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learning love songs

est. 2008

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12/7/17

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

Screaming,
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
Screaming,
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
Screaming,
Who do you love? Who do you love?
~Who Do You Love
Marianas Trench, Astoria

12/2/17

Awhile back I was blown away by a band called Larkin Poe, their new record Peach and a dose of insane, smoldering blues. Who covers Black Betty this well, regardless? Very cool album and worth the time.

11/21/17

What is it about a cover? Is it the familiarity, or the novelty? Is it the feeling of comfort you get, the intimacy between a listener and a work they are already familiar with? Or is the spine-tingling newness that makes it feel fun, edgy, extra worthwhile?

Tonight, this absolutely stunning cover of “Wicked Game” from James Vincent McMorrow has me swooning. There isn’t exactly a shortage of covers of this song, it’s true, but this one stands out for its stark minimalism. His voice is ethereal, the guitar is simple, and I love love love that way he holds out the note during the final chorus. Mastery! The live recording adds another dimension — as an audience member, you feel like you’re capturing something unique and special when a performer whips out something that isn’t in their catalog. As a listener six years later, it captures something about that room, that moment, that cannot ever be replicated.

I think that’s one of the things I love so much about performance. That it is ephemeral, that it is fleeting, that it cannot ever be replicated or copied. You can sing the same song and have it come out an entirely different way.

“The world was on fire and no one could save me but you
It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do
I’d never dreamed that I’d meet somebody like you
And I’d never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you…

~Wicket Game
As covered by James Vincent McMorrow, Live at Killkenny Arts Festival 2011.

10/22/17

One of my favorite tracks so far this year came from an artist I never heard of, as it sometimes happens.

“Slip Away” by Perfume Genius is one the most complete, moving tracks I’ve heard this year — it makes me think of that early Arcade Fire wow-factor with the sweeping tones and intimate, mentally keyed in lyrics. It shimmers and glistens, it casts shadows and grenades. It pulses and pulls you in every which way, offering the respite of stillness before crescendoing into a bit of noise and clutter as the glitter starts to fade. The whole album, No Shape, is all around something special, but it’s this track that I keep coming back to.

I first got hooked on this song while walking through DTLA(as is often the case) and it quickly became prime headphone music, the kind of song that adds atmosphere to the world around the listener but embedded in the self. It carried me through the sweaty days of summer and  into the (still sweaty) hazy days of autumn. It’s one of those songs that, as the title implies, has an immense centering power. And that line in the chorus — “they’re never break the shape we take” — lifts me up every time, what a beautiful sentiment. I listen to this song when I need everything else around me to drown out, when I need to tap into all the chaos inside rather than beyond.

“Don’t look back, I want to break free
If you’ll never see ’em coming
You’ll never have to hide
Take my hand, take my everything
If we only got a moment
Give it to me now

Oh, love
They’ll never break the shape we take
Oh, baby let all them voices slip away…”
~Slip Away
Perfume Genius, No Shape

9/29/17

Too much music, not enough time, so the story always goes across these nine years of musical musings. I still haven’t fully synthesized my thoughts on Brand New’s Science Fiction, I’ve got lots of notes but haven’t quite gotten the nerve to sit down and face them. The new Josh Ritter is amazing, and I’ve only made it to the gym this week when the new Taylor Swift singles from Reputation were involved. But tonight I like this Good Old War song, “Part of Me” off their latest EP, a song that I actually discovered on Taylor’s Spotify playlist. It’s good stuff, sad and true with its simple picking and stirring harmonies and subtle slide guitar. I like songs that are brave enough to repeat a good line or two this often. Sounds like the kind of song I’d like to sing sometime. But again, not enough time or nerve, whichever is a more believable excuse. So instead, it’s all locked up somewhere, which I guess is kind of what this song is about.

“But I’m always looking forward for an open door
I found an outlet for all my feelings
They’re trying to cut the cord…

I’m thinking, we’ve got to run
If you’re holding on the seams will come undone
And you’ll only get part of me.
We don’t want to catch a break while we’re playing it safe
You’ll only get part of me…

~Part of Me
Good Old War, Part of Me

9/11/17

I have to apologize to/forgive myself for the lack of posts lately — I think the past month was the longest I’ve gone without posting in the nine-year history of this blog. It wasn’t because of lack of new music to love — if anything, the amount of music I’ve been getting lost in has peaked for the year and I couldn’t decide where to begin or what to get done first (The War on Drugs! Iron and Wine! BRAND NEW?!?!?! More on that TK).

But this day, this historic day, this anniversary of the tragedy that changed the course of human history, is a day that I do not let go by without getting some kind of words down. I remember pouring out poetry in the days that followed 9/11, scribbling stanzas into agenda margins and in fur-covered novelty journals. None of it was very good. Much of it rhymed. All of it was my personal plea for the world to heal and to love itself, a hope I held onto well into my adult years. I’ve tried to remain the sociopolitical optimist, retaining some idea that our best selves would come forward in the name of Doing Good and give us something to aspire to. Suffice to say, that hope today is as dim as ever. With so much hate and divisiveness, that hope is a flickering wisp of a flame.

The cynicism of our times is well-earned and understandable — how can anyone hold onto hope when the world feels on fire? Yet the glimmer of our best nature provides little victories, when you can find it: the song that brings a tear to your eye, the paragraph that distills exactly how you feel about something or someone, the kind stranger on the subway who holds open the door as someone runs to it, the volunteers helping those who lost everything due to natural disasters.  I remember feeling that glimmer one day earlier this year, on a Saturday in January when millions of women and men flocked to my neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles to let their voice be heard. I stood on a sidewalk with my headphones on and played Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” on repeat, feeling full and raw and revealed and at home. I felt comfort in chaos. I felt inspired to let love of humanity inspire me again, and allowed it to beat back the cynicism, if only for those minutes.

No matter the size of the struggles that are behind us, they pale in comparison to the greatness that comes after. It feels, to me, as if the struggle that began sixteen years ago is still working its way through our politics and our culture and our world. I hope to one day see the other side.

Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile line

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight…”

~The Rising
Bruce Springsteen, The Rising

8/8/17

One of my favorite things I’ve always remembered about Josh Ritter was that he majored in “American History Through Narrative Folk Music” at Oberlin College. I learned this about him in high school and it stuck with me as one of the coolest things I’d ever heard, smacking of dedication and promise. History! Narratives! Folk Music! I love all these things, and I instantly loved Josh Ritter, who got away from me in recent years as my Americana/folk listening expanded to many other artists.

I rediscovered his catalog this weekend when the hook for “Still Beating” came into my head, a beautiful song about the nature of persistence, and from their his catalog sucked me back in. “Girl in the War” is one of my all-time favorite ballads, a song I’ve cried to and sung to in many capacities, while his later work on So Runs The World Away reminds me of more placid, pensive times. I think he’s one of the best songwriters of his generation, able to encapsulate a feeling and paint a scene with the same phrase, while building really complex, stunning instrumental parts around it.

Today, a day when history seemed to burst at the seams with unbelievable statements that could threaten our safety, it was an odd and beautiful coincidence to have “The Temptation of Adam” queued up on Spotify on my walk to work. It’s a morbid song, a tale of love found in some bunker safe from nuclear fallout, a song that I loved back when and somehow moves me even deeper today. It’s poetic and dark, the way Ritter paints the scene of the lovers in hiding, with crossword puzzles and cots and rations, with names carved into a warhead. And that part always appealed to me, in a literary and lyrical sense, but hearing it today moved something else me. Maybe I understand more about than I did back then, the kind of love where you’d risk everything to freeze the moment. The kind of love that seems to mean more than the very earth itself.

“I never had to learn to love her like I learned to love the Bomb
She just came along and started to ignore me
But as we waited for the Big One
I started singing her my songs
And I think she started feeling something for me

We passed the time with crosswords that she thought to bring inside
What five letters spell ‘apocalypse’ she asked me
I won her over saying “W.W.I.I.I.”
She smiled and we both knew that she’d misjudged me”

~The Temptation of Adam
Josh Ritter, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

7/17/17

Lately I’ve been really into this series of YouTube playlists some great soul with great taste dubbed Koala Kontrol put together that are full of delightful, deep and bright electronic-driven acoustic, chill and indie songs. I know that’s a lot of adjectives, but such is the world of YouTube playlists, which I’ve learned through the course of my daily listening are hyperstylized and specific. While I started listening to these particular playlists because I wanted to have something beat-driven to serve as pump-up background music while I was working, I’ve become gripped by how powerful and raw some of these songs are.

Dance beats and laptop-bred beats aren’t what I’d typically go to when I need to be emotionally moved by music (isn’t that what Tori, emo and Jason Isbell are for?) but lo and behold, I’m stricken! A lot of these songs are really specific in their lyrics about love gone wrong or right, the collapse of self-image and what it means to feel free and good for once. A lot of the grooves and harmonies are cool and sexy and fresh. I’ve discovered a bunch of new artists in a genre that I’ve needed to familiarize with myself more, and it’s been a cool little musical awakening to get into groups like Vallis Alps and Oh Wonder (whose new record is very worth checking out.

I don’t know who you are, Koala Kontrol, but thank you for these.

“I thought I saw the devil
This morning
Looking in the mirror, drop of rum on my tongue
With the warning
To help me see myself clearer
I never meant to start a fire
I never meant to make you bleed
I’ll be a better man today

I’ll be good, I’ll be good
And I’ll love the world, like I should
Yeah, I’ll be good, I’ll be good
For all of the time
That I never could”

~I’ll Be Good
Jaymes Young, Feel Something

7/6/17

The summer months always seem to go by faster than the rest. It’s a bit counterintuitive since the days are longer and full of sun, it seems like time should go by slower, but somehow all the events, holidays, vacations and visits pack everything together and somehow it’s almost the midpoint of July. In an attempt to savor all we get, I’m working on slowing my days down. Spending time with the doors and windows open and music playing loud and clear. Sitting out in the sun and hearing new tunes to open my mind. The latest of these listen is the new record Young from Overcoats, one of the most sonically interesting and pleasing new bands I’ve heard this year.

They blend the beautiful harmonies of First Aid Kit with the electro-pop tendencies of Haim or Lorde, filled with grooves and repeated hooks aplenty. They’re definitely a younger band but that doesn’t count against them in terms of depth; all there songs seem to have an element or idea about self-reflection, self-perception and self-reliance. “Leave the Light On” is a danceable anthem for independent life with some banging horn/key tones, “Smaller Than My Mother” is a raw confession of the inner resentments of relationships. “23” is another standout in this way, with its pointed, no-holding-back explanation of the mental toll of predictable love gone sour. My favorite so far is “Nighttime Hunger,” a pulsing track mourning the struggles of the anxious insomniac. l I love the way they drop out the melody and sing in tight, the way they embrace guttural rhythms close harmonies, the way their voices lilt and float over these eye-popping lyrics. They’ve got a definite style that runs through Young — a great example of an album you can just put on and fall into.

“Nighttime hunger and all the fears that it brings tend to fade in the light
In daytime I build a new me but still dread the night
I try to keep moving but I can’t seem to chase my monsters away
When the darkness comes it takes everything from me…”

~Nighttime Hunger
Overcoats, Young

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