PREMIERE: St. Lorelei Ponders the Moon and the Matrix on Debut LP Beast

Photo Credit: Jonathan Traviesa

Jo Morris – bandleader, vocalist, and rhythm guitarist for New Orleans-based band St. Lorelei – likes to create worlds with her lyrics. “I tend to write material that’s based on more of an internal world, whether that’s about love or just imagining fictitious environments,” she says. “All I think about when I listen to music is searching for something that really tugs at me, and I like to try to find the same feeling when I write music.”

The band — also consisting of Marcus Bronson (bass, backing vocals), Philip Cooper (keyboards), Alec Vance (guitar), and Steve Walkup (drums and percussion) — will release its debut album Beast this Friday. It paints colorful pictures of a variety of subjects, from nature to famous film scenes.

Much of the album was inspired by listening to the late singer-songwriter Jason Molina; Morris attempted to capture his vivid scene-setting with her lyrics. One of the tracks — the dark, atmospheric, keyboard-driven “Farewell Transmission” — shares a title with a song by his band, Magnolia Electric Co., which features evocative lyrics like “Now we’ll all be brothers of the fossil fire of the sun/Now we will all be sisters of the fossil blood of the moon.” St. Lorelei’s version reads like a letter to the late artist: “I received your farewell transmission/Its echoes are etched across the sky.”

The rest of the album draws from a variety of influences: the dreamy, wistful “Wish” was inspired by The Ronettes, flipping a love song on its head by describing the end of a relationship. In “Night So Dark,” an emotive track reminiscent of The Cranberries, Morris asks with soaring high notes, “Can we make it through another night?”

She remembers writing “Night So Dark” in the winter, as she looked out the window into darkness. “I was just kind of picturing waiting for the light of the moon to break through, and it’s just kind of creating the feeling that I get by watching the moon rise… creating a scene of it in my mind almost like a music video.” She remembers the phrase “too dark to dream” popping into her mind as she looked up at the sky, inspiring the line, “These nights, too dark to dream/So we splay open our hearts and pin them into screens.”

Relationship dysfunction is another overriding theme on the album. In “FOOL,” Morris belts about being deceived by love against discordant jamming, and “Snake Song,” written by Townes Van Zandt, is a haunting and poetic ode to being difficult to love, reminiscent of an old folk song.

“Outside the Green,” a cheery closing track full of harmonies and catchy guitar riffs, has perhaps the quirkiest inspiration: the movie The Matrix. “In that period of time, I had been watching that movie a lot and was just thinking about what constitutes our bodies and what is the corporeal shell — what is stopping us from being one with the elements or even with other people in sharing this same spirit?” says Morris. “I started building it around the stories in The Matrix and Neo’s journey from figuring out when he was in the actual reality and in his perceived reality.”

In her typical songwriting process, Morris brings a melody to her bandmates and describes the feeling she wants to capture, and they craft the sound to fit the mood. “It’s so amazing to be able to play with a band, especially when you’ve played by yourself for so long,” she says. Enlisting the help of engineer Mark Bingham and his barn-like recording studio amid the swamps of Henderson, Louisiana, she used layered vocal harmonies to make the album to sound “sparkling and orchestral.”

Morris formerly sang in the Kentucky Sisters, a duo centered on vocal harmonies and ukulele, while also working on her own material, releasing the EP Ghost Queen in 2017 as a solo artist. Walkup was a fan of the Kentucky Sisters and came to a concert of theirs, and he and Morris began making music together. The band is named after the German folklore figure Lorelei, who jumped into the Rhine river after being betrayed by a lover and transformed into a siren who lured sailors to crash their ships.

During the pandemic, Morris has been using her loop pedal and building songs around vocal harmonies and guitar. She’s currently creating a series of songs lamenting antiquated activities, like using cable TV and VCRs and, nowadays, going to the grocery store without worrying about getting sick. Her goal is to “create a rich world around [everyday things] that you wouldn’t expect” — a skill she’s already clearly mastered on Beast.

Follow St. Lorelei on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

NEWS ROUNDUP: International Women’s Day, Leaving Neverland, and MORE

Maggie Rogers, Mavis Staples, Phoebe Bridgers and Brandi Carlile meet at Newport Music Fest. Photo by Danny Clinch. The artists shared this photo along with messages of empowerment for International Women’s Day via Twitter.

