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learning love songs

est. 2008

Month

July 2014

7/27/14

“And I’m so sad
Like a good book, I can’t put this
Day back
A sorta fairytale with you.”

Today I had the brilliant stroke of Pandora-induced luck to discover the demo version of “A Sorta Fairytale.” I think I’ve listened to this song three quarters of the mornings in the past month, the version from “Scarlet’s Walk,”  which is a stunning and moving tale of soulmates gone awry. It’s among my favorite tracks from 2000s-era Tori. But this version, with the solo piano, and the first draft of the lyrics, is much more intimate. And what are soulmates, if not that?

So, today, I heard this, and I danced in a parking lot. I waltzed and balanced with my headphones in my sandals, because it was empty of others and I was wandering and I felt like I was hearing something just for me just when I needed it. Especially with the tone of her voice on a line brand new to me – “this thing we created” – this, which encapsulated all the fretting and pain of the original verse, plus some, and so I broke into a thousand pieces and danced about it, because I was validated that yes, I knew what this tune was all about.

I would write more what I think this song is about, but instead I’ll use this quote from the writer herself, included in “Scarlet’s Stories:”

“I think that there is a place where she [Scarlet] realizes that people come in and out of your life. Sometimes for a day, sometimes for longer. And all of them make you what you are. You can’t separate these people out of you. They form who you are. Even the ones that you kind of say well… you know, I don’t know if I wanna be formed by them anymore. (laughs) But you are in some way. You are. That’s why, maybe, you don’t have to look at them so harshly because they have affected you. At the end, though, you know… it’s us as individuals with our… mm… with our love for the land. For something intangible, that when soulmates come and go, you’re never alone even when you’re standing just you in your shoes, because you carry them with you.”

“On my way up north
Up on the Ventura
I pulled back the hood
and I was talking to you
and i knew then it would be
a life-long thing, but I didn’t
know that it could
break so well and clean

and I’m so sad
like a good book
I can’t put this day back
a sorta fairytale with you

Said that day up on the 101
you would be someone
you tried to downplay it
but i knew we had come
face to face with this thing we created

and I’m so sad
like a good book
I can’t but this day back
a sorta fairytale with you
I could pick back up whenever I feel…


 And I was riding by
riding along side for a while
til you lost me and i was
riding along side til you lost me
til you lost me in the rearview

til you lost me, i said

Way up north, i took my day
all and all, was a pretty nice day
and i put the hood right back where
you could taste heaven perfectly.
feel out the summer breeze
didn’t know when we’d back and i
i don’t, i didn’t think we’d end up like,

like this.”
~A Sorta Fairytale
Tori Amos, A Piano: The Collection

7/26/14

Mysterious, moody, symphonic and subtle, Copeland songs get under my skin something fierce. Whenever I listen to them, I obsess indefinitely, because they have this way of sinking my heart and lifting my spirits at the same time. 
Here, in this song, it’s in the strings, it’s in the falsetto, it’s in their ever-immaculate ability to hold a silence before sweeping in with something grand and beautiful. I love the delay on the first guitar line in this song, how it echoes like a memory. Earlier Copeland sounds a lot more like their indie alt-rock counterparts of the early 2000s, with guitar solos and distortion as prominent as the piano that was something of their trademark, but since then, their composition skills easily outshined their peers beyond a full-band sound, embracing varied instruments and atmosphere. They’ve honed in on the cerebral. 
Everything about their music is highly self-aware. Copeland excels musically and lyrically, I think, because of precise, note-by-note layering and equally precise introspection. But those thoughts are present, and poetic, offering thoughts and observations along with the spilling of guts. So it never feels that sad, it never feels that vulnerable, as an element of reason counterbalances all that feeling. For a listener such as me, what a gift. Even in their more depressing narratives, such as this, defeat is skewed with a slight, desperate promise of hanging on and getting lost in songs. 

The next Copeland album, the first since the magnificent “You are My Sunshine” in 2008 and their subsequent hiatus, comes out this October. I cannot wait. With the many events and experiences I know I have on the horizon, and the thoughts and feelings swimming about, I’ll know I’ll want something deep and meaningful to cling to, and a much-anticipated reunion release from a band that’s consistently blown me in away could be exactly the right fit.

“You see the night is all I have to make me feel,
And all I want is just a love to make it hurt.
Cause all I need is something fine to make me lose.
Now it’s a funny way I find myself with you.

Because this song is all I have to make me feel,
And all it takes is just a love to make it hurt.
And every sound arranged in time can make me lose.
Now it’s a funny way I find myself with you.

