learning love songs

est. 2008


Jenny Lewis


Her voice, on those last few notes of the chorus, is nothing short of shiver inducing. Her words, phrased in uncomplicated scenes and feelings, are full of all things sad. Her loneliness, and strength, is palpable.

Jenny Lewis is one of those musicians I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. I don’t think she’ll ever stop making music that works for me. From that first time I heard her, live with Rilo Kiley on Coldplay’s X&Y tour in 2005 from the lawn of Darien Lake, I was instantly hooked. Ten years later, about, she’s putting out incredible solo work and recording with the best of them. She sounds rich, raw, assured. She sneers with a shyness, her voice a softly fluttering, slippery ribbon. Some tracks party a little harder than others, some quiver with strains of gospel, and some, like this beautiful title track from her last LP, are ballads in the key of heartache, full of honest longing.

With simple acoustic strumming in a four-chord form, and harmonies full, rich and deep, the words of this song are free to shine, and the structure makes it so. Writing in such succinct patterns can be a challenge, a maze whose walls are not always high enough to contain the meaning and means of the message, but when it is done well, no doubt can be had: it is a song. It is meant for melodies, to be sung and heard, bound to resonate and satisfy. Our minds like patterns and rhymes, we like repetition, but we also crave connection. So from there, simplicity rules: words like “liar,” and casual, reminiscent “we’s,” and fire metaphors, the comparison of loneliness and addiction, these are things we know and feel. Lewis does not pontificate, but she is thoughtful. She does not parade, but she does spin a yarn. She leaves hints, casts doubt, and wraps it all up with a tough and trembling cry. 
Looking forward to The Voyager on July 29, and hearing what else she has to say.

“I went to a cobbler
To fix a hole in my shoe
He took one look at my face
And said, “I can fix that hole in you”

I beg your pardon
I’m not looking for a cure
Seen enough of my friends
In the depths of the godsick blues

You know I am a liar
You know I am a liar
Nobody helps a liar

Because I’ve been down to Dixie
And dropped acid on my tongue
Tripped upon the land
Until enough was enough

I was a little bit lighter
And adventure on my sleeve
I was a little drunk
And looking for company

So I found myself a sweetheart
With the softest of hands
We were unlucky in love
But I’d do it all again

We build ourselves a fire
We build ourselves a fire
But you know I am a liar
You know I am a liar

And you don’t know what I’ve done.

By the rolling river is
Exactly where I was
There was no simple cure
For unlucky in love

To be lonely is a habit
Like smoking or taking drugs
And I’ve quit them both
But man, was it rough

Now I am tired
It just made me tired
Let’s build ourselves a fire
Let’s build ourselves a fire”

~acid tongue, 
Jenny Lewis, acid tongue


“It’s 16 miles 
To the promised land 
And I promise you 
I’m doin’ the best I can” 

Oh, I miss you, Rilo Kiley, what with your fantastic auxiliary choices and early acoustic strumming patterns, and literary lyrical qualities that somehow defy all potential pretension. So much to love about this particular song, with the group vocals and xylophone and the straight up, put-up-or-shut-up call to action. I wonder what it would feel like to write an honest song again, but I do not think I know how. I’m pretty sure I only did once (it was pretty cool, though,another post for another day).

It’s mind-boggling, really, how I can recognize honesty almost everywhere around me, in what I see and hear and read and observe, but am still relatively incapable of finding it in myself. It had to have been there once, I remember figuring it out. Like in my grandparents’ living room during the overheard conversations about the shortfalls of my relatives, conversations where a little me served as audience, a third-party listener hearing the playbook of what I must do to live a successful life. And then, during heart-to-hearts in dance class, I learned to put words to what I wanted, sitting on the cold church floor picking at runs in pink tights, anxious and awkward-limbed while digging for ways to describe what it was I danced for…surely I knew what it was to be honest with myself then?

Maybe it’s mid 20s-existentialism or maybe I’m just letting haters get the best of me, but some days I wake up with an unshakable guilt, like any second the proverbial “they” will bust down my door to tell me to get out of this life, that “they” were wrong and that there’s someone in line who has her shit much more together than I who deserves this chance.

One thing I can be honest about though: Dreams are better shared. That is, at least, a comfort.

“And some days,
They last longer than others
But this day by the lake went too fast
And if you want me, you better speak up,
I won’t wait
So you better move fast”
~With Arms Outstretched
Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things 


“There are twelve hours, there’s a day between us
You called to say you’re sorry in your own way
There are oceans and waves and wires between us
And you called to say you’re getting older

Sometimes, planes, they smash up in the sky
Sometimes, lonely hearts, they just get lonelier”

~Wires and Waves 
Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings

Old peppy Rilo Kiley to remind me retrospective isn’t always a bad thing.

Such a good album. Definitely appreciate it more now than I did in high school and whatnot…the contrast between hopeful and cynical is a lot more obvious to me. The attitude is sly, confident in its despondency. But the layered West Coast guitars, Tijuana-prime brass sections and occasional raspy-surfer rock lead vocals from Blake Sennett are upbeat enough choices to distract  from what’s often some pretty hopeless scene setting. Jenny Lewis is still playing with cutesy girlish punctuation — this is the band’s full-length debut after all — but it works, makes it fun, and the songs are perfect for indistinguishable Sundays full of to-do lists that never see strikethroughs and weary feelings.

The Takeaway: No point in resenting desperation’s battle. No point in trying to map the future, when life/your own impromptu choices can bust it all up at any second. 

“And why do you do it and make it seem delicate?
When it’s all the stupid things, so damn confusing to me
Like talking it through, controlling my temper
Like letting it go, saying, ‘Please, forgive me
For laughing at your jokes'”

~Plane Crash in C 
Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings


“Get a real job, keep the wind at your back and the sun on your face.
All the immediate unknowns are better than knowing this tired and lonely fate.
Does he love you, does he love you? Will he hold your tiny face in his hands?
I guess it’s spring; I didn’t know; it’s always seventy-five with no melting snow.
A married man, he visits me, I recieve his letters in the mail twice a week.
I think he loves me and when he leaves her,he’s coming out to California

I guess it all worked out; there’s a ring on your finger and the baby’s due out.
You share a place by the park and run a shop for antiques downtown.
And he loves you, yeah he loves you, and the two of you will soon become three.
And he loves you, even though you used to say you were flawed if you weren’t free.
Let’s not forget ourselves, good friend. You and I were almost dead.
You’re better off for leaving, you’re better off for leaving.

Late at night, i get the phone. You’re at the shop sobbing all alone.
Your confession, it’s coming out.
You only married him because you felt your time was running out.
Now you love him, and your baby. At last, you are complete.
But he’s distant and you found him on the phone pleading, saying
‘Baby i love you and i’ll leave her and i’m coming out to California…’
Let’s not forget ourselves, good friend. I am flawed if I’m not free.
Your husband will never leave you, he will never leave you for me”

~Does He Love you?
Rilo Kiley, More Adventerous


I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t wait to see what Rilo Kiley lead singer Jenny Lewis comes up with next.

Her second solo album comes out this September and I, personally, am stoked. Lewis fronts indie-pop group Rilo Kiley, whose 2007 release “Under the Blacklight” seemed to let down their cult of hipster fans.

The band noticeably strayed from the folk, acoustic sound that made them such a hit.

“Under the Blacklight” was a sex-infused album both lyrically and instrumentally, with everything from Latin to disco to 70s rock to candy-pop sounds.

Add in some serious themes: “Close Call” is about prostitution, “15” is about a way too young girl with a way too old man, “Moneymaker” seems to be as much about stripping as selling yourself for anything.

I thought the album was well titled–with lots of rhythm guitar, upbeat dance-able tracks and Lewis’ sultry tones it’s easy to envision the songs being performed in a dirty, dive bar somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

But the difference to early fans was clear. Listen to something off of “Take Offs and Landings” (2001) like “Plane Crash in C” then a track like the disco-dance track “Breaking Up” and you might wonder if it’s even the same musicians.

It’s not a bad record, I don’t think, despite the fact it’s been called a disappointment. I think it’s just a different kind of record, with different kinds of stories, and frankly, I think they’re good enough musicians to pull it off.

And, as we saw on her first solo album, “Rabbit Fur Coat,” Lewis’s voice is so well-suited for bluesy soulful drawls. It’s sexy and authentic, and a more powerful sound than the breathy, nearly spoken style she often used in their other albums. The songs seem written to fit that without mimicking the Southern gospel of “Rabbit Fur Coat.” Her sound changed and, thus, Rilo Kiley has changed as well.

So needless to say, I am crazy-excited for her next solo record. It’s called “Acid Tongue” (!!), and I’m hoping that’s exactly how it sounds.

Blog at

Up ↑