Now that Valentine’s Day itself has come and gone, the second (and final) installment to the Valentine’s playlist marks an end to the season. The playlist can be heard here.
American Football - “Silhouettes”
American Football reached cult status in 1997 with their self-titled debut, transcending the somewhat contentious “emo” classification to become one of the best reviewed and most accessible albums from the oft-maligned genre. It succeeded due to a perfect storm of songwriting, performance, and chemistry; “Never Meant,” the album opener, was recently ranked as the greatest emo song of all time, and Ian Cohen attributes this in part to its memorable false start (“a tossed-off drum roll, some errant guitar squeaks, a little studio chatter”).
Tell me again, what's the allure of inconsequential love?
Mike Kinsella already had one of the most reserved and calmest voices in emo, but on “Silhouettes,” 20 years removed from their debut, he seems even quieter—beaten down by the years that passed: “Oh, the muscle memories continue to haunt me”
“Never Meant” recounts a doomed relationship between two friends, both of whom wish to return to the way things were before, but “Silhouettes” instead sees Kinsella followed by his past. There are no remnants of a previous relationship to return to, just the memories of past mistakes.
Modest Mouse - “Broke”
Few artists are able to capture the same level of intimacy as mid-90s Modest Mouse. While their subject matter always seemed larger than life, ranging from mental illness (“Medication”) to the futility of corporate society (“Doin’ the Cockroach”) or the helpless monotony of Midwestern life (all of Long Drive and Lonesome Crowded West), the band was careful not to lose sight of the intimate, human impact that these issues caused. Isaac Brock often wrote songs through stories or stand-ins (like in “Cowboy Dan”) and rarely broke this rule by addressing his own life in his lyrics (“Bankrupt on Selling”).
Broken hearts want broken necks
I’ve done some things that I want to forget but I can’t
“Broke” sees Brock at his most vulnerable, with neither the biting sarcasm nor Midwestern allegory typical of the band. Each line brings a new element to his self-characterization, and none of them are flattering. The further he goes, the deeper he immortalizes his insecurities.
You're living on fancy wine, you'll drink that turpentine
You're starting conversations, you don't even know the topic
When the song finally picks up at the end, the damage has already been done. Just as Brock accuses himself of hypocrisy, the lyrics are vague enough to paint those around him with the same broad strokes.
Buzzcocks - “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)”
“Ever Fallen in Love” has aged exceptionally well since its release in 1978, in part due to the timeless nature of its subject matter. Unattainable love will never go out of style, but what manages to differentiate this song from similarly worded sentiments is its liveliness. “Ever Fallen in Love” maintains the urgency and tempo of a typical punk single, but the dueling guitars mask a surprisingly desperate performance from Pete Shelley; as writer Jason Heller describes, “Shelley sings like a man whose entire existence hangs by a single frayed nerve.”
I can't see much of the future
unless we find out what's to blame, what a shame
And we won't be together much longer
unless we realize that we are the same
While the mid-chorus key change and Shelley’s dazzling high notes do their best to disguise the turmoil,, these distractions offer no advice to ease Shelley’s predicament. His fate remains uncertain but grows unimportant next to the rest of the song’s spectacle.
The Dismemberment Plan - “The City”
Emergency & I is perhaps the ideal soundtrack for college-aged anguish. Made up of equal parts anger and sadness, “The City” stands as its crowning achievement. With the band’s constant tinkering and experimentation, they manage to avoid being tied to one singular style, and their blending of the underlying synth melody with Morrison’s poetic, confessional vocals makes the song’s eventual unraveling all the more engaging.
The parks lay empty like my unmade bed
The streets are silent like my lifeless telephone
and this is where I live, but I’ve never felt less at home
Morrison is rarely this direct with his songwriting, but once he chooses to open up his words come naturally. The aforementioned lines, which could have been dragged down by pointless comparisons succeed because his chosen subjects (his unmade bed and lifeless telephone) are so vivid. Likewise, Morrison’s dreams of escapism are phrased far more gracefully than most other sentiments from the album:
Sometimes I stand on my roof at night
and watch as something seems to happen somewhere else
I feel like the breeze will pick me up and carry me away
When, following the 3-minute mark, the song reaches its climax, the synths are replaced with crashing guitars, each pulse further emphasizing Morrison’s pleas. What follows is his most sincere admission yet: “All I ever say now is goodbye”
While this sentence on its own seems understated, Morrison drags it out so noticeably that it becomes a revelation; he finally realizes the extent to which he is trapped, but is too paralyzed by the consequences to accept it.
The Radio Dept. - “Lost and Found”
The Radio Dept. receive considerably less recognition than they deserve for creating some of the most soothing dream-pop songs ever recorded. “Lost and Found” closes their debut album Lesser Matters and mixes uncertainty with measured optimism.
I'm scared when I'm at home, in my apartment on my own
It's changing colours through the day. Don't bother me when I'm okay
One reviewer describing the sound of Lesser Matters muses on how “it’s strange how, sometimes, numbed depression can turn out to be a celebration.” Some of the Radio Dept.’s music borders on twee despite the disquieting lyrics, but the band achieves this comfort without sacrificing nuanced emotions.
But where you are going I cannot follow
I know you hate this but I hold on
to this life that I embrace
despite amusements that I chase
By the halfway point the vocals are already fading, and we are left with the album’s final words: “I’ll see you someday.” The line reads more like a promise than a mere ambition, and whether or not it will eventually come true, it provides some comfort for the time being.
You can find more of Ethan’s (questionable) music opinions on RateYourMusic, last.fm, or this very website. Upcoming holiday articles include Halloween, Easter, and Toyotathon.