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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Top 10 Indie Love Songs

It's Valentine's Day and, depending on your relationship status, either your favorite or least favorite day of the year. Today we'll be looking at ten of my favorite love-struck songs from the realm of indie music. In the past, we've counted down the top ten songs with the word "love" in the title, but for originality's sake, no repeats from that list will show up here. Instead, today's post takes a less literal approach and focuses on songs about infatuation with a significant other. This means no break-up songs; that's a list for another day. The rankings were determined by a combination of each track's lyrical content and message, and the actual quality of the music. Lastly, as always, these lists are based on my personal tastes, and are in no way supposed to be taken as gospel.

10. Tegan and Sara - "Closer"

For our first entry, we jump to the poppier end of the indie spectrum, with Tegan and Sara's monster 2012 single "Closer." The twin-sister duo released the song ahead of their 2013 album Heartthrob, announcing their departure from their cutesy indie-folk style with billowing synthesizers and a colossal hook. "Closer" describes the complete relationship - one that's "not just all physical," where the speaker recognizes how special her partner is. The chorus will grab you right away and won't let go for a long time afterwards, just like the characters in this excellent depiction of young, uncomplicated love.

9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Wedding Song"

The closing track on 2013's largely disappointing Mosquito, "Wedding Song" is one of few classics from Yeah Yeah Yeahs' most recent record. A slow-paced ballad dedicated to Karen O's husband, it shows the YYYs singer at her most emotionally raw since "Maps." Orzolek's undying love for husband Barney Clay is made readily apparent as she sings "with angels around me/I lay at your feet/you're the breath that I breathe."  A steady bass line punctuates throughout, as a dreamy mix of pianos and guitars give the impression of an unblemished, absolute kind of love.

8. Best Coast - "When I'm With You"

Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino is not know for her complicated songwriting, but the band's 2010 full-length debut Crazy For You is chock full of surf-rock gems, "When I'm With You" not being the least of them. The lyrics are simple as can be, and speak for themselves: "when I'm with you, I have fun," Cosentino exclaims blissfully. The instrumentation is equally sunny and and straightforward, from the cheery drum beat to the beachy guitar solo. There's something beautiful about directness of the song, and the relationship being described in it.

7. Radiohead - "All I Need"

When I revealed my favorite songs my by favorite artist, "All I Need" landed at number four. Recently, its rank may have risen even further in my book of Radiohead's finest, as it only gets better and better with each listen. An unsettled bass-synth and spacey production encapsulate singer Thom Yorke's disquiet, as the lyrics disclose that his feelings for the song's subject are unrequited. "I am a moth/who just wants to share your light," Yorke longs, indicating that he may not have his wish granted. In the track's the final minute, the drums explode in a passionate array of cymbals as Yorke cries, "it's all wrong/it's all right." Though not a two-way street like many others featured here, the affections "All I Need" represents still make for a chilling and engaging piece of music.

6. Slowdive - "Alison"

Released at the tail end of shoegaze's peak era, Slowdive's "Alison" is a prime example of how picturesque soundscapes can emerge from the often noisy and distorted genre. Singer/guitarist Neil Halstead declares his love for the track's eponymous love interest despite all of her shortcomings, humming, "your messed up world still thrills me." The guitars swirl around in your head thanks to some tricky production, further emphasizing the euphoria felt by Halstead. The song fades out in a heavenly wash of guitars, as shoegaze songs are prone to do, and you can't help but smile at the bond shared between the two lovers.

5. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - "Home"

Now, for a song guaranteed to make you go, "awwwww," we turn to country bumpkins Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Despite the band's Los Angeles roots, "Home" has a definitive sweeter-than-apple-pie southern aesthetic to it. A plucky guitar riff and frolicking drum beat propel the song forward, but it's the lyrics that will really get you blushing. The chorus is tender enough as is, as at-the-time partners Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos sing together, "home is wherever I'm with you." But the most romantic and rosiest moments of the tune come during the spoken-word bridge, a conversation between the two where Alex explains to Jade exactly when he fell in the love with her. The entire transcript is a bit lengthy to post here, so I'll just leave this excerpt, said by Alex: "while you were sitting in the backseat smoking a cigarette you thought, was going to be your last, I was falling deep, deeply in love with you." Unfortunately, the pair seemingly broke up last spring, and Jade was subsequently voted out of the group. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that this is a song about pure and honest love, and a hell of a one at that.

4. Fucked Up - "Queen of Hearts"

A punk band with a name too profane to say on network television is not the expected source of a heartfelt long song, but Fucked Up do just that on the pile-driving "Queen of Hearts." It's a love-at-first-sight tale about David and Veronica, two major characters from the band's 2011 masterpiece rock opera David Comes to Life. On his way to his thankless factory job, the titular David (whose thoughts are sung by Damian Abraham throughout the record), meets Veronica, played by Cults singer Madeline Follin. The two instantly fall in love; Abraham growls, "let's be together/let's fall in love," while Follin ups the ante by proposing, "let's be together/until the world swallows us." The song is unrelenting in its sheer power, from the opening guitar riff to the chaotic breakdown at the songs conclusion. Though David and Veronica's romance is doomed from the start thanks to the album's overarching story, "Queen of Hearts" manages to capture their brief yet heart-warming relationship dynamically.

3. The Smiths - "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"

Though more often than not Morrissey's writing about loneliness and despair, "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" is a decidedly more optimistic view on romance from The Smiths. On the track, Morrissey fuses together his dry sense of humor with his poignancy, crooning during the chorus, "and if a double-decker bus/crashes into us/to die by your side/is such a heavenly way to die." Lush instrumentation accompanies the tune as per usual for a Smiths song, with Johnny Marr's guitars meshing seamlessly with Andy Rourke's bass lines. The penultimate track on what NME designated as the greatest album of all time, "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" remains one of my favorite Smiths songs and love songs as well.

2. Alvvays - "Archie, Marry Me"

The runner-up of today's countdown is one of last year's best singles, Alvvays debut song "Archie, Marry Me." Sunny, simplistic, and stunningly beautiful, calling the song "When I'm With You" on steroids would be reductive. The Toronto-based quintet have put together a bouncy, transparent depiction of young love, with guitar lines and vocals that'll melt your heart. Singer Molly Rankin pleads with Archie to marry her, but, aware of his "contempt for matrimony," proposes the two "forget the invitations, floral arrangements and bread makers" and celebrate their love by signing marriage forms. The song is highly representative of today's up-and-coