learning love songs

est. 2008


the decemberists


Is it true what they say, that all good things must come to an end? It’s at least half right; all things must end, at whatever time their end is met, whether they’ve been good things or bad things or anything in between. So it is today, from a one-room home in Phoenix, that I will write a final entry in this here blog, nearly 10 years after beginning it from a tiny third-floor bedroom in a Georgetown row house.

This ending is not meant to signify an end of my love for music, songwriting and active listening — nor will I end my exploration of these things in written form or otherwise. But this blog, this forum, this means, is something I can no longer commit creative energies to. And that’s OK.

I thought today was the right day to write this farewell because I listened to the new record from The Decemberists, and was immediately hooked on the opening lines from track one: “Oh, for once in my/Oh, for once in my life/Could just something go/Could just something go right?” Backed by acoustic guitar, highlighted with harmonies the second time around with a quick pick-up from the tambourine, it’s a beautifully crafted and powerful song — and such a perfect sentiment to hear put to music as I begin a new chapter, with so much ahead of me and so much to leave on the cutting room floor. I’m taking the best from the old world while I begin the new, as we do with any change in life, and to be accompanied by greats like The Decemberists is a warm comfort. The record, I’ll Be Your Girl, is rich and layered, edgy and nerdy, in true Decemberists form, and I’m looking forward to playing it again and again.

I’m still forever struck by these moments of musical magic, even if I no longer write about them. I like to think I’ve reserved a special place in my heart and mind for hearing the right song at the right time, and that I’ve documented enough of these moments in a decade to see some through-lines. Like what it means to be stilled to the bone by someone’s work, how it feels to be frozen in your tracks when something fits just right. How the proper amount of sadness can somehow cure yours. How the loudest volume on earbuds can hurt so good. How the right words and the right notes can turn your outlook around on a dime.  These moments have stunned me, surprised me and saved me — and even if I’m not writing about them anymore, I’ll be looking for them on every next listen.

Until we meet again,


“Oh, for once in my
Oh, for once in my life
Could just something go
Could just something go right?

I’ve been waiting all my life
I’ve been waiting all my life
All my life
My life
All my life
All my life.”

~Once In My Life

The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl


This is the second-best track on new Decemberists record. It’s called “A Beginning Song” and it’s the final track, which is a nice touch. I am listening to it a lot, because it’s pretty and uplifting, because it uses those feel-good folk instruments, because I like thinking about beginnings, and because I like the way Colin Meloy says “wanting.”

This is the second-worst blog I’ve posted this week.

“Let’s commence to coordinate our sights
And get them square to rights
Get them square to rights.

Condescend to calm this riot in your mind,
Find yourself in time,
Find yourself in time.

If I am waiting, should I be waiting?
If I am wanting, should I be wanting?
And all around me. 

Document the world inside his skin
The tenor of your shins,

The timbre of your limbs.

Now commence to kick each brick apart
To center on your heart
Starting with your heart, bright heart

If I am waiting, should I be waiting?
If I am wanting, should I be wanting?
And all around me, all around me. 

If I am waiting, should I be waiting?
If I am wanting, should I be wanting? 
If I am hopeful, should I be hopeful? 
All around me, all around me.

It’s it sunlight, it’s it shadow,
It’s the quiet, it’s the word,
It’s the beating heart, 

It’s the ocean. it’s the boys…

It’s you, my sweet love, 

My sweet love,
Oh, my love… 

And the light, bright light,
And the light, bright light,
Bright light, bright light.

It’s all around me
It’s all around me
It’s all around me.”

~A Beginning Song
The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World


The impending start of 2015 means the new Decemberists album will be coming around soon, and that’s promising. Does Colin Meloy’s voice get better by the year? Will this band continue to trump everyone else in their genre, and cross through it, with excruciatingly meticulous songwriting? It seems so, even as they continue to embrace hook-structure and pop backbeats. I have always enjoyed this band but to varying degrees of obsession. I first heard “Make You Better” this fall and thought it was OK, then, last weekend, I heard it on WBER while cruising around my parents’ neighborhood. It slapped me in the face a good bit, and it gets better with repeat listens, I’ve determined. At first, the first two lines bothered me, they felt lazy, but today, they feel intentionally exacerbating, every little bit more of wanting worth every little bit more of a mention. . The parallel construction in this song is so simple and expertly done. I love the phrase “starry-eyed,” it feels like fairy tales do, I love the piano part, I love the delicate harmonies. I love the way Meloy’s voice dips and falls on the “shimmer in your shine” line. I love the reflection, the need, channeled and categorized and contained. More, please.

