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3/19/18

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,
MD

 

“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

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

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

3/2/17

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

2/12/17

How good is the new Japandroids album? So good it might be the best rock album we’ve seen since their last effort? I’m inclined to say yes — I’ve been glued to it and its hooks, pounding rhythms, expert production…there’s a lot to love here even before you unpack the meaning. At the moment, one song in particular has me totally hooked — “True Love and A Free Life of Free Will.”

When I first heard the album this song stood out but not in a major way; the album is pretty short so it was easy to remember what song was which and feel the entire flow at the same time. But over the past week or so, “True Love…” is my jam. It’s got a slow march feel that reminds me of “Continuous Thunder,” and brilliantly simple little scenes of cafes and catinas. Japandroids songs have a way of being deeply poetic and emotional without being too purple, too snobby, or too high-minded, which is why I think they have so much pull with critics and people who listen to music for a living. “True Love..” is a slow jam, the closet thing to a ballad on Near to the Wild Heart of Life, but it’s got a pounding rhythm and fuzzy aplenty to give it rock and roll heart.

It doesn’t take too long to decode the meaning behind a Japandroids song, another reason they’re so fun to listen to and write about to boot. “Spill your secrets and paint my days,” Brian King sings in a desperate plea. Then, later, he ends a verbose verse with “a little money and whatever’s on the radio,” , as if it is a throwaway line but it is anything but, instead it sets a tangible scene. The final chorus — which gets me every time — kicks in with a delicate guitar line before building to an outro, a really simple setting but a satisfying one nonetheless, as Japandroids are wont to do.

With only eight of them, every track on “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” shows the scenes of a life that all connect back to the same themes — ambition, risk and reward, mortality. All are powerful, but it’s the love songs that make the heart ache and cry and sing — “No Known Drink or Drug” is one of the band’s best songs yet and it’s a total sing-it-from-the-rafters anthem to love. “True Love,” with its romantic notions and realistic landscape, is absolutely stunning to me — it’s a perfect summation of the dare-to-dream, dare-to-love attitude the album is all about.

“Plans to settle down
Plans to up and split
Plans loose as the morals we are planning with
Baby be the beast, but free what burdens be
And I’ll love you if you love me.”

~True Love and A Free Life of Free Will
Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life

2/1/17

When I think of Frightened Rabbit, I think of senior year of college, hanging out with roommates by our fire pit or up alone in my bedroom wondering what in the hell my future was going to look like. They’re one of the those bands that I distinctly associate with a time and place, rather than one that’s followed me through the years (a la Jimmy Eat World or The Wonder Years) as I kind of lost track of their work after “The Midnight Organ Fight.” But I loved its panic, its sultry inferences, and its slightly exotic vocals.

FR’s newest, Painting of a Panic Attack, has served as a pleasant reintroduction to hte band. The standout track for me is “An Otherwise Disappointing Life.” It has a more traditional hook, and a catchy chord progression. But there’s still a moodiness, and a desperate propulsion, that encapsulates what it’s like to feel frantic, doubtful and still somehow full of love. The whole album is worth a listen, but this song is among the most catchy and memorable.

“I have a long list of tepid disappointments
It doesn’t mention you
And if I’m honest your name could be upon it
If this didn’t feel so good

In an otherwise disappointing life made right
On an otherwise disappointing night there’s a fire
I don’t need water I just want to wave goodbye, goodbye
To an otherwise disappointing life”

~An Otherwise Disappointing Life

Frightened Rabbit, Painting of a Panic Attack

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