learning love songs

est. 2008


December 2014


“Hold onto nothing
As fast as you can
Well, still, pretty good year.”

~Pretty Good Year
 Tori Amos, Under the Pink

I’ve sang this line to myself more times than I can count over the years. How the meaning has changed. How each little word is relevant. Hold on. Nothing. Fast. You can. Pretty good year.

Can’t say it better, really.

On New Year’s Eve so many people seem to expect, or at least hope, something meaningful and magical will happen. It never really does. You never wake up the next day feeling all that different than you did the day before. Not because of a date on a calendar, anyway. Today, for example, I cannot feel my heart. Could I tomorrow? Might the fresh start of a new year make a difference? Past experience with 26 of these symbolic turns of the page tells me no, no, it does not. But that experience also reminds me change is a marvelous constant, possible and plausible to wreck you, ruin you, satisfy you, embolden you, each and every day, just as it proved to be this year… and so it shall be next year, too.


“Finding a light in a world of ruin,
Starting to dance when the earth is caving in,
Set in the sun and our hearts are burning,
Leaving the nest to the back a thousand winds,
We’re ready to begin.

It’s alright,
A bit scathed,
A bit lost,
I’ve been played,
I ain’t that clever,
a city boy that can never say never,
I got the life but that girl bites like a wolf.

It’s on me,
It’s only,
A small heart,
On one sleeve,

Academy killer,
Off with his head
In the make believe game of fools,
That girl bites like a wolf.

Are you ready?
I’m waiting to begin
~The Wolfpack,
Angels and Airwaves, The Dream Walker

This album is sick.  I will forever and always be an AVA defender. What interesting sounds. What kick-ass tension and tonality. I just love the taste of aggressive ambiance they provide, it is such a satisfying sound and I think Tom DeLonge is an underrated contender for one of the best rock vocalists out there – how distinctive his sound, how identifiable it’s been throughout the years. It’s probably one of the reasons Blink 182 got the mainstream play they did.

I haven’t read any reviews of “The Dream Walker” yet, and I haven’t taken the time to listen to it in full and concoct one myself so this observation will have to suffice: I am in love with this melody. The simple vocal matched with the complexity of layers. That synth part on the pre-chorus into the held out bell tone is the perfect kind of takeoff. Plus, I like wolf metaphors. This song is something of an earworm, one listen will not suffice, but it’s an optimistic indulgence, a call to something reinvented and new, again. Easily one of my most-played tracks of the final stretch of 2014, where a get-through-the-day mentality has turned into something much more ambitious, assured and resilient. Uplifting, still-moody and otherworldy tones are quite the match for that.

I will also say, rerettably, it does not appear I have posted about Angels and Airwaves before. Which is a shocking shame and oversight on my part, as “We Don’t Need To Whisper” is among my favorite post-high school, still-scene albums. One of these days I will buy it on vinyl and it will sound amazing, it is truly a wonderful little sonic experiment in sounds and layers that established this side project as something to watch with a life of its own. It is a love-against-the-odds saga against space-age sounds. There isn’t a bad track in the bunch, in my opinion. “Do It For Me Now” is probably one of my favorites, because its build and crash and chorus are so heart-stopping and its declaration of love is cutthroat.

“And I don’t know
And I can’t guess
If we’re gonna be OK
But now my last wish
Is that you do this with me
Kiss me here and hold my hand
Let me feel like I’m the only one

I know you can
Won’t you do it for me now.

~Do It For Me Now
Angels and Airwaves, We Don’t Need to Whisper

This album, too, is uplifting, and inspiring. This track, with its magnificent, large intro and and forceful rhythms underneath a blanket of delay, is impossible to ignore. This post does not suffice how interesting I find this album. What is also interesting to see how the lyrics overlap with the band’s latest eight years later – laziness, maybe, or so a critic might point out, but also likely thematic inspiration. Sometimes we come back to the same place over and over again because that’s where the good stuff lives. Even it feel the same, it is still a new experience to be created, produced, felt, shared, it is still something that can resonate. I’ll always come back to this band to reminded of that, and to this particular this record to be reminded of hope against all odds.

