learning love songs

est. 2008




Oh happy day! Taylor Swift is on Spotify! Of course there’s some dubious reasons on how this came to be, but all I know is I’ve spent the past three hours going through the catalog and it feels like revisiting an old friend. I’m compelled to share my memories of Swift Through the Ages, so here we go, album by album:

Taylor Swift-2006
I remember being in high school sitting in my aunt’s living room when the video for “Teardrops on my Guitar” came on. We stopped our chatter and even my tough-to-impress aunt remarked, “She’s got a nice voice,” or some beign compliment. It was then Swift was special, and from there “Picture to Burn,” “Our Song” and “Should’ve Said No” become country indulgences that I was too insecure to admit in open company that I loved — but no doubt got tons of play on my iPod.

Swift was back with glitter and gold for Fearless, and from the title track to “Change,” I loved every track. The more country-tinged takes like “Tell Me Why” fit with the Swift I knew, while the popularity of “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” made her OK to embrace among friends. As a college student with college student problems, these songs fit like puzzle pieces into the goings-on of my life, each representing a person, place or feeling that meant something to me as I started to learn what it meant to grow up. There was a juvenile enough sensibility to Swift at this point, so it wasn’t enough to pull me away from listening to my favorite pop-punk and rock bands for meaning and more literary moods, but there was no doubt Taylor could keep me company in good times or bad.

Speak Now-2010
This was where it all clicked. My memories of Speak Now coincide with my fresh-out-of-college lifestyle, working in a small lake town with friends and fun surrounding me. I dove into my work, into new relationships, into new experiences without ever looking back, and this record become a soundtrack to all that when I was alone — from the crushes I had, the friends I missed and the people I’d left behind in college or high school. The country rock vibe fit in well with the Americana catalog I was beginning to dive into with my newfound musician friends, and “Sparks Fly” was blasted with the windows down driving down West Lake Road more times than I’d care to admit. Then “Mine” became the first song I learned on my very first guitar. And it’s true what they say about never forgetting your first — I picked up my third guitar just now and knew it like the back of my hand.

I bought Red on CD a few days after it came out. I wanted to listen to it on a road trip from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, and I remembering playing it as I drove on the turnpike in the dark. Knowing I loved Speak Now, I was prepared to be happy with the release, but I remember being struck by how mature the songwriting was, how developed it seemed, and how much the themes of passion, youth and letting go seemed to mirror my own life. “Treacherous” became a favorite of mine to play guitar to, while “All Too Well” was a too-real recollection (and I think, to this day, one of Swift’s best efforts yet). Red managed to skyrocket Swift’s success, put crimson lip color back into trend and set a precedent for deeply felt, deeply revealing pop songs. We’ll forgive that drop in “I Knew You Were Trouble” as a sign of the times, especially considering that outro coda of “Holy Ground” is so good.

In my life and in Taylor’s, so much happened between these two years. I’d moved yet again, and she’d embraced pop in full form. Separate and apart from my connection to it, this record was a cultural touchstone, so 1989 became a centering point for my friends and I in Pittsburgh, we rung in the New Year with it. Her exuberance for life (“Welcome to New York,” “Shake It Off”) reminded me to embrace my own, while her more vulnerable confessions that came to the fore gave me something to relate to (“Clean,” “This Love”). I loved this album deeply, on drives to work, on nighttime solo dancer parties — and then my fave Ryan Adams came out with his own version, which hasn’t let my saved Spotify songs since. But I’m still coming back to 1989 in all its iterations — her performances at the Grammy Museum are particularly meaningful, and beautiful, and highlight the pureness of what she can do with her voice, her guitar and her message. That was how she first was introduced to the world, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that’s what we’ll get more of — and soon.


I was walking down Sunset on my way to Amoeba for Record Store Day on Saturday when a song I’d never heard popped up on a Spotify playlist and stopped me dead in my tracks. The female lead vocalist had a fierce, fiery tone, the chorus had a hell of a hook and there was a horn section. The song was “Machine” by MisterWives, a band whose name I’d seen but work I’d never heard until about 54 hours ago, and now cannot stop listening to.

I love their blend of indie pop and soulful, danceable rock (is a ska reference required?) — and Mandy Lee’s cut-to-the-truth lyrical style. While their last album Our Own House made a bit of a critical splash (and their cover of Chance the Rapper’s “Same Drugs” is more than worth a listen), “Machine” has an extra oomph, a few more layers of sound and an undeniable, resistance-fueled attitude. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to charge to the front lines or throw your fists up in the air, the kind of song that makes you want to start a revolution — or at least pick your head up from the pillow and face the day clear-eyed and ready.

