pass me by
Please don’t, please don’t pass me by
Please don’t, please don’t pass me by
I am alive, oh can’t you see?
That I am pleading for your mercy”
~This Lonely Life
City and Colour, The Hurry and the Harm

I read a quote once, which said something along the lines of “when you smile alone, you really mean it.” I think about that quote most times I find myself content with solitude, when whatever the night brings is seemingly worth indulging when, when the quiet moments inspire gratitude.

Most times, that happens when I’m listening to a song, no matter how sad or sorrowful it may be.

Dallas Green writes some soulful melodies, and oh, are they a joy to sing, even when they sing of desperation.  He captures it in every note, though his style has always been one of restraint and reserve. No matter how much feeling there is, he doesn’t resort to harsh tones or gimmicks to portray turmoil and confusion. Instead he opts for elegant phrasing and classic verbiage for a high-minded appeal to match the direct and dire feelings he projects, finding the right balance of emotion and perspective.

City and Colour’s latest LP, “The Hurry and the Harm,” has been a constant fallback in my catalog of late, full of interesting lyrical concepts and satisfying melodies ripe for deconstruction. My favorite track, “The Lonely Life,” is a prime example: with a standard pop song format and tasteful, driving instrumentation, lyrical longing is matched with movement. Sure, it’s a song coming from a place of discontent conceptually (it is City and Colour, after all) but the walking bass lines, spotlit percussion and melismatic chorus form a steady foundation that’s far from hopeless. Rather, it’s one of wisdom.

“And so sudden the winds change
And so sudden you lose your faith
I will provide you
With a reason to believe

Cause you are a single grain
A mere molecule
Mistaken for a king
You’re only a simple fool

So take, better care
Of yourself, my friend
Take better care
Of yourself, my friend

~Take Care,
City and Colour, The Hurry and the Harm
Throughout the record, the backing instrumentation is incredibly satisfying: everyone knows Dallas Green can play guitar, but can he set a song?  Yes. Green writes incredibly satisyfing vocal lines and I’ve found I love singing along, even if there’s no way my fumbling amateur fingers can pull off those chords. His voice and message, throughout the years, has been a  constant one, and his most recent works say to me he’s learned how to refine his strengths of melody, rhyme and resolve.

Tonight I find myself listening to this album while playing out some boring, modern role of adulthood, the kind that involves sorting through institutional obligations while drinking cheap Cabernet. I find myself, as more often than not, most nights, desperate for creativity. I hold onto the influences and inspirations that spark reaction, I grab onto whatever I hear or read that provides some semblance of sense, and I let that prove to me my own reasons for creating such material might not be as futile as I write them off to be. After all, you have to start somewhere, and that may as well be the place where it feels right feeling like yourself.

“I don’t wanna be revolutionary
No, I’m just looking for the sweetest melody
If I overstayed my welcome
I would take my things and leave
‘Cause I’m not trying to be revolutionary

What gave you the impression
That your opinion means anything to anyone?
What gave you the right
To bear arms against me, against us?

You’re nothing but a bunch of amateur commentators
Who live your lives hiding behind a wall of insecurities

I don’t wanna be revolutionary
No, I’m just looking for the sweetest melody
If I overstayed my welcome
I would take my things and leave
‘Cause I’m not trying to be revolutionary”

~Commentators
City and Colour, The Hurry and the Harm

2/19/14



“It’s been a day or years of me 
Thinkin’ bout you everyday
Sometimes for hours, sometimes in passing

Saw you from the bottom of the staircase
Stood out for hours as you complained
About how you haven’t seen your friends yet
That you’re too drunk to stand and
You not knowing if you can love him forever


Bullshit, you fucking miss me

There I said it 
I guess I’ll talk to you in a few months
Sitting drunk on the sidewalk
I guess I’ll get up
I guess I’ll go for a walk
Brushed my shoes against the pavement
I swear this has gotta be the hundredth time 
I thought of you tonight


You weren’t the only one
who thought of us that way
I spend most nights awake
Wide awake

I never thought that I
Oh I would see the day
Where I’d just let you go
Let you walk away
Where I let you walk away


Once you call
You crook, called you a bandit
There ain’t no other good damn reason why
Why I would even go missing
For so many months so I was wishing that you
That you would stop pretending
Remember all those countless nights
When I told you I loved you
And you’d never forget it
Oh just forget it

You weren’t the only one
who thought of us that way
I spend most nights awake
Wide awake

I never thought that I
Oh I would see the day
Where I’d just let you go
Let you walk away
Where I let you walk away.

