learning love songs

est. 2008




Some songs you love in a singular context – there’s no connection to the artist’s catalog, albums or performances, it’s just this one song you hear and hear and hear and it’s perfect every time. That is Ron Pope’s “Drop in the Ocean” – while I’m sure he’s a very talented piano player and songwriter and has a lot of good things to say, I can only come back to this perfect beautiful song.

I believe it’s a Pandora discovery, but every time it winds up on a channel of mine I love it. His voice is equal parts delicate and clear, managing full-throated held notes and occasional falsetto. A quick review of his discography tells me this was on his 2008 debut – the fact I still hear it so often in 2015, though, says something about how this might be the song that winds up defining his career. And if it is, what a beautiful thing that would be – I love the wanting in this song, and how hopeful the chorus is despite this rather melancholy setting of droughts and deserts.There’s heartbreak here, but it’s not accepted, it’s not giving in.

I should listen to more solo piano songs like this today. There’s something so sophisticated and uncluttered about it, and also quite impressive. I love imaging fingers dancing across keys and finding all the right notes. I love how crisp and bright and still dramatic the sound can be, I love how it highlights words and stories layered above it. It shows how powerful one good melody can be, when you don’t need any other adornments. In this little relatively unknown song, with just voice and piano, there is so much beauty and simplicity and expression, a devotion to undying love, the kind that isn’t little or unknown at all, and I just love how timeless and human that is.

“It’s just a drop in the ocean
A change in the weather
I was praying that you and me might end up together
It’s like wishing for rain as I stand in the desert
But I’m holding you closer than most 

‘Cause you are my heaven.”
~Drop in the Ocean
Ron Pope, Daylight


“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.


Three in the morning and the sad songs didn’t start til 2 a.m. But it was just the right timing, past the point of hoping for sleep while verging on acceptance of the insomnia ahead. Somehow it took several hours of tossing and turning and ruminating before I sought sonic distraction.

Of course, as is often the case, the most suitable finds were perfectly randomized. Old favorites whose notes felt warm and comforting to tired ears, plucked by an algorithm with no knowledge of my state of mind. Listening to these familiar songs, played in past desperate times, reminded me this, all of this, too, shall pass, be it three to five minutes and four to six chords at a time.

This song. This song is meaningful, with glimmering darkness that swallows you whole. Few words, small melody, with cinematic, visceral sound. It reminds me of worse times, and better ones, the safe familiar vision of that light so far in the distance.

“Help, I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And the worst part is there’s no one else to blame.”

~Breathe Me, 
Sia, Color the Small Ones

What a find. This album is a perennial rediscovery,and well-worth it,because it’s solid from start to finish and desperate folk-sad with an alt-rock sound. Haunting vocals, which, I’d say, all three of these tracks have in common. This is a song for rainy nights and whiskey tears. I’m halfway there.

“Anything to make you smile
You are the ever-living ghost of what once was
I never want to hear you say
That you’d be better off
Or you liked it that way

But no one is ever gonna love you more than I do
No one’s gonna love you more than I do.”

~No One’s Gonna Love You More Than I Do 
Band of Horses, Cease to Begin

Early-stage Radiohead. What more is there to say? Truly one of the best albums of all time, a precursor to the genius works to come with a little bit of that grunge rock angst still kicking around the edges.. Think I found the right album for the remainder of this sullen night. One that provokes a little thoughtfulness, a little depth, which are the intellectual ways to describe wallowing, I think.

“Two jumps in a week
I bet you think that’s pretty clever don’t you boy?
Flying on your motorcycle,
Watching all the ground beneath you drop
You’d kill yourself for recognition,
Kill yourself to never ever stop
You broke another mirror,
You’re turning into something you are not

Don’t leave me high, don’t leave me dry,
Don’t leave me high, don’t leave me dry.

Drying up in conversation,
You will be the one who cannot talk.

All your insides fall to pieces,
You just sit there wishing you could still make love.
They’re the ones who’ll hate you,
When you think you’ve got the world all sussed out,
They’re the ones who’ll spit at you,
You will be the one screaming out.

Don’t leave me high, don’t leave me dry
Don’t leave me high, don’t leave me dry

It’s the best thing that you ever had,
The best thing that you ever, ever had
It’s the best thing that you ever had,
The best thing you ever had has gone away.

Don’t leave me high, don’t leave me dry,
Don’t leave me high, don’t leave me dry,
Don’t leave me high, don’t leave me dry,
Don’t leave me high, don’t leave me dry.”

~High and Dry 
Radiohead, The Bends


“And I’m so sad
Like a good book, I can’t put this
Day back
A sorta fairytale with you.”