But now there’s nothing left to do but waste my time.
I never knew where to move on.
I never knew what to rely upon.
And now there’s nothing left to say to change your mind.
And if you’re are unhappy still,
I will be hanging on your line should you return.
Should you return, should you return.

Because the night is all I have to make me feel,
And all I want is just a dream to make it worthwhile.
Cause all I need is someone close to make me lose.
Now it’s a funny way I find myself with you.

But now there’s nothing left to do but waste my time.
I never knew where to move on.
I never knew what to rely upon.

But now there’s nothing left to say to change your mind.
And if you’re unhappy still,
I will be hanging on your line.


But now there’s nothing left to do to draw you eyes.
I never knew where to move on.
I never knew what to rely upon.
But now there’s nothing left to say to change your mind.
And if you’re just sinking down,
I will pulling on your line.

But now there’s nothing left to do but waste my time.
I never knew where to move on.
I never knew what to rely upon.
But now there’s nothing left to say to change your mind
And if you’re unhappy still,

I will be hanging on your line should you return.
Should you return, should you return.

~Should You Return
Copeland, You Are My Sunshine

7/20/14


“meet me there, in the blue
where words are not, feeling remains. 

sincerity, trust in me, throw myself into your door.


well i go in circles 
running down.

meet me there in the blue
where words are not feeling
oh i dream to heal your wounds
but i bleed myself, 
well i bleed myself.

well i go in circles 
running down.” 

~In Circles, 
Sunny Day Real Estate, Diary 
This album was released 20 years ago. Let that sink in, especially around the minute-and-a-half mark when the one-liner chorus kicks in followed by the kind of signature suspended minor chords so often employed by this band that helped shape a genre, the kind that make you realize how much intensity is often missing in today’s alt-rock. This is probably my favorite track of theirs, that chorus memorialized in passing moments in other-friends-of-older-friends basements. I missed out on this early age of emo, the one rooted deep in grunge, by sheer timing. So I played catch-up as I best I could while still discovering the trends and trials of the scene of the early aughts. But since everyone’s getting all #emorevival and since good music has no shelf life, it seems a good year to fully uncover the bands that lurked around the edges for me. It’s been incredibly satisfying, at a time when new music and bands (with select exception) get stale pretty quickly with the same old tired sound and weak attempts at shaping an “image” that often comes across as fakery. Better to seek out something already tested, that’s held up against the unrelenting foes of times and taste.From ample and front-loaded bass lines, heavy distortion and strung-out-on-sadness lyrics, so much of what I hear in Sunny Day Real Estate is everything I look for when I search out new up-and-coming bands today. Especially when I find the aggressive, understated drama so perfectly suitable for wordless feeling. Especially when their brand of taut and unresolved melody creates a forceful misery, one with enough attack and movement to distract the busy mind and assault the masochistic heart.

7/15/14



“I hate you
I hate you

I do
I hate that
you’re the one who can
make me feel gorgeous
with just just a flick of your finger
it is that easy

yes there was a time
you didn’t always get your way
back there where my heart
was not so easy to invade
when my battlements were strong
before the pilgrims came
don’t forget you were the one
who loved my wild way.”

It only takes three minutes to be perfectly haunted, as learned from the latest Tori Amos record. Something about the way she pairs this fierce and violent phrase – hate – with a delicate vocal tone makes for the most emotive, vulnerable kind of need and emotional conflict. While the subtle orchestral blends with the rest of the album, everything good and moving about this song is contained in very simple phrasing and structure. Restraint gives way to strength, in the form of saddened declaration.

I remember hearing this song when the album first debuted, and finding it rather striking and stilling and classic Tori on an album where she toys with a lot of new territory. I thought it was the saddest, and perhaps the most heartbroken, song on “Unrepentant Geraldines,” a pensive album that deals with relationships and aging and society in a very smart, strong, artistic fashion.  Today, it is all I can replay,with a little of “Tales of a Librarian” mixed in for highlights, like “Silent” and “Crucify.” Today, all I could do was return to the familiar.

“I hate you,
I hate you, I do.
I hate that
I turn into a kind
some kind of monster
with just just a flick of your finger
it is that easy

of course there was a time
you didn’t always get your way
back there where my heart
was not so easy to invade

when my battlements were strong
before the pilgrims came,
don’t forget you were the one
who loved my wild way

I hate you
I hate you
I do
I hate that
you’re the one who can
make me feel gorgeous
with just just a flick of your finger
it is that easy
to hate you
to hate you.”