It’s International Women’s Day!

Though some form of International Women’s Day has been around since 1909, the holiday celebrating women around the world has really gained traction over the last decade. This year’s theme was #BalanceForBetter, seeking to promote a more gender balanced world. Here’s how our favorite ladies in the music world celebrated.

  • Cardi B made a playlist on Apple Music for the occasion, featuring visionary women (including Grace Jones, Madonna, Tina Turner, and Solange).
  • Sharon Van Etten and Courtney Barnett both appeared as a guest curators for Amazon’s music streaming platform.
  • Ariana Grande tweeted a short video by director Hanna Lux Davis, reminding everyone a few tweets later “it ain’t feminism if it ain’t intersectional.”

  • Rihanna looked powerful in a black blazer.

  • Miley Cyrus shouted out some of her favorite bad ass bitches:

  • … while Lady Gaga paid tribute to her mama.

  • Maggie Rogers and Mavis Staples both reminisced via this photo with Phoebe Bridgers and Brandi Carlile.

  • Dua Lipa had some tea for those who fall short of protecting human rights.

  • And Micropixie released a video for Como Mínimo (#YesIsTheMinimum), from her upcoming LP Dark Sight of the Moon, out April 9.

The Fallout of Leaving Neverland

The explosive HBO Documentary about Michael Jackson’s alleged child abuse, Leaving Neverland, aired last weekend, and unsurprisingly, folks are divided on its message. Though the allegations are nothing new (Jackson settled a child abuse case out of court in 1994, and was acquitted in a similar case with a different victim in 2005) the harrowing testimonies of two men who say they were abused by Jackson when they were 7 and 10 are hard to dismiss. Radio stations have pulled Jackson’s enduring pop hits,  The Simpsons producers have pulled iconic episode “Stark Raving Dad” from the syndication due to Jackson’s guest voice over, and a Chicago run of biographical jukebox musical “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” was cancelled, though its team said this occurred due to scheduling difficulties and that they’ve set their sights on Broadway in 2020. Jackson’s daughter, Paris, seemed unfazed in a series of tweets in which she told folks to “chillax” – implying that even if Jackson’s legacy took a huge hit, his $500 million estate would ultimately be unaffected by the doc (though they’d previously filed a lawsuit to block it from airing). Meanwhile, debate continues to rage regarding blame placed on the victims’ parents, the degree to which Joe Jackson’s horrific behavior absolves his son’s various issues (including the alleged child abuse) and, of course, the idea that Jackson himself is an innocent victim of a slanderous campaign. One thing is certain: Jackson’s story is ultimately one of the saddest in pop music history, taking into account his tarnished childhood, various tabloid scandals, untimely death due to physician-sanctioned drug abuse – and it’s only compounded by the suffering of his alleged victims.

That New New

Solange has blessed the world with the (semi) surprise release of When I Get Home, her follow-up to 2016’s show-stopping A Seat at the Table.

Cementing their legacy as Jersey’s favorite pop punks, The Bouncing Souls released the second single from their forthcoming 30th anniversary EP Crucial Moments, out March 15. Their massive tour kicks off the next day at Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall.

Vampire Weekend have shared two new tracks from their upcoming Father of the Bride LP, out in May

Mac DeMarco announced his next record Here Comes the Cowboy with a single called “Nobody,” giving Mitski fans a little déjà vu; both artists (and their shared PR team) say it’s just a coincidence.

Bedouine is back with a one-off single that reflects on the aftermath of her gorgeous 2017 self-titled debut.

SOAK has released another lovely singled from April 26 release Grim Town., announcing some US tour dates (including two at SXSW) to go with it.

Alan Vega’s final recordings have been released to benefit the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, which provides teaching materials to educators seeking to engage students by teaching pop music history. The Suicide co-founder passed away in 2016.

Everyone loves a corgi – and that includes illuminati hotties, who are very honest about the fact that sometimes doggos are are the only thing keeping us in a mediocre relationship. They’ll be in Austin next week for SXSW.

Stef Chura has announced her sophomore record Midnight with its lead single “Method Man.”

Blushh shared a one-off single to get folks pumped for their upcoming SXSW dates as well.

Toronto punks Greys have announced third LP Age Hasn’t Spoiled You, out May 10, sharing its first single “These Things Happen.”

