ONLY NOISE: Love From Afar

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They say everyone is good at something. My mom can tie cherry stems into knots with her tongue. My tenth grade English teacher looked alarmingly natural in pirate shirts. I once saw a man scale a 30-foot coconut tree with his bare extremities. Personally, I have a long history of romancing incredible men…who live very far away from me. It is a history that dates back to the preteen era: my first kiss occurred at a punk show (Clit 45, inappropriately enough) in Costa Mesa, California, approximately 1,000 miles south of my hometown. His name was Kevin. It didn’t work out.

A couple of years later, I fell head over heels for a punk rock Adonis at a tiny gig in Seattle. I can’t remember my exact tactics, but I somehow acquired his email address, which was surely a Hotmail account. That was it. I would finally have my mohawked boyfriend I had so longed for throughout my rural Washington existence. I gathered the courage to e-ask him out. He e-laughed, and informed me that he lived in New Jersey.

I don’t want to sound like Ludacris by saying I have hoes in different area codes or anything, but I must admit, traveling romances and meeting men who are just passing through has turned into an unwanted skill. I think guys can just smell the unavailability when you step off the plane, ya know? Whether it’s Portland or Paris, I’ve found myself loving from afar more than a couple of times. It has turned into some cruel joke at this point, but fortunately, I have a wonderful sense of humor. Ha. Ha.

Typically, when someone sees a continual pattern in their life, they might try to thwart it, or at least analyze why it keeps happening. But I tend to just score the phenomena with appropriate songs. Which is kind of like giving someone who’s starving an issue of Food and Wine Magazine instead of making them a sandwich?

I guess my point is, this week I am saluting the long-distance love song. We’ve all missed someone, so naturally, there is an entire canon of music to nurse such a woe. One of my favorites is the unbearably obvious, but undeniably good “So Far Away” by Carole King from her groundbreaking LP Tapestry. “So Far Away” exists within a mini-theme of the album, which includes “Way Over Yonder” and “Where You Lead-” tracks that likewise express a longing for faraway things. “So Far” takes the trophy, however, as it is the only song with the required dose of hopelessness lyrically. What can I say? I don’t like half-assed sad. Might as well do it right. King laments her solitude by wryly asking: “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” No, Carole. No.

The great thing about love songs is their ability to be universal, but also to be even more universal in their specificity. I am in utter admiration not only of the fact that humans went beyond inventing the wheel and created the love song, but also that there are so many iterations and sub-genres of such. I can’t think of a more absurdly specific faraway tune than “Come Back From San Francisco” by the morose Magnetic Fields, who excel at writing a particular brand of pathetic love song. It is probably one of the most alienating miss-you tunes, with its nods to bisexual, novelist city dwellers, but, being a pretentious music journalist living in New York City, I’d say it’s right on the money for me.

When we zoom in on music this much or any medium for that matter, there is always the risk of ruining things; it’s fair to ask if we are accidentally taking the soul out of it all. Getting too close can expose blemishes, imperfections, or worse, isolate the beautiful abstract from the mere molecules; like reminding someone that gravy is essentially boiled blood. I want to keep these songs categorized as gravy, but I like to dig a little deeper. I like to see how the gravy is made.

It is funny, and also frustrating that though all of humanity has felt the sensation of longing for another person, only a select few of us can distill that longing into an art form. Painters paint, sculptors sculpt, and of course, songwriters write songs. The rest of us make playlists, mixtapes, CDs. They are in a way collages or monuments of found objects…a kind of paint-by-numbers for those of us who know dick about color theory. It feels democratic, even like recycling to use someone else’s song to express your adoration for a far off lover. Because in the age of text and email, how do you expect to get your weightiest points across? Emoji?

There is, of course, snail mail, but what’s in a letter that hasn’t been bested by Tom Waits singing about slow-grown love in “Long Way Home” off of Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards? Chances are what you pen in that note won’t be sticking in anyone’s head the way a ballad can. To forge an association between yourself and a song in someone else’s mind is like snagging free ad space during the Super Bowl. That sounds creepy, but you know what I mean.

A classic phrase for the faraway is: “Wish You Were Here,” but I will spare you the Pink Floyd and Incubus references. Nick Lowe has his own version from 1983’s The Abominable Showman, which could sneak by as an upbeat number if it weren’t for the subject matter. Because despite all of the puns and harmonies, there is still a lack that can only be answered thus: “having said that my dear/how I wish that you were here.”

Of course, at the end of the day, someone has to offer a solution to all of this wanting. Who better to lay down a piece of his mind than Bob Dylan, who closes 1969’s Nashville Skyline with one of my favorite songs in this category, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” It is the quintessential, end-of-the-romantic-comedy song, in which the protagonist disrupts some form of transportation to spend at least a little more time with the object of their affection. In movies, it’s usually a plane. With Dylan, it’s obviously a train.

“Throw my ticket out the window/Throw my suitcase out there too/Throw my troubles out the door/I don’t need them anymore/’Cause tonight I’ll be staying here with you.

I should have left this town this morning/But it was more than I could do/Oh, your love comes on so strong/And I’ve waited all day long/For tonight when I’ll be staying here with you.”

It’s the end we all hope for, but that few can afford. Finding a new suitcase and train ticket were obviously within Dylan’s realm of financial capabilities. But I’d like to end with this one, because despite the rest, it’s the one song within this hyper-specific class that at the very least offers a modicum of hope…that maybe throwing caution, and one’s worldly possessions to the literal wind and living off impulse is a very good idea. That remains to be seen, but at least we can commiserate with a few songs before taking that leap off the train, so to speak.

ONLY NOISE: Love Songs (Without All That Baggage)

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Love. Loss. Heartache. Pop music. These four things, among others like adultery, arson, and death, have all found homes in The Love Song. The tumultuous narrative has scored popular culture from the moment man could mouth words. Consider Helen of Troy, whose tale could be looked at as a large-scale “Jessie’s Girl” long before Rick Springfield ever sang to himself in a mirror. Kate Bush literally lifted her inspiration from the written word with her breakout hit “Wurthering Heights” in 1978.  The song, like the novel, recounts the turbulent relationship of literary Sid and Nancy Heathcliff and Cathy. A personal favorite is Aaron Neville’s “Over You,” in which Neville threatens to kill his lover should she deny him, so that no other man may have her. Perhaps a bit of Henry VIII in there, no? All of this drama is unavoidable in storytelling because, well, drama is enticing. It keeps people on the edge of their seat; there’s a reason soap operas still exist after all.

But what about when you do the work, and grow up, and want to reserve the drama for your television set? What love songs can you turn to that aren’t jealous, or sexist, or murderous? Those are, after all, for the breakup. This week, while listening to Townes Van Zandt’s 1969 LP Our Mother The Mountain on repeat, a record packed with unruly love songs, a levelheaded track caught my ear. “Second Lovers Song” is, perhaps one of the sanest cuts I’ve ever heard, and a progressive one at that.

As the song commences, Van Zandt sings of waking next to a woman who whispers that he “ain’t the only one” softly in his ear. The male narrator responds by cooing: “Do you think I really care? Do you think it matters?” It might not sound so revolutionary, but if you consider the artistic canon-especially that of country music-it’s pretty damn forward-thinking. “Second Lovers” is a song about acceptance, realistic expectations, and removing the perceived ‘angel-woman’ from her heavenly pedestal. Van Zandt’s narrator is seeing his lover as a human being, not as an untouched virgin child who’d be a whore if she’d ever bedded another man. In the song’s last verse he croons: “My lady can’t you see I love not jealously? But for all you are to me and all you’ll be tomorrow.” If only there were more voices in contemporary pop music like Van Zandt’s, singing of a woman’s past without resorting to words like “bitch” or “ho.”

I was in the mood for more. More love songs that extol the virtuous aspects of relationships, even if that means knowing when they must end. Don’t get me wrong; I like to relish in gritty breakup numbers by the likes of Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello too, (especially if you can’t tell immediately just how mean they are) but every once and awhile it’s nice to hear some sense coming out of those speakers.

Below is my guide to a few love songs without all that baggage.

“Kentucky Avenue” by Tom Waits

Puppy love. Could another love be more pure? The final cut off of Tom Waits’ 1978 masterpiece Blue Valentine is a real showstopper.  While the song is technically about Waits’ childhood friend Kipper (who was wheelchair ridden due to polio), and not a grade school crush, the same foundations of loyalty and unconditional love apply.

There is a strong sense of “us against them” in this track, as the narrator dotes upon his companion with gifts and acts of care-taking: “So let me tie you up with kite string and I’ll show you the scabs on my knee.  Watch out for the broken glass, put your shoes and socks on and come away with me.”  Waits goes on to promise that he’ll “get a dollar from my mama’s purse and buy that skull and crossbones ring, and you can wear it around your neck on an old piece of string.”  “I’ll take the spokes from your wheelchair and a magpies wings. And I’ll tie ‘em to your shoulders and your feet. I’ll steal a hacksaw from my dad and cut the braces off your legs and we’ll bury them tonight in the cornfield.”

It is a song that revels in shameless adoration; the kind of worts-and-all romances that occur so rarely in adult life, and so often when we are naive enough to let them happen.

“Wannabe” by Spice Girls.

Though we may always be eluded by the etymology of “zigazig ah” the mission statement of 1996’s “Wannabe” is pretty straightforward and commendable. I speak from personal experience when I say that dating a socially inept log who, literally cannot “get with my friends,” is nothing short of excruciating. Some never talk. Others you just wish would never talk. Critics in the mid ’90s may have been skeptical of the miniskirt wearing Fab 5, but the Spice Girls’ message was always unabashed, unapologetic Girl Power. Their breakout hit is exemplary of that ethos; stating that they’d be fine to take a lover, but they’re not about to halt their lives for one.

“I won’t be hasty, I’ll give you a try. If you really bug me then I’ll say goodbye.”

And who could forget the simple power in the words:

“If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.  Make it last forever, friendship never ends. If you wanna be my lover, you have got to give. Taking is too easy, but that’s the way it is.”

It’s not exactly Chaucer, but I’m behind what they’re saying.

“Praise You” by Fatboy Slim

Another simple, cut-to-the-chase track. While lyrically the song owes nothing to Fatboy’s Quentin Leo Cook (the repetitive lyrics are taken from the introduction to Camille Yarbrough’s “Take Yo’ Praise”), the unrelenting loop of words grows with meaning each repetition: “We’ve come a long long way together, through the hard times and the good, I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should.”

“Praise You” relays a dense message via omission. The repeated phrase is enough to build an empire of love and understanding upon, but what the song does not say is just as fortified. Lyrically it is void of so many codependent tropes that plague love songs.

Things you do not hear:

“I need you”

“I can’t live without you”

“I was nothing before you”

Whether or not it was intentional, Fatboy Slim’s lyrical restraint has left us with a simple, healthy, and drama-free mantra.

“Take Time To Know Her,” by Percy Sledge

The tragic tale of a man who commits a supreme mistake while conducting his romantic life: not listening to his mama.  Percy Sledge’s “Take Time To Know Her” is a ballad exalting the value of taking things slow, not rushing it, and really getting to know the (wo)man you love.  Contrary to his mama, and the preacher’s advice to “take time to know her,” the song’s narrator beelines into a marriage with a beautiful woman, only to find her cheating on him not long after their vows.

“And then I came home a little early one night and there she was kissing on another man.  Now, I know what Mama meant when she took me by the hand and said, ‘Son, take time to know her.  It’s not an overnight thing.  Take time to know her.  Please, don’t rush into this thing.'”

Even Elvis (and wise men) knew that “only fools rush in.”  But so did mama.  Please listen to mama.

“To The End,” by Blur

A big part of a healthy relationship is knowing when to call it quits.  Maybe you bring out the bad in each other, or the sex has gone sour, or worse, there isn’t any sex to go sour anymore.  No one knows that breaking up is hard to do more than songwriters, but some breakup tunes are less vicious than the rest.

A favorite is Blur’s “To The End” off of 1994’s Parklife.  The song is a reprimand of both players in the relationship, citing the faults they’ve committed together:

“All those dirty words, they make us look so dumb.  We’ve been drinking far too much, and neither of us mean what we say.”

The narrator goes on to honor the relationship’s good moments, while unfurling its inevitable demise.

“Well you and I collapsed in love.  And it looks like we might have made it.  Yes, it looks like we’ve made it to the end.  What happened to us?  Soon it will be gone forever.  Infatuated only with ourselves, and neither of us can think straight anymore.”

There will never be a shortage tear jerking, wrathful and jealous love songs.  Love is hard.  Being a romantic is hard.  But being a sensible romantic is the hardest.


ALBUM REVIEW: Winterpills “Love Songs”

Winterpills "Love Songs"

Winterpills "Love Songs"

Winterpills just released their latest full-length, Love Songs, which is aptly named because it’s a collection of songs that you’ll be absolutely in love with. The whole album is everything we’ve come to expect and appreciate from Winterpills, meaning that it’s perfect for relaxing to as well as for hosting private singing/dance parties.

The album starts out with the slow yet entrancing “Incunabala” where you’ll find yourself completely captivated by the plucky guitar chords. From there, we’re met with the substantially more upbeat “Celia Johnson.” The track sees singers Flora Reed and Philip Price matching one another’s vocals perfectly while accompanied with some slick keys and cheerful guitar riffs.

By the album’s midpoint, you reach “The Swimmers and the Drowned,” which works well to shake up the piece’s vibe. It’s the type of track where you’re the heavy bassline grabs your attention immediately. You’ll find yourself listening intently to the lyrics as soon as Price and Reed chime in together so you can figure out the story they’re trying to tell. “Bringing Down the Body Count” sees Reed leading the vocals on this slow and somber track, full of heavy guitar chords and tinkling keys. From there, it only makes sense to close out Love Songs with “Diary, Reconstructed” and “It Will All Come Back to You.” The two ballad-esque tracks feature Price’s raw and vulnerable vocals alongside tender keys, brass, and guitar.

Winterpills as a whole is full of passion and has certainly figured out the recipe for working perfectly with one another. “Love Songs” is just a testament to these facts.

Key Tracks: “Celia Johnson,” “Freeze Your Light,” “A New England Deluge,” “Bringing Down the Body County”

Listen to “We’ll Bring You Down” off their album Central Chambers below:

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TRACK REVIEW: Jojee “I Don’t Give A”

Breathe in and exhale a new track from Jojee produced by Mickey Valen. The song was inspired by forbidden love, an unfiltered reaction so magnetic sometimes you just have to let go of social constructs and allow it to swallow you up. According to an inside source, the song “…is the declaration of not giving a f*ck anymore and following your heart.”  A lot of people often mistake love for joy, but the definition that resonates with me, is an acceptance. Acceptance of passion, acceptance of flaws, acceptance of situation, and learning to just go with the flow – an emotion, perhaps both the most basic yet difficult for humans, that Jojee perfectly pins down musically. The New Yorker has been described as “future pop,” but this sounds more like modern day soul to me. The intersection of dream pop and R&B (Wet, Banks, FKA Twigs) has created an exciting new corner of music. Like, what you’d make love to post-abduction on an UFO.
Listen below.

Six Songs for Your Sweetheart

Happy Valentine’s Day from AudioFemme!  Thus far we’ve gotten some excellent feedback and would LOVE some more if you’ve got a few seconds to email us and let us know what you think, what you’d like to see more of, and – oh, yes! – submit something.

If you need some inspiration, we’ve got our first submission RIGHT HERE!  It comes to you from Jessica Darakjian, a self-described 23-year-old grandma living and working in Brooklyn, NY.  Currently she is getting ready to move back to California where she will partake in her favorite pastimes – riding a bike, gardening, making pickles and pies, surfing, going to flea markets, and listening to country tapes with her grandpa.

Personally, we think she could do most of these things just fine and still stay in New York, but she will not be convinced.
Enjoy! – Eds.

Is it just me or does anyone else wish Ye Olde Valentine’s Day was celebrated a little different? How, you might ask, could I ever dislike chocolate boxes, cutesy cards, hearts and bows, fancy dinners, pretty dresses and shoes, lots of flowers, and maybe jewelry (if you’re uh, rich)?  Well I don’t. I’m not saying I would refuse any of those things if they were handed over to me. But, I am saying that most likely I would love you, dear, a bit longer and harder if you approached this holiday a little differently… Can’t a girl get a mix tape in this day and age?  It’s all I want. Honest. Just to hold the little shitty piece of plastic in my hand and know it took you 45 fucking minutes to get the cut right so the tape didn’t run out in the middle of our favorite song. Can’t I listen to it over and over, until I know exactly how many seconds are between the click of the needle setting down to the actual beginning of each song? Everyone remembers how fucking special this is, we all know how much heart goes into it. From a friend or lover, there is no doubt that mixtapes are just, ya know, absolutely honest. So Happy Merry New Kind of Valentine’s Day – here are some songs I’m playing for my sweetie pie.

(One of my favorite videos. I wish I could dance like her. But honestly, Catherine should have just chosen Heathcliff and then none of the crazyness would have been necessary, right?)

(Even though you and I both can’t stand to look at that fucking blue hat this weirdo is wearing, you cannot try to tell me this song didn’t melt your heart when you were/are in your rebel high school loser stage)

(Best scene from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. Makes me all googley)

(off the most played record I own. “I need it everyday”)

(I can tell by the way you dress, that you’re real fine)

(awww, Miss Cora, you are a lucky lady)

Feel free to give Jessica some L O V E.