learning love songs

est. 2008


July 2015


“It’s the wrong dream, with the wrong man,
With a cold gun, in your own hand.
Get it right this time, get it off your mind.
Let the summer rain bring you rest and shame and love.”

~Rest. Shame, Love
Augustana, Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt

The random algorithms of Pandora couldn’t know this appears to be one of the rainiest summers on record. It couldn’t know that the first time I heard this song in years arrived on a lonely, rainy evening, and would linger in my ears through a stretch of heat-drenched dry days.

Augustana is one of those bands I will sort of always haphazardly defend. An early 2000s pop rock band that made a splash with a few overly played singles doesn’t necessarily merit favorite status, but I’ve always thought their full-lengths were solid listens. Their songs are knee-deep in sentiment, the guitar lines are simple and clear, and there’s a twinge of middle-of-nowhere folk that goes down easy. Taking the time to listen to “Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt” and mellow out to its laid-back rock, I feel like I am rediscovering a secret, like I am finding the box under my bed I left there years ago. Many of their songs on this record are beautiful and memorable. This one in particular is flooded with patience, even in its sad defeat. All thanks to a nicely curated Internet radio playlist that randomly reminded me of what I wanted to hear.


“They caught me as I placed her down in New York City streets.
Love roared as they pulled me back 
and tears fell from her cheeks and she said, 
‘When you let go, where will I be?’ 
and I broke down and said 
‘Love is shackles, you’ll be free.’
~The Path
Head North, Bloodlines

So into the latest Head North record, and their corresponding EPs. What a great band, who also hail from upstate New York. Their sound is that deep and resonant pop punk that is kind of all the rage, but their songs all have a really intimate and cutthroat quality, not shying away from the power of a good build-up and shouted words. Reminds me of Manchester Orchestra in that sense, but a little less dark and a little more bright. They rely heavily on melody without ignoring riff and fill potential, allowing some of the most bold and rage-fueled lines to take centerstage. I am glad to remember them on this beautiful summer morning; it’s the perfect soundtrack for tossing my hair up, grabbing some coffee and getting on with it.


My love for Ryan Adams is no secret, but my adoration for the Foo Fighters – especially “One By One” – is a bit more unspoken. So what a treat for my tired, waiting ears today to hear Adams tear it up acoustic to “Times Like These” at a performance abroad captured on YouTube this week.
I could write a lot about why I think this song is great from a pop-rock standpoint, or why so mny Foo songs are, but I think, here, the hook speaks for itself. So memorable. Throw in  Adams’ delicate, unwavering delivery, and there is no better vehicle for a message of resilience. What a fantastic song this is – this record was the first Foos I ever indulged in, and I glommed on like a hungry thing, taken by the strength and aggression encapsulated in melody. This record made me feel good, and it made me friends, and it never got old. Neither did they, production enthusiasts as they are. So what a thrill it has been to once again rediscover the Foos and Dave in their 2015 “Sonic Highways” stage, broken leg and all – it’s like nothing has changed.

Far as covers are considered, RyanmAdams crushes it with mastery and grace as he does so many others. Adams dedicated this to Dave, unrecorded in the video above but included in others. I love his live performances and watch them near constantly, it seems; the day I see Adams live, finally, will feel like some kind of holiday, I’m sure, where I am hopefully hopeful and proper-buzzed, shrouded in love and inspiration and gratitude for living, the way the best moments always are.

“It’s times like these you learn to live again
iIt’s times like these you give and give again
I’s times like these you learn to love again
It’s times like these time and time again”

~Times Like These
Foo Fighters, One by One


The Weakerthans are no longer a band, as of the day that ended 40 minutes ago.

Life is not easy, lately or ever, but for me, The Weakerthans, have always made it better.

This band was a gift from a friend, a discovery I cherished to find and never grew tired of. Their songs have meaning that unravels and unfolds, that adopts to new circumstances and paints them with poetic context time and time again. Their rhymes and patterns roll off the tongue, their riffs soothe and strengthen and sedate.These songs have grown only more important — and relevant — to me as I’ve aged, whereas so many others have faded away.