“I cannot live, I can’t breathe
Unless you do this with me
Hello, here I am 

Do this with me,
And here we go, life’s waiting to begin.” 
~The Adventure
Angels and Airwaves, We Don’t Need to Whisper


“I didn’t mean to leave you hanging on
I didn’t mean to leave you all alone
I didn’t know what to say,
I didn’t know what to say.

Merry Christmas, baby.”

Jimmy Eat World, Clarity

There’s this one shade of winter sky that is my absolute my favorite. It is the lightest kind of dark, it looks grey tinted with green and brown and nothing, with the smallest specks of stars dotted here and there and everywhere, and it’s the shade you get when the snow is thick and quiet, when the world is so covered in white the sky can’t bear to be too dark. Really, it’s science, something about water and light and reflection and living by a lake, but to me, it’s poetry.

This song is that sky. That sky is my heart — tonight, and most nights.

On this day, simply because I believe in honorary things, I listen to this song over and over again. It is like rereading a book I haven’t picked up in years, every word a memory. Is there a more memorable four-line song in the past decade and a half? Holiday themes aside, the bittersweet longing that pours through this is palpable, and uplifting. I cannot name all the sounds here, both pedal and computer generated, but they resonate so brightly, so purely. They encapsulate the timeless sound “Clarity” is so known and celebrated for.

This song is quiet night drives on poorly plowed and briefly traveled roads, cutting across fresh blankets of powder. This song is headphones against pillows in the middle of the night. This song is the earliest memories of love in a heart still full and optimistic, to the latest pronouncements of pet names and regrets.

Given this title and the song’s relevance in being better than most every song ever, December 23 is sort of a de facto Jimmy Eat World Day. I spent the day listening to “Clarity,” “Static Prevails,” half of “Invented,” and all the B-sides I can find. It is a good way to indulge myself to hang onto all these favorites, to lapse in the layers. It is so good to rediscover old favorites and adopt new ones. Like remembering how much I love “Episode IV,” and how I have yet another example to point to when I argue that sleigh bells are the best kind of auxiliary for mid-tempo tracks, like those hidden on this “Chase This Light” bonus track, which is wintry in its own right and reference. .

Twice today, two of my bosses asked me why I have been so quiet this week, and I struggled to explain. “You must be really engaged,” one said to me today. “Not necessarily the word I’d use,” I said, “Just trying to focus.” Because try is all I can do when all my head wants is to head somewhere in the clouds, somewhere far removed from my heart and my blood and my body, somewhere with notes and words and the kind of pretty-sad thoughts that make sense to my mind right now. For this reason I could never, never get used to living without music, because it is how I can feed that need while (hopefully) leaving enough brain power to get through the day as the functioning, capable, even successful and determined, version of myself I am apt to be.  Even my attachment to writing and words is flighty compared to the way I need to hear, need to listen to the works and creations of others when I must come back down to earth. Because words fail me often. Songs never do. At least, those of others.

The artists who’ve meant the most to me in this way are probably no more or less human than I am. They are probably no more or less emotionally strong, weak, troubled or triumphant than I am. They almost certainly, musically and artistically speaking, possess more talent than I. Perhaps that is what inspires me, what drives me to be better. Because who, or what, is to say that my own innate abilities couldn’t produce something sufficient enough to satiate my own craving for notes and words and pretty-sad thoughts, let alone, god willing, those of someone else? Excuses are easy to find – initiative, ambition, follow-through, these are the markers of the successful creator, not the mulling and wishing and wallowing and waiting. Perhaps this sense of creative motivation is a philosophy to capture at the end of this year and carry into the new one. I think it is, anyway. It seems worth trusting. What’s the worst that could happen?  Besides, if you can’t trust yourself, why should anyone bother trusting you?