~Wild Way
Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines

7/12/14



“If I lay here long enough, maybe the bugs will eat me whole. If I stay here long enough maybe the night could take me home. I won’t let go, even if you say so.”~Divorce and the American South

I often wonder what it’s like to be the kind of person who can be happy just by being present, those yoga-minded folk who can see a blue sky and sunshine and feel at peace, who don’t need anything more than the breath in their lungs to feel happy and grateful to be alive. Moments like that, for me, are hard to come by. I’ve just never been that calm of a person. But, I do get that feeling from certain albums; at least they can chase away the constant companions of anxiety and complication, often through commiseration.

I’ve long admired the work of Dan “Soupy” Campbell, for his ability to tease out the hardest feelings in realist scenes, his brutal self-awareness and his ever-emotive vocals. I’ve loved The Wonder Years for a long time now, I’ve drank in all they offer, and loved them more and more along the way. The news of his solo project, Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties, made me excited and nervous. Listening to it makes my heart hurt in the best way, with the saddest kind of tale of loneliness and regret. Musically, it’s the most mature, full, and experimental we’ve seen from Campbell yet.

The first few times I heard this record through I knew instantly it was fabulous but I couldn’t tell why. It took a morning or two of feeling unsettled and a little desolate myself before it fully washed over me, as if I needed some kind of target before I let the arrow drive through my heart. That’s because it is really fucking sad. This fictional narrative is fueled by emotion of the most broken, busted kind. This is an album told from a lost and lonely soul from the bottom of an empty bottle. Each scene symbolizes defeat, if not admitting to it directly.

From start to finish, Campbell gives imagery to desperation with his story of a man whose lost seemingly everything but the conscious awareness of how fucked up his life has become. Songs like “Runnin’ Scared” and “The Thunderbird Inn” are testaments to what it means to be hopeless, a feeling that shouldn’t translate itself to sing-along choruses. But this is where Campbell’s storytelling abilities come in, with his full-fingered grip on how emptiness manifests itself in drinking, sunken eyes and late rent checks.



“Well I know I’m a coward and I feel a bad night coming, didn’t know that I looked that pathetic.” ~Runnin’ Scared

When discussing this album, Campbell talks about the “expansive tonal palette” he wanted to create, which I think he hits dead on. For all its loneliness, “We Don’t Have Each Other” is incredibly warm, satisfyingly so. His strained throat and acoustic strumming are a pretty constant presence, with background vocals and plenty of build in the rhythm section adding a folk-rock weight. I’m always a bit cautious when I hear about musicians tinkering with horn sections, as they can become gimmicks. But here, they add dimension, a depth just theatrical enough to soundtrack the desolate Aaron’s journey through his own depression. Even from this depth, though, the album is never frantic or madcap. The timing on this album is so measured and I think that adds to its literary capacity. We’ve heard TWY take it slow before, but I think Campbell sounds great in this mid-tempo world, with its varied roots of punk and folk creating this indie alt-rock tale, more in the style of The Mountain Goats or Neutral Milk Hotel than his Warped Tour compatriots.

This is a story told in front of stained glass windows and bartenders, crying out from abandoned streets and motels with memories of nurseries, mother’s kitchens and old cars. Each turn around the corner stumbles on a little more smoke-tinged heartbreak, like the regret of watching it all fall apart, the strange mix of pride and guilt of your roots, and the slow, sudden sink into drunken depression. This is captured lyrically, with Campbell-as-Aaron’s direct cries for help from God and his departed love Dianne, but musically as well – exemplary of this is “Get Me Out of Here Alive,” a slow-burn full of pain and restraint, never erupting but wallowing on the brink. This might be my favorite track, at least it is this week. “Carolina Coast” is similarly heartbreaking as a closer, one that gives just a glimmer of hope that our anti-hero won’t give up, as if he’s realized there’s nothing else to do when your choices are to chase ghosts or let yourself drown.

“Hey, Holy Ghost, why’d you leave me? Where’d you go? I know we ain’t spoke in so long, but I’ve gotta know if I’m alone. If I start drinking, I’m gonna be the town drunk. You always said I should lighten up, so I’m gonna lighten up. I’m gonna lighten up. So long. I’m sorry that I wasn’t who you want. If I can’t make you happy, I’m no good for anyone. So long. I’m sorry that I was who you you’d want. If I cant make you love me..” ~Grapefruit

I haven’t read many, or any, reviews of this. It was a highly anticipated release from one of the most popular artists in my favorite genre, so I think in many ways I was predisposed to fall all over it. But listen after listen, I hear more and more of the story behind this all this and how it was built, the channeling of pain and the setting of a scene. The story of Aaron West may be an artist’s invention but the resonance is powerful when it taps into this much forlorn defeat and vivid imagery. It’s always interesting to see where your favorite musicians take their side projects. The results can be very disappointing or simply forgetful. This, though, is fulfilling and dramatic, well-thought out and incredibly produced, and mostly just the product of careful, gifted writing.

