learning love songs

est. 2008


May 2014


“Even at 25, you gotta start sometime.” 

With only a few days left where that lyric can be relevant to my age and existence, this song has been floating through my head at regular intervals in recent weeks. Few bands have held as constant a presence in my life as Jimmy Eat World during the past decade or so, a testament to their timeless mastery of the American rock song and coming-of-age, accepting-of-age narratives. I will never tire of them. 

This song, a better known track by fair-weather fans and a firm staple in any best-of catalog, is the ultimate kiss-off to self-doubt and procrastination. It also has one of the most memorable hooks, and opening cymbal hits, you’ll find from the early 2000s alt-rock era. This song, with its undeniably catchy melody and backbeat, is about action, about being present, about showing up for your own life.  

“Are you gonna waste your time 

Thinkin’ how you’ve grown up, or how you missed out?”

Spending a life waiting for something to happen is no life at all, not when the potential to act, to achieve, to love and feel and experience exists at the fingertips of those willing to reach for it. At a quarter-century of life, it is not too late to shape these dreams. Modern society seems to have these boundaries mapped out for us, suggesting when adulthood should kick in and when we should become the functioning cog we’re meant to be, but life is far more messy than those broad strokes allow. We fumble and fall on the way to our destinations, we take one step forward and two steps back, then leap ahead miles in a single bound and stumble on the landing. 
Still, what a comforting, inspiring reminder it is to know it’s never too late to keep trying. All I need is just to hear a song I know.

“I’m on my feet, I’m on the floor, I’m good to go.
So come on Davey, sing me somethin’ that I know.
I wanna always feel like part of this was mine.
I wanna fall in love tonight, here tonight.
I wanna always feel like part of this was mine
I wanna fall in love tonight.

~A Praise Chorus
Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American


Is there ever a better musical gift from the universe than a new Tori Amos album right when you need it?

On “Unrepentant Geraldines,” Tori Amos gives us who she is, who she always was, and who she is proud to be. Amid plenty of high-culture, full-band and symphony-tinged numbers filled with whimsy and smart lyrical takes on life and society, I cannot help but feel instantly drawn to the softer, piano-led moments of composition-driven narratives, the kind where she channels analytical depths of heart and mind the way she has so many times before, though they’ve only grown with age, experience and time.

There is much to be said about this record, and its many movements and muses, but tonight I find myself completely struck by a mid-album ballad, “Selkie,” which is the kind of song that creeps into your subconscious, lays down roots and digs deep. By Tori standards, it’s a positively uplifting ode to romance and devotion. Characters and scenery paint a story unknown to any but the author, and yet, with the right chords, chorus and metaphor, we recognize its tenants. Tori is difficult for many listeners to understand, but she has never been anything short crystal clear feeling to me. On this record, on songs like “Selkie,” I think we see an artist who, for decades, has honed her natural-born talent and hard work into a sound all her own, one that now is most prominently influenced by the artist’s own body of work.

I’ve listened to this album 10 times through so far, and more tracks are instant classics than I could ever hope to hear. “Selkie” is very likely one of them, because it is delicate and thoughtful, it is straightforward, it is artistic, strange and beautiful.

“Selkie unzips her skin, finally determined
Through a window in the dark, there he sits all alone

I’ve been waiting on the love of my life to find
He’s been waiting on his selkie to come back

He said “I know these shores are not like yours
But will you make your home in my arms?”

Selkie battled tide and wave just to gaze upon his face
Hiding behind rocks to learn if he found a new love

Lorelei sings the song for lovers who were torn apart then left broken-hearted
Lorelei hears the cry of lovers that the sea of fate had separated.

Selkie puts her hand in his, he knows the gift she gives
There inside his cabinet, folded safe her seal skin

I’ve been waiting on the love of my life to find
He’s been waiting on his selkie to come back

He said “I know these shores are not like yours
But will you make your home in my arms?”
Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines


New records from old bands can be hard to love. If I had to pick my favorite thing about the new Taking Back Sunday album, “Happiness Is,” it is how easy it was to sink into, how it’s grown to be such a reliable, satisfying record nearly two months after its release.

