learning love songs

est. 2008


brian fallon


Made a list of my favorite albums of the year so far. Everybody else is doing it! Went with 11 instead of 10, because all of these albums have been really great to listen to in my mind. My biggest impression: The alt-rock offerings this year are truly profound and poignant albums, and the alt-country/folk female contingent is killing it.

Also, with upcoming scheduled releases from the likes of Moose Blood, Blind Pilot, Angel Olson, Local Natives, Taking Back Sunday, Yellowcard and hell, maybe even Brand New, a year-end list will prove to be quite competitive.

  1. The Hotelier – Goodness
  2. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
  3. case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs
  4. Pinegrove – Cardinal
  5. Deftones – Gore
  6. Brian Fallon – Painkillers
  7. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool
  8. Empty Houses – Daydream
  9. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
  10. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are beautiful yet so unaware of it
  11. Daughter – Not to Disappear

Special shout-out to “Best Kept Secret” for being my new favorite song about California and featuring beautiful Chinese strings.

Merits more listens/honorable mentions:
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
letlive. – If I’m the Devil…
Panic! At the Disco- Death of a Bachelor
Beyonce – Lemonade
Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
Sara Watkins – Young In All The Wrong Ways
Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness
Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to be Nowhere
Xenia Rubinos – Black Terry Cat

“I talked about my misery, you called it pain of pain
How we light a pile on until we go insane
‘Til we go insane
Until we go insane
You’re the best kept secret in Silver Lake.”
~Best Kept Secret
case/lang/veirs, case/lang/veirs


“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


I’ll admit Brian Fallon could play the alphabet acoustic and I’d think it was a brilliant expression of heartache and passion worth replaying a dozen times in a row. But this recent performance of “Red Lights,” from his side project creation Molly and the Zombies, is absolutely exemplary of everything he is good at. Like many songwriters, Fallon has a sweet spot of favorite chords. These Gs and Cm9s are his. He has this way of setting scene to emotional wreckage that is classic and real and sad-sad-sad, so fucking sad, lyrically and also performance-wise. The way he says, “burned before” has so many years behind it, the way he lets his voice drift down at the end of the chorus suggests the fragility of honest expression. I love the pace of this little song, and its moment-by-moment perspective, its reminder of taking advantage of the little calms in the constant, claustrophobic pressure of emotional-ridden storms

“In all good faith and sentiment
I can’t believe somehow
that I haven’t died of grief or something.
Since you left this town.

I’m all undecorated cigarettes,
and standard white apartment walls.

At 3 A.M. and 4 A.M.,
it’s impossible to sleep,

I’d do anything to hold you,
and feel you next to me.
But I’m all sore eyes and beasts
at my backdoor, pulling out their claws.

So yes I will take those,
whatever else they give me.
If it stops the nightmares,
it probably won’t kill me.
and if I slow it down I’ll end up on my accusers’ knives,
so I only stop to tell her that I love her at the red lights.

And all in all I’m wrecked you see
From years of piping down
and piping up about the things,
that never mattered anyhow
When you change too much you lose yourself
and some times you just can’t get them back.

And you might be an angel, or devil I don’t know
but if in fact you are now love
Well I’ve been there before.
I’ve fallen on my face
and I’ve been burned so near to death I probably won’t live through it

So yes I will take those
whatever else they give me.
If it stops the nightmares
it probably won’t kill me.

and if I slow it down I’ll end up on my accusers’ knives
so I only stop to tell her that I love her at the red lights.”

~Red Lights 
Molly and the Zombies

(Edit: Once, in a live performance, Fallon tacked on “Pictures of You” to “Ladykiller.” Just serendipitous, when chords & songs mesh perfectly.)


Sympathy, this is my best disguise. 
My skin stepped out for my bones to dry up
For the rest of the world outside to see.
You see,you see I bleed on the side.
It’s a part time thing, a private affair.
I try to keep it out of the light.
I must confess, I didn’t recognize you tonight
Dressed up like my love.”

When Gaslight gets it right, there is no doubt this is a band worth believing in. Sure, many have lamented “Get Hurt,” and its cringe-worthy moments, but the band had the good sense to re-record “Halloween” in studio, and there, they capture the mood that makes this band great.

I am sorry I missed their tour this fall, because they are a truly excellent live band. They sit and settle together, they do not scatter, and through that they weave a dark and solemn sound, a powerful one at that. This track exemplifies this ability. This track is captivating. I love its patience and tension, I love its subtle structural changes and lack of a chorus. I love the way it gets you to listen, through wordplay and repetition. I love the way Brian Fallon, at his most capable, howls just so. I love how the story it tells is not one of perfection, but one marred in confusion and masquerade, persisting in spite. 


“And I hate these things but I always attend
A little sip of something to take off the edge.