Rick from Pile remains the biggest babe in all of DIY indie rock; this week the band released their latest single and announced forthcoming LP Green and Gray, out May 3.

In other DIY news, Patio ready themselves for the April 5 release of Essentials with their latest track, “New Reality.”

NOTS have seemingly recovered from their recent lineup changes and shared the first single from their upcoming LP 3, out May 10. Two of its members are also releasing an LP this year as Hash Redactor.

The National have announced a new collaborative project with director Mike Mills entitled I Am Easy To Find. It’s essentially an hour-long companion album to a 24-minute short film of the same name starring Alicia Vikander. The first track on the album, “You Had Your Soul With You,” has some guest stars as well – Sharon Van Etten, Kate Stables of This Is the Kit, The Brooklyn Youth Choir, and longtime David Bowie bandmate Gail Ann Dorsey lend vocals. The band have announced a bunch of tour dates with Courtney Barnett and Alvvays supporting.

Local Natives released two videos this week, one of which stars Kate Mara. Both will appear on the April 26 release of Violet Street, a follow-up to 2016’s Sunlit Youth; they’ve previously announced a slew of tour dates.

Sky Blue, a posthumous collection of unreleased material from celebrated singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, arrived March 7 to commemorate what would’ve been his 75th birthday.

Kishi Bashi returns with new LP Omoiyari on May 31, and has released the album’s first single, “Summer of ’42”.

Charly Bliss have shared a video for “Chatroom,” the second single from their upcoming record Young Enough, out May 10.

CupcakKe keeps it topical with a new single entitled “Bird Box,” referencing the recent Netflix horror movie and the Jussie Smollett controversy alike.

Having penned Grammy-nominated hits for Ariana Grande and Janelle Monae, Tayla Parx is poised to break out on her own with a highly anticipated solo debut on Atlantic Records, We Need to Talk, out April 5. Her latest video for “I Want You” follows earlier singles “Slow Dancing” and “Me vs. Us.”

Christian Fennesz, who records electronic music under his last name, returns to basics with a new 12-minute track called “In My Room,” from forthcoming 4-song LP Agora, out March 29.

Ahead of the April 12 release of No Geography, The Chemical Brothers share a video for “We’ve Got To Try.”

Festival faves Marshmello and CHVRCHES have collaborated on a sugary new single titled “Here With Me.”

Dido’s first record since 2013, Still on My Mind, is out today; her first tour in fifteen years hits the US in June.

End Notes

  • The Prodigy singer Keith Flint was found dead of apparent suicide at the age of 49.
  • I would unironically love to attend one of these West Coast Man Man shows featuring “Friday” singer Rebecca Black.
  • Gayle King interviewed R. Kelly for CBS regarding the sexual abuse allegations against him, prompting an explosive on-camera outburst from the singer that has been widely discussed. We’re so tired.
  • Swedish black metal band Watain have been banned from performing in Singapore due to their “history of denigrating religions and promoting violence.”
  • NYC concert-goers spontaneously burst into song on the ACE platform following a sold-out Robyn show at MSG.
  • Speaking of Robyn, she’s been announced as one of the headliners for Pitchfork Music Festival, which takes place in Chicago from July 19-21. HAIM and the Isley Brothers top Friday and Saturday’s bills respectively, with Stereolab, Mavis Staples, Belle & Sebastian, Earl Sweatshirt, Pusha T, Tirzah, Kurt Vile, Low, Julia Holter, Rico Nasty, Neneh Cherry, Snail Mail, Khruangbin, Soccer Mommy, Amber Mark, CHAI, and more set to play as well.
  • While we’re on the subject of festivals, Variety has leaked a potential lineup for Woodstock 50 and it’s not exactly overflowing with “heritage” acts; Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, and Black Keys look like likely headliners.
  • Elton John tweeted an definite release date in October 2019 for his upcoming memoir.
  • Massive Attack have rescheduled some of the North American Mezzanine reunion tour dates due to illness.
  • You can buy the hospital gown that Kurt Cobain wore during a legendary 1992 Reading Festival Nirvana performance for a mere $50,000.
  • L7’s Donita Sparks emerged as a hero when, in true punk fashion, Marky Ramone and Johnny Rotten nearly came to blows at a panel discussion on upcoming John Varvatos and Iggy Pop-produced Epix docu-series Punk.
  • Morrissey is taking his upcoming covers record California Sun to Broadway.
  • Taylor Swift stalker Roger Alvarado was arrested for breaking into the pop star’s home again, fresh off of a stint in jail for the same charge (bringing his Swift-related arrest total to three).
  • Arcade Fire will reportedly cover “Baby Mine” in Tim Burton’s live-action Dumbo remake, and it’s a real family affair.
  • Mark your sundials – Red Hot Chili Peppers will stream a live concert from the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt on March 15.

