learning love songs

est. 2008


Marianas Trench


Tonight I had an ever-more-rare moment of musical memory — I saw Marianas Trench had a new song out, and after giving it a listen I remembered how much I loved Astoria when it dropped in the fall of 2015. That record lit me up, tethered me in ways I needed and stretched me to new emotional heights all at the same time. I’ve been listening to it while getting some to-do list items crossed off tonight, remembering how beautiful and strong it is, and when “Who Do You Love” came on, I had to stop what I was doing and play it three times.

This was the song I needed all along. I loved it alot and listened to it a lot while obsessing over the record back when, but tonight, here, in my life in Los Angeles in December 2017, these words couldn’t ring more true. It’s like they’re coming from my own guts. And with the propelling marching rhythm, layered harmonies, and cascading melody, it’s a gem of an earworm. You don’t hear voices like this very often, you don’t hear vulnerability sung about in such a brave way — and there’s also something about a song that kicks off with its chorus that just screams confidence in the face of whatever the singer is facing. You can almost hear the marching band coming down the street, with Josh Ramsey leading the pack, baton in hand.

I’ll get around to the new song eventually. But for now, I’m sticking with memory lane, and I’m looking deep in all the corners I might’ve wandered by before.

Well, I’ve been deep in this sleeplessness, I don’t know why
Just can’t get away from myself
When I get back on my feet, I’ll blow this open wide
And carry me home in good health

Who do you love? Who do you love?

God, it’s been so long wide awake that I feel like someone else
I’ll miss the way that you saw me or maybe the way I saw myself
But, I came back to you broken and I’ve been away too long
I hear the words I’ve spoken and everything comes out wrong
Just can’t get this together, can’t get where I belong
Who do you love?

Well, I’ve been deep in this sleeplessness, I don’t know why
Just can’t get away from myself
When I get back on my feet, I’ll blow this open wide
And carry me home in good health
Who do you love? Who do you love?

From fable to fumble, from stable to stumble, nevermore
I’ll say goodbye to my demons and all my break-evens, ever yours
I, I won’t come back to you broken, I won’t stay away too long
Even if words I’ve spoken seem to still come out wrong
I’ll get my shit back together, get right where I belong
Who do you love?

Well, I’ve been deep in this sleeplessness, I don’t know why
Just can’t get away from myself
When I get back on my feet, I’ll blow this open wide
And carry me home in good health
Who do you love? Who do you love?
~Who Do You Love
Marianas Trench, Astoria


Saturday! SaturdaySaturdaySaturday. On Saturday I finally get to see Marianas Trench, one of my most favorite bands due to their musicality and lyrics and being an all-around good time. I’ve been binging a little bit, in the middle of putting Kanye West’s discography on repeat in anticipation of “Waves.”  The contrast is a little rough, but energizing through long, grey days nonetheless.

While I’m expecting a total barrage of hooks and harmonies from “Astoria” during this Marianas Trench tour, my fingers are crossed for some special covers and old favorites, perhaps like this “Iris/Good for You” one. It’s a pretty simple transition, nothing fancy, the connection is all in the chords and the sentiment. I could do without the crowds screaming along, but I can’t say I won’t be acting in a similar fashion in four days time.

And I don’t want the world to see me
‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am….

Everyone’s around, no words are coming now.
And I can’t find my breath, can we just say the rest with no sound.
And I know this isn’t enough, I still don’t measure up.
And I’m not prepared, sorry is never there when you need it.

And now I do want you to know 

I hold you up above everyone.
And now I do want you to know 

I think you’d be good to me
And I’d be so good to you

~Iris/Good to You, as performed by Josh Ramsay  


I started checking out some live Marianas Trench performances in preparation for their Feb. 6 concert in Pittsburgh, and I couldn’t be more excited. Those harmonies! Those high notes, that Josh Ramsay is able to scream out without missing the next beat. I couldn’t be more obsessed, or impressed.

This song crept up on me as a favorite from “Astoria,” but hearing it acoustic creates a new intimacy. The recorded version sounds like it ought to to head up a parade, with a baton-baring Ramsay as grand marshal, but the stripped-down setting reveals a little more self-reflection. I love re-hearing it this way, and I love this as an anthem of reclamation, the underlying theme of “Astoria” that becomes clearer the more you listen between the lines.

“God, it’s been so long wide awake that I feel like someone elseI miss the way that you saw me or maybe the way I saw myself
But, I came back to you broken and I’ve been away too long
I hear the words I’ve spoken and everything comes out wrong
Just can’t get this together, can’t get where I belong
Who do you love?