I want you, thin fingers
I wanted you, thin fingernails

And when you bend backwards
I wanted you, I needed you
Oh, to make me better

I’ll love you in springtime
I lost you when summer came
And when you pulled backwards
I wanted to, I needed to
Oh, to make me better

Oh, to make me better

But we’re not so starry-eyed anymore
Like the perfect paramour you were in your letters,
And won’t it all just come around to make you,
Let it all unbreak you to the day you met her.
But it’d make you better,
It’d make you better.

I sung you your twinges
I suffered you your tattletales
And when you broke sideways
I wanted you, I needed you
Oh, to make me better

Oh, to make me better

But we’re not so starry-eyed anymore
Like the perfect paramour you were in your letters
And won’t it all just come around and make you,
Let it all unbreak you to the day that you met her,
And it’d make you better
Did it make you better?

And all I wanted was a sliver to call mine,
And all I wanted was a shimmer in your shine,
To make me bright.

Cause we’re not so starry-eyed anymore,
Like the perfect paramour you were in your letters, 
And won’t it all just come around and make you.
Let it all unbreak you to the day you met her,
But it’d make you better,
It’d make you better.”

~Make You Better
The Decemberists,  What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World


Am I the only person in the world who wishes The Decemberists would plug something in again? That riff is so fly. Why does the Wiki not have a gear list. Disappointed in you, Internet.

Inclined to say “Her Majesty” is my favorite Decemberists album, but “Castaways and Cutouts,” “Hazards of Love” got me into the band first. I’m glad they’ve stuck around and continued making great songs, they were onto something way before it happened, and it has since become something else entirely. On the must-see list, I think.

“But I,” said the bachelor to the bride
“Am not waiting for tonight.
No, I will box your ears
And take your tears
And leave you, leave you here
Stripped bare.”

~The Bachelor and the Bride
The Decemberists, Her Majesty


My Top 10 Favorite Albums in 2011

I’m hesitant to call this a “best of the year” list, because best is a very subject term. So, here are my favorites:

10)Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
They still got it. No lie. I’ve seen enough live performances from this album to know that NO one can rock a room like the Foos. “Walk” is likely one of the best mainstream rock songs that came out this year, and Dave Grohl & co. continue to make their messages known and connect with society. Even thought “Wasting Light” may not have the staying power of their other catalog titles, the band still sure does.

9)Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math
A band we hadn’t heard from in a minute came back with power, with perspective and punch. Take a listen to the title track, or “Apprehension” and you’ll see that Andy Hull pours out his heart like it’s made of cheap vodka. True, that’s the biographical text we’ve come to know and love from this band, but this time around in it’s a new glaze. Emo chords are traded in for darker, twisted sounds, and there’s as much layering as there is stripped-down, laid-bare musings.

8)The Dangerous Summer – War Paint
This band captured my heart early in the year when I discovered “Reach for the Sun,” and when their sophomore “War Paint” came out, the band quickly became the soundtrack to my summer. Loss, redemption, struggle, rinse, repeat. The title track is a rallying call to rise above, “Work in Progress” is a retreat from the world. Album closer “Waves” could make you conquer the world, while reminding your loved ones to do the same.

7)Bon Iver – Bon Iver
It had been too long since “For Emma, Forever Ago” and we needed to hear from Bon Iver again. We did, this fall, and the self-titled album captures a place that feels snowy, warm, effervescent. “Minnesota, WI” is just one example of how production should enhance instrumentation, not bury it, and “Towers” clips along almost like an Old West saloon song, maybe one that mated with binary. I dig the style.

6) The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
I discovered the Welch trio on Pandora around the same time this album came out and holy shit was I blown away. Shoegazey rock? Big guitars? Chick singer? Count me in! Don’t let the radio edit of “Whirring” fool you – these guys know their riffs, they know their layers, and they know how to blow your mind.

5)Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire
One of my most-anticipated albums of 2011, and it didn’t let me down a drop. Ryan is back with a pillow-soft smile, but the beat-up, broke-down desperation lives on. “Lucky Now” will hopefully be played on Grey’s Anatomy when the second half of this season airs. If I’m lucky. Songs like “Dirty Rain,” “Save Me” and the title track show that Ryan Adams is a master of the ballad formula in its truest sense, and with this album he’s shown us no age, illness, marriage or critique will keep him from developing his talents.

