learning love songs

est. 2008




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


I’ve stumbled across Sarah Jaffe in playlists around the Internet many times over the years, and today I was heartened to hear her gorgeous words and soothing voice on a playlist from Ambient Light Music. The song is called “Clementine,” and while it’s a few years old, it’s brand new to me — all that matters in that fresh attachment one finds with music.

She sort of hits the nail on the head of what it’s like to worry about your worrying, to watch your life speed by at the end of something while holding your breath for what’s next. The peripatetic motion of the string section (pizzicato, no?), and her repetitive vocals add a sense of urgency to a steady tempo and warm tone. She’s not too nervous, not too unsure, but still questioning, still wishing, still hoping.

“All that time wasted
I wish I was a little more delicate
I wish my…
I wish my name was Clementine.”

Sarah Jaffe, Suburban Nature


A little YouTube browsing through the Anti Records channel last week led to me the excellent catalog of Sean Rowe, an Anti singer-songwriter with a little bit of twang and a whole lot of heart.

His voice is like a smooth whiskey, warm and filling and soothing. It’s also quite lovely to hear such a booming bass sing thoughts and phrases so poetic and romantic. His songs have a lot of detail and all seem to be about heartbreak, moving on or getting lost, with rhyming verses and simple structure. He’s often accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and spare bass, or joined by thumping drums, handclaps, horns and soulful-style backup vocals.

Rowe has a questioning nature to his songs, as if each is exploring a feeling and a moment. The title track of his 2014 Madman is an excellent ode to self-awareness and motivation, while my favorite for now, a new track off his forthcoming record New Lore called “Gas Station Rose,” looks at the hope in a relationship.

I’ve struggled lately in discovering new artists, mostly digging into back catalogs or new releases from old favorites.But the random selecction of Rowe’s playlist seems to have restarted my discovery lock.

Rowe has an album coming out in April — definitely one I’ll be adding to my list.

“Another year gone by like the signs on the street
Highway seventy-five, Nebraska flat as a sheet
Living out of the trunk, we bounce around like a dream
Another major drawback, another sweet in between
At least we’re both confused together…

But maybe the mountain in our eyes
Looks like a molehill from the other side

We are the elders of our minds
We’re on our own.”

~Gas Station Rose
Sean Roew, New Lore


Post “Coming Home” New Found Glory records are all sort of a noisy blur to me, I never paid much attention, but I am unashamed to admit how much I enjoy it when “Vicious Love” comes on YouTube. Impossible-to-ignore chorus, solid harmonies and those sweet, sweet Chad Gilbert progressions. (Also, how have I never, in all these years, tagged New Found Glory before?!)

I could have given up a thousand times
In the past that was so easy

When the thought came to my mind
There was no convincing me
Plant my feet to face it all
Side by side or a phone call
Living in tension with you
Still feels better
Better than I’ve ever known.

We’ve got a vicious love
We mix our tears with blood
No clock will stop for us
It ticks by
We fight as hard as we love
We’ve got a vicious love.”

~Vicious Love
New Found Glory, Resurrection


I don’t like Adele. I don’t! Never have. Found her annoying from the start. But, she’s apparently the newest record-setter for album sales, I don’t really care for her voice, or her sap, but goddammit if I wasn’t hypnotized by this performance (which I only found because I was reading about a producer on The Fader during my lunch break).

I gotta give it up for this. And I have to watch it again. Her vocal ability is spot-on as she nails every high note and run-on melody. The song is less annoying lyrically than some others, and the setting of simple gutiar parts and back-up signers in the studio is exactly the way ballads should be recorded live. I also love the little two-note guitar part that starts before the pre-chorus, the way it builds into something more. Her change-up of lyrics it the final chorus has a peel-back-the-curtain effect. And, in full disclosure, earlier today I saw a recording of her performing that too-ubiquitous “Hello” single w/Jimmy Fallon and The Roots as one of their rather clever classroom instrument renditions, and it was pretty impossible to not enjoy it, if only for noticing the great instincts and reactions of the band around her song and performance.