Listening to it today, outside of an auto shop feeling broke and defeated, I found myself flicking through old favorite songs on my iPod, largely unmoved by traditional favorites. I’d heard it all before. Then I saw the cover for “Happiness Is,” a record with just the right balance of fresh and familiar.

“So if you’re interested,
I’ll take you anywhere.
I’ll buy some beat up car,
We could get out of here,
I’ll take you anywhere that you want to go.”

~Beat Up Car
Taking Back Sunday, Happiness Is

I cannot call this a pop punk record. It neither emo nor indie. Maybe it is a breed of anthemic stadium rock, derived from those sensibilities, with these big, soaring choruses, memorable bridges and high-flown drum parts, spilling over the edges with heartbreak and swagger to spare.

Lyrically, the album expands from where this band started, past the internal difficulties and crises into a more external, contextual setting. Other people’s feelings are involved now, different vantage points are considered, and a sense of place in the world is just-so explored. A rock record can be, but is usually not, a philosophical exercise. Over-ambition to understand the world in this medium can cloud any real meaning authenticity alone will provide. When you get a band like TBS, who came up as angry kids from Long Island and found themselves legions of fans, it could’ve been such an easy ending to see them try too hard. It could’ve be easy for them to fail under the weight of their own standards. Instead, I think post-reunion-with-John-Nolan TBS shows us a band that’s been around the block a time or two, and tapped into what they learned.

“Flicker flicker fade, destroy what you create
And wonder why it always ends the same.”

~Flicker, Fade
Taking Back Sunday, Happiness Is

You can call this solid rock music, straight no chaser. Trendy frills are not explored. Restraint and resolve are the guiding forces, on moments like the final chorus of “It Takes More” and the utter drive of the centerstage rhythm section on “All the Way.” The lead single, “Flicker, Fade,” is slowly becoming one of my favorite songs of this spring, seemingly capturing everything I love about this band from its cutthroat honesty to great hooks, and duo vocals and memorable guitar parts. “Beat Up Car” is a standout, too, with the opening notes as rattled and ripe as you’d find on TBS albums from half a decade ago, but with a more focused attention on notes, and how to find the right wrong ones.

The best moments, I think, are the contemplative ones. A song like “Nothing At All,” which is, in my opinion, the band’s best album closer yet, builds a beautiful atmosphere for self-reflection, a tapestry of ringing guitars and echoing harmonies mirroring the album’s startlingly ambitious “Preface” opener. The last two minutes or so of “We Were Younger Then” do the same thing, and once again, the vocal trade-off between John and Adam steals the show the way it always has. You’ll hear it on this track, the fact that Taking Back Sunday has never used space in the way they have on this album, with layers upon layers of sound. The growth is evident. No longer is this band solely writing four-chord angry assaults on broken hearts and fevered fights among friends.

Taking Back Sunday won’t ever write “Tell All Your Friends” again. But they don’t have to.

“You wait in the dark for the music to soothe you to sleep
Swallow your fears
Become them eventually.

You sit like King David,
Watching women through windows and walls
Chase your desires until you find nothing at all.

Until you find nothing at all,
Until you find nothing at all,
Until you find nothing at all,
Until you find nothing at all.

I shake my heavy head and find ways to shift the blame,
I hate the rules but I still play the game.
I got an eye on the prize,
Another on the clock on the wall,
I get what I want until I want nothing at all.

Until I want nothing at all,
Until I want nothing at all,
Until I want nothing at all,
Until I want nothing at all.”
~ Nothing At All,
Taking Back Sunday, Happiness Is



Something about a real classy, traditional cover that just hits all the right notes.

With her voice, so bluesy and pure, and this song, so traditional and heartfelt, I cannot help but sip some tea, light a cigarette, and indulge in the purity of grand piano keys and soft brushes on a snare.  A good torch song will do you right, and a singer like Fiona will bring out its most delicate and honest moments. It’s easy, I think, on first listen, to write off the kind of songs you’ve heard time and time again, or at least thought you have, the kind of songs with this old-school vibe. So easily we forget how much these words meant to the one who wrote them, back in the 30s, 40s, 50s, or whenever.

