learning love songs

est. 2008


June 2014


There’s a new Say Anything record out, and I listened to it, and it was good, but I didn’t really want to listen to it again. Instead I just wanted to listen to old Say anything, so this evening I’ve been rediscovering songs from records I’d only given a try once or tonight.

“…Is a Real Boy,” is a classic, no questions asked. But later albums have choice tracks that have, in many ways, evolved from there. Truly an artist, Max Bemis never shies away from “the crazy,” but rather embraces it. So with each record he’s change his focus some, tapped into new perspectives or attitudes. “Hebrews” looks outward as much as it does in. It’s incredibly passionate, and breaks and bends with frustration at every turn of a chorus to a bridge.  It’s a little chaotic, and it feels like madness in a lot of ways. Though I don’t think I’ll get too much more into it, I’m glad it retains some of that same independent, forceful rebellion that made his breakout so bold and memorable.What has always stood out more, to me, are the songs that channel the insatiable, the thirst for someone else or something for me, a theme you’ll see through it all – and as far back as 2002.

Twelve years ago, Bemis did things a lot more simplistically. What a pretty, strange little song this is. But it’s still so weird, so right with all its wrong notes, and for how brash and brazen the phrasing is. With the almost sleazy way he sounds, the way he speaks of sweat and spit, it’s a song about sex, sure, but there’s something more, in the “sugar” and the “angel” that’s coming from more than the physical attraction, from the angle that was missed.

Way to go, “About Falling” YouTube playlist, for bringing me back to this one.

“You’re looking quite sharp, sugar.

You’ve got some teeth on that stare.
You’ve got them tattered blue jeans on.
You’ve done that thing with your hair.
This bed could use a secret and these pounding hearts could keep it.
If you could, then I could, I swear.

You turned me on and I’d like to know if you were trying.
Angel we are so gone.

By tonight
The earth bursts open

By tonight
We shed this clothing
You’ll see me from the angle that you missed.
Nothing exists, but this.

You’re looking high strung, sugar. 

Why don’t you sink a little bit?
Into the sea of sweat our skin can spit.

It was good to keep me guessing because you know i hate attention,
But can we get down to it? Can we get down to it?

You turned me on and I’d like to know if you were trying.
Angel we are so gone.

By tonight
The earth bursts open
By tonight
we shed this clothing
By tonight
You’ll see me from the angle that you missed.
Nothing exists, but this.

~By Tonight
Say Anything, Menorah/Mejora


“Never thought I’d let a rumor ruin my moonlight.” 
~Somebody Told Me
The Killers, Hot Fuss

What a memorable summer I had the year I turned 16. I had the best friends, a part-time job at the local amusement park by the lake, and music, music, everywhere, all the time, on the stereo, in headphones, at the church basement where I practiced ballet nightly.

What a memorable summer that was for modern music. We’ve seen lots of 10-year anniversary stories and collections commemorating albums that came out in 2004, and I cannot believe how long and short a decade can seem. Perhaps these albums are only so memorable because they were so formative for me – and other musically minded souls of my generation – but maybe, in some way, they mark something of a turning point for pop and rock, the branching of indie into the mainstream, that pre-hipster era when laptop production was just coming into the forefront and beards and acoustics and banjos were just starting to seem relevant again. Somehow, through all that, the concept of the band still hung around.

That summer, caught somewhere between a woman and a child, I found myself as obsessed with listening to albums I’d ever been. While preoccupations with boys and friends and fears filled my teenage head, I had found a culture to immerse myself in, a topic to become an expert on that would provide a starting point of conversation with others and emotional fulfillment in the lonely hours. I usually spent the mornings burning CDs to soundtrack laying out in the sun on my driveway, or for when my friends would come over in the afternoon to hang out in the basement before we walked down to 7-11 or the hill by Laurelton-Pardee school. Chief among the albums I played, over and over again, was “Hot Fuss,” the debut from this hot chart-topping Vegas band called The Killers.

From the danger-driven chorus of the opening track, “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” to the infectious “Mr.Brightside,” and the anthematic “All These Things That I’ve Done,” not a track on this album is to be missed. Something about The Killers was so fresh and edgy, without being too far afield from the pop rock formats buzzing through the airwaves. This was a post-punk revival, fueled by pedals and swift snare hits supplementing rich synth grooves underneath stories of sex and jealousy and living fast, but not without a gripping fear and fragility.

“Over and in, last call for sin
While everyone’s lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I’ve done.”

