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learning love songs

est. 2008

5/16/17

One of my favorite “surprise” albums of this year is Mac Demarco’s This Old Dog. His voice has a weariness and wisdom that goes beyond his 26 years, and his sort of laid-back style feels rooted in 70s California rock songwriting. I loved hearing about his influences when he sat down with Marc Maron for WTF last month. Something about this album just chills me out and centers me — maybe it’s the way it feels slow-paced and reflective, maybe it’s Demarco’s high-voiced rasp. His sound is largely inoffensive (could fall under that amorphous umbrella of yacht rock) but not at the expense of grooves and layers. A track like “One More Love Song” emphasizes his ability to lead a band with a great piano line, while “Dreams from Yesterday” has something of an island vibe.

I find his whole style/vibe/skill reassuring, as if amidst pop chaos there can be breakthrough young talents with fundamental technique and truth to share. Looking forward to his further development, and digging deeper into his past work, too.

“Oh no,
Looks like
I’m seeing more of of my old man in me,”
~My Old Man
Mac Demarco, This Old Dog

5/9/17

2017 is a torrential downpour of exciting new artists and deep new releases, but lately I’m taking solace in going back into some old favorites. Coldplay is a brand that will probably forever be a dorky cultural footnote but they have a few songs that just stun me and still me.

Today, for example, I took a quick walk through downtown LA to run a couple errands before work. I clicked over Viva La Vida and played “Lovers in Japan” — something about the cyclical and jangling chords perfectly suits the bustle of a city.  A peripatetic rhythm bounces along, making it easy to keep pace while treading down sidewalks. The optimistic yet realistic chorus from Chris Martin is a thoughtful sentiment, perfectly suitable for getting lost in thought while observing the people, sights and scents of an urban scene.

If you asked me my top 5 favorite Coldplay songs, “Lovers in Japan” is in there for sure, — and if you scoff at me or anyone else who could come up with a top 5 favorite Coldplay songs, I’ll wager your letting stereotypes trigger your eyerolling, instead of understanding the meaning and message a beautiful song can provide.

 
“They are turning my head out
To see what I’m all about
Keeping my head down
To see what it feels like now
But I have no doubt
One day, the sun will come out…”

~Lovers In Japan
Coldplay, Viva La Via

4/24/17

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…”
~Machine
MisterWives, Connect the Dots

4/13/17

I didn’t hear of Wild Pink until this week, but their new self-titled debut is taking me by storm. It’s reflective from a generational perspective, using the details of one’s singular surroundings and relationships to opine on our greater struggles and cultural traumas. And they are a great fit at Tiny Engines, a label I have loved for their work with The Hotelier, Look Mexico and Restorations.

The lyrics in their songs are what grabbed me first, they write the the kind of songs that are jam-packed with words. The stories aren’t so much flushed out from start to finish, but snapshots of scenes interspersed with observations. There’s references to  “a vigil for a kid that died too young,” a repeated call to “put your phone down,” and the cryptic message to “I wonder if the next mass shooting will be here.” But none of these words and messages really feel melodramatic or like overkill; there things any millennial one who grew up with bomb threats at their high school could understand. There are references aplenty — one of my favorite tracks, “Great Apes,” manages to reference both the World Trade and Tim Robbins — and long, thoughtful phrases that dive into the depths of being introverted, anxious and relatively exhausted at the life one is living in the face of all the world has to show for itself.

Musically, they have a mellow emo/emo-revival thing going on, with guitar tones that remind me of American Football and Pinegrove and muted, mellow, harmonic-style vocals that could appear in a variety of indie rock bands. Wild Pink have a style that sounds like something I’ve heard before and yet their approach, their ability to purge emotional demons and ferret out the ugly parts of living in today’s world, are something new. It’s a fluid feel, and a garage-band vibe that come together to make their particular brand of indie . Though the record as a whole is pretty serious — I wouldn’t recommend it for moments when you want to hear something uplifting — it is full of movement, like sudden changes in time and lots of steady, sharp snare drum.

“Good times sneak and fleet
Your friends wanna spend some time with you tonight

Read about a poem that someone knows about your sign
They say when you were born the stars soared

Calm
Calm down
Put your phone down…”
~Wizard of Loneliness
Wild Pink, Wild Pink

4/2/17

I remember when Jack Antonoff released “I Wanna Get Better,” and it was this explosive thing, this beautiful, fun and upbeat song about being at your worst and losing your mind and that moment you decide you can lift yourself up. At the time I couldn’t quite get into it. While I could tell it was a great song (with a sweet guitar solo!) it was too happy even in spite of its dark messaging because it indicated hope and light after you hit rock bottom and I wasn’t really keen on any recovery messaging at the time. I was still in a free fall.

But two days ago, I played the new Bleachers track “Don’t Take the Money” while paging through the new Spotify releases and it was like being hit by lightening. What a passionate, powerful pop-rock tune, entirely retro-cool and now, while lyrically diving into deep waters about the anguish of relationships and the inner yearnings we have to be more, to break free, to be true to ourselves. The release totally caught me off-guard, and now has me shuffling through the Bleachers back catalog with fervor. It’s such good stuff! It’s poppy and hooky, but deep and introspective, it’s lucid and vibrant but grounded in its authentic reflection.

While 2014’s Strange Desires is a cohesive introduction to Antonoff’s style and sound, his latest thoughts about his newest single make me think the next record will be even more realized. I loved what he wrote on his Instagram about the song, specifically —

“you know that feeling? when you’ve tried your best to destroy yourself and someone else but it’s too strong to be destroyed? when you’ve tried to fling you a your partner out of an emotional window but you keep landing in heaven? that’s when it’s all clear.”

