Search

learning love songs

est. 2008

Category

Uncategorized

1/29/18

The past few days, every time I reach for my headphones to listen to music I’ve had to listen to a track from the new record from The Dangerous Summer. I don’t know why I was anticipating this more — I’ve loved this band and their lyrics and their style for years –but it kind of snuck up on me. Maybe I’ve entirely lost the ability to keep track of new releases, at least with the fervor I once did. Maybe my mental energy is bogged down by the world’s problems, personal stressors and the general, numbing myopia of adulthood, and it simply doesn’t have any more space to hold the same exuberance for new release calendars the way it once did. But since everything works out for a reason, I instead find myself pleasantly surprised and blissfully lost in new songs.

When I first heard The Dangerous Summer’s Reach for the Sun I was living alone in a small town at my first job out of college. I was figuring things out, I was terrified of something on a daily basis with varying degrees of rationality on my side. The songs on that record made me feel simultaneously understood and strong, as if the trials I was having in my life were the standard fare for pursuing a dream. I learned it by heart, then War Paint dropped the next year and I had even more of a story to follow. Sonically I love what they do as much as the lyrics — there are guitars that thrash, drums that pound and melodies that soar, all the trademark alt-rock/pop punk trademarks. But don’t let genre labels be misleading — there is more substance here than you’ll find in many associated bands, both in the way they build their songs and the darkness of the soul that flits at the edges of some songs and downright dominates others.

The self-titled release from this year is as mature in themes as those tackled on “Golden Record” but with a little more energy behind it — maybe it’s the time off since the band was last active that gave them an extra boost, maybe it’s the precarious world of modern adulthood that I myself am in the throes of experiencing that has provided some sort of muse. There’s a lot of love and romance on this record, but it’s not blind and naive, it’s weathered and worn — like on “Valium,” which seems to beg for the return of the most familiar love when the worst of the loneliness has passed. “Wild Again and” “Fire” are my favorite tracks so far, the first has an insistent longing for the present with my favorite lyrics, and the second and third is straight from the TDS playbook under “Personal Calls To Action.” I’ve been putting on “Live Forever” a lot too, it’s from a similar standpoint with a bit of a brooding beat to contrast some really stellar vocal performances.

It’s that kind of talking-to-himself persepctive that AJ Perdomo does best that I love so well. He reflects on the good and bad in his life with the same kind of clarity and always comes back to the same conclusions — to be steady in one’s own path, to keep to the beat of your own drum, but not be so hellbent on staring at your own two feet that you lose sight of the world around you. It is the exact message and inspiration I needed to find in the start of this calendar year, and I’m so grateful for the surprise, for the warmth of something familiar to melt into.

“But those legs drag again,
I feel them taking over now; walk again.
I might be coming closer,
so tired and dead.
I let emotion carry me back again-
and every road has given me something.”

~Fire,
The Dangerous Summer, The Dangerous Summer

1/8/2018

Of the many ways to measure a year, my preference is the musical memories. 2017, for all its tumult, was a creative carnival. There were some brilliant and expertly executed highlights from old favorites this year. Japandroids, The War On Drugs, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit and The Menzingers are instant classics in my catalog. But as far as taking the time to put some words down, I wanted to take my end-of-the-year list as an opportunity to highlight artists I would’ve loved to see get MORE attention for their work in the lists that I saw critics compiling, as opposed to those artists who everyone seems to agree did the best work. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of what caught my ears, here’s a playlist of some of my favorite songs from the year. And for more fun, here’s what I was looking forward to hearing this time last year (a couple wishes came true).

In no particular order, my list of the underrated music of 2017 that might be worth a listen or two:

Misterwives – Connect the Dots


This was easily one of my favorite records of this year, especially because it came in the form of a brand-new band discovery. I found Misterwives the same weekend as Record Store Day, and I bopped my way through the line curving around Amobea with “Machine” blaring in my ears. There’s a buoyancy and clarity to their sound that’s so fun and yet so strong, with lyrics are joyful, insightful and woke, sometimes all at the same time. In a year that ended with the voices of women being heard and celebrated, I think Mandy Lee’s output and Misterwives’ record was incredibly overlooked in music and pop culture circles. There’s still time, though, for Connect the Dots to take hold, and I’ll be here nodding along when it does.

Iron & Wine  – Beast Epic


This is a band that many listeners might associate with being great at a different particular time,  but I very much enjoyed Beast Epic. I thought it was beautiful, and full of thoughtful goodness. “Call It Dreaming” is, in particular, uplifting and lovely, I can think of at least two times I cried on the train listening to it. It joins a canon of other Iron & Wine songs (“Upward Over The Mountain,” “Walking Far From Home”) that instantly cut out my heart and serve it up to whatever waiting angeles want to sew it back in.

The Maine – Lovely Little Lonely


Oh, The Maine. A band that I fear will never have the recognition among rock/pop music critics that they so deserve, even though they still keep getting better with time. This album pushed their boundaries from the bubble-gum of American Candy slightly darker reflections, but still no shortage of hooks and earworm turns of phrase. A surprising addition to my workout playlists, this was both one of my most-anticipated albums of 2017 and one of my most-listened to.

The Killers- Wonderful Wonderful


Wonderful Wonderful got a bad odor attached to it way too quickly, there’s good stuff, there’s band that’s developing in the way they always were supposed to. The first 45 seconds of the album are probably the coolest part of it, but there’s a lot of other layers and meaning to it. Brandon Flowers has a cheeseball quality to him, but it’s not like that wasn’t on Hot Fuss either. I really like how thoughtful some of the lyrics seem, “are your excuses any better than your senators” is up there with the more socially observant takes from Flowers. The more I listened to it, the more layers I heard here — layers of rock music history, layers of references and layers of a band who is still finding their way, as all musicians ever are.

Carly Rae Jespen – “Cut To The Feeling”


I saw a tweet from someone who said that if there was any justice in pop radio, this song would be #1 airplay. Alas! Spotify’s Wrapped told me it was my most-listened to track this year, though, so there is that. Anyway, I know this isn’t an album and this is usually an albums list, but I can’t talk about my musical diiet in 2017 without talking about this song. For workouts, for pump-me-up moments, for sidewalk strolls, “Cut to the Feeling” is as perfect a pop song as I could ever imagine in any setting. Her voice is light and infused, the synths are sparkly and the chorus is soaring. More Carly Rae in 2018 and beyond, “Cut to the Feeling” proves she knows exactly what she’s doing and isn’t afraid to put it out there in any form.

Perfume Genuis – “Slip Away”


Another choice that rests as a song instead of an album — even though No Shape is a wonderful, thought-provoking listen that received accolades all over the place, this is the song that really stole my focus. It’s also easily one of my most-listened to tracks in 2017, a song I will forever associate with the year and the challenges and lessons it provided. I would love to see this band progress and grow, and earn more acclaim for such unique and inspired work.

Ruston Kelly – “Black Magic”


One of my favorite Americana/country discoveries of the year is Kacey Musgraves very talented husband Ruston Kelly – “Black Magic” is biting and classic and heartwrenching, and a hell of a fun to sing, too. It too became one of those songs I played in all times and all places, “Love is hell and nothing more than black magic” seems to me to be one of those lyrics that fell down from the sky and into waiting hands, meanings it’s hte most perfect, authentic, realized kind from the geniuses themselves.

Oh, and I loved Reputation. I listened to it on loop traveling to San Francisco for a fun weekend getaway, kept it on through train rides and strolls up to Lombard Street and while sitting on a park bench in Oakland. Now I play it on the bike, walking to my front door, waiting for the courthouse to open. I know there’s a lot of people out there who aren’t a fan of the way Taylor refrains from discussing politics/social justice, but I try not to judge people for their beliefs in the course of my daily life, and so I won’t get into that without having an opportunity to understand her as a person. So in spite of all the discussion, I’m calling it underrated, because the first reviews I read of it were all by white men and all throwing some kind of judgment toward it and it really kind of made me mad, that people were expecting so much and calling someone else’s work a disappointment. Do they not understand how creative output works, that it is not being created and poured into the world in order to appease someone else but because it had to come from the fingers of its creator before they fall off? I also love that it is first TS album to really tackle “mature” themes (she finally wrote songs about drinking and sex!). Taylor Swift at this point only does manifestos and while many are turning up their noses are her playing around with hip-hop and R&B stylings, she’s putting out work that’s exactly her, filter and polish and spit-shine and all. The control and focus and unapologetic honesty with oneself that that takes is something I really admire, something that’s worth channeling anywhere, anytime, any year.

Past years:
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