~All These Things That I’ve Done

The Killers, Hot Fuss

Take the lead-in to the chorus of “Somebody Told Me,” the repeated hook about heaven with ascending chords, suspended and full. So much of this album is minor and dark, it is heavy but sparkling, like it’s studded with cheap rhinestones. I love how Brandon Flowers manages to pull off storytelling frontman without making it all about him (not on this album, anyway). Mostly, one of the main things I still really love about this album is how ringing and rich the production is. Every song on this album has layers upon layers of transcendent sounds, building and breaking , the kind painting a landscape far back in the mix, a backdrop for the band to dance in front of. 
But I don’t know if I cared about those kind of details when I first listened to this album, over and over again – at least, not consciously. I think I liked the words and the attitude. I think I liked the recklessness, I think I liked how biting and angry the songs could be without being terribly depressing to listen to – see “Smile Like You Mean It,” or “Change Your Mind.” I know I liked how addicting this hooks are – the last day or so, I’ve probably listened to “Hot Fuss” three or four times through and every song is an earworm in its own way. What was extra cool about this record was *everybody* liked The Killers. I became friends with one of my coworkers at Sea Breeze, a kid named Steve with curly hair and tall socks who would always annoy the hell out of me, only after I caught him humming “All These Things That I’ve Done.”  When I’d invite friends from all over town to my house, some older, some younger, some hipper, some weirder, this was an album I knew I could put on that would set a good vibe without being dry, dull or offensive to those with more refined modern tastes. Everyone knew “Mr.Brightside,” and then everyone knew “Somebody Told Me,” and  somewhere in there, The Killers became a band with popularity among the masses that was OK for elitist emo listeners, too.

This album drummed up a lot of high hopes for The Killers as a band to watch. Sadly, I don’t know if they really delivered on that front. I’ve tried hard to get into their later stuff, and I have done quite well, but it’s not without biting my tongue through some really cringe-worthy, campy moments (see “Human” or “Flesh and Bone”). Tracks like “Dustland Fairytale” and obviously “When You Were Young,” though, have solidified their image as dusty, dramatic American rock band, one who took a shot in the dark on a debut and created one of the most memorable albums of the decade – for me, for certain, and probably for a lot of other listeners, too.


The team at Hopeless Records has an eye for talent – and my new indulgence from their catalog is Driver Friendly. With horns, synth, duo lead vocals and grim, grinning lyrics, this band is everything I like about “new” pop punk. They pull threads of bands that have been around for years like NGF, TBS and TDS while fitting in with the hook-friendly likes of All Time Low or We are the In Crowd (who, by the way, have a cover of “Sic Transit Gloria” that makes me want to claw my eyes out).

I was pleased to find this band, via aimless clicking through YouTube recommendations, for something new and upbeat but just so-slightly cynical on an ordinary day, full of feeling my ordinary ways. Even better to find their new LP drops next month, because those bridges, back-up vocals and radio-friendly fills just beg to be blasted through a car stereo on a hot summer night. While there’s a lot about Driver Friendly that’s pretty formulaic and perhaps juvenile, their last record has some really memorable moments and creative use of instrumentation. Beyond that, it’s usually strangely comforting to me when I find new scene bands carrying on the themes and tropes of the scene bands I grew up with – themes of falling, striving for stability, recklessness – whose songs don’t completely suck and are actually fun to listen to. These are the songs I identified with as a younger version of me, the ones with narratives of struggle, loneliness and helplessness. I still do. With every year, and every album that finds its way into meaning something in my life, there’s new manifestations and understandings of those same old fears and feelings. Who cares how new or old the song is  – or, for that matter, the band?

And as far as Driver Friendly goes, having a guest verse from Dan Campbell doesn’t hurt either. How am I not supposed to click on that? Smart move, Hopeless. 
“Used to believe in stability
Or the thought of being stable
Well, I’m not able
To stay inside the lines
Details and numbers
Swallowed up my insides
And it starts to slip away

I found safety in the taste of the ground
Why do we fall down?
You always tell me you’re just waiting for the fall
If we fall we can claw our way out
I’d rather crawl than stand so tall.

I just want to see the finish line
Just want to see the other side
But I’m not able.

Stuck between the past, some times,

and the future tense
Balance on the precipice
And it starts to slip away

I wish I could refuse to cave in
But it’s so easy to pretend I’m brave
When in the end, I’m collapsible at best.

I’m collapsible at best.

If we fall we can claw our way out,
If we fall we can claw our way out.

I found safety in the taste of the ground
Why do we fall down?
You always tell me you’re just waiting for the fall…
If we fall we can claw our way out,

I’d rather crawl than stand so tall.
~Stand So Tall 
Driver Friendly, Unimagined Bridges


Her voice, on those last few notes of the chorus, is nothing short of shiver inducing. Her words, phrased in uncomplicated scenes and feelings, are full of all things sad. Her loneliness, and strength, is palpable.