4)Wilco – The Whole Love
Wilco is an awesome band. We knew this, we knew this because of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” we knew this because of “Sky Blue Sky” but Jeff Tweedy continues to come up with some of the catchiest, sly-ist little songs I’ve ever heard. “Born Alone” is the type of song that makes me want to dye my hair dirty blonde, wear daisies behind my ears and hop in a pick-up owned by a guy with just the right amount of stubble on his cheeks. This album should be enough to make this band triumphantly mainstream, but for some reason I still feel like they are kind of under everyone’s radar. Maybe that’s where they want to be.

3)The Decemberists – The King is Dead
“Don’t Carry it All” is, in my opinion, the song that sums up where we need to go as a society. And for that, I give them extreme props. While it’s lacking a strict storyline, you know what this record is about all the same and I think that’s a strength. Instead of a script, characters and drama, we have scenes and messages. I also know that “Down by the Water” was overplayed like a motherfucker on indie radio, so we can only assume that means The Decemberists, with this release, are cemented in indie history. Applause.

2)Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
“What good is it to sing helplessness blues?/Why should I wait for anyone else?” If you’re looking for political philosophy musings as you yearn for an apple orchard to run through, Fleet Foxes will certainly soothe your desires. This is a band who I respected and enjoyed, and that’s only been furthered by this record. It rises, peaks and falls like an orchestra might, uncovering safeness in smallness and boldness in triumph.

1)The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing
Just when I thought I was maturing out of pop punk, The Wonder Years came along and gave me a reason to stay. I was familiar with a few songs from their last release, “The Upsides,” and picked up “Suburbia” on a whim ’cause I liked the title. I am a little amazed at the story they’ve woven through this record. You can see the sad town, you can feel the bitter winter, and you can hear the kids partying in backyards late at night. The opening track is an anthem for recovery from the toughest falls, the longest stretches of self-deprecating doubt. “And Now I’m Nothing” is acceptance, surrender to the now and the way it is. In between, “I Won’t Say the Lord’s Prayer” is an atheist seeking not answers but apathy, and “I’ve Given You All” is my favorite song I’ve ever heard about a homeless man. If you were about to write off the genre, don’t, because the honesty is still there. This is the record for those who want to get out of this town and start again, even if there’s no way out yet.

Honorable mentions to the following albums which I enjoy but have not listened to thoroughly enough to rank against the others: The Black Keys – El Camino; The Civil Wars – Barton Hallow; Laura Marling – A Creature I Do Not Know; Dia Frampton – Red.

EDIT: Aw shit I forgot about Taking Back Sunday. With John Nolan! I missed them in concert ’cause my car died and I was kind of homeless for a couple days. But good record, blasted it many times on 5 and 20 in Canandaigua.

EDIT 2: Iron and Wine! I suck at this.


“This is the story of your red right ankle
And how it came to meet your leg
And how the muscle, bone, and sinews tangled
And how the skin was softly shed
And how it whispered, “Oh, adhere to me
For we are bound by symmetry
And whatever differences our lives have been
We together make a limb”
This is the story of your red right ankle

This is the story of your gypsy uncle
You never knew because he was dead
And how his face was carved and ripped with wrinkles
In the picture in your head
And remember how you found the key
To his hideout in the Pyrenees
But you wanted to keep his secret safe
So you threw the key away
This is the story of your gypsy uncle

This is the story of the boys who loved you
Who love you now and loved you then
And some were sweet and some were cold and snuffed you
And some just layed around in bed
And some, they crumbled you straight to your knees
Did it cruel, did it tenderly
Some, they crawled their way into your heart
To rend your ventricles apart
This is the story of the boys who loved you

This is the story of your red right ankle”
~Red Right Ankle
The Decemberists, Her Majesty


Even in February, The Decemberists make great walking-in-winter music.I recently rediscovered this album and have been pretty addicted.

Apparently the song is about a WWII battle, not the French Revolution, but we’ll forgive that.

and the war came with a curse and a caterwaul
and the war came with all the poise of a cannonball
and they’re picking out our eyes by coals and candlelight
when the war came, the war came hard

~When The War Came
The Decemberists, The Crane Wife


I loveddd this album.

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