I love the way Mandy Lee can pack a ton of words into a line, or draw out a phrase between bars. She keeps things varied, and upbeat — and “Machine” is an all-out treatise on the way she and her band are not looking to conform to anyone’s notion of what they should but their own. It’s an attitude borne of adolescence that, for better or worse, that gets harder to hold onto as you get older, as the pressures of life and what’s “normal” seep into your daily life. It’s refreshing to hear a rallying cry against that, to be reassured that whoever you want to be want to be is the only opinion that matters.

Adding their forthcoming Connect the Dots to my list of must-heart albums for this spring — and ready to use them to soundtrack any dull mornings that need spicing up, parties that need poppy background with style or any time I need to find that spring my step.

“Pick apart every piece of me
and miss the point entirely.
I only did this to be sane,
not for you to know my name.

Go ‘head and spit the music out
please tell me more about your doubt.
Don’t fear I’ve heard it all before,
each time makes it easier to ignore.

Oh, I am tired of abiding by your rules.
Causing me to second guess my every single move.
You don’t know who I am
or what I have been through, no,
So don’t dare tell me what I
should and shouldn’t do ’cause
Not here, to lose,
Not here for you to choose,

How we should be
Cause we’re not part of your machine.
We’re not, we’re not part,
We’re not part of your machine…”
MisterWives, Connect the Dots


The sun and shine of summertime is ripe for discovering new music, and as I settle into my surroundings I am getting influences from all over the place. I’m breaking out of my rock-centric habits with some more electronic artists, and looking for lightness and fun in music as much as I am looking for energy, connection and commiseration as I typically have. I’m more than getting my money’s worthy from Spotify premium with all the exploration it provides through my own searching or its curated places — and still, I find those songs I keep coming back to. As summer reaches its midway point, here are a few of my favorite tracks I’ve been listening to while pattering around DTLA or cruising down the 110:

The Naked and Famous – Higher

With their 2013 smash hit record “Passive Me, Aggressive You,” TNAF cemented themselves as electropop/indie rock/hipster party anthem royalty and I’ll be damned if this new single doesn’t prove they deserve the acclaim. “Higher” is a fun, dancey groove with serious heart and do-or-die attitude. I play it at least once a day, whether walking or biking or shaking it off, and I can’t wait to hear more.

“Higher, higher
Tonight we raise the dead
Tonight we bury this in fire, fire
Under the shape of years
And the weight that brought us here.”

Muna/Tiesto – “Winterbreak”

Last night, I was mocked by strangers for defending Tiesto’s cool. “Maybe like 15 years ago,” they said, to which I replied “HAVE YOU HEARD WINTERBREAK?!” I guess my recent, spin-inspired foray into house music isn’t going as well I thought, but still, I’m obsessed with this song. Despite the seasonal title, this Spotify stumble is one of my favorite songs of the summer. Something about its moody, despondent, give-up-the-fight lyrics against a thumping house beat feels edgy and inspired, updating what is already a gem of a dark pop track into a spiraling, sprawling lovesick jam — and while I haven’t ignored the more timely “Summer Nights” remix, this is the song that makes me want to run, sun, and stay out late. Also: MUNA is pretty damn fun. More on them later.

“But always such a smart one,
always so intelligent,
you must know what’s happening here.”

Lera Lynn – Little Ruby

I’m loving the newest record from Lera Lynn, and its smokey, bluesy feel — which is no more intense than on album closer “Little Ruby.” I love the gender-bending from a female songwriter, and I love that smooth, jazzy melody in the chorus. Lera Lynn is a damn fine musician and “The Resistor” is an excellent album — and this steamy, steamy track is a sexy, sexy choice to soundtrack hot summer nights.

“Sweet little Ruby 
Why won’t you love me?”

blink-182 – Bored to Death

Nary a day goes by when I listen to SoCal radio without hearing Blink at least once, in addition to seeing their billboards everywhere. Maybe the rest of the country isn’t bombarded as much by the so-called revival of pop punk/punk rock’s reigning chart toppers. But here, it is not easy to escape, and so “Bored to Death” is becoming one of my go-to car sing-a-longs and songs of the summer. Don’t let anyone tell you they’re too old.

“Life is too short to last long.”

Local Natives – Past Lives

The first single from the new Local Natives recordings was one of my great spring surprises that has coasted into summertime. It’s dreamy and romantic, and full of glow, earthly and heavenly, all at ones. Local Natives left a big impression with 2013’s “Hummingbird” with a sound that was very trendy, but full-band force and detailed production of “Past Lives” makes me think this band is more than a quick-hit find. I love getting lost in the layers of thing song, and all its promise.

“I will wait for you
At the end love
Let your past lives too
Then you wake up.”