ONLY NOISE: Like A Summer Thursday

One of my favorite descriptions of summer, particularly its languid, melancholy months, comes from Don DeLillo’s first novel, Americana: “Summer unfolds slowly,” DeLillo writes, “a carpeted silence rolling out across expanding steel, and the days begin to rhyme, distance swelling with the bridges, heat bending the air, small breaks in the pavement, those days when nothing seems to live on the earth but butterflies, the tranquilized mantis, the spider scaling the length of the mudcaked broken rake inside the dark garage.”

This of course is not the summer of your childhood, spent racing to the river, camping out on the trampoline, and picking salmon berries in the woods. It’s a slower summer; the passage of time stifled by heat and concrete, and the knowledge that as an adult, the only distinguishing aspect of the season is its boiling sun andif you’re luckyan abbreviated Friday at the office. During these months I tend to favor tunes that match the heat in grime and delirium, rather than turn up to the tempo of summer jamz (who really needs to cue those up anyway, when they’re blaring from every idling car come August?). For me, summer is a season of slower music, mimicking the sluggish pace of trudging through the sweltering city, and dreaming of a place with more treesor at least cheaper booze. For all the like-minded, hot weather sloths, here are five records to get lost in this summer.  

Van Morrison, Astral Weeks, 1968

For me this record is synonymous with waking early up in a sun-filled room and shaping a slow and quiet day; making a pot of coffee, scrambling some eggs, and lazing about. Van Morrison’s 1968 freeform masterpiece blooms with verdant imagery so beautiful it is agonizing, and while I’ve probably listened to it in full more than any other record, its transportative nature always manages to take me to a place I’ve never been before. The meandering phrases of flute, saxophone, guitar, and bass make you feel like you’ve wandered an unknown region of the world without so much as stirring from your couch. Perfect for the days when it’s too hot to venture outside.

Astral Weeks feels as much a part of the sky as and stars as it does the earth. On its centerpiece “Cyprus Avenue,” spare bass roots the song into the dirt, while plinks of harpsichord and fluttering woodwind lift it skyward. It is an aching portrayal of love so painful that its narrator endures multiple bouts of complete paralysis: “And I’m conquered in a car seat/Not a thing that I can do,” Morrison sings. “Cyprus Avenue” is one of the most precise depictions of new lovesomething that summer can rot just as easily as ripen. The title track, which opens the eight-song cycle, is a (slightly) less heartbreaking soundscape, arranging strings, celestial flute, and brushes of guitar into a solar system of sound, at the center of which is Morrison’s voice, beaming like the sun.

Townes Van Zandt, Our Mother the Mountain, 1969

Maybe I’m so drawn to this record in the sunny months because that’s when it first came to me. Townes Van Zandt’s second album Our Mother the Mountain is filled with tales of gambling saints, witchy women, and enough booze to power a dam. Van Zandt’s lyrical mysticism made his songs sound as if they were born in an era when folklore was taken at face valueand yet his interpretation of country music was completely original. Perhaps he was so ahead of his time that he sounded ancient.

Our Mother dances between deep, undeniable melancholy, and slightly sad songs that merely sound chipper. Opening ditty “Be Here to Love Me,” falls into the latter category, in which a drunkard entreats his woman to stay. Van Zandt paints summertime depictions of a small town with his distinct twang: “The children are dancing, the gamblers are chancin’ their all/The window’s accusin’ the door of abusin’ the wall,” he drawls, depicting a bawdy saloon scene. Cowboy ballad “Like a Summer Thursday,” meanwhile, is a sombre tale of love lost, in which Van Zandt recounts the stunning traits of a long gone lady. “Her face was crystal, fair and fine,” he sings, before revealing her cold disposition. “If only she could feel my pain,” he continues. “But feeling is a burden she can’t sustain/So like a summer Thursday, I cry for rain/To come and turn the ground to green again.” It is one of the most aching summer love songs, Van Zandt blaming the heat as much as the heart for all of his grief. If anything, Townes Van Zandt might just be the best summer companion for the sweaty and miserable.   