Today I had the brilliant stroke of Pandora-induced luck to discover the demo version of “A Sorta Fairytale.” I think I’ve listened to this song three quarters of the mornings in the past month, the version from “Scarlet’s Walk,”  which is a stunning and moving tale of soulmates gone awry. It’s among my favorite tracks from 2000s-era Tori. But this version, with the solo piano, and the first draft of the lyrics, is much more intimate. And what are soulmates, if not that?

So, today, I heard this, and I danced in a parking lot. I waltzed and balanced with my headphones in my sandals, because it was empty of others and I was wandering and I felt like I was hearing something just for me just when I needed it. Especially with the tone of her voice on a line brand new to me – “this thing we created” – this, which encapsulated all the fretting and pain of the original verse, plus some, and so I broke into a thousand pieces and danced about it, because I was validated that yes, I knew what this tune was all about.

I would write more what I think this song is about, but instead I’ll use this quote from the writer herself, included in “Scarlet’s Stories:”

“I think that there is a place where she [Scarlet] realizes that people come in and out of your life. Sometimes for a day, sometimes for longer. And all of them make you what you are. You can’t separate these people out of you. They form who you are. Even the ones that you kind of say well… you know, I don’t know if I wanna be formed by them anymore. (laughs) But you are in some way. You are. That’s why, maybe, you don’t have to look at them so harshly because they have affected you. At the end, though, you know… it’s us as individuals with our… mm… with our love for the land. For something intangible, that when soulmates come and go, you’re never alone even when you’re standing just you in your shoes, because you carry them with you.”

“On my way up north
Up on the Ventura
I pulled back the hood
and I was talking to you
and i knew then it would be
a life-long thing, but I didn’t
know that it could
break so well and clean

and I’m so sad
like a good book
I can’t put this day back
a sorta fairytale with you

Said that day up on the 101
you would be someone
you tried to downplay it
but i knew we had come
face to face with this thing we created

and I’m so sad
like a good book
I can’t but this day back
a sorta fairytale with you
I could pick back up whenever I feel…

 And I was riding by
riding along side for a while
til you lost me and i was
riding along side til you lost me
til you lost me in the rearview

til you lost me, i said

Way up north, i took my day
all and all, was a pretty nice day
and i put the hood right back where
you could taste heaven perfectly.
feel out the summer breeze
didn’t know when we’d back and i
i don’t, i didn’t think we’d end up like,

like this.”
~A Sorta Fairytale
Tori Amos, A Piano: The Collection


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – oftentimes, the most touching songs are the stripped-down ones, those that avoid anything but the truth. If that means repeated verses, repeated choruses, so be it. The best often bears repeating. This beautiful duet, acoustic and piano-trimmed, joins two delicate voices together with vulnerability, a pretty little sad scene in a familiar sad key with a simple melody. I heard it on Pandora tonight, and thought it was perfect.

“I watched you sleepin quietly in my bed
You don’t know this now but
There’s some things that need to be said,
And it’s all that I can hear,
It’s more than I can bear.

What if I fall and hurt myself
Would you know how to fix me?
What if I went and lost myself,
Would you know where to find me?
If forgot who I am
Would you please remind me?
Oh, cause without you things go hazy

~Hazy, The Drifter and the Gypsy
Rosi Golan, ft. William Fitzimmons,


So Pandora brought me to tears today. I didn’t realize I was feeling so emotional, until I was pulling on a sweater and brushing my hair back and listening to this song. It’s a beautiful track from A Great Big World, a singer-songwriter new to my ears, with guest vocals from Christina Aguilera, at her most delicate.

That phrase “giving up” is so powerful. Can we ever really surrender anything? I love the ambiguity in this song, it could be to yourself or to a failed relationship or to a dying loved one, as the particularly moving video suggests. Turning away – for yourself or someone else – isn’t a light endeavor, it is excising something from your soul, and there’s bound to be that one last moment of hesitation before the you cut it out for good, where you look around to see if anyone will stop you.

“Say something, I’m giving up on you.
I’ll be the one, if you want me to.
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you.
Say something, I’m giving up on you.

And I am feeling so small.
It was over my head
I know nothing at all.

And I will stumble and fall.
I’m still learning to love
Just starting to crawl.

Say something, I’m giving up on you.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you.
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you.
Say something, I’m giving up on you.

And I will swallow my pride.
You’re the one that I love
And I’m saying goodbye.

Say something, I’m giving up on you.
And I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you.
And anywhere, I would have followed you.
Say something, I’m giving up on you.

Say something.”
~Say Something
A Great Big World ft. Christina Aguilera, Is There Anybody Out There


This, along with most songs Andy Hull has ever written, is one of those albums I used to gorge myself on. So I don’t listen to it that much anymore, save certain tracks that are iPod staples. But this one came up on Pandora today and I just appreciated it in a brand new way.