And I make my way through the ghosts in the room
Trying to crack a smile
And who are you supposed to be?
You look like heaven tonight
Me, I’m a tomb, I’m a corpse in a suit,
Trying to look a little alive.

Are you alright?
Cause I worry sometimes
Are you dressed up to take my life?

Keep it coming, keep it coming.

Well I think I saw you for the flash of a moment
Your broken heart and the body that holds it
I lost your scent in the flash of the party
The big bright lights, baby, constantly haunt me.
I’ve never been right, have you ever been lied to?
I think I just saw the same scars upon you
Is this a disguise? Or a masquerade for me?

Keep it coming, 

Keep it coming, keep it coming.

Who are you supposed to be?
Yeah, you look just like my love.
Who are you supposed to be?
Are you dressed just like my love?
Who are you supposed to be?
Yeah, you look just like my love.

Who are you supposed to be?
Are you dressed just like my love for Halloween?”

The Gaslight Anthem,Get Hurt


“Don’t ask me where I’ve been
Cause you don’t want to know. 
Don’t ask me who I’m seeing, 
No, you don’t want to know.
Don’t come around here 
When I need you the most.
Leave it alone, 
Leave a little room for the holy ghost. 

Now your pretty horses run wild and free,
You can go and find a lover, baby, better than me.
Talking snow for days with your friends in La, 
Have mercy.

Now your pretty horses run wild and free,
You can go and find a lover baby, better than me.
Talking snow for days with your friends in La ,
Have mercy.”

I like it when songs devastate me.

No, I love it. In the way I love strong coffee and long drives, in the way that makes me feel OK being alive and feeling feelings, which for me, like most humans, is a complicated endeavor. So I find songs that devastate me, that speak to whatever hurt I harbor and exacerbate it,like needles in the wound. Sometimes, those songs find me.

The new Gaslight record offers much to discuss in term’s of growth, reputation and catalog. But why talk about that right now, when the best moments are those of supreme heartbreak, perfectly channeled bedroom poetry accompanied by muted guitars and ghostly, dark vocals? I see all this when I am transfixed by the final bonus track on the iTunes release, one of the saddest songs Brian Fallon has ever written, one that is cloaked in the despair of loss and yet accepting of its own loneliness. I played it far too many times this week. It is an instant favorite, the kind of song I won’t forget, the kind of song I would send like as a message in a bottle, that I would rather wrap myself up in all day than go out and put on whatever face and front is needed to get through the day.


“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. 


“Honey we came to dance with the girls with the stars in their eyes…”
~We Came to Dance
The Gaslight Anthem, Sink or Swim
I saw Gaslight Anthem last night in D.C. Well, two nights ago, technically, by the date, but just a little over 24 hours. It was everything I wanted and more. 
Venue, the 9:30 Club, got sweaty, but it was a pretty beautiful place, charming architecture with dirty floors. The audience was hip, and liked to mosh. Didn’t expect that but it thrilled me. There were action figures and red candles settled on the amps, kind of felt like what the set up must’ve been in their Jersey garage back when. The setlist was pretty impeccable, I could’ve heard “When We Were Young,” but they opened with “Mae” which broke my heart in just the right way. After that, a black scrim dropped down, showing a fierce bird/dragon emblem.  I really appreciate their song choices. “Handwritten” tracks sounded fresh, those guitar melodies just sliced the air and locked in a revelry as the album would have you believe. Truly impressed by the layers and precision, definitely got the feeling that touring over the last few years have given these guys a good handle on the kind of riffs that can just energize a crowd. Bass tones were solid, I couldn’t see Alex Levine play too much from where I was standing and its mix wasn’t too balanced from where I was standing unfortunately, but sounded good if not too intricate. Alex Rosamilia and Brian switching off on lead guitar melodies works well, they really have different feels and gear preferences that gives you a good blend of metal-inspired riffs (fastfingers!! I watched them as close as I could over the heads and iPhones) and sustained  chromatic notes that are all feel (goddamn those semi-hollows sound great, I would want one if I had money to burn and better shoulder muscles to show it off cause they’re damn heavy).
“There you go, turn the key and engine over 
Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet…” 
The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten
Dudes in the band seemed like lovable punks; think they’d make good friends if I happened to find myself friends with them. As lead vocalist and MC and de facto spokesman, Brian Fallon was not ashamed to be a jerk – calling himself a liar, and a bad friend, and yelling at some dude who said “Fuck You” after he had declared his New York Jets allegiance (“Isn’t my life terrible enough?” he shouted back). He told a cool story about Bon Jovi texting him (with a great line about filling 20,000+ capacity stadiums that to me revealed a certain ambitious insecurity I immediately recognized) that could’ve been seen as douchy if he didn’t seem like the kind of guy who didn’t care if you thought he was douchey. We all hear his songs, so we know he’s a sentimental old fool at the core. He didn’t talk too, too much, just enough, I think, to give you a feel of who he wanted to present himself to be that night. Guy seems existential as fuck, but if he read that he’d probabyl tell you that’s just my perception of him and I don’t really know. You could speculate, maybe, if The Gaslight Anthem will just be Brian Fallon someday —  I’ll bet his bandmates do, given the media attention he gets — but I do not predict that in the near future because this band gives you a show, a mood, a scene, and that generally can be more profitable in many ways including the obvious financial ones.I would like to see them stay around for awhile more. As for his singing – he did what I’ve seen him do with live footage, tinker with the higher melodies to make them more comfortable, cause night after night that can get pretty taxing I’d imagine given how raspy his voice is a lot of the time….however, a gift for melody and counterpoint seems to work in Fallon’s favor here, surprising his audience with more complex parts on even the most familiar of tunes.

