learning love songs

est. 2008


March 2016


“But I was late for this, late for that, 
Late for the love of my life.
And when I die alone, when I die alone, 

When I die I’ll be on time.”
The Lumineers, Cleopatra

Looking forward to the new album from The Lumineers album despite my very select knowledge of their early music. Mostly excited about this new single, “Cleopatra,” a delightfully dark character-driven retrospective. I’m enjoying how this band uses rhythm to move a song along, with a lot of drums and piano and tambourine, they’re not guitar-reliant and that’s a really powerful thing, as their breakthrough single “Ho Hey” similarly suggests.

A band like The Lumineers is at an interesting point in their career – most likely, any single they release will not have the immense popularity that that first hit did. “Ho Hey” was everywhere – on radio, TV shows, just shepherding hipster folk to the masses through a charming, catchy love song. How can a band top that? Maybe that’s why they took their time in coming out with a sophomore effort four years after their Grammy-nominated self-titled debut, maybe because the pressure to be great was weighty and they thought it better to simmer for awhile.

In music, as other efforts, it’s a lot easier to make a splash as something new and great rather than sustain that popularity. Easy to get to the top, harder to stay there, as the saying goes. It’s freshness and newness an artist brings to the table that makes them so popular in the first place – in the case of The Lumineers, I call it the right sound at the right time. As a creator, how do you live up to that expectation of greatness after you have already achieved it? If you make the same sound, how can it popularized a second time? Are you pressured to recreate out of appeasement, or do you dive into new territory and hope the fanbase comes along for the ride?  From the sound of “Cleopatra” and “Ophelia,” they’ve focused on their melodic and auxiliary strengths,  those qualities that earned them the nomination nod for Best New Artist. As a relatively new fan, I hope to find these same sincere, sad themes, these roosty-bluesy riffs and spine-tingling harmonies.

“I, I got a little paycheck, you got big plans and you gotta move

And I don’t feel nothing at all
And you can’t feel nothing small

‘Honey I love you,’ that’s all she wrote.

Oh, Ophelia, you’ve been on my mind girl like a drug
Oh, Ophelia, heaven help a fool who falls in love

Oh, Ophelia, you’ve been on my mind girl since the flood
Oh, Ophelia, heaven help a fool who falls in love

Oh, Ophelia, you’ve been on my mind girl like a drug
Oh, Ophelia, heaven help a fool who falls in love.”

The Lumineers, Cleopatra


“You are the hole in my head
I am the pain in your neck
You are the lump in my throat
I am the aching in your heart

We are tangled
We are stolen
We are living where things are hidden.”

One of the things I truly enjoyed about Judd Apatow’s “Love” Netflix series was the closing credit soundtrack – each song was a cynical, desperate kiss-off to match the episode’s screwball relationship defeats. I have an extra reason to love it now, because it reminded me that this song exists – probably my favorite thing Eddie Vedder has ever recorded.

I’ve never been much of a Pearl Jam fan – I just wasn’t around at the right time!! And there’s only so much retrospective listening one can do!! – but any time I hear Vedder’s solo work and folk-acoustic tracks it leaves such a good impression on me. His voice will go down in history as one of the most recognizable of our generation, and one of the most unforgettable, too. This cover of John Doe’s (of the formative punk rock band X) “The Golden State” is probably one of my all-time surprise favorites – I rediscover this song every year in some form or fashion, via TV or Pandora or whatever, and fall in love with all over again.

The harmonies are so, so perfect, using this really open, obvious counterpoint that makes the two voices sound like they’re in different worlds but still meshing purposely. The result, and the sentiment, is really quite fitting. I ought to stop forgetting to put this on every playlist I ever make, learn to play it, and find out more of John Doe’s original work because I would love to hear more of this.

“We are luck
We are fate
We are the feeling you get in the golden state

We are love
We are hate
We are the feeling I get when you walk away.”
~The Golden State
John Doe feat. Kathleen Edwards, The Golden State, as covered by Eddie Vedder and Corin Tucker


“They need a heart. 
I relapse on memory. 
I got numb again. 
I feel the scar, but I need the money.
I think I’m lost again. 