“let me have the keys and you can take a rest
from the lightless main street until the next
who knows what there was to see before the light turned green
there’s so much hell to live

the static or the science; don’t know which is worse
the dial isn’t broken; that’s the way it works

to the new professionals irregular is normal
it’s all in how you pray
not what needs to change

don’t get comfortable
don’t be sensible
swing with all you have
stop me if you can

imagine we had canvas with the midnight cold
dig our fingers in and then we’d watch the snow
maybe i need stronger meds
don’t let those feelings in
i can’t get closer now

matters straight across and just for me to use
but there’s always another choice; another way through
the notes in progress float along over your candle song
the game is how you play
not who wears a ring

don’t get comfortable
don’t be sensible
swing with all you have
stop me if you can

i’m on the losing side
not every time
i’m gonna lose this love of mine

here are the words defined
not one is mine
why are we still so afraid
the things we do deserve their rightful names

don’t get comfortable
don’t be sensible

swing with all you have
stop me if you can

~Be Sensible
Jimmy Eat World, Chase this Light


The impending start of 2015 means the new Decemberists album will be coming around soon, and that’s promising. Does Colin Meloy’s voice get better by the year? Will this band continue to trump everyone else in their genre, and cross through it, with excruciatingly meticulous songwriting? It seems so, even as they continue to embrace hook-structure and pop backbeats. I have always enjoyed this band but to varying degrees of obsession. I first heard “Make You Better” this fall and thought it was OK, then, last weekend, I heard it on WBER while cruising around my parents’ neighborhood. It slapped me in the face a good bit, and it gets better with repeat listens, I’ve determined. At first, the first two lines bothered me, they felt lazy, but today, they feel intentionally exacerbating, every little bit more of wanting worth every little bit more of a mention. . The parallel construction in this song is so simple and expertly done. I love the phrase “starry-eyed,” it feels like fairy tales do, I love the piano part, I love the delicate harmonies. I love the way Meloy’s voice dips and falls on the “shimmer in your shine” line. I love the reflection, the need, channeled and categorized and contained. More, please.

I want you, thin fingers
I wanted you, thin fingernails

And when you bend backwards
I wanted you, I needed you
Oh, to make me better

I’ll love you in springtime
I lost you when summer came
And when you pulled backwards
I wanted to, I needed to
Oh, to make me better

Oh, to make me better

But we’re not so starry-eyed anymore
Like the perfect paramour you were in your letters,
And won’t it all just come around to make you,
Let it all unbreak you to the day you met her.
But it’d make you better,
It’d make you better.

I sung you your twinges
I suffered you your tattletales
And when you broke sideways
I wanted you, I needed you
Oh, to make me better

Oh, to make me better

But we’re not so starry-eyed anymore
Like the perfect paramour you were in your letters
And won’t it all just come around and make you,
Let it all unbreak you to the day that you met her,
And it’d make you better
Did it make you better?

And all I wanted was a sliver to call mine,
And all I wanted was a shimmer in your shine,
To make me bright.

Cause we’re not so starry-eyed anymore,
Like the perfect paramour you were in your letters, 
And won’t it all just come around and make you.
Let it all unbreak you to the day you met her,
But it’d make you better,
It’d make you better.”

~Make You Better
The Decemberists,  What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World


I generally enjoy listening to music on YouTube because it allows multitasking. I get to find out about new bands and random songs through playlists that keep me from toggling back and forth between tabs all day at work. Today, I realized “Hey, maybe I wrote off The Story So Far too soon,” because I figured they were one of those annoying newish pop-punk bands that was all image and no substance….and maybe that is what they really are, I don’t really know any of their songs, but I do know I heard this and it is all I want to listen to right now, it is rather beautiful, and these are my favorite chords.

“I think you’ll notice when things become different
The good vibes in our lives won’t feel so consistent
And less becomes more cause the weight is too heavy
I swim in the water that’s breaking your levy

The way that you left me is alright, it’s alright
If I argue the point then we yell and we fight
And I won’t be home for the rest of the night
You might hate my words but you know that I’m right
You know that I’m right.

This is your life there’s no way to run from it
The doubt in your brain or the pain in your stomach

I only have but one complaint at the moment:
Don’t paint me black when I used to be golden.

The way that you left me, is alright it’s alright,

If I argue the point then we yell and we fight,
And I won’t be home for the rest of the night,
You might hate my words but you know that I’m right,
You know that I’m right.
Don’t paint me black when I used to be golden.