It’s been awhile since I thought out a playlist, but I felt particularly compelled to create this one. I present: TBS Slow Jams, a pretty excellent collection of Taking Back Sunday at their most delicate, or at least destroyed enough to the point of slowed tempos. This selection is complete with deluxe, anniversary and re-issue tracks that bring out the best in some old favorites. It is designed to break your heart. I am going to listen to this for hours.

“You always come close but this never comes easy
I still know everything.”

~Great Romances of the 20th Century, Taking Back Sunday (Deluxe Version)

“This is all I ever asked from you
The only thing you couldn’t do.”

~This is All Now, Taking Back Sunday 

“I can’t say I blame you but I wish that I could
I’m sick of writing every song about you.”

~Head Club, TAYF10 acoustic

“Something real, make it timeless,
An act of God and nothing less will be accepted.
Now if you’re calling me out,
Then count me out.”

~Divine Internvetion, Louder Now

“Hoping for the best just hoping nothing happens
A thousand clever lines unread on clever napkins.”

~Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team) acoustic, Tell all Your Friends Re-Issue

“Well cross my heart and hope to…
I’m lying just to keep you here
So reckless, so thoughtless
So careless, I could care less.”

~…Slowdance on the Inside, Notes from the Past

“And I dare you to forget the marks you left across my neck
from those nights when we were both found at our best.”

~Your Own Disaster 04, Notes from the Past

“We spoke all night in a language only we could know.”
~It Takes More, Happiness Is

“And all I need to know
Is that I’m something you’ll be missing.
Maybe I should hate you for this
Never really did ever quite get that far.

~You’re So Last Summer, TAYF10 acoustic

“Well I don’t know where you’re going
but I know where you’ve been.
I’ve been tracing all your footsteps,
I’ve been counting all your sins.”

~Call Me in the Morning, Taking Back Sunday

“And when that push comes to a shove
We’ve got a headfirst kind of love.”

~All the Way, Happiness Is

“And I’m not so sure
if I’m sure of anything anymore.”

~The Blue Channel, TAYF10 acoustic

“I wanna hate you so bad, but I can’t,
I can’t stop this anymore than you can.”

~Bike Scene, TAYF10 acoustic

“Just ask the question come untie the knot
Say you won’t care, say you won’t care
Retrace the steps as if we forgot
Say you won’t care, say you won’t care
Try to avoid it but there’s not a doubt
And there’s one thing I can do nothing about”

~New American Classic, Where You Want To Be

“I get what I want until I want nothing at all
Until I want nothing at all.”

~Nothing at all, Happiness Is


A few things about this NME list about the 50 best choruses:

*Oh my god, oh my god, could you BE any more British?
*Adele should not be on this list. That chorus (“Someone Like you”) isn’t that good.
*”Enter Sandman?” I’ll take it.
*”Sex on Fire” chorus is not > than “Use Somebody” chorus melody-wise, it just has sex in the lyrics.
*”Pride(In the Name of Love)” could totally be higher.
*I understand lists need to take into account new things, in an attempt to shape what will still be cool or insert your knowledge & relevancy but really…Lana Del Rey at 11? That song isn’t *that* good. I mean, maybe it’s only because I’ve heard it once, when she sang (horribly) on SNL, but I’ve seen way more talent out of hick bar open mic nights. Even from people who weren’t my friends.

But, beyond those gut reactions, I have to say I love the concept driving this list. Who doesn’t love a great chorus? Sub-par verses (too wordy, too spoken or too bland) can easily be redeemed by a great chorus – in fact, some songs are only *worth* listening to because of the chorus – for example, Toto, earning a well-deserved #32 on this list. We all know that chorus – it’s soo nice – but sing a verse? Could’t if you gave me tequilia.

Also, a really solid built-up, with plenty of tension and bite, can be perfectly topped off with a line or two performed with enough power. For example, one of my favorites off the list(at 33):

“You can go your own way, go your own way
You can call it another lonely day
You can go your own way,
go your own way”
~Go Your Own Way
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

Not too over-the-top, but it gets the point across. Doesn’t it? The throw-away line at the end is trademark Lindsey Buckingham bitterness. I love.

Beyond those impressions, I have to say I love lists. Journalists do, you see, they are easy to compile, and readers love them because why read 25 two-sentence paragraphs instead of 50 kitschy one-liners?

Also, I will be tracking this playlist down on Spotify when I’m working tomorrow afternoon, and in need of a midday inspiration burst.

(My tags indicate I haven’t mentioned Spotify on this blog yet, which is a bit of a shame because it makes at-home listening oh-so fun. All my songs, and all the other ones, too? It’s pretty fantastic, and I’m really happy I joined. Should 2012 see me make more money, I’ll maybe even subscribe.
Naw. I won’t, actually.)

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