“Fling your partner out of an emotional window” is probably not a scientific psychiatric term, but I would humbly suggest it ought to be. And speaking to his comments overall, I appreciate Antonoff’s unfiltered attitude toward mental health and the expressive, free way he talks about it. This kind of frankness, this kind of real talk, can go a long way toward reducing stigma and toward making those of us who are feeling less-than-whole and less-than-worthy feel less alone in our struggles.

Because it’s normal to have feelings, even bad ones. And they don’t have to be swept under the carpet, or on the flip side, romanticized into something exotic and taboo. They can just happen, and we are left to deal with them however we can at the time. Antonoff’s own thoughts on being vulnerable while songwriting are worth visiting here in a recent Pitchfork interview; he explains how you don’t have to write about the necessarily be writing about the hard stuff to make cool music, but it’s the hard stuff that he wants to focus on in his songs and with the artists he collaborates with. Though I don’t subscribe to the belief that one *has* to be depressed or suffering in order to make good art, I think creativity is a terrific way to deal with those feelings or work through them — to write about them, to sing about them, to capture them in a photograph. With a little determination and effort, our worst experiences and lower moments might prove to be the breeding grounds for our next best inspiration.

“When you’re looking at your shadow
Standing on the edge of yourself
Preying on the darkness
Just don’t take the money
Dreaming of an easy
Waking up without weight now
And you’re looking at the heartless
Just don’t take the money

You steal the air out of my lungs, you make me feel it
I pray for everything we lost, buy back the secrets
Your hand forever’s all I want
Don’t take the money.”
~Don’t Take the Money

Bleachers

 

3/29/17

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.”

~Clementine
Sarah Jaffe, Suburban Nature

3/13/17


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

3/7/17

One of the best things about getting older? You start caring less and less about what people think of you and your tastes. So it is without a shred of shame I admit I have almost exclusively listened to Ed Sheeran since his billion-views busting Divide album came out Friday (OK, with some Japandroids, The Menzingers and Laura Marling thrown in there, too) and I still think he’s one of the best pop songwriters of his generation.

Sheeran’s spoken word delivery can be construed as annoying to some, but I dig the rhythms and phrases he finds. His guitar playing is distinct and often innovative. And lord, those ballads — he can break hearts and mend them with a refrain with the best of them. “Photograph” and “Tenerife Sea” held the place as my favorite love songs of his last record while “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” and “Dive” are the ones I’m most into this time around.

My favorite song on the record, though, the one that I go back to play before skipping among the others, is “Castle On The Hill,” a dedication to the friends Ed grew up with and the times they shared. It’s a familiar story for anyone who spent their teenage years with a tight knit group who inevitably broke away from each other as they grew up and life pulled them in separate directions.

Not only is the musicality of the song gorgeous and moving and triumphant, but the topic is one that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it’s living across the country from those who know me best, maybe it’s wishing we were better able to share the activities and interests of our lives together again. Maybe it’s wishing I had more reunions to look forward to. All I know is when I hear Ed Sheeran sing about driving down country roads, singing to “Tiny Dancer” with his friends and watching sunsets, I think about wandering the city long past our bedtimes, meeting up on a grassy hillside and watching the stars preside over our dreams as we wished upon each and every one of them we’d never have to grow up.

“I’m on my way
Driving at ninety down those country lanes
Singing to “Tiny Dancer”
And I miss the way you make me feel, and it’s real
We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill…”

~Castle On The Hill
Ed Sheeran, Divide

 

3/2/17

One of the albums that’s really snuck up on me this year is Eisley’s I’m Only Dreaming, a record shepherded by Sherri DuPree Bemis. The band once featured three DuPree sisters, but Sherri’s stuck with it alongside other family members and new players, bringing their ambient-pop quality into a new era. I was never a huge fan though I never heard anything I disliked — and Currents had some really beautiful parts — but this one has stuck out to me for having some moments that just seem strikingly honest, raw and realized.

It’s dark, but just dark enough, it’s sweet, but just sweet enough, it’s confident and edgy. Sherri’s lyrics live in that space of just-vague-enough, bringing plenty of imagery and feeling without laying it on too thick. It’s a pleasant listen, if a rather monochromatic one, with every song striking this unique balance of strength, yearning and sensitivity. “Louder Than A Lion” has been my favorite, with “You Are Mine” and “Defeatist” as close seconds.

I’ve always had a huge soft spot for Sherri’ voice (one of the main reasons I dug the Perma record she did with husband Max Bemis). She has such a lovely soprano quality and can hit some insane notes in insane ways with a ton of power behind them, while somehow still sounding angelic. That brightness and lightness carries through the entire album, but I like how she lets herself get into more deeper and softer tones here and there, too. Listening to her, I just get lost in the sound and the way she enunciates what she’s saying, as if every phrase is a little missive from her truest soul (Bonus: listen to her on a recent episode of the Lead Singer Syndrome podcast for the story behind how Eisley came to be, and her utterly cool attitude about her sisters leaving the band and understanding how everyone’s path is different. Not to mention her life touring with small children. She’s totally inspiring!)

I’ve seen Eisley criticized by music writers for being too one-note, for not having enough of an edge to them, but I love the way Sherri’s voice carries the songs, the way the lyrics are sparse, and the way the guitars always seem to have just enough distortion to sound a little off-kilter. No matter how much it feels like it wants to rock harder, Eisley songs have always had such a beautiful, dreamlike quality to them — a reminder that’s OK to sit still, it’s OK to hang back, it’s OK to get lost in the moment, even if the world thinks you should do something greater.

“We fall backwards faster than the speed of sound
If you want to fly we’re able
If you want to flee I’m stable
I’ll stand and fight when you’re out…”
~Louder than a Lion
Eisley, I’m Only Dreaming

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