We all know that "indie" is a ridiculous name for a music genre. And we all know that Valentine's Day is a ridiculous holiday. Somehow, though, when you put the two together, what you get are some amazing love songs. Here are 10 of my favorites.
(Author's note: don't argue whether or not these songs qualify as "indie." That's a long, boring road.)
Iron and Wine - The Trapeze Swinger
This has become one of Sam Beam's (Iron and Wine's) most popular songs, although it doesn't belong to any of his full-lengths. The original recording has a very different arrangement - it grooves a bit with some percussive guitar playing, backing vocals and a gradually building rhythm section. However, I prefer this stripped-down version and here's why: It keeps my attention on the lyrics.
Beam sings to an old love; his verses skip across lifetimes, between memories and dreams, held together by a simple request, "Please, remember me." With great restraint, the song balances fragmented details (like the title itself) with glimpses of self-confession ("my misery, and how it lost me all I wanted"), leaving us to create meaning between them. When I listen to this song and create my own little meaning, I become overwhelmed by a sense that I'm connected to something far greater than myself.
Isn't that the big, powerful and probably cliché emotion we all strive for?
Elliot Smith - Say Yes
Elliot Smith doesn't specialize in love songs but he's too awesome not to go on this list.
"Say Yes" is the last track on his album, Either/Or (Kill Rock Stars, 1997). This upbeat record comes at a perfect moment - we've just listened to some hauntingly beautiful songs and now we're super depressed (but in a good way). Right when we're ready to sit in the closet for a few hours we hear a glimmer of hope: "I'm in love with the world through the eyes of a girl who's still around the morning after."
Read that again... Right?! It doesn't matter what the rest of the song's about. The clouds have parted for you, me and every sad 15-year old boy in the world.
Flaming Lips - Do You Realize??
"Do You Realize??" is one of the best songs from one of the best bands of the last twenty some years. It's also the song that taught me how sunsets really work ("the sun don'-go down/It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round").
And lead singer, Wayne Coyne, has a giant plastic bubble that he gets into to traverse over his audience at shows. There's nothing I'd rather do in my lifetime.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros- Home
This is by far one of the most popular love songs of the past few years. And, better yet, it's the only duet on this list! From the first moment, it's clear that lead singers, Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos are madly in love (not anymore but, whatever, the magic was captured). It makes me feel warm and fuzzy like being electrocuted at an incredibly low voltage.
Bright Eyes - A Perfect Sonnet
If you want more of a traditional love song, check out "First Day of My Life." But, if you can handle it, this one's a masterpiece.
I first heard "A Perfect Sonnet" when I was 12-years-old. Ever since I've wondered - if I tried to sing and cry at the same time, could I ever sound as gut-wrenchingly genuine as 19-year-old Conor Oberst does here? I was jealous of the passion in his voice. All my life, I've wished I could feel things more strongly. Little did I know (because I wasn't listening to his lyrics!) that that same frustration fueled Oberst's desire in the first place. From the opening of the song, Oberst is singing about how badly he wishes he had something to sing about!
Sharon Van Etten - For You
Sharon Van Etten used to give everyone hand crafted, home recorded CD's with personal notes in them. I got one a while back and lost it. Thank god I put the songs on my computer because since she got signed, the old recordings have been hard to come by. However, this one you can still hear online.
When you listen to "For You," the first thing you'll notice is her voice. It's perfect. Then you'll notice her songwriting. It's great. And that's it. That's all there is on this super bare recording but its more than enough to put her on my list.
Starfucker - Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second
Starfucker's a cool Portland band that sounds nothing like its pastoral, folkie neighbors. To me, they're like a handsome, bearded man in a banana-yellow tracksuit - strong songs layered with synths and drum machines. I like how this song contrasts lyrically with some of the other sprawling narratives on this list. The whole time, Joshua Hodges repeats a variation of, "All my life/there you go/oh please stay/just this once/anyway." It's simple and I've felt it before so, therefore, it works.
The Knife - Heartbeats
I'm not a big dancer and for that reason I have never gotten too into electronic music. When I hear a dance beat I intimidate myself by thinking, 'you should be dancing to this.'
However, "Heartbeats" grooves too hard for even me to resist. And anyone on a dance floor in the latter half of 2006 knows what I'm talking about. While this song tired out some years ago, I think enough time's passed to throw it on for the post-dinner, make-out walk to the bedroom.
The Smiths - There is a Light That Never Goes Out
The Smiths are the most "indie" band of all time and this is arguably their greatest love song so... who cares if I'm not the biggest fan?
The Smiths came out of the British independent music scene, releasing records on Rough Trade from 1983-1988. "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" is on their third album, The Queen Is Dead, which came out in '86. Growing up hearing The Smiths referred to as one of the best bands from the '80s, I was surprised to learn that they had very marginal commercial success during that time. Now, I'm not so surprised considering some of the music that was reeling it in back then...
Anyway, "If a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die." Morrissey can really hammer home a point... kind of like the time two years ago at Coachella when he walked off stage because he couldn't stand the smell of "burning flesh."
Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Pulaski Day
Sufjan is very good at playing with size. Each song is like a mountain range he's placing in the palm of your hand. You can hold it, understand it and love it without ever knowing all that it is.
"Casimir Pulaski Day" is a love song. Sufjan sings about an old friend, who passed away too soon. When I listen to this song their youth breaks my heart. Not only was she too young to go, he was too young to lose her. This loss pulls at the boy's faith leading to a final acceptance - "And he takes and he takes and he takes..."
Like "The Trapeze Swinger," or any great piece of poetry, "Casimir Pulaski Day" tells us nothing. Instead, it reveals moments and connections that resonate like wind chimes in our hearts.
Happy V day.
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