John K. Sampson is one of the greatest modern lyricists, and worthy of awe in plainspeak. The band’s aesthetic is a weathered indie rock with a healthy Canadian flair, suitable for bus rides with the Discman, headphones across campus, or long drives across interstates. Their brand of lonely is comforting, even when being alone isn’t a concern. The amount of times I have played “Aside” in order to not feel so bad about feeling so bad, or “This Is a Fire Door Never Leave Open” when I am homesick, or “My Favorite Chords” to consider the shy little intimacies of love, well, it has to be in the hundreds by now.

I know most of their catalog like the back of my hand. Like I know my name or my home address. I know their words the way Christians know Bible passages, and I believe I repeat them for the same reasons. They make me feel, they make me understand, they make me believe.  That won’t change, just because the band is no longer a unified, existing entity. I will still get to love these songs, I will still play them and sing to them and share them with others. The Weakerthans, as a group, were inactive long enough that this is not exactly a surprise, but it still feels like I’m losing something. Like we, the listeners, will miss out on all we could’ve gained from something more. We will not get new material or tours. We will never again feel the anticipation preceding a potential release. We will no longer have new albums to rank, or live recordings to compare.

I never saw them live. What a shame. Least I’ll always have the mix CDs. I’ll always have the liner notes, the MP3s, the vinyl, and these beautiful passages embedded in my mind. No one can take that away from me.

“My city’s still breathing but barely it’s true
through buildings gone missing like teeth.
The sidewalks are watching me think about you,
sparkled with broken glass.

I’m back with scars to show.
Back with the streets I know.
Will never take me anywhere but here.

The stain in the carpet, this drink in my hand,
the strangers whose faces I know.
We meet here for our dress-rehearsal to say ‘I wanted it this way’
Wait for the year to drown.
Spring forward, fall back down.
I’m trying not to wonder where you are.

All this time lingers, undefined.
Someone choose who’s left and who’s leaving.

Memory will rust and erode into lists of all that you gave me:
a blanket, some matches, this pain in my chest,
the best parts of Lonely, duct-tape and soldered wires,
new words for old desires,
and every birthday card I threw away.

I wait in 4/4 time.
Count yellow highway lines that you’re relying on to lead you home.”
~Left and Leaving 
The Weakerthans, Left and Leaving


“And I don’t think on why I’m here where it hurts
I’m just lucky to have the work
Sunday morning I’m too tired to go to church
But I thank God for the work.”

~Something More Than Free
Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

I feel like I don’t yet have the words or links to properly explain how incredible and memorable the new Jason Isbell record is, but I am going to briefly try. I haven’t stopped listening to the NPR stream and can’t wait for the 17th when it gets released so I can play it with me all the time.  I didn’t even want to leave my house earlier this afternoon, because I couldn’t play it in the car. It’s patient, lush and heavy, sad and reflective and profound. My favorite song changes each listen. Right now it’s “Life You Chose.”

Each song is a story, and what an incredible storyteller he is. I could not be more satisfied by this record as a fan, and I could not be more impressed and inspired a writer. This record also has a lot more guitar solos and full band compositional moments than “Southeastern,” it feels like, with choices made in keeping with the whole scope of the song, and you the listener can just get lost in how well it all comes together. The overall vibe is still his brand of folksy Americana, with classic-sounding melodies, fluid twang and hushed tones – it is warm, it is cool, it is supple and resilient.

 Lyrically, Isbell is a modern master of the craft. He cuts to the heart of the it every time, whether it is love or regret or self-satisfaction, with just enough detail to give every feeling its corresponding setting. The chorus in “24 Frames” is still the greatest thing I’ve heard all year. The first verse of “Flagship” is so devastating and,perfect, not to mention the hopeful rescue of the chorus; the whole song has so much resolve and that soft, billowing organ accompaniment is sheer, subtle brilliance. I love this record. I am so glad it’s here. I needed it, in the way you sometimes need something completely new and outside yourself to dig into and and hold onto and get lost in. Helps you get by. This is all I can say, as words so often fail to do justice to the greatest things we hold. But, as Isbell shows us time and time again, what a glorious thing it is to try.