“Don’t let them see you cry
When the dam breaks down and the city is covered in water
Cause I believe we fly
When the moon takes shape and I doze off, on your shoulders

I trust that you see it too

So breathe while you’re alive
Let the big band play as you tap leather with your fingers
And I tried to write in style
But the words just come and I write them as soon as I see them

And I trust that you write them too
And I trust that you love me too

~Don’t Let Them See You Cry 
Manchester Orchestra, I’m Like a Virgin Losing A Child


“You would write it
Then rewrite it
Then erase it

But I heard you had something to say to me
A stronger spine is all you need
So pick up the guts from on the floor
Experienced advice to help you with the choice of words so poor

Well I call it retaliation by definition
You should’ve known by now
What this resentments all about
I’ve posted every kind of clue around this town
And everyone seems to see them but you
~Discretion and Depressing People
Into It. Over It., Proper

I’ve been on a huge Into It. Over It. kick lately – mostly because I crafted the closest-to-perfect Pandora station I’ve ever done in their name, with the likes of Look Mexico, The Wonder Years, The Weakerthans, Fireworks and a lot of sweet bands I’ve never heard of filling out the playlist.

If you’ve never heard “Proper,” it’s a fascinating, addicting, rabbit-hole of an album. The band overall is really original and authentic, and I think that makes them hard to classify but endlessly fun to listen to. It’s not pop-punk, is it? and it’s definitely not hardcore. Post-punk? No. Alt rock? Very Death Cab at times, but also has a lot in common with the progressive indie scene and seems rather well-known among pop-punk crowds.  I think we can just call it music and leave it at that.

I just love the variation, I love the feel. Guitar parts alternative between rich, slow electric parts with dreamy crescendos and more pop-punk chord-jamming, then there’s mellow acoustic on a couple ballad tracks. Evan Weiss is an inventive lyricist; I love what he does with timing and his penchant for full sentences, and a noticable lack of rhyming that occasionally resolves itself in some poignant, pointed way. There’s sometimes a spoken-word feel, like a journal being read aloud, and then you’ll get some really obvious melody. And I love the in-line rhyming he so often uses, it flows really well. In songs like this, “Midnight: Carroll Street” you end the song with a bring-it-home, key-spruced climax powerful enough to sounds good loud but not aggressive enough to lose something heartfelt and warm. A winning album, for its intimacy and its quirks, in my book.

“Somewhere between caffeine and nicotine
You will find me unentertained and worn out

Pressed to the steps beside my house

It’s somewhere between upset and sick it seems
To still find me the finest quality of pure anxiety
I’m searching for the solace to call you out,
To call you at all.

So somewhere between midnight and Carroll Street
I will find you a colder shoulder than I’m used to
Bending receivers just to hear the truth
I’m demanding some answers
I’m keeping up with double standards
I am between the words you’re telling me
With a fine toothed comb
I’m drawing lines in hindsight
Until the stories start to line up right
These details bent and broke us down
The finest rivalry of our anxiety
Searching for the courage to hear you out
To hear you at all
Somewhere between single life and sympathy
You will find me
You will find me

You will find me


A Pandora find from today…something about this song makes me think of someone heading west. Maybe it’s the harmonies, slightly Southern-gospel, mixed with syncopated string-plucking, echoing like howling desert wings. Maybe the simple train allusions.

Mission accomplished in updating a retro tune and making it accessible to new audiences (the original is soooo 60s hippie-chick, if you’re into that). It’s got a little more sultry soul, without sacrificing a delicate dignity, and it works.

Original or updated, the song tells a familiar story. I like that it describes a very specific moment that says so much about what’s to come, a moment full of hype and overanxious nerves. Do we ever know what draws us to someone, in a moment or after years? Not really ever, no, but that feeling lurking somewhere past your lungs will send you all kinds of places, if you’re willing to listen.

“Travelling north, travelling north to find you
Train wheels beating, the wind in my eyes
Don’t even know what I’ll find when I get to you
Call out your name love, don’t be surprised

It’s so many miles and so long since I’ve left you
Don’t even know what I’ll find when I get to you
But suddenly now, I know where I belong
It’s many hundred miles and it won’t be long

Nothing at all, in my head, to say to you
Only the beat of the train I’m on
Nothing I’ve learned all my life on the way to you
One day our love was over and gone

It’s so many miles and so long since I’ve met you
Don’t even know what I’ll say when I get to you,

But suddenly now, I know where I belong
It’s many hundred miles and it won’t be long

What will I do if there’s someone there with you
Maybe someone you’ve always known
How do I know I can come and give to you
Love with no warning and find you alone?

It’s so many miles and so long since I’ve met you
Don’t even know what I’ll find when I get to you
But suddenly now, I know where I belong
It’s many hundred miles and it won’t be long

It won’t be long
It won’t be long
It won’t be long”

~Train Song,
Vashti Bunyan, as covered by Feist and Ben Gibbard, Dark Was the Night compilation 

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