The Story So Far, Sitck to Your Guns Split


The end of the year is a strange listening experience. I spend a lot of time going back through the year trying to figure out my top 10, while largely avoiding radio and its recycled Christmas music. In recent days during this endeavor, I picked up “Rented World” again, a record that captivated me in the spring upon release. It was everywhere. I had it queued up on Spotify for the mornings, blasting in the car to and from work, sitting in the record player. Seeing The Menzingers on their tour for this album was easily one of this year’s best shows. Then somewhere along the way, as sometimes happens with the albums you inhale the deepest, I kind of burnt myself out on it. Summer turned into finding new artists, trying out the trends of the year, or revisiting past favorites. I don’t know if I played this album once. So I was relieved this weekend when, on a long drive home, I put in “Rented World,” and it sounded as good as it did the first time. Better, maybe – the sharpest parts stood out, the memorable lines rang loud and true. The heavy rhythm section thundered deeper than I recalled, and the strained, serrated vocals encapsulated the hope and anger and frustration at the self and the situation and the system as clearly as any pop-punk offshoot band could or should hope to aspire to. I’ve yet to figure out where my album rankings stand for 2014 but I don’t think I can skip this one from a band I’ve only grown more attached to over time. Not when it’s got so much power behind it, not when it was everything I’d anticipated it to be, and more.

I used to lie to myself all the time
I was always over-reacting, screaming “I’m gonna die.”

But now I’m five thousand miles from her head on my shoulder
From a night I spent sober screaming “I’m gonna die.”

But all I ever wanted was to make things right
All I ever wanted was to make things right

Transient love, I was a ghost on your birthday
I was a runaway somewhere in a fabled mistake
Transient love, you should’ve seen the view from the pension
It made me think of things we’d never mention
The things we’re too afraid to say

Like what if I spend the next few years
Just somewhere in some atmosphere
While you’re at home with bills to pay
I hope it doesn’t end this way

All I ever wanted was to make things right
All I ever wanted was to make things right
Over and over in my head, I’ve tried
But all I ever wanted was to make things right.

~Transient Love
The Menzginers, Rented World


An impending visit home, and the impending close of a tremendous, tumultuous year has me nostalgic for things I don’t miss. It has me wondering what I’ve got to hold onto. It has me questioning if this newfound lightness is adjustment or apathy, maybe it is a little bit of both. Either way, it feels effortless but perfectly unnatural, like tripping off a cliff and falling so far and so fast you may as well be flying. Even though you were born without wings.

I’ve found the more ordinary and commonplace a feeling becomes – be it sadness or euphoria – the more you start to wonder what you’re missing out on with the other extreme. Was the emptiness that bad after all? Wasn’t it, in a way, kind of inspiring? Or, is crippling loneliness just a convenient cover for feeling sorry for yourself? And all along you were just missing out on where you were supposed to be?

Is there a better get-lost-in-the-pensive album this year than Aaron West? I answer with a resounding no. In a year where I’ve spent significant time working hard and trying to focus – always, always trying to focus – in the face of balancing combative emotions, I’ve found myself consistently coming back to this record for something stirring. Its emotional triggers are strong and significant and its composition is an unoffensive brand indie rock that is equal parts gruff and graceful.I like “Runnin’ Scared,” it makes me want to run, not scared, and feel a little fresh and free and fiery in the face of all this frozen snow and icy feeling.  I like the subtle references to desperation mixed with the outspoken appeals to it, like the line about the broken taillight. The story of Aaron West is a heartbreaker, to be sure, but I see something inspiring in all this empty, something.What is it to feel anything at all, if not that?

“I’m stuck on a memory,
Of you dancing in a backyard in North Jersey.
You’re holding sparklers,
And silhouetted by the porch lights on a summer evening.

So, while I’m pulling my gloves off with my teeth,
It occurred to me you used to be happy.

I curse the dashboard heat,
It’s fucking freezing.

Asleep in the backseat,
Oh god, I’m shaking. I’m empty.
I feel so damn empty.

I keep thinking
That I’ll feel better when it’s warmer across state lines.
Now I’m scraping ice off of the windshield with a piece of broken taillight.

Oh, I wouldn’t quite call it homesick
but I keep seeing your face in the northbound traffic.

I curse the dashboard heat,
It’s fucking freezing.
Asleep in the backseat, 

Oh god, I’m shaking. I’m empty.
I feel so damn empty.