Smog, A River Ain’t Too Much to Love, 2005

Bill Callahan’s final offering under his Smog moniker turned out to be his masterpiece. A River Ain’t Too Much to Love is an hour of slow simmering folk songs brimming with naturalistic poetry. It’s hard not to associate this album with summertime, simply for the fact that its descriptions of woods and rivers and horses and valleys are so colorful and numerous. “Drinking at the Dam” recalls a particular kind of smalltown summer, where adults are absent and the brambles are the place to hang out and flip through “skin backs.” The sun is as much a part of this record as broken hearts and booze are to Our Mother the Mountain, and its rays fall upon rivers, bedrooms, and forests of pine, adding a waking melancholy to Callahan’s pensive lyrics. It is a record so stifled by heat, all there is to do within it is lie around and think. “It’s summer now, and it’s hot/And the sweat pours out,” Callahan sings on “Running the Loping.” “And the air is the same as my body/And I breathe my body inside out.” A River is replete with this kind of imagery, and that’s exactly what makes it a pleasant companion for the sweltering season.

Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline, 1969

Along with Astral Weeks, I’ve listened to Dylan’s country delight Nashville Skyline so many times in my life, it automatically qualifies as a “Desert Island Disc,” god forbid I ever have to pack that suitcase. Aside from its beatific album cover, featuring Dylan tilting is hat like a southern gentleman against a blushing sunset, Nashville Skyline is bursting with the stuff of rural summer: Bluegrass fingerpicking, lazy lovers, and backwoods euphemisms involving every type of pie you can name. Opener “Girl From the North Country” (a duet with Johnny Cash that reimagines the original version from 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan) features the lone mention of cold weather and winter coats before the record bursts into the jubilant guitar duel, “Nashville Skyline Rag.” This album is a lively companion for cooking summer meals and drinking beer on the front porch. Heck, it’s so homey and warm, it can even make you feel like you have a porch.  

Amen Dunes, Freedom, 2018

Damon McMahon’s fifth studio album as Amen Dunes may have been released in the dead of winter, but the 11-song suite is radiant and lushfar more suited to aimless summer strolls than March hibernation. The entirety of Freedom is rendered with production details that place you seaside, on a boardwalk in shirt-wilting temperatures. The bright riffs of guitar, the breezy reverb, and McMahon’s languid delivery all move with the pace of light waves bending on hot air. While the previous albums I’ve mentioned might lend themselves best to lounging around light-filled rooms or dank taverns, Freedom begs you to walk around town and project its sun-faded imagery before you. Whether it’s the nostalgic twang of “Skipping School” or the beachy bent of “Miki Dora,” this is a record that can weave silvery summer blues into tapestries of hope.

ONLY NOISE: Beautiful Losers

Repeat after me: Loser. Double loser. Whatever. Moron. If you were a certain age in the late 1990s, this insult – when paired with the correct hand motions – was the ultimate dis to peers, siblings, and losers of every stripe. The term “loser” in the nineties and early ‘00s was plastered all over the place, from Beck’s breakout hit, to anti-drug PSAs, and that movie starring Jason Biggs’ trapper hat. The identity of the “loser” in music, however, is a far more complex thing than a girl with her finger and her thumb in the shape of an “L” on her forehead,” as Smash Mouth sang.

The loser is not simply a spinoff of Jay and Silent Bob, or Bill and Ted, or Beavis and Butthead (as you can see, losers often come in pairs). It seems that the loser of song tradition is more akin to a hero than a villain. A flawed bearer of mediocrity and wearer of slouchy clothes, the loser archetype is as quintessential to rock ‘n’ roll as the rambler and the romantic. Some losers are self-proclaimed, like Derrick Harriott as he sang his reggae hit “The Loser,” and Merle Haggard, who released the gorgeous but self-effacing song “I’m a Good Loser” on his 1971 record, Hag. “Yeah I’m a good loser/Born to be that way/This dog, he never had his day,” croons Haggard, no doubt lamenting a long-gone woman.