~Your Graduation 
Modern Baseball, You’re Gonna Miss It All

You never know what’s going to be worth a second listen. But after giving Modern Baseball’s “You’re Gonna Miss It All” a chance via streaming, I instantly knew I’d found part of my soundtrack to these cold, sad weeks of worn-out winter. 
This is an album filled to the brim with tired resentment, over it but self-aware enough not to take such heavy emotion too seriously. I’ve found it appropriately depressed, I’ve found it uplifting and invigorating, I’ve found it fit for wallowing without being a downer. (“Oh, why did I do that?/Why does everything collapse?/Even when it’s glued together.”) Overall it’s incredibly catchy, with occasional harmonies and bright licks. Pop hooks stand out in comfortable contrast with rather nasally lead vocals and tempo-shifting, fast-fingered guitars, showing strong emo influences while forging fresh identity.
The pace is breakneck, even if the songs are not: Tracks start and finish at a healthy clip. The longest song clocks in at 3:05 but the verses are so tight and the meter is so measured. And well-delivered lines that cut straight to heart of emotion are so memorable that there’s no time or need for excess with that kind of lucidity. (“Can we act like we never broke each others’ hearts?/At least mine, I don’t know how you felt from the start”)What makes this album memorable are those moments, unforgettable lines matched with fulfilling, satisfying chords, slow-downs, or key changes. 
While I love what I hear musically, I think the instant connection comes in the lyrics, which are equal parts heartsick and sarcastic. There’s plenty of frustration, fed-up youth and confusion – but there’s also a lot of sass and swagger, enough to pull off borderline kitschy references to Instagram and iPhones, setting scenes in streets and sleepless nights. Much about these songs feels conversational, but set against the powerful, playful and suspended notes and rhythms, they’re somehow mini-tropes, snapshots of love and loss and loser-dom in plain language.
Critically Modern Baseball has proven to be somewhat polarizing, in a love-or-hate, get-it-or-don’t kind of way. Most definitely a “band of the moment,” as far as the Internet seems concerned. But any pop punk band to cut through the Billboard Top 100 within a week or so of release must be doing something right, and this Philadelphia-based quartet has it on lock when it comes to the genre’s signature balance of energy, emotion and nostalgia…I’m glad I gave them a listen, I’m glad I’m on this bandwagon. Really bummed I was out of town when their tour came through Pittsburgh, but I’ll make it up for next time. Maybe in the spring. Until then I’ll fill an empty apartment with fresh songs to quell the same old feelings, grateful for new narratives to pass the time. 
“That’s why I need the silence
I need the empty streets
Just as bad as they don’t need me
It’s a sick, sad sham of a marriage
But it’s all there is
It’s all I need

I can be everything you need
If you make me
I can be every crack in your concrete
If you let me off easy
I can be easily deceived

If you want that
But you are the ember of my heart
Whether you like that or not.

~Pothole

Modern Baseball, You’re Gonna Miss It All

2/12/14

Everything about this song is haunted.

There is a reason this song is Damien Rice’s top played Spotify track, by more than nine million hits. That’s because it’s haunted. From the intro melody, to the meek restraint in Lisa Hannigan’s vocals, to the violin strains you barely hear until they’d fading out with a cymbal roll, every sound is as small and subtle as it needs to be. Lyrically, bitterness intertwines with fear and desire. It is not so much sad as it is self-indulgent, borne of resentment. This is one of those songs where one line carries the message, like a hypnotist uses a crystal, but the admissions of wrongdoing are the kind that get caught in your throat. This is one of those songs, where you play it, and someone hears it, and tells you they love it, and they don’t need to tell you why. Maybe because the weight of the emotion is so moving, maybe because it’s got a taboo edge, but mostly, I think, because it is haunted, and these are not words or sounds that, if you’re hearing what they really mean, you are likely to forget.

“Leave me out with the waste
This is not what I do
It’s the wrong kind of place
To be thinking of you
It’s the wrong time
For somebody new

It’s a small crime
And I’ve got no excuse

Is that alright?
Give my gun away when it’s loaded
Is that alright?
If you don’t shoot it how am I supposed to hold it
Is that alright?

Give my gun away when it’s loaded
Is that alright
With you?

Leave me out with the waste
This is not what I do
It’s the wrong kind of place
To be cheating on you
It’s the wrong time
She’s pulling me through

It’s a small crime
And I’ve got no excuse

Is that alright?
I give my gun away when it’s loaded
Is that alright?
If you don’t shoot it, how am I supposed to hold it
Is that alright?
I give my gun away when it’s loaded
Is that alright
Is that alright with you?

Is that alright?
I give my gun away when it’s loaded
Is that alright?
If you don’t shoot it, how am I supposed to hold it
Is that alright?
If I give my gun away when it’s loaded
Is that alright
Is that alright with you?…”

~9 Crimes
Damien Rice, 9

2/11/14

A funny thing happens when you learn a new word: you start seeing it everywhere. Maybe you simply didn’t notice it before, sandwiched between more familiar parables and phrases, or maybe you’re just on the look out.