Well, I’ve been deep in this sleeplessness, I don’t know why
Just can’t get away from myself

When I get back on my feet, I’ll blow this open wide and carry me home in good health

Who do you love? Who do you love?

From fable to fumble, from stable to stumble, nevermore
I’ll say goodbye to my demons and all my break-evens, ever yours

I, I won’t come back to you broken, I won’t stay away too long
Even if words I’ve spoken seem to still come out wrong
I’ll get my shit back together, get right where I belong
Who do you love?

Well, I’ve been deep in this sleeplessness, I don’t know why
Just can’t get away from myself
When I get back on my feet,
I’ll blow this open wide and carry me home in good health
Who do you love? Who do you love?”
~Who Do You Love,
Marianas  Trench, Astoria


It’s that time of year again.

The beginning. Which also means the end.

I’m particularly at ease as I sit down to write this list this year. It’s the kind of thing that’s an annual source of self-inflicted stress. While the AOTY list is a list that anyone who fancies themselves any kind of music “expert” or “critic” must be able to accomplish, I dread the work that it requires to reflect, write, compile. This year, though, it wasn’t hard to find a free moment and begin typing. I knew most of this in my head, I had considered it several weeks before when I knew January was creeping closer. I kept a running Post-It list and refreshed my ears with a Spotify playlist. And I’m excited to put it out there, all this music that has meant so much to me.

2015, perhaps more than any other year in my adulthood, carried more emotional trials than I could have anticipated. I dealt with heartbreaks I could not predict. I faced fears I had been running from since I was an adolescent. I let people in. I let go. I ran farther, wrote faster and kissed harder than ever before. I gave up bad habits and picked up better ones, and I picked myself off the floor. I found surrender, I found self-love, I found the freedom and lightness a human can attain when you break your mind out of the fences of expectation, and now it is 2016, and I find myself still fighting for all of this, but with degrees of anticipation and confidence and the good kind of nerves, and I am encouraged. Most people reading this do not know most things about me; most people do not know most things about anyone, least of all strangers on the Internet, but if you are reading these words right now you can probably gather that that my lifeline (as it is maybe for you too) through all of this in life is music.

10) If I Should Go Before You – City and Colour

A late-year release that continues to captivate me, I didn’t fully realize the brilliance of these songs until I had the chance to hear them live. And then I heard what I should’ve the first time – sweeping, elegant rock songs, with a timeless, bluesy feel, and Dallas Green’s sorrowful interpretations of life and love. From the opening bars of the dark, groovy “Woman,” you can tell this a record that uses the best of ingredients in the rock band pantry – heavy rhythm section, masterful solos, top notch vocals and hook-filled choruses. But mostly what I love about this record is how the sentimentality still steals the show.

Bound for trouble from the start
I’ve been walking through this old world in the dark
All along right by my side
There you were shining, my ray of light 

~Lover Come Back

9) Permanence – No Devotion

When the day started to drag, when the week started to feel dull, this was the record to play to pick it up again. An indie favorite among a certain post-emo scene, the kind who might still care who Geoff Rickly is, the No Devotion record encapsulates a sound that’s both reminiscent of a past era and somehow still trendy, walking one of my favorite lines. I love how synth-pop permeates the guitar parts, how new wave that sound is, matched with dark chords and stirring harmonies at the high-end of Rickly’s vocal range. This record surprised me by how much I liked it, how fun it was to listen to, and also how unseen it was given its overall depth compared to acts in the same kind of genre. 

Ten thousand summers
Cannot replace what we lost when you went away
Ten thousand summers
In the grass
And though it’s getting dark
Remember this will pass

~10,000 Summers

8)Carrie and Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

So many Sufjan fans fell by the wayside when his grand plans for a 50-album, 50-state spree stopped after two, myself included, as “The Age of Ads” and his BQE tribute didn’t seem to have the same heart. But Stevens’ musical brilliance, and poetic truths, shone through this year in the most surprisingly stunning ballad collection, a heartfelt, intimate tribute the love and loss and pain and quiet, awkward, awesome moments that make up family. It’s just too beautiful. When I listen to this record, I feel like it’s OK to be curious and shy and passionate about the ones you love.

Do I care if I survive this, bury the dead where they’re found
In a veil of great surprises; hold to my head till I drown
Should I tear my eyes out now, before I see too much?
Should I tear my arms out now, I wanna feel your touch

~The Only Thing
7) Run Wild – Lydia

Another one that really surprised me by how much I wound up listening to it. Lydia was a band I got into purely by Pandora association, despite knowing they lurked somewhere in the mid-aughts emo scene I’m so fond of. Choosing to get into them shortly before this release was somewhat serendipitous but also somewhat misleading – the Lydia that existed 10 years ago isn’t the one that put out this radio-friendly, poptastic, shimmering party serenade. But I love it, oh how I love it, from the stammering chorus of “Follow You Down” to the wide-eyed dance rhythms of “Late Nights.” Something about this record set the tone for a light and breezy ride, no matter how dark and heavy I felt, no matter where I was going.