I’ve been on a huge Eisley kick lately, thanks mostly in part to a tailored Pandora station entitled “cold summer” that blends full-band, string-focused indie with pop hooks and sad, sad stories (Keane, Death Cab, The Format, The Killers).

I love how romantic and swelling their sound is, with the most melodic, full voices and carefully placed accents. Most of their songs have a narrative sense, something romantic or hopeful or lost or a combination of sorts, but all have really gorgeous, silky melodies. It’s a bright sound, but not a light one, deep but not weigthy. Some are dancier than others, some are sadder than others, but I’ve found them to be thoroughly enjoyable for trying on something new.

Tell me why I’m discontented
Will I die without the details in my hands?
I feel these vines surrounding my heart, 

I fear I’m moving at a slower pace again
Tell me how this all unfolds.

I can’t find the secret to survive
To grow old safe and sound
Whoa, life is sifting through like the sands in the hourglass
There’s not a moment to relive my time and space
There’s not a moment to undo anything

How could I have been this careless, oh whoa
I fear I’m locked inside another cage again
Shake me from these torturous dreams where I keep screaming
Can’t see how to overcome

‘Cause I can’t find the secret to survive
To grow old safe and sound

Whoa, life is sifting through like the sands in the hourglass, whoa
There’s not a moment to relive my time and space
There’s not a moment to undo anything.”

Eisley, Currents


Can Brand New just show us what they’ve been working with already? Jesus Christ, enough with the roll out.

No matter how pissed off that makes me, though, I can listen to “The Devil and God…” and forgive all of their damning publicity decisions, because it just never stops Feeling Relevant. You could ask a dozen people who like modern rock music about Brand New and maybe 30-40 percent have heard of them? All of whom probably really love them, or have some attachment to the band even from their “Your Favorite Weapon” days. For me, “Deja Entednu” will forever hold a place on my desert island five (Deja, Clarity, Rumours, Abbey Road, ???) and was really a milemaker for the scene and its ascent, but I think “The Devil And God…” cuts a little deeper sometimes, somehow, finds the wounded dark places and exacerbates the pain. It screams and pleads and begs more, it gives up and falls down harder, and I can think of no better soundtrack for a day or decade’s worth of fervent aggression.

“Hey hey hey, Mr. Hangman,
Go get your rope

Your daughters weren’t careful,
I fear that I am a slippery slope
Now even if I lay my head down at night
After a day I got perfectly right
She won’t know…

She won’t know.
She won’t know.”
~You Won’t Know
Brand New, The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me


“I swear I’ll never let you down again.”

Is there anything – anything – better than the solace of an incredible new song from an incredible band about to put forth an incredible new album? I am still so in awe of “The Greatest Generation” that I was holding my breath a little bit on what we might hear from The Wonder Years this year, but after hearing “Cardinals” I feel this will be amazing, when Dan Campbell continues to write such phenomenal words and pull out these devastating truths (“We’re no saviors/If we can’t save our brothers”) and the band supplies such layered melodies and frenzied rhythms. I stayed at work an hour later than usual, because I didn’t want to be without it on the drive home and haven’t bought the pre-order yet. The hook is so good, and so telling of what this band can do. Can’t get over the drum part in the chorus, it’s too tricky for me to count but I love how it ascends, and then the gang vocals at the close, something of a trademark for this six-piece-plus, tie the whole thing together. Putting out a single this soon makes me think there will be another one or two before the album drops in September – or at least, that’s what I can hope for, because new songs and new sounds and new feelings are all that I can hope for on the horizon, even better when they’re grown from the same favorite spots I always founds them.

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