An indie-rock mixtape for the post-love song soundscape
When popular music first turned to Tin Pan Alley songs of the 1920s, it was led by songwriting greats such as George and Ira Gershwin composing and penning, respectively, heartfelt ballads like ‚ÄúSomeone to Watch Over Me‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúEmbraceable You.‚ÄĚ They were hopeful, elegant and dripping with uninhibited emotion.
This tradition of the love ballad carried out through several decades, turning more upbeat with ‚Äô50s crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and pop-rock driven with more recent musicians like Sting and Rod Stewart.
Yet somewhere between the ‚Äô80s and now marks the death of the love song. Perhaps it was the switch from soul and blues to dance-influenced popular music that did it in. Or maybe it was Madonna‚Äôs provocative hits that screamed women‚Äôs sexual liberation in the face of Ronald Reagan‚Äôs conservatism that turned the tide.
Whatever the reason, the closest we get to love nowadays is either T-Pain‚Äôs ‚ÄúI‚Äôm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)‚ÄĚ or contrived vampire melodramas. Lady Gaga sings about being beautiful and rich, Taylor Swift aches with sugar-coated pain and even the alternative Kings of Leon have resorted to crafting songs around the motivation of going through with a one-night stand.
But if you dig deep enough into the realm of indie pretension, you‚Äôll find tunes ‚ÄĒ whether optimistic, ironic or downright forlorn ‚ÄĒ that still have a trace of warmth and power to engage the listener in a semblance of a feeling.
Just in time for Valentine‚Äôs Day, I‚Äôve delved into that realm of indie pretension and compiled a list of songs that embody the complexity, fragility and overall quirkiness of modern love. None are traditional ballads or overly weepy in sentiment but, instead, explore facets of the ambivalence most of us feel toward that four-letter word today. In the words of John Cusak‚Äôs Rob from High Fidelity: ‚ÄúThe making of a great compilation tape ‚ÄĒ like breaking up ‚ÄĒ is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem.‚ÄĚ
Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúMaps‚ÄĚ
The quintessential indie love ballad from the most unexpected alternative band, ‚ÄúMaps‚ÄĚ offers a glimpse into these eclectic New Yorkers‚Äô hearts as vocalist Karen O strains to get out the words, Wait, they don‚Äôt love you like I love you.
The Magnetic Fields ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúThe Death of Ferdinand de Saussure‚ÄĚ
The members of The Magnetic Fields might claim not to know anything about love on ‚ÄúThe Death of Ferdinand de Saussure,‚ÄĚ but they do know they are nothing without it. With its sprite, toe-tapping melody, ‚ÄúFerdinand de Saussure‚ÄĚ will convince you to just accept what you know and go along with the flow.
She & Him ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúI Was Made For You‚ÄĚ
Zooey Deschanel, the ‚Äúshe‚ÄĚ to M. Ward‚Äôs ‚Äúhim,‚ÄĚ emulates ‚Äô60s girl-group pop on this sunny track from the pair‚Äôs debut album, Volume 1. Like much of the album, Deschanel ditches cynicism and keeps it positive as she finds a dream come true while taking a walk. Backed by airy vocals and a bouncy drumbeat, it‚Äôs a pleasant pop throw-back.
The Smiths ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúThere Is A Light That Never Goes Out‚ÄĚ
Although (500) Days of Summer revived The Smith‚Äôs popularity last year, for the angst-ridden teens hanging out in dive bars in the late 1980s, Steven Patrick Morrissey and company were the leaders among the despondent and broken-hearted. Moz is still sad on this one, but he‚Äôs found a dark, kindred spirit to take him out tonight as he wails, If a double-decker bus crashes into us / To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die. Welcome to the genesis of emo culture.
The Dandy Warhols ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúBohemian Like You‚ÄĚ
This is a song about falling in love with a girl that has a great car, is in a band and waits tables. With its endless refrain of I like you, it‚Äôs hard to play ‚ÄúBohemian Like You‚ÄĚ and not get the message across.
PJ Harvey ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúThis Is Love‚ÄĚ
The guitars are harsh and gritty on the emotionally charged ‚ÄúThis Is Love,‚ÄĚ as expected from the indie-rock queen. But when the usually disenchanted Harvey sings, I can‚Äôt believe that life‚Äôs so complex / When I just want to sit here and watch you undress, and howls with raw power, This is love / This is love that I‚Äôm feeling, it makes one stop and wonder: Wait, is Polly Jean finally in love? It sounds that way, until Harvey tosses in a dirty little secret during the song‚Äôs bridge. End result: You‚Äôll need a shower after this one.
Elliott Smith ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúTwilight‚ÄĚ
The tale Elliott Smith weaves in ‚ÄúTwilight‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ one of finding love and losing it ‚ÄĒ is bittersweet. Armed with nothing but his acoustic guitar and a backing track of chirping birds, Smith creates a wave of emotion as ambivalent as the coming of twilight as he croons, I could make you smile / If you stayed awhile / But how long will you stay with me, baby?
Au Pairs ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre So Cool‚ÄĚ
Frontwoman Lesley Woods of the British post-punk outfit Au Pairs singlehandedly lead the Riot Grrrl movement more than a decade before the movement was actually recognized with her gender-bending lyrics and outspoken feminism. Over the scratchy guitars on ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre So Cool,‚ÄĚ Woods is again ahead of her time, delivering an anthem for those who live by the church of casual dating and open relationships.
Guillemots ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúMade-Up Lovesong #43‚ÄĚ
The avant-garde pop group‚Äôs ‚ÄúMade-Up Lovesong #43‚ÄĚ is a melodramatic yet never over-the-top proclamation of love, complete with escalating orchestration and lead singer Fyfe Dangerfield‚Äôs soaring vocal range. The feeling might be unrequited (I love you, I don‚Äôt think you care), but the zeal behind Dangerfield‚Äôs voice isn‚Äôt.
Velvet Underground ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúI‚Äôll Be Your Mirror‚ÄĚ
The ever-pleasing Nico might as well be reciting John Keats‚Äô poetry on V.U.‚Äôs ‚ÄúI‚Äôll Be Your Mirror,‚ÄĚ which is possibly the most traditionally romantic song on this list. Crafted out of lovely metaphors of the wind, the rain and the sunsets and light on your door over fluid guitars and the wisps of tambourines, ‚ÄúI‚Äôll Be Your Mirror‚ÄĚ expresses what it means to have a solid, lasting connection with someone.