I don’t want to keep your heartache
And I don’t want to feel your ghost
And I don’t even know where we will go
Yeah, I’m just trying to make it home

~Late Nights

6) Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves

There’s so much to love about this record, which is one of the sweetest, funniest, smartest offerings country music had to offer in 2015 and one of my favorite morning sing-a-longs. Kacey Musgraves has a strong wit, sharp tongue and killer voice, wrapped in an aw-shucks-stoner attitude that makes her songs so original and listenable and just overall delightful. Her take on gossipy neighbors and nosy friends shows a mature mindfulness that you’re more likely to read about on yogi websites than hear about in a country song, setting her apart from the usual heartbreak heroines. Musgraves is only two albums in but she’s only getting better – and more sure of herself, too, if the “Dime Store Cowgirl” anthem holds up.

I ain’t exactly Ms. Congenial
Sometimes I talk before I think,

I try to fake it but I can’t
I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t

~Pageant Material

5) Peripheral Vision – Turnover

If ever there was a darker, dreamier record this past year, I hadn’t heard it. Turnover came out of nowhere, relatively, to put out one of the most outstanding LPs in the alt-indie scene, one that cut through stereotypes of bands in the genre and threw down a new standard for moody yet upbeat tracks. This record soundtracked many a lonely night, injecting a shot of needy hopelessness right when it was needed, but in the most melodic fashion. There’s a depth in production here that creates a really full sound, but still lets you pick out the guitar parts. So much delay!! And so cohesive, which is why I think it was so easy to listen to time and time again. “Peripheral Vision” is a tribute to the complications and anxieties in relationships, the kind that we all wish we could avoid, but if this is where the stumbles gets you, maybe it’s worth learning your way through.

Would you come here and spin with me?
I’ve been dying to get you dizzy,
Find a way up into your head
So I can make you feel like new again

~Dizzy on the Comedown

4) American Candy – The Maine

This one really sneaked up on me. I had never listened to The Maine before “American Candy.” What I discovered was the purest pop rock I’d heard since radio-friendly All-American Rejects tracks in high school, excellent parts and succinct playing. A perfect balance between light and dark, this record grapples with issues of anxiety and self-consciousness and stereotype better than any I’ve heard in ages, without being too obviously “fuck-the-man.” Why it’s not on other top 10s, I cannot say. Something this well-executed ought to be recognized – there isn’t a bad track on this record, and it never left my rotation since it came out in the first quarter of the year. In a scene jam-packed with releases, that’s not nothing.

Sometimes I feel as though I’m going mad when
I get a touch of saccharine on my lips
I hate the taste on my tongue too damn sweet
I don’t fancy american candy, american candy

~American Candy

3) Something More Than Free – Jason Isbell

This record contains my favorite song of the year, the one that I played on repeat the most, with the chorus that still brings tears to my eyes. I was so obsessed with this record when it came out, and while I listen to it less in full, I still think it’s one of the best showings of the year, with every track showing how timeless and tireless Jason Isbell’s sound is. While his breakthrough on “Southeastern” gave us all a taste of what he is capable of as a songwriter and introduced us to his own personal angels and demons, “Something More Than Free” gives us more of a look into how he sees the world and what matters in, things like working hard and loving true.

“You thought God was an architect, now you know
He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow
And everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames
In 24 frames”

~24 Frames

2) Astoria – Marianas Trench

The top two were really hard for me this year to balance out, because they both hit me in the gut. So consider this almost a tie…and consider them both the kind that lived up to high expectations. Marianas Trench may not be a well-known act in most music circles, and that might be the biggest oversight in critical estimations. I think Josh Ramsay is a brilliant modern pop composer and if you disagree, I guess you’ve never heard a little song called “Call Me Maybe.” He is a production master – and he shines brightest in his own band, Marianas Trench, who write epic after epic after epic. This one might their strongest yet – clearly 80s inspired, and clearly heavy on the drama. But it’s tight as hell when it comes to hooks. How “One Love” isn’t tearing up the radio stations, I don’t know. In the past month or so since I bought this record I’ve listened to it almost every day, and it only gets better. It only cuts deeper. “Astoria” makes me smile, it makes me cry, it gives me shelter, it makes me a fighter. If ever there was a band that proved pop music as a genre exists beyond what’s on the charts, it’s Marianas Trench, and if there was any rock album in 2015 that lifted my heart to places I didn’t think it could still reach, it was “Astoria.”

“Don’t remind me what the price is when left to my own devices
‘Cause I’ll find out in all due time what happens to never say die”


1) No Closer to Heaven – The Wonder Years

When “The Greatest Generation” came out in 2013, I couldn’t help but think that this big-sounding, on-the-rise rock band from Philadelphia, my favorite active artist, had the makings of a voice of a generation. When “No Closer to Heaven” dropped this year, I knew that inkling was spot-on. Dan Campbell has turned his musings outward, and this record finds pondering the sick, sad world around us as much as his own place in it. The band followed its strengths with this record, and they’ve wound up with some of their best-ever songs, like “Cigarettes and Saints” and “Stained Glass Ceilings.” This is not a record for the faint of heart, as it has its fair share of thrashing and screaming, as well as some disturbed imagery, from car crashes to drug overdoses to gun violence. But in this aggression is a ferocious heart, one that refuses to quit, colored by drum rhythms for days and dueling guitar solos. To me, this is the essential combination for punk rock – an American critique offered by the minstrels of its lower middle class, and loud-as-fuck playing. But there’s something else that that phrase “punk rock” doesn’t quite capture, and that’s literary-level vocabulary, narrative-style scene setting and that particular brand of maturity that only comes from traveling to mental depths so low, and so dark, and surviving them. No one does it quite like The Wonder Years does, and no band ever will.

This god damn machine; hungry and heartless.
My whole generation got lost in the margin.
We put our faith in you. You turned a profit.
Now we’re drowning here under your waves.

~Cigarettes and Saints

Honorable mentions, for lack of enough listening to properly rank:
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett
Vitals – MuteMath
Traveler – Chris Stapleton
All Your Favorite Bands – Dawes
Dealer – Foxing
1989 -Ryan Adams (listened a lot, but didn’t feel quite right to rank. Best cover album of all time, tho, for sure.)

Past years:


So now you show up when you’re alone again
But we haven’t changed, but now you’re interested
And maybe you’re here because you wanna come home
But what if you’re just afraid to be alone

I guess I don’t know how
You’d want it back now
I thought you got yourself a way out
How do I prove it to myself you’re ready now
God I want to

Now you want me
But what if your heart’s a liar

Cause if you change your mind again
I’ll burn like a wildfire
Like a wildfire.”

Marianas Trench, Astoria 

Goddammit, Marianas Trench did it again. These guys are insane!!!

Once again they created a symphonic pop epic, one that is in sync with their than their past releases. When I first heard it I wasn’t sure what to think it felt a little too busy, a little too overambitious, but then I find myself unable to listen to anything else. I am helpless, but to succumb to their beautiful, unique brand of emo-colored power pop.

I can’t get these songs out of my head. So, I guess they win.

Initially, I didn’t like the 6-minute title track opener (not as much as much as I adore “Ever After,” anyway, which might be one of my top 10 favorite songs of the decade). This one felt a little more all over the place, and it gets dark and stark and incrementally deeper as it tries for hook after hook within each perfectly measured verse. But when I returned to the album for the second time I felt more attached and invested to this sprawling sound. I realized this is their scene setter – and all that busyness and highs and lows and climatic moments are a precursor of what’s to come.

The entire record is smoothed over and tied together with the incredible performance of Josh Ramsay. His high notes in “Wildfire” during the chorus are the pinnacle of this, as his the piano performance on “Forget Me Not.” The instrumental outro on that, dubbed “And Straight on til Morning” in what I hope is a beautiful reference to Peter Pan, is as perfect a cinematic display as you could hope to find. “One Love” deserves to be played on all the radio stations. The whole thing shines with beautiful pop production that seems to sample from all decades and genres. Remember, Ramsay is the guy who helped write “Call Me Maybe,” as he not-so-subtley references in the single I wished was on this album.

This band is consistently fun to listen to, and I think that’s why I love them so much. You instantly know an M.Trench song, and then you relish the toe-tapping that comes after. Pretty much everyone I have suggested them to winds up hooked on their sing-a-along choruses, tongue-in-cheek humor and goth-pop attire. They’re sort of an anti-hero, in some ways — not quite radio friendly, not quite DIY or stripped down enough for the pop punk scene, but they’re definitely rock and roll, even under the handclaps and woodblocks and harmonized bridges.

Lyrically, “Astoria” is blunt and brash and hopeful.  The wordplay on this album is so interesting and invented (“From fable to fumble, from stable to stumble, nevermore/I’ll say goodbye to my demons and all my break-evens, ever yours”) and I find myself wondering what the hell he’s talking about while still knowing exactly where he’s coming from. Marianas Trench has this really cliche, awkward feel to them sometimes (See the impossible-to-ignore hook of “Burning Up” and the strange, self-deprecating Michael Jackson reference of “Shut Up and Kiss Me“) but that’s part of the charm. They embrace it, own it, this kind of dirty-under-the-surface style. Even when the word choices feel sampled or clumsy, they at least fit the rhyme scheme perfectly, creating this off-kilter, less-than-perfect pop anthem, and it becomes a real strength. What they lack in trendiness they make up for in edge. As with “Ever After,” this record strives for concept album territory, but it’s a little fuzzy around the edges. I’m still not clear what “Astoria” is or what it stands for – a town? An enclave? A spaceship full of synthesizers and Pro Tools? Whatever it is, it sounds very romantic. There’s a lot of romance on this album, come to think of it, a lot of relived regrets and aspiring in the face of the defeated unknown, and hope for the future.

Listening to this album would feel like a guilty pleasure if 1) I didn’t believe in such a thing, 2) It wasn’t so damn good to listen to in the first place.

“I’ll see whatever doesn’t make me stronger kills me
But it’s going to be a long year till the hospital might find hope in me

Let the melody save me, Astoria
The quid pro quos that we’ll compose from esoteric to common prose….

Marianas Trench, Astoria 


“…I’m on the ledge, while you’re so, goddamned polite and composed…”
Marianas Trench, Ever After

Have I ever mentioned how fantastic of a singer I think Josh Ramsay is? Because he is. Marianas Trench is overtly pop, as far as my tastes go, though they’ll get some play in scene crowds on occasion. If I believed in the thing of guilty pleasures, these guys would be it. But that’s a cop-out category in general, you dig something or you don’t and if you’re ashamed of what you like you have self-image issues that run deeper than liking a pop tune. I love driving and singing to this band (poorly, albeit). The part of me that is a total romantic sap is completely sold, packaged and shipped.

(Every now and again, I want to listen to something that doesn’t completely depress the living daylights out of me, believe it or not.)

Their latest effort, “Ever After,” was pretty impressive, vocally and otherwise. It was framed as a concept album….which I have trouble listening before  but eh, creative license, I guess? There’s a lot of fantasy imagery, and in the music videos they pull it out strong. They’re clearly quite creative and drama-minded. But I find it hard to pull out a truly specific narrative other than fairy tales don’t come true unless you try to make them.

Anyway I think the songs are hella-fun, the production is laser-perfect and the vocals/harmonies are soooo good. Lovelovelove. This tune is happier, dance-ier:

“We’ve been stuck now so long,
We just got the start wrong,
One more last try,
I’ma get the ending right.

You can’t stop this, and I must insist,
That you haven’t had enough,
You haven’t had enough,

Stuck now so long,
We just got the start wrong,
No more last place,
You better get your story straight.

You can’t stop this, and I must insist,
That you haven’t had enough,
You haven’t had enough..”

~Haven’t Had Enough 
Marianas Trench, Ever After


There’s something about the guilty…..the thing you know is too average to want, not special enough, not indie enough, but still….soo…..damn….perfect.
Enter Marianas Trench. Can’t really describe it other than insanely listen-able. And to listen, is to enter an honest and driven-tempo world, with harmonies to hell and back, and tambourines in the chorus just like my lil heart likes it.

Sure, it’s cheesy, and a lot of their fans might love Selena Gomez, but I freakin’ love ’em. Since Januaryish they’ve been in my rotation, and I like some songs a LOT more than others, but those songs are pretty awesome.

The album itself is very theme-y, and group-vocal oriented in a Queen or Beach Boys kind of way.

In criticism land, the vocals do get on my nerves sometimes and are too all over the place for me to feel really respectful of — even versatility needs boundaries, I think, for greatness to really show – but some tunes are so damn succinct I can’t help but love them.

I’m under the gun, you’re like the only one.
I just can’t decide what I’m running from.
This isn’t what I wanted, but
I can’t keep my filthy fucking mouth shut.

It’s not enough, it’s never enough.
And I wish I could breathe without getting it stuck
Can’t focus it, but I try it
over and over again.

Did you say “please just follow me?”
I thought you wanted me.
Cause I want you all to myself.
I can try to suck it up,
I just can’t suck it up.
Make me feel like someone else
~All to Myself

Marianas Trench, Masterpiece Theater

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