I’m gonna go to Georgia.
I’m gonna smile in the sun.
I’m gonna pick you some wild day-lilies,
And I’m gonna hold on to them.
I’m gonna keep them in my pocket
Til you let me back home.

I’m gonna go to Georgia,
And I’m coming back whole.

I curse the dashboard heat,
It’s fucking freezing.
Asleep in the backseat,
Oh god, I’m shaking. I’m empty.
I feel so damn empty.”

~Runnin’ Scared
Aaron West and the Roarin’ Twenties, We Don’t Have Each Other


“Guilty pleasures at best
gouge the floors of our chests

this, the only vestige left
Next time will be better, I guess

When I’d be alone
Happy alone
I’d be alone
Happy alone
Call what you want
and I’ll be alone.

To presuppose this precipice
could be climbed by anyone of us,
that was my misjudgment.
I guess I best just shut up and and face that,

I’m not one to
Be three-fourths sore,
When I crave a split lip,
I get it quick.

And I’d be alone,
Happy alone.

I’d be alone
Happy alone
Call what you want
and I’ll be alone.

~Happy Alone
Saintseneca, Dark Arc

Sometimes when I think about songwriting I have this really elaborate structure in mind, that there must be many lines and a big, gripping story, but maybe all you need, to succeed in being listenable, is a killer first line, hand-clap hook and three minutes and 20 seconds. I’m hooked on this track today, and its sort of surf-rock brand of indie folk. Anti continues to be one of the best indie labels out there, every time I check out one of their new artists I discover a new gem, even a new sound. Saintseneca is sort of rough and endearing in their songwriting quality, a little bit of that multi-instrumental chaos that I’m starting to find somewhat quaint, mixed with vivid, songwriting, something light and cleansing but not quite peppy, for this dark grey day.

If only YouTube playlists would work n this computer today, and let me get a little bit more hypnotized – at first listen some of these songs seem quite out of step with my regular tastes, with eclectic strings in the Appalachian-inspired hipster fashion that I’ve found tired in the past. But the  quivering vocals are folksy, plucked electric guitars are post-punk, and the blend is really quite satisfying. But “Happy Alone” is clearly the standout, stream-me-on-Pandora-and-play-me-in-a-movie track, and I happy to embrace it on my own.


I’ve been on a moderately obsessive Ingrid Michaelson kick for the past few days, in part due to lots of driving, in part due to taking the time to listen to her whole discography after being intrigued by “Lights Out.” I could write a daily post on some of these songs from now until the end of the calendar year – “Sort Of” is the song of my heart, and “Maybe” is the song of my head and “The Chain” is pretty much my theme song, and it all just makes me want to hole up in my apartment for days and record an album. Mostly I love her for her melodies, these silky ribbons that carry high and fall low and repeat, repeat, repeat, keying in on a beautiful moment and never letting it go. “Lights Out” is delightfully hook-filled and poppy and I’ve found it great for daytime listening….but for pensive drives alone, the kind meant for singing and thinking, I think “Everybody” is such an incredible, rich album, to find those moments where heartbreak is met with solace, where acceptance is embraced, and where devastation is quiet murmur in a much louder storm…

“Baby you’ve got the sort of laugh that waters me,
And makes me grow tall and strong and proud and flattens me,
I find you stunning, but you are running me down,
My love’s too big for you, my love,
My love’s too big for you, my love.

And if I was stronger then I would tell you no,
And if I was stronger then I will leave this show,
And if I was stronger then I would up and go,
But here I am, and here we go again.

~Sort of
Ingrid Michaelson, Everybody

“I don’t wanna be the first to let it go,
But I know, I know, I know,
If you have the last hands that I want to hold
Then I know I’ve got to let them go.

‘Cause maybe in the future, you’re gonna come back
You’re gonna come back around.

Ingrid Michaelon, Everybody

“I’ll never say that I’ll never love,
But I don’t say a lot of things,
And you, my love, are gone.

So glide away on soapy heels
And promise not to promise anymore
And if you come around again
Then I will take, then I will take the chain from off the door.”

~The Chain,
Ingrid Michaelson, Be OK

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