Contrary to popular belief, the best love songs aren’t limited to the croonings of Sinatra, Martin, or Adele. Houston, Dion, and T-Swift do not have a monopoly on the music of love. Some of the most emotional, heartfelt musicianship in indie music can be heard in their own attempts at the love song.
One of our inaugural Spotifriday playlists, Indie Love Songs for Your Hipster Valentine, is quite popular and quite good, so we’ve worked to expand it with a sequel. This time the song choices tend a bit darker, but maintain the tender nature of the first set—in fact, sometime the most tender (Pale Blue Eyes, Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime) are also the most bleak. In a way this playlist is the Godfather Part II of playlists: just as good or better than the original, and a bit darker.
Embedded here is the combined Spotify playlist. The additional tracks begin at 15 with “Kettering.” Nevertheless it is advised that you wade through the Youtube links of both pages, as a total of 4 songs are excluded because they are not yet in the Spotify library.
1. “Kettering”—The Antlers
I wish that I had known in that first minute we met the unpayable debt that I owed you.
The Antler’s magnificent concept album Hospice goes through many emotions while it deals with a relationship stricken with bipolar disorder, which it analogizes to bone cancer. Kettering begins the album-arching analogy when one hospital worker falls in love with a terminal patient. It’s an angry and sad song hardly befitting the title of love song, yet it is one just the same. It is love co-existing with hate and it is how this playlist begins.
2. “Gold Day”—Sparklehorse
May all your days be gold my child.
Along with Elliott Smith, Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous may understand the connection between music and the heart better than anyone. Neither is with us today, but “Gold Day” lives on as a testament to simple, beautiful love. Off his celebratory yet often solemn album “It’s a Wonderful Life,” this song is an expression of selfless affection. Watch the Wes Anderson-like scene unfold below.
You bought some sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet sunflowers and gave them to the night.
There’s something inherently lovely about Low’s slowcore aesthetic. “Sunflower” seems to tell the story of a premature death, and you can hear the heartbreak in the singer’s voice. The longing sadness as Alan Sparhawk hangs on “sweet” shows that the sunflowers have come to stand for his emotions for his gone beloved.
4. “Such Great Heights”—The Postal Service
I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.
On my last list I cited this electronic tune as less authentic than Iron & Wine’s acoustic version. I received significant blowback from this and have since come around to appreciating the original. Particularly, I love its music video—everything about it is tumblr chic.
5. “Lion’s Mane”—Iron & Wine
Love is a scene I render when you catch me wide awake. Love’s a dream you enter though I shake and shake and shake you. Love is the beat endeavor waiting in the lion’s mane.
Samuel Beam, the artist known as Iron & Wine, is simply superb.
6. “Maps”—Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Wait, they don’t love you like I love you.
I strongly considered adding this indie classic to the original set, but for thematic and time reasons it was left off. Not here, though, as its combination of joy and angst fits well among these bittersweets takes on love. “Maps” is truly heartfelt, too, as it’s concerns the relationship between singer Karen O and Liars frontman Angus Andrew. “Maps” stands for “My Angus please stay.” In the video below, he appears in the small audience, which caused Karen O to cry real tears during filming. My only complaint on this otherwise wonderful song is that the introductory guitar riff does not hang long enough; tension is broken much too soon. The silence at the end of the video, though, is beautiful. The finale lends itself to sitting back in silence and mouthing “wow,” certainly not unlike love. And if that doesn’t do it for you, Karen O’s face from 2:43-2:59 should.
7. “Heartbeats”—Jose Gonzalez
Ten days of perfect tunes—the colors, red and blue. We had a promise made. We were in love.
While most Spotifriday playlists on the Airspace pride themselves on their independent thought and unique creation, I will admit that for this set I looked at others’ lists. Almost all of them had “Maps” and “Heartbeats,” but their “Heartbeats” was from The Knife, the Swedish electropop duo. Now I don’t want to fall into the same pitfall as I did with “Such Great Heights,” but I feel an primal tug of the heartstrings with Gonzalez’s version over The Knife’s. The original, on The Knife’s Deep Cuts (a superb album), is an entirely different song from the cover, which changes the thematic feel and strengthens the emotions imbued within the track. I’ve posted a live version to emphasize the raw yet soft nature of Gonzalez’s guitar work.
8. “You’re Only King Once (Demo)”—Beulah
Smile, please smile. I just want you happy.
In the making of Yoko, the one-time Elephant Sixers Beulah had fallen on tough times, songwriter’s block. So they began writing songs themselves and sending demoes to their band mates. The finished version’s distortion and a layered, wall-of-sound feel, detracts from the emotive simplicity of the demo.
9. “Pale Blue Eyes”—The Velvet Underground
Linger on, your pale blue eyes.
This is my favorite song and I have nothing more to say about it.
10. “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime”—Beck
I need your lovin’ like the sunshine.
A Korgis cover, part of this song’s power for me comes from its connection to the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for which it was recorded. In the film, the main character falls in love again while having his bad memories of a past relationship erased. He has to fight against himself and his hurt to keep a beautiful relationship alive, if only in his mind. Regardless, Beck’s strained, on-the-verge-of-cracking vocals on “need” make the song as painfully special and heartfelt as it is. With “Pale Blue Eyes” it captures the heartbreak that accompanies love, and the ensuing tenderness. The outro is absolutely haunting.
11. “Love Comes to Me”—Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
Love comes to me. Love comes and all. It’s my hands, my heart, my lips, and that is all.
And so the entire playlist ends on a more positive note. The last segment finished with the exhorting “Do You Realize??,” a song with an urgent and soft plea to take part in life, this one ends similarly. Here Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy recounts the all-encompassing nature of the love that passes through all of us in life. If only in song, one must embrace that love, and share it.
It’s an experience we’ve all had when talking of music: if the person you’re talking with doesn’t like the music, there’s no getting passed it, for music is both a listening and emotional experience, an emotional experience based on inescapably special relationships that form between the listener and the sounds. This set of songs was evoked by love, an emotional experience truly exceeding words. And it also captures love in the emotionally tinged packets. That in itself is wonderful.