<a href="http://

” target=”_blank”>This Sinatra standard was composed with Cy Coleman, a Broadway type, and Joe McCarthy, a lyricist of the Tin Pan Alley cohort. I can’t even find the exact year they wrote this (at least, on the first page of Google), because people forget these things so easily and songs then just seemed the breathe their way into existence. I just know Sintara recorded it as a kiss-off to Columbia. But when McCarthy wrote these words, he felt something, he knew something, about not being conventional and being off and having bad habits, and knowing in his soul that maybe it was worth staying true to who he was, despite the melancholy of the day, the melancholy this melody captures so well? Songs had integrity back then, and that is what makes them so timeless, so worthy of reinvention without sacrificing the classic sensibilities. At the end of the day, the songs worth revisiting will be the ones that tap into something beyond modern trends, into something with much more heart and honesty and purity that, when crafted in the right hands, needn’t be made by trying too hard.

“I’m sentimental
So I walk in the rain
I’ve got some habits
Even I can’t explain

Go to the corner,
I end up in Spain
Why try to change me now?

I sit and daydream
I’ve got daydreams galore
Cigarette ashes
There they go on the floor
Go away weekends,
Leave my keys in the door
Why try to change me now?

Why can’t I be more conventional?
People talk, people stare.
So I try
But that can’t be,
Cause I can’t see
My strange little world
Just go passing me by.

So let people wonder,
Let ’em laugh, let ’em frown

You know I’ll love you
Till the moon’s upside down
Don’t you remember?
I was always your clown.
Why try to change me now?

Don’t you remember
I was always your clown
Why try to change me,
Why try to change me now?”

~Why Try to Change Me Now
Fiona Apple, Then Was Then & Now Is Now


While I tend to shy away from bands that seem to take the hipster mountain man trope too far, I’ve got a soft spot for Portland-bred Blind Pilot. Their sound is incredibly sweet yet deep, decorated with detail but not for the detail’s sake. Something about this song, the title track closer from their debut, is so gorgeous beyond its simple chord choices – maybe it’s the subtle sound of uncanny strings, like an upright and dulcimer and mandolin. Maybe it’s the sheer patience of the first verses, before the ascending chorus and its to-the-point,from-the-heart hook. The overlap of the third verse and chorus to close it out is an excellent touch, especially when those words just pop against each other – “crisscross,” “fog,” “three rounds and a sound,” “you know me.” Mostly I love the way Blind Pilot manages to carry a heavy weight of feeling on the lightest of sounds and waves, sharing these troubles, trials and desires without getting too caught up in the density of it. At the heart, it’s simply beautiful music.

“They’re playing our song
They’re playing our song
Can you see the lights?
Can you hear the hum,
of our song?

I hope they get it right
I hope we dance tonight
Before we, get it wrong.

And the seasons 

Will change us new
But you’re the best I’ve known
and you know me
I could not be stuck on you
If it weren’t true

I was swimming
My eyes were dark
’til you woke me
And told me that opening
is just the start
It was
Now I see you, ’til kingdom come
You’re the one I want
to see me for all
the stupid shit I’ve done

Soil and six feet under,
Kept just like we were
Before you knew you’d know me
and you know me.

Blooming up from the ground
Three rounds and a sound
Like whispering ‘you know me,

You know me.’
So this was our song,
This was our song.
I still see the lights
I can see them

And the crisscross
Of what is true, won’t get to us
‘Cause you know me,
I could not give up on you.

And the fog of
what is right
Won’t cover us

’cause you know me-
I could not give up a fight.

Soil and six feet under
(Crisscross of what is true, won’t get to us)
Kept just like we were
(Cause you know me. I could not give up on you)
Before you knew you’d know me
(But you feel the truth)
And you know me

Blooming up from the ground
(And the fog of what is right won’t cover us)
Three rounds and a sound
(Cause you know me, I could not give up a fight)
Like whispering ‘you know me
(But you feel right)
You know me.'”

~3 Rounds and a Sound 
Blind Pilot, 3 Rounds and a Sound

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