I’m going to go find a physical copy of this CD today. I think I’ll be holding onto it for awhile. I think I’ll be singing along for sometime. I think this kind of sadness, captured in a bottle, is timeless and transcendent, like a fire-orange sunset that burns up the sky, and maybe for a moment, lets you get lost in something other than yourself.

“When I met you we were young

And like gasoline to matches
Waking up drunk
Sleeping through your early classes
I grew up and grew dull
And you say you wished I hadn’t.

Well I’m drunk again
And you’re guilty like you’re Irish catholic

You ain’t no saint
I ain’t one either
Guess that’s why I’m lying here

‘Cause I know that I’m banged up
I got bruises I can’t place,
Oh, I’ve been coughing out blood.

I know that I’m banged up,
I got bruises I can’t place,
Oh, I’ve been coughing out blood.
I got a gut full of ulcers
They’re gonna burn out like dead stars
and turn to dust.

~You Ain’t No Saint
Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties, We Don’t Have Each Other

7/4/14

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – oftentimes, the most touching songs are the stripped-down ones, those that avoid anything but the truth. If that means repeated verses, repeated choruses, so be it. The best often bears repeating. This beautiful duet, acoustic and piano-trimmed, joins two delicate voices together with vulnerability, a pretty little sad scene in a familiar sad key with a simple melody. I heard it on Pandora tonight, and thought it was perfect.

“I watched you sleepin quietly in my bed
You don’t know this now but
There’s some things that need to be said,
And it’s all that I can hear,
It’s more than I can bear.

What if I fall and hurt myself
Would you know how to fix me?
What if I went and lost myself,
Would you know where to find me?
If forgot who I am
Would you please remind me?
Oh, cause without you things go hazy
.”

~Hazy, The Drifter and the Gypsy
Rosi Golan, ft. William Fitzimmons,

7/3/14

“I came to get hurt/Might as well do your worst to me.”

~Get Hurt 
The Gaslight Anthem, Get Hurt

Hearing this song tonight, alone in a hazy July, I don’t think The Gaslight Anthem will let me down. The first track I heard off their much-anticipated next album is a good song but it had me apprehensive. It felt a little heavy-handed, like maybe they hadn’t progressed much and instead stuck in their comfort zone by pushing the raucous guitars and lyrical tropes that define them without adding much else. But this, the title track, this is slow-burn and frightful, this is dark and wounded and perfectly Gaslight….and it made me realize, I’m glad they’ve stuck to their sound.

The echoing backing harmonies, the steady drum beat, hint of keys and Brian Fallon’s always on point bluesy-rock paint the nights of loneliness and need just the way tracks like “When We Were Young” and “Mae” do, but with a fuller soundscape. I love how settled it feels, how it sits in this slow tempo before building to the same hurt-filled chorus hook that “Handwritten” lives and dies by. I’m encouraged by the layers, the in-between transitions and attention to detail in the guitar licks and vocals, and that same familiar feeling of hurt – and the way that it closes, too soon and without satisfying resolve, that sounds like getting hurt to me.

Often with bands we’ve loved for years, it’s easy to get disappointed when they don’t recreate our favorite albums, when there’s so much more of that original feeling and connection you’re looking for. Sometimes it’s because the band grew in a direction that doesn’t fit your taste. Or,you realize that original connection was more subjective, colored by the lens of your life and times more than what this band with all about. On the flip side, sometimes you get bored if it sounds too much the same, if it brings the style but not that spark of newness that made it so compelling in the first place. But Gaslight, since I found them in the summer of 2010, has been in a constant in my post-college years through several of their albums, and I’ve loved that they’ve retained so much of the intensity and authenticity that drew me in.

I’ll never forget that concert in the fall of 2013, when they came on stage to a roaring crowd in DC’s 9:30 Club and launched into the opening bars of “Mae,” my favorite track off “Handwritten,” killed it, and closed it with a massive insignia scrim dropping at the back of the stage as the final chords rang out. That show solidified what I knew – this band is powerful together, skilled and sound, and they’re not going anywhere. Their songs, and their words, will continue to fill in the nights for me, the nights spent ruminating and wondering. 

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