When I decided to thumb through Sarah Jaffe’s discography, on a spree of sporadic clicking through Spotify, I didn’t expect to stumble across this song called “Limerence.” What a beautiful word. What a strange, invented sound, like something from a dreamworld with unicorns and castles and magic. And what it means is even stranger and sweeter and somehow frightening: euphoric love to the point of obsession, the barely-believed diagnosis of being literally crazy in love. 
After stumbling across it on Wikipedia late one night, I thought about using the word as a song title for like a second. Then I realized I don’t really title songs, and if I did, whatever I had to say might almost be overtaken by the word and its mystery, its heavy psycho-academic connotations. I would not want to fail to give it justice with something as silly as little love songs (though really, that feeling is all, you could say, they’re about). And what’s a good title if the content is not there to back it up? Not much at all. So, how fitting tonight, then, to stumble across Sarah Jaffe’s track 11 on “The Body Wins,” wonder how she tackled it, and then to click on it and find: it is an instrumental! Her version of limerence is a piano-led, spatial symphony of contrast and suspension, of delay and momentum and echo and anodyne vocals, one where the sound does all the talking and the title suggests all it needs to say. Simple, but in a way that dives deep, and a curious reminder that sometimes, you get to a point where words won’t do anymore.

2/9/14

“Tell me the lie/you’re taking your time/over and over.” 

Damien Jurado is one of the most under-appreciated singer-songwriters out there. If you haven’t heard of him yet, you must give a listen. His work is so moving and beautiful – and consistent. His discography is massive. His style is elegant, his voice is beautiful, his words are heartbreaking.

I’ve enjoyed taking in his new release,”Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son,” but my favorite album by far is 2008’s “Caught in the Trees,” which is cry-worthy good. Each song has incredible amounts of detail, from violins to back-up vocals, along with piano chords, auxiliary, a tasteful blend of guitar sounds and full-bodied rhythms weaving in between softer tracks for just the right spine. Lyrically, he is precise, succinct and often biting.  Nothing overdone here, just the message, highlighted by light harmonies and a complex score. This song, “Go First,” is composed of what basically amounts to six lines – that’s it, that’s all, two short parallel verses and a one-line chorus delivered with a pedal-punch to the gut. Yet it stretches to four and a half minutes with a well-placed, patient guitar solo, and later, a melodic outro. As one of the more mid-tempo tracks on the album, it has great feel, hypnotically so, and as the first song I heard from Jurado I think it’ll always be one of my favorites. So I play it, over and over again.

“Are you all right?
You’re making me nervous with how much you leave me here.
Is it a sign?
I don’t feel like ever getting well

Tell me the lie, you’re taking your time over and over
Tell me the lie, you’re taking your time over and over

My closest friends live on the side of where you now divide.
Is it a sign?
I don’t feel like ever getting well

Tell me the lie, you’re taking your time over and over
Tell me the lie, you’re taking your time over and over

You can go first.
You’re making me nervous with how much you leave me here.
Is it a sign?
I don’t feel we’re ever getting well

Tell me the lie, you’re taking your time over and over
Tell me the lie, you’re taking your time over and over
Tell me the lie, you’re taking your time over and over
Tell me the lie, you’re taking your time over and over.”

~Go First
Damien Jurado, Caught in the Trees

2/8/14

The balance between vulnerability and aggression is a difficult one to strike, as real a combination as it can be. Pouring your heart out without being weak about it is, at times, counterintuitive, in life and in songwriting. Manchester Orchestra have always mastered this, though, and their upcoming album this year is easily one of my most anticipated. But “Mean Everything to Nothing” has always been my favorite in their catalog. I don’t overplay it, not like I used to anyway, so it feels like a little secret, rediscovering something satisfying and suitable every time I listen.

I love how heavy it feels without losing fine threads of melody, feeling syncopated and demanding while making full use of tension. Sweeping full band crescendos, moments of quiet contrast, and dark, dark chords paint a backdrop for some of the harshest, biting poetry Andy Hull ever dreamed up….I love his scenes and assertions and questions, how physical and visceral they are. Mostly what I love about this album, especially the latter half, is how it sits so steady on the borderline of insanity, capturing and embracing and exploring that feeling of completely losing it, offering a semblance of surety and a center among the chaos.

“Definitely not the things that I’m seeing

Did I think I see so instantly?
I found a note in my grandfather’s coat
When I read it out loud I got cold
It said I’m not complaining
Yeah I was just saying,
‘I’m a man, I’m a lost one you see’
Come down with me to a place,
we’ll get clean and we’ll meet with them eventually
You mean everything
I don’t know much
But a crutch is a crutch
If it’s holding you from moving on

I don’t know what to do
Not anymore, not anymore
I don’t know what to do
Not anymore, not anymore
And you, well you mean everything
You mean everything to nothing
You mean everything to nobody,
You mean everything to nothing
You mean everything, to nobody but me.”

~Everything to Nothing
Manchester Orchestra, Mean Everything to Nothing

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