“Well, I wonder which song they’re gonna play when we go. 
I hope it’s something quiet and minor and peaceful and slow.”

~The ’59 Sound
The Gaslight Anthem, The ’59 Sound
Older tracks, like a personal faves “We Came to Dance” and “Drive,” as well as an extended intro version of “Angry Johnny and the Radio” were rehearsed really well, obviously, to the point of reinvented solos and Brian turning his back to the audience to jam out with the long-haired bearded drummer, Benny. Benny did not seem like a super-master technician trick wise, but he was all feel, all dynamics and pocket and drive and push that really propels a lot of their song structure. “Here’s Looking at You, Kid” was so good to hear, so so so so so good to hear, even though they took a break before the last verse to give Brian a minute to talk about the ex-girlfriend in the third verse.  Following a one-song acoustic break with the opener that I had missed, there were some cuts from “American Slang,” including the title track that made me want to run away and do all kinds of things and see all kinds of things and have no cares in the world other than what the day might bring. Continuing that theme emotionally and musically, “Diamond Church Street Choir” was dead on with the backup vocals and all. Actually I was really impressed with how they used backup vocals overall, including those of the third guitarist, Ian. Really clear balance and really retro at times, especially in “Here Comes My Man.” Love seeing simple harmony backsup in a rock band…again, retro and quite pleasing sonic-wise.

“They’ll find me beat down out in the universe
Though I’ll never forget where I’m from…”

~The Diamond Church Street Choir
The Gaslight Anthem, American Slang

Overall, they presented a really cohesive catalog, and message, and feel. Condensing four LPs into an hour and half show isn’t the easiest task, but you can tell they’ve learned what tracks from past albums have real staying power and played a role in crafting their sound as it exists today. You can tell they’re proud, and still having fun. Still in some shock at their fan base. Personally, I was unbelievably happy to hear so many songs I loved, get a better feel for where these songs are coming from in terms of both inspiration and persperation. 
And of course, it just made me think about how different my life would be today if I follow different dreams, if I wound up at club after club and bar after bar night after night.  
“And the only thing we know is it’s getting dark and we better go
And the only thing we say are the despairs of the day, 

And if you’re too tired, go to sleep, my brothers,
And if you’re too tired, go to sleep, my brothers
I’m alright to drive”

The Gaslight Anthem, Sink or Swim
There is a lot more I could say, about these songs and how they made me feel, and how it seemed they were making a lot of other people feel — from the toe-tappers on the mezzanine in their glasses and vests … the youngish looking girl with a huge smile dancing her ass off to my left and the guy in front of me with the bald spot who kept turning around and looking at me out of the corner of his eye … to the big dude in the Menzigners shirt who kept crossing back and forth though where my friends and I were standing….and I could say a whole lot abot those people who stand so fucking still at concerts I have no idea why they’re even there….and what about those sweet amazing couples, hugging and swaying and kissing, so intimate admist all this ruckus? Quite interesting to me to the blonde girl sitting and nodding her head to the beat, (tour or venue crew?) so controlled and composed as she looked on from what I can best describe as a private fenced-off box stage right that I would’ve given a pinky toe to be sitting in. The romance, the lust, the draw, it was there in every corner no matter how disguised among the crowds of D.C.’s apparently varied population of music fans.

“Now do you blow it out come Friday night?
See if you wanna, you can find me on the hood under the moonlight
Radio, oh radio, do you believe there’s still some magic left
Somewhere inside our souls?”

The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten

There is a lot more I could say, about these songs and how they make me feel, about how many years I’ve heard this band and how that cutthroat honesty, unafraid of drama or cliche, gets me every time..a lot more I could say, but I have a sleep debt and a long, long week to shine on through. Here goes nothing, again – if there was any other takeaway from last night, it’s that truly anything is possible, no matter how frightening or far-fetched.