Though country stars were often self-critical in Haggard’s era, hearing him sing the words, “I’m a good loser” is still jarring to this day. Who could ever think of Merle Haggard, one of the coolest men in the history of country music, as a loser? Only he had the power to slander his name, illuminating the fact that loss plagues all of us – even rich and famous country singers.

In many ways, Haggard was a loser. He certainly didn’t have a winning relationship with cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol, the combination of which contributed to his many years of poor heath, and eventual death in 2016. The Hag was also known to lose in love, and to the law. He was married five times and served two and a half years at San Quentin prison in 1958 for burglary and attempted escape from county jail. Add all that up, and you might not call Merle Haggard a winner – but he sure lost with the best of ‘em.

The desperate nature of a country music persona made the genre natural loser territory. From Hank Williams singing “You Win Again” to Linda Ronstadt’s “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win,” to the real-life rise and fall of Townes Van Zandt – the songs wouldn’t have been as good if everybody was winning all the time. But music’s hopeless manifesto didn’t reside only in blues and country – pop is full of losers, too. Of course there’s “Three Time Loser” by ultimate sexyman Rod Stewart, “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus, “The Winner Takes It All” by ABBA, and countless others. Even The Beatles, the untouchable Fab Four, had a song about being a loser: “I’m A Loser” from 1964’s Beatles For Sale. “I’m a loser/And I lost someone who’s near to me,” sings John Lennon. It’s hard to imagine John, Paul, George or even Ringo identifying as losers while watching them perform this cut to a crowd of shrieking women, but then again, as the song warns, “I’m a Loser/And I’m not what I appear to be.”

Still, The Beatles don’t quite fit the loser archetype. I mean, look at those suits and those haircuts. Even when they got mustachioed and Sgt. Peppered it was hard to see them as anything but rock n’ roll all-stars. Folks like Roy Orbison, on the other hand, had a tougher time making it as a cool kid. “Roy was the coolest, uncool loser you’d ever seen,” Bruce Springsteen said of Orbison in a 2012 keynote address at SXSW. I doubt Orbison would deny such a claim had he been alive to hear it. The dark genius behind masterpieces like “Only The Lonely” and “Crying” knew much of loss and sorrow.

Orbison, aka, “The Big O” went through numerous catastrophes in his lifetime – in fact, there is even a section of his Wikipedia page entitled, “Career decline and tragedies” – and it’s lengthy. Orbison suffered heartbreak, infidelity on the part of his first wife Claudette (yes, that “Claudette”), and a lifetime of mourning. In June of 1966, Orbison and Claudette were riding motorcycles through Gallatin, Tennessee when Claudette struck the door of a pickup truck that had pulled out in front of her. She died instantly. Only two years later while touring England, Orbison received a call relaying that his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee had burned down, leaving his two eldest sons dead. If to be a loser you must suffer great loss, then perhaps Orbison was the biggest loser in rock ‘n’ roll history.

Where Haggard and Oribson’s losses were the stuff of tragic poems, the loser that rolled up in the ‘90s was cut from a different cloth. Take Beck’s “Loser” for instance – the lo-fi hit that put him on the map in 1994. Far more blasé than self-loathing, Beck traipsed through that music video like a shabby bon vivant rather than a hopeless burnout. He owned his loser-dom in secondhand duds and ill-fitting hats. Beck was the loser we’d never seen in music before: mildly defiant, nihilistic, and chic in his refusal to look to the future. Suddenly, the loser wasn’t tragic – it was cool.

But where have all the losers gone? We’ve seen plenty of pop stars in the past decade donning thick-rimmed glasses and identifying as “geek” (which, by the way, is not the same thing as a loser), but where are the deadbeat, worn-down, desperate stars of today? And please do not mention Ed Sheeran – he has a full torso of professional tattoos, and is therefore stripped of any potential loser accolades. Everyone keeps shouting that “the ‘90s are back!” but I don’t see rock ‘n’ roll losers anywhere. Who are kids supposed to look up to these days anyway, Adam Levine? That guy has far too many abs to be a loser. Mainstream music seems to be populated solely by shiny, auto-tuned sex symbols (and Ed Sheeran), and it’s just not enough. We need our poor, our weary, our roughened-up chumps, too. We need our losers. We are lost without them.

ONLY NOISE: Love Songs (Without All That Baggage)

only noise audio femme

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.