I think my life is disappearing.” 
~Punch Drunk,
Young and Heartless, Stay Awake

As much as I’ve been hooked on the arena-synth emo likes of the new record from  The 1975 (eveyr night) and the alt-country twinges of Brian Fallon’s “Painkillers,” (every morning) I keep adding ot he list of what I must l isten to that is new and different (during the day). Today that is the Young and Heartless, a Hopeless Records band that I’d heard of but hadn’t heard and listening to their new record provides a much more mature, complex sound than I imagined.

And to make it that much better – I checked out their Bandcamp and found out they are from my beloved Harrisburg.

There’s a darkness and edginess to their lyrics, about money and drugs and losing grip on one’s life. But their ever-so-slightly nu wave guitars elevate their sound to something silky, smooth and cohesive. The vocals are throaty baritone without the screamy-screeching that seems (finally) to be going out of fashion in favor for more technical, on-point melodies and backing harmonies. There are echoes of grungier emo, like Citizen, but also the introspective notions of Into It. Over It., and the shoegaze tint of Title Fight. Every song seems to be about not being able to get it, or keep it, together.

“Stay Awake” Is an incredibly digestible listen, but not necessarily a comfortable one – it’s not a happy record, by any means, but it is really beautifully crafted mid-tempo rock and roll. Each song, prior to its final chorus, seems to build a tension that breaks down in a feisty drum part and ever-so-dissonant chord choices. It’s a sound that feels absolutely trendy and on-point, but only because it has been fashioned out of years of work. However long they’ve been around, Young and Heartless are good enough at writing tight, deep groves together, which just so happens to be the sound of the moment. But you don’t get to sound this seasoned without a run-up, and something tells me this sound has been brewing in their garages and studios for awhile. 

I’m so happy to have stumbled upon this band on their record release day, as they start what is very likely a successful run and I seek anything new, relevant, present and different to enthrall myself in. As wonderful as it is to have new music from old favorites (and there is so much of that this year, notably new LPS from Aaron West, The Hotelier, and Thrice coming up this spring) having a new band with a new style and a new story provide punctuation to the phases of life, like the bookends in between what’s old and new.

“What am I doing? 
Carve me a new love.
Open the blinds.
Your life deserves light.”
~Misery on Misery 
Young and Heartless, Stay Awake


“So satisfied I said a lot of things tonight
So long aphasia & the ways it kept me hiding
It’s not so much exactly all the words I used
iI’s more that i was somehow down to let them loose.

Pinvegrove, Caridnal

Pinegrove is the indie rock band of the year, it has already been determined by myself and so many other rabid listeners. Theirs is a fresh sound, that rare bird that finds its way into blogs and tastemaking machines. There’s emo roots for sure, but a little bit of hipster songwriter, too, and a hell of a lot of introspective heart.

Pinegrove is to 2016 as The Hotelier is to 2014 and Turnover is to 2015, this little-band-that-could that makes its breakthrough. I started listening to them earlier this year after seeing more than a few Twitter mentions, and now I can’t stop playing “Cardinal” every night. The record channels pensive loneliness in a subdued and understated way – they are not brash like Modern Baseball, they are not overly wrought like TWIABP, but they can be considered contemporaries in this post-emo revival, rock-for-the-heartfelt times.

While I love the layered guitar sound and their ability to build and bust into noisey little spells, I think it’s the melodies that make these songs worth returning to. On tracks like “Aphasia,” “Size of the Moon” and ubiquitous opener “Old Friends,” the verses seem to be written with as much of an ear for hooks as the choruses, and they find a way to take root in your brain. Something about this is very pop, and very now, but all else about them is rather garage band rock and roll. The combination is altogether hoest. Let this be the year of Pinegrove, let their subtle technique, elegant touch and gritty realism set the bar for what it means to forge a new sound built upon the foundations of rock and roll.

“I don’t know what
I’m afraid of
but I’m afraid
one day it all
will fall away 

Maybe I read that

But still, let’s see
 If nothing else it’s an idle curiosity.”

~Size of the Moon
Pinegrove, Cardinal


I can’t get this song out of my head. It’s the most haunting on Chris Stapleton’s award-winning, twang-folk “Traveller” LP, and latest song to make me a cry on an airplane. Something in his howl is so perfectly suited to a song with this message, one about the tough, ugly side of loving someone. How you will go there even if you know it’s someone who can hurt you.

 Love songs often fall into one of two camps – the love-you,need-you, sunshine-and-roses one, or the post-love, heartache one. But it’s so much more than that, isn’t it? This song just gets it right, with an unforgettable chorus – that first note won’t leave my mind and  the following melody just spirals from there. The official video is as haunting as they come. But I don’t think it would have the power it does if the song wasn’t such a strong, simple ode to suffering in all its forms.

Stapleton is a master of this genre, he was even before his breakthrough, and he so deserves the warm reception he’s received from mainstream audiences. He embraces difficulty, pain, self-doubt and consequence, but with acceptance and not defeat. Some of the songs get a little too twangy for my tastes, I’ll admit, but this one is too stunning, too stilling to pass by.

“Honey load up your questions
And pick up your sticks and your stones
And pretend I’m a shelter for heartaches that don’t have a home
Choose the words that cut like a razor
And all that I’ll say is

Fire away
Take your best shot
Show me what you got
Honey, I’m not afraid

Rear back and take aim
And fire away

Well, I wish I could say
That I’ve never been here before
But you know and I know
That I’ll always come back for more
Your love might be my damnation
But I’ll cry to my grave

Fire away
Take your best shot
Show me what you got
Honey, I’m not afraid
Rear back and take aim
And fire away.

~Fire Away
Chris Stapleton, Traveler


“Most of this life’s been a drag of a high
And lows like a blow in a paid thrown title fight
Most of my sins were born in a kiss on a night like this
Calling all lonely hearts

Don’t you want a life like we saw on the picture show?
So come on, give me something, come on, keep me up all night

You say, my baby, all this time in between drives me crazy
I want a life on fire, going mad with desire
I don’t wanna survive, I want a wonderful life.”

~A Wonderful Life
Brian Fallon, Painkillers

The new Brian Fallon solo record is out, and it’s everything I wanted “Get Hurt” to be.

Seriously. He should’ve released this years ago. 

Without his full band but never lacking in layers, “Painkillers” plays like the most distilled version of Fallon we’ve heard yet. His  references are familiar – tombs, cars, pills, they’re all here for the mixed metaphor party, and the chords are too. But I’ve still spent the whole day playing it over and over again, surrendering to the hooks of “Among Other Foolish Things” and “Rosemary” just like the tracks off “The ’59 Sound” once hooked me.

To me, this collection is the result of a songwriter’s efforts to define himself around the edges. His focus is still heartbreak in all its forms, and love in all its highs and lows. Most songs have a “been-there” attitude, run down and over it but still, somehow, crawling back for more. And while he tries some different things vocally, occasionally evoking Dylan in a throat-speak kind of way, nothing that he attempts is out of his range, or out of his zone, or out of his style. And as a result, the whole thing is really cohesive, and authentic, in ways that the more recent Gaslight Anthem records were lacking.

“Smoke,” “Nobody Wins” and “Honey Magnolia” are instant standouts after I’d already played the lead single, “A Wonderful Life,” to death over the past few weeks. The re-recordings of “Long Drives” and “Red Lights,” originally Molly and the Zombies tracks, are welcome in their revival, with a lot more harmonies and clearer guitar interplay to match the rest of the record style.  The record is littered with heart crushing lines: “Last night I remembered being 17 / I met a girl with a taste for the world and whisky and rites of spring.” As was the case with The Horrible Crowes, Fallon chooses to dress up his verse-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus sort of stucture with lots of fun auxiliary – a tambourine or piano is never far out of reach and “Painkillers” is all the more itneresting for it. In a lot of ways it feels like a return to his roots, and the Americana rock that built TGA’s fanbase.

As catchy as the solos can be, the star of the show, as I would’ve expected, is Brian Fallon’s exceptional capacity for self-reflective storylines. The best lines are when he’s alone struggling with his demons, drowning in dreams and getting drunk on the look of a lover. These scenes are repeated time and time again in all his work, and I have to wonder if these are real people he knows, or just characters he’s invented in their image. Maybe a little bit of both. I do not know if “Painkillers” will draw any new fans Fallon’s way, but for the diehards, it is a welcome, familiar taste, a new spin on the same old imagery and a perfectly sad, sweet, stylized indulgence.

“But you said
I’m alright Baby I don’t mind
I’ll get on just fine
on them long long drives.”

~Long Drive
Brian Fallon, Painkillers


“Right in front of me
Splitting you from me
Where do these cliffs come from
They keep on lining up


Can you hold out your hand
just a little bit further
I can feel your finger tips
if I just reach out a bit


Save me from myself
Save us from all the rest
Don’t rest till you’ve saved enough
then you know you’ve passed the test”

 ~Surf and Turf
Minus the Bear, Lost Loves

I must never forget how good Minus the Bear records are.

Their 2014 release, the cleverly titled “Lost Loves,” totally slipped by me until someone else’s Instagram shot of “Highly Refined Pirates” made me realize I needed their groovy, funky gutiar parts and silky, sexy vocals as a Friday afternoon pick-me-up. Then I realized they had this album I never heard with these releases I haven’t discovered yet — “Lost Loves” is a collection of rarities and never-before-released cut tracks. Listening to it has solidified everything I knew I liked about this band and have for years – their bright and bold guitar parts, their intricate rhythms, and the upbeat-but-chill sound they pull off in this understated and cool-off manner.

This band reminds me of spending mornings by the beach and weekends by the coast, or late-night drives through cities in the search of debauchery, or even just its guise. A copy of 2010’s “Omni” lives in the passenger side of my car, still in its original packing, and I’ll reach for it from time to time when a drive needs to feel good. Minus the Bear is my kind of party band — guitar playing at its fashionable finest, decadent imagery, and propulsive rhythms for days.

They made a name for themselves in the height of indie emo’s popularity in the early 2000s, with the sultry hooks of “Menos el Oso,” even though they never really represented that sound, and since then their vibe has only veered even further from the “the scene,” favoring this brooding, full-bodied rock and roll.  The songs on “Lost Loves” exemplify this masterfully, as such a collection ought to — from the thumping outro of “Broken China” to the echoing organs of “Cat Calls and Ill Means,” and the brilliant fast-fingered soloing on “Invented Memory,” these phrases and fills that are all feel, all atmosphere, produced with the kind of technique that shows off swagger through restraint.

Must remember to work them back into my rotation. More days could use this.

“Throw all the clocks out
Tell time by touch
Feel it fall through your fingers as it rains down on us”

~Invented Memory
Minus the Bear, Lost Loves


Seeing Jason Isbell perform for the second time tonight. I almost didn’t buy tickets – stupid, I know! – in an attempt to be fiscally responsible and see if any freebies or friend offers came may way. But last night, with neither of those plausible chances coming to fruition, I made sure to secure myself a seat and I’ll be there in six hours or so, on the third deck of the Benedum Center balcony, so I can hear the genius Isbell and beautiful Amanda Shires play the highlights.

There’s a 110 percent chance I’m leaving in tears, the quiet, hot kind that you try to hide but can’t stop because you’d rather feel through your emotion than lock it up for the sake of saving face. Something about his songs – both melodies and words – cuts to the quick of what moving songs are supposed to do. He can channel the heartfelt without overplaying its effect. He can evoke memories you never knew you had. Few artists in this wide open music scene have the literary way with words that has made Isbell’s records such a classic —

“I’ll throw rocks at your window from the street
And we’ll call ourselves the flagship of the fleet.”

Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

–not to mention the things he can do to a guitar, extending solos into mini-epics, playing each note a little clearer, a little truer, a little longer than the last. Hearing him for a couple hours tonight promises a respite from the rest of the world, just as it was last February, just as his albums from my speakers provide the most solid soundtrack, appealing to the better parts of my taste and humanity.

“It’s a strange thing to write a love song,” he said during a live session on WYEP today.

Strange, but beautiful.

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