learning love songs

est. 2008


September 2014


This is my favorite Black Keys song of late, though it’s not new. I suppose I first heard it on a breeze-through listen of El Camino after its release, an album I appreciated but never listened to much, as I always favored the older stuff. “Little Black Submarines” re-entered my consciousness as a radio edit in mid-August. Now it is a weekly, or daily, obsessive listen.

It’s classic Black Keys in the best way, dreary and aggressive, composed and chaotic. They performed it during a magnificent spectacle of an arena tour in Pittsburgh earlier this month, and I felt stunned by Dan Auerbach playing solo in spotlight. I felt shaken by the kick kicking in at the bust, enraptured by the newfound attack of the hook. Subtle tambourine and synth harken back to this band’s earlier days, the ones of rebellious distortion and analog glory. Then everything collides, a punishing offensive of one loud-ass guitar and a little of everything else backing it up. Auerbach’s effortless cool is trademark, and rugged, and I can’t think of a better sound than his vintage pedal-fuzz to accompany this hardening of hearts. Lyrical brilliance has never been this band’s strong suit, though it has never needed to be with this kind of blues-rock feeling, and yet here they hit their mark with dead-on aim, with a story of a desperate broken heart sullen and thrashing in its own misery.

Vulnerability never sounded so tough.

“Little black submarines,
Operator please,
Put me back on the line.
Told my girl I’d be back
Operator please,
This is wreckin’ my mind

Oh can it be,
The voices calling me,
They get lost,
And out of time,
I should’ve seen it glow,
But everybody knows,
That a broken heart is blind.
That a broken heart is blind.

Pick you up, let you down,
When I wanna go
To a place I can hide.
You know me, I had plans,
But they just disappeared,
To the back of my mind.

Oh can it be,
The voices calling me,
They get lost,
And out of time.
I should’ve seen a glow
But everybody knows
That a broken heart is blind

That a broken heart is blind.

Treasure maps, fallen trees,
Operator please
Call me back when it’s time
Stolen friends and disease,
Operator please,
Patch me back to my mind.

Oh can it be?
The voices calling me
They get lost
And out of time.

I should’ve seen a glow
But everybody knows
That a broken heart is blind
That a broken heart is blind
That a broken heart is blind.

~Little Black Submarines
The Black Keys, El Camino


“I took a trip down south and felt the sun on my face,
and it made things OK for a second.

I drew a picture of my problems when I was going insane.
And I focused on the currents.
It’s the funny thing about it,
I never seem to worry that every single current’s not the same.
It’s all about position, and where I choose to lay.
And God, I am going away.”

I heard this song for the first time in awhile today, a surprise find on a borrowed iPod. I heard this song with fresh ears today, and it meant all the same that it used to, filtered through a new lens. I think this was one of the first TDS songs I really *heard*, sometime while living in the Finger Lakes racking my brain over how to do better at my job and not fuck up relationships.  That was four years ago. Some things, they don’t change – like the constant drive for self-exploration and development AJ Perdomo captures so well. This album, I think, is certainly his best. From the time I first heard it, I remember loving the drama in his voice, the slow-climb guitar parts and the intensity of the minor chords. This song in particular is a lesson in how to build tension with tight patterns and throw grenades in a bridge, a step one example of the kind of pop punk/alt rock made all the brighter and better by its intelligence, thoughtfulness and dig-deep awareness. This song was a good one to hear today, offering comfort to a wild, raging heart and a line of scripture for a tired head, making things OK for a second. 

“Would you believe in my songs
if I gave them all to you?

I can find the strength in my voice
to call you back and say that everything is bad without you
and I’m lost again, oh God believe I’m lost again.”

The Dangerous Summer, Reach for the Sun


“I had a dream I was being dissected by all of my friends, and I was so scared of the scalpel. Anytime it was raised to make another incision, I would start crying and screaming even though I knew I wouldn’t feel it. Everyone would verbally try to soothe me, and I kept screaming for someone to touch me so I knew I was still alive, but it’s like they weren’t sure either. The next thing I remember, I was standing outside in some field, and I felt perfectly fine. Then I sat down, and suddenly it was like the sutures ripped, and all my organs fell out.” 8-11-05

(I have no place else to put that, so there it is. I wrote those words years ago, and yet, I remember that dream crystal clear.)

This is my favorite song I listened to today. It came into my head this morning, after waking up at 6:30 a.m. when the sky was still dark blue for the first time this season. That, and the chill in the air, says to me it’s changed for good. Until next summer, anyway.

So this morning, I put this song on, from an old album from a previous life that resonates perhaps truer than before but has not lost its pretty quality. Now, I am not a Matt Nathanson apologist. Rather, I genuinely think he’s a great songwriter and performer. He sets lyrics very well, he writes satisfying progressions and melodies. I love the simple piano in this song, the effortless ascension and suspension that holds and wavers and fades. And I love the desperate questions. What is it about songs about New York that are just somehow sadder than the rest? And what is it about the impending loss of intimacy that makes seeing the world outside go on about its business feel so much more empty? Why does it feel like the seasons are changing? Probably because they are.

“Somewhere in between
The beginning and the end
September took the tourist
And settled in for good

You could hear the trains again
Brooklyn girls in scarves
Summer left and no one said a word.
We’d open your window,
Stay in your bed,
All day ’til the street lights came on

So what happened to bulletproof weeks in your arms?
What happened to feeling cheap radio songs?
What happened to thinking the world was flat,
What happened to that?

Up on 59th street,
Right before the rain,
Lovers catching taxis going downtown.

I’m talking to what’s left of you
Watching what I say
Counting all the freckles on your perfect face

You open your window,
And I stay on your bed,
Just hoping that right words will come.

So what happened to bullet proof weeks in your arms,
What happened to feeling cheap radio songs,
What happened to thinking the world was flat,
What happened to that

So what happened to bullet proof weeks in your arms
What happened to feeling cheap radio songs
What happened to thinking the world was flat
What happened to that?

 It’s all gone,
Love, it’s all wrong.

So what happened to bullet proof weeks in your arms
What happened to feeling cheap radio songs
What happened to thinking the world was flat
What happened, what happened to that?”

~Bulletproof Weeks
Matt Nathanson, Some Mad Hope


What do hearts sound like when they break at 4 a.m.? What does it sound like when the light is gone, when the conscious mind goes dark and detached from the best of experience and intention?

It sounds a little like floating, a little like falling. Visceral and delicate. Fragile. It sounds spacey, with intense, focused vulnerability. These sounds, nearly angelic, are bright and flickering and patient with themselves and everything I am not.

I put this album on the shelf most of this summer, after initial captivation. I enjoyed its sound despite its critical flop, I thought its ambiance was moving and heartfelt and captured a quality blend of electric sounds and rich, deep layers. But I thought it was really sad, it was kind of a downer and tells sad, sad stories, and I just wasn’t there with it, at least, I didn’t want to be, and now, tonight, this song is kind of my own sad story and the perfect accompaniment to my insomniac misery, the kind that lasts on repeat for hours and obsessives over small details in memories, like long, elegant fingers tracing my arm, like whispers echoed close against my neck. So too can I fixate on the small details in sounds, in delay, the soft swell of blissfully faked-out strings and synths, of two-to-three note piano melodies tying together one-off lines, simple and clear and resounding.

Thoughts are dangerous weapons, and the night is a silent, still place where they ravage and tear peace to bits. Best to give them something to slice up, something to occupy their vicious progression as the hours pass and the sky lightens and the dark doesn’t feel so lonely anymore.

“I think of you, I haven’t slept 

I think I do, but I don’t forget.
 My body moves, goes where I will 
But though I try my heart stays still 
It never moves, just won’t be led 
And so my mouth waters to be fed 
And you’re always in my head,
You’re always in my head.
This I guess is to tell you
You’re chosen out from the rest.”

~Always In My Head
Coldplay, Ghost Stories

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