Ugh, so, am I changing my tune on Adele? Meh. I am not going to purchase “25.” I’m not!! But maybe I won’t mind as much when she comes up in random playlists, knowing that her performance skills are so incredibly strong, and her sense of romance in her lyrics maybe isn’t all radio cliches after all.

“Let me photograph you in this light
In case it is the last time,
That we might be exactly like we were
Before we realized
We were sad of getting old
It made us restless
I’m so mad I’m getting old
It makes me reckless

It was just like a movie
It was just like a song
When we were young.”

~When We Were Young,
Adele, 25


Listening The Frames is such a gift for your ears. Knowing they’ve been around since the mid-90s, their catalog has a nostalgic quality, but the songs themselves feel timeless in structure and supreme melody. They’re often incredibly sad and heartbroken, but nonetheless alive, with a hunger for feeling, even in desperation.

I came across this performance in a YouTube spree this evening, and the refrain has slipped from my lips ever since. It’s the kind of song that makes me want to pick up a guitar and play something simple, find a full band to chime in and send the message through. Not only is this a beautiful song, and an impressive performance with one hell of a referential interlude and mash-up ending, but Glen Hansard’s opening monologue is too charming for words. Tough to beat those final harmonies too, from a song I never heard til now, the kind that are soft, subtle and haunting just before the applause cuts in and the lights come up. Those moments on stage, the kind that are so full of fleeting magic, are what can make a 16-year-old song sound fresh and familiar, wonderful and warm.

“Star, star, teach me how to shine, shine
Teach me so I know what’s going on in your mind

‘Cause I don’t understand these people
Saying the hill’s too steep, well
They talk and talk forever
But they just never climb

Falling down into situations
Bringing out the best in you
You’re flat on your back again
And star, your every word I’m heeding
Can you help me to see?
I’m lost in the marsh

Star, star, teach me how to shine, shine
Teach me so I know what’s going on in your mind
‘Cause I don’t understand these people
Saying the world is sleeping
They toss and turn forever
But no rest will they find

Star, teach me how to shine

Star, star, teach me how to shine, shine
Teach me so I know what’s going on in your mind.”

~Star Star
The Frames, Dance The Devil


I first heard this song on a long drive back sometime this spring. From where, I don’t remember, but I was heading in some direction on the Turnpike, and when I drive the those kinds of highways, I often like to listen to the radio. Whatever market it is, I just pass the time by sipping coffee and scanning the stations. So much through the midstate is country or Christian or talk radio. I wind up listening to NPR a lot, and on this particular occasion, the program had an interview with PHOX and played their single “Slow Motion.”

I enjoyed it – her voice especially, and that banjo riff – and then I found myself wondering about all the little bands out there with their new, derivative sounds, and could this one cut through the noise? It wasn’t until this played during a set change at a local rock show last night and I recognized the hook that I remembered them. In the past two days, I’ve played it about eight times.

From the creator’s perspective, you always strive for your work to be memorable. In the highest of daydreams, your work connects to others in a way that inspires them, that heals them, that gives them better perspective to understand the world or their lives or our times. But this goal is also really flexible. Just giving someone an enjoyable few minutes is success. The next listen, or the next listener, becomes a better marker for how well the work connects overall. That lasting potential is the elusive ingredient.

I’m feeling a weird listener’s guilt for enjoying this song earlier and then not checking out the band further, as is my usual mode of finding new music and enjoying artists. But, since it came back around and I recognized it, I’d say PHOX did their job. Tough to not like that hook. I’ve decided it’s a sweet new tune to kick off a week of muggy, wet summer, something to interrupt the daily doldrums and constant mental maladies. It is not quite happy, but it is perceptive and wandering and patient, and full of air and lightness.

I’m surprised I like this. I don’t love this formula. And I usually hate whistling in songs. Like really hate it. It’s kitschy as hell. But I don’t mind it here, it works – maybe because it’s followed by such a heavy, up-front bass, and the banjo is charming, and the oboe solo (!!!) before the bridge is pretty magnificent and rich and unexpected. I really appreciate the fullness this song builds to, and the skill required to make it sound cohesive with so much going on isn’t nothing. Bands like this can get so overanxious and obnoxious with too many elements weaving in and out of another, but this builds really well, like a long and winding road, with honeysuckle vocals and blue bonnet bells dotting the path.