“I’ve never felt so strange
Standing in the pounding rain
Thinking about what my mother once said
Maybe I should call me an ambulance”

~The Patient Ferris Wheel 
The Gaslight Anthem, The ’59 Sound

Sidenote: We’re going to see a lot of lists soon, it being December and all. I am a little too zonked right now (whatever that means) to process my top 10 albums of the year, but I will see that when I read quick briefs of album reviews of those I haven’t encountered, it’s really easy to make me not want to listen to the album, and that’s if you state the obvious. Lyric excerpts are too often used as crutches. Tell me why I need to listen to this and why it is better than anything else, don’t give me meeting minutes. Fuck if I know anything about music writing, though.


This makes me smile.

First there’s the seemingly unchoreographed, slightly awkard milling about stage, clapping and casting sidelong glances to those with instruments in hand. He is the new kid, young and anxious and uncontrollably giddy. Then that second verse? The way Bruce smiles in the background, then the way he nails the last two lines and the ? You can tell Brian Fallon is having the time of his life. This is the moment he cannot believe he is really living.

Good things come to those who don’t give up.

Plus, who doesn’t love this song? It was extra meaningful for me this past summer, deployed all alone in the world with little but memories for comforting company. Made me remember how much fun I’ve been fortunate enough to have. Then there’s how I routinely feel my bones aching, catch my hair falling out and require four aspirin instead of two after too much hard liquor on Friday nights. Feeling older makes you remember how free it felt to be young, I suppose…yet all of it just makes me want to hold on tighter, to dive back into doing whatever it takes to get that life I didn’t dare dream of. The one where I get to feel careless and tameless, inspired and unencumbered by passion and love and nothing to hold me back.

They’d say not to do it. But surely listening to conventional wisdom never did Bruce Springsteen or Brian Fallon any good.

“Now on the street tonight the lights grow dim,
The walls of my room are closing in,
There’s a war outside still raging,
You say it ain’t ours anymore to win.

I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies in my lover’s bed
With a wide open country in my eyes
And these romantic dreams in my head

We made a promise we swore we’d always remember,
No retreat, baby, no surrender.
Like soldiers in the winter’s night with a vow to defend,
No retreat, baby, no surrender.

~No Surrender
Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A.


Pretty obsessed with this one off “Handwritten.” Nice contrast in the early guitar parts, then some really resounding but subtle delay, just the way it should be used. There’s something circular, almost merry-go-round about it, maybe it’s in the way he manipulates the vocal line on the chorus.  There’s only so much build until the end, it is steady.

Don’t call it a sleeper track — I think it’s one of the most mature perspectives we’ve heard from Gaslight yet. It’s completely and utterly patient, but none the less heartfelt for it. This is a song that recognizes the sweeter side to the gravity, if not the tragedy, of waiting for someone to come around, waiting for life’s tides to turn. At such times, usually, there is nothing to do but wait.
I listened to this song at least two dozen times this week, spurred by a flood of memories and kisses that made me beg for a rewind button to appear, because so much can change so fast. Some moments, some people, can rewrite the soul in an instant without any sound intention. Just like that, the world is different, even though everything around you is the same.
It’s kind of like taking a walk down the streets you drive by all the time. The vantage point is different, off-kilter, and you wonder how you’ve missed so much all this time. Like ornate window trimmings on an otherwise ordinary house, or a flowering tree littering petals along the sidewalk, or a brass nameplate on a mailbox, or a sad, yellowed front yard that must’ve been abandoned for years. You know you’ve seen these things before, in passing, but from this point of view, you use a whole other set of eyes. And then, in a way, it  makes you appreciate the whole scene that much more. 

“Stay the same, don’t ever change,
Cause I’d miss your ways.

With your Bette Davis eyes,
And your mama’s party dress.

While this city pumps its aching heart
For one more drop of blood,
We work our fingers down to dust
And we wait for kingdom come
With the radio on.

I wanna see you tonight
Would you come for a drive?
You can lean into me
If you ain’t been in love for a while.

I was born beside a river
That flows to a raging sea
That will one day serve to quell,
Or one day be the death of me.

In my faded jeans and far away eyes,
And salty carnival kiss,
That all my former lovers say
Was once magnificent.

I wanna see you tonight,
Would you come for a drive?
You can lean into me
And if you ain’t, oh if you ain’t…
I wanna see you tonight,
Would you come for a drive?
You can lean into me
If you ain’t been in love for a while

And still this city pumps its aching heart
For one more drop of blood.
We work our fingers down to dust
While we wait for kingdom come
With the radio on…

It’s been so long Mae, so long
It’s been so long Mae, so long
But since the radio’s on…”

The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten

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