Jenny Lewis is one of those musicians I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. I don’t think she’ll ever stop making music that works for me. From that first time I heard her, live with Rilo Kiley on Coldplay’s X&Y tour in 2005 from the lawn of Darien Lake, I was instantly hooked. Ten years later, about, she’s putting out incredible solo work and recording with the best of them. She sounds rich, raw, assured. She sneers with a shyness, her voice a softly fluttering, slippery ribbon. Some tracks party a little harder than others, some quiver with strains of gospel, and some, like this beautiful title track from her last LP, are ballads in the key of heartache, full of honest longing.

With simple acoustic strumming in a four-chord form, and harmonies full, rich and deep, the words of this song are free to shine, and the structure makes it so. Writing in such succinct patterns can be a challenge, a maze whose walls are not always high enough to contain the meaning and means of the message, but when it is done well, no doubt can be had: it is a song. It is meant for melodies, to be sung and heard, bound to resonate and satisfy. Our minds like patterns and rhymes, we like repetition, but we also crave connection. So from there, simplicity rules: words like “liar,” and casual, reminiscent “we’s,” and fire metaphors, the comparison of loneliness and addiction, these are things we know and feel. Lewis does not pontificate, but she is thoughtful. She does not parade, but she does spin a yarn. She leaves hints, casts doubt, and wraps it all up with a tough and trembling cry. 
Looking forward to The Voyager on July 29, and hearing what else she has to say.

“I went to a cobbler
To fix a hole in my shoe
He took one look at my face
And said, “I can fix that hole in you”

I beg your pardon
I’m not looking for a cure
Seen enough of my friends
In the depths of the godsick blues

You know I am a liar
You know I am a liar
Nobody helps a liar

Because I’ve been down to Dixie
And dropped acid on my tongue
Tripped upon the land
Until enough was enough

I was a little bit lighter
And adventure on my sleeve
I was a little drunk
And looking for company

So I found myself a sweetheart
With the softest of hands
We were unlucky in love
But I’d do it all again

We build ourselves a fire
We build ourselves a fire
But you know I am a liar
You know I am a liar

And you don’t know what I’ve done.

By the rolling river is
Exactly where I was
There was no simple cure
For unlucky in love

To be lonely is a habit
Like smoking or taking drugs
And I’ve quit them both
But man, was it rough

Now I am tired
It just made me tired
Let’s build ourselves a fire
Let’s build ourselves a fire”

~acid tongue, 
Jenny Lewis, acid tongue


Ever write the date only to pause, pull your hand back and feel a little dazed for a second? In a “wow-how-is-it-this-day-this-year” kind of moment? These moments still me, center me, in a frighteningly human way. That future you wondered about, the plans you made and re-made, it all happened and it is passed, but still, it is all there…the years wrinkled into your skin, tied up tight in your neck and shoulders and ribs and brain cells…but how could it move so quickly, and for what ends, exactly, at this juncture?

Some of my favorite songs are about wandering, about that recognition of time and space. This one never gets old. With a subtle harmony, brush strokes of rhythm and bluegrass auxiliary, this song is one of several from Peter Bradley Adams I find quite timeless and centering, although wistful. I find his style inspiring, as folk-pop/Americana like this can sometimes feel too contrived, or too country. Adams, though, has a gift for the perfectly timed rhyme, measure for measure and syllable for syllable, I find his music stirring without being intrusive, memorable, without digging under the skin. Simply sweet, sad songs, for sweet, sad nights in need of calm, meditation and dancing.

If it weren’t for such a pleasing melody, everything about this song would be sad. But it burns even and tempered, a campfire at dusk, a pensive walk through the tangled woods of memory, where setting suns and rising moons peak through the trees.

“When my blood runs warm with the warm red wine

I miss the life that I left behind
But when I hear the sound of the blackbirds cry
I know I left in the nick of time

Well this road I’m on’s gonna turn to sand
And leave me lost in a far off land
So let me ride the wind til I don’t look back
Forget the life that I almost had

If I wander til I die
May I know who’s hand I’m in

If my home I’ll never find
And let me live again

The longer I run
Then the less that I find
Sellin my soul for a nickel and dime
Breakin my heart to keep singing these rhymes
And losin again

The longer I run
Then the less that I find
Sellin my soul for a nickel and dime
Breakin my heart to keep singing these rhymes
And losin again

Tell my brother please not to look for me
I ain’t the man that I used to be
But if my savior comes could you let him know
I’ve gone away for to save my soul

If I wander til I die
May I know who’s hand I’m in
If my home I’ll never find
And let me live again

The longer I run
Then the less that I find
Sellin’ my soul for a nickel and dime
Breakin’ my heart to keep singing these rhymes
And losin’ again

The longer I run
Then the less that I find
Sellin my soul for a nickel and dime
Breakin my heart to keep singing these rhymes
And losing again

Losing again…”

~The Longer I Run 
Peter Bradley Adams, Leavetaking

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