I checked out some of their live material on YouTube and found it really interesting. Better playing than expected, and a bluesy vibe lurking under the strings. While that interest may rise and fall, or pass with time and other surprises, I feel it is worth recognition, if just  the lesson: one simple – albeit instrumentally complex! – song can be heard once and promptly forgotten for a myriad of reasons, and then catch you off-guard as a perfect fit. No matter how long it lasts.

“Everything I do, I do in slow motion
I don’t know what to say
Everywhere I fall, don’t know name or location
Baby, I’ll just find my way, I’ll find it
Heavy is my sleeping, terror is my dreaming
While you are pretty through the night
You may taste the salt that rolls off my cheekbone
But you don’t know why I cry.”

~Slow Motion


I generally enjoy listening to music on YouTube because it allows multitasking. I get to find out about new bands and random songs through playlists that keep me from toggling back and forth between tabs all day at work. Today, I realized “Hey, maybe I wrote off The Story So Far too soon,” because I figured they were one of those annoying newish pop-punk bands that was all image and no substance….and maybe that is what they really are, I don’t really know any of their songs, but I do know I heard this and it is all I want to listen to right now, it is rather beautiful, and these are my favorite chords.

“I think you’ll notice when things become different
The good vibes in our lives won’t feel so consistent
And less becomes more cause the weight is too heavy
I swim in the water that’s breaking your levy

The way that you left me is alright, it’s alright
If I argue the point then we yell and we fight
And I won’t be home for the rest of the night
You might hate my words but you know that I’m right
You know that I’m right.

This is your life there’s no way to run from it
The doubt in your brain or the pain in your stomach

I only have but one complaint at the moment:
Don’t paint me black when I used to be golden.

The way that you left me, is alright it’s alright,

If I argue the point then we yell and we fight,
And I won’t be home for the rest of the night,
You might hate my words but you know that I’m right,
You know that I’m right.
Don’t paint me black when I used to be golden.

The Story So Far, Sitck to Your Guns Split


Nothing but Northstar. So much good new music has come out in recent weeks and I’ve got a backlog of thoughts to think and musings to post, but for daytime listening lately I keep coming back to these Glamour Kills YouTube videos from four years ago of Nick Torres acoustic. I would do bad things like take candy from children and cut off an old woman on the sidewalk if I meant I’d get an hour of songwriting with this guy.And I would like to turn around and scold all those folks chattering too loud during a too-good performance.

Torres’s post-Northstar project, Cassino, said earlier this year they’d have new music by the end of the year. So that’s something to look forward to. I’m counting down the days to the unknown.

“So this is how it ends, toxic and deliberate
She’s blood red at the neck boiling off fingerprints
This hospital love is making death seem elegant
“Just don’t breathe and we’ll stop time”
She said…

“I got this delicate lisp that speaks in tongues and upper lips”
Your silhouette’s my favorite
I’m not letting go of it

I’m not letting go of it

She’s got a leash that grips my teeth
That cleans the air I breathe and
It’s wrapped around this city

You look so lovely running through my fingers
Running through my fingers
Where everything’s always felt right
You look so lovely running through my fingers
Running through my fingers
Where everything’s always felt right

So she glides off the bed with unflinching relevance
and completely motionless
You’re so heavy, you’re so warm
Just a pillow I’ve used a thousand times before
Wrapped in velvet and filled with thorns

I’ve got this weakening grip around her arms, around her hips
Your silhouette’s my favorite
I’m not letting go of it
I’m not letting go of it

She’s got a leash that grips my teeth
That cleans the air I breathe and
It’s wrapped around this city

You look so lovely running through my fingers
Running through my fingers
Where everything’s always felt right
You look so lovely running through my fingers
Running through my fingers
Where everything’s always felt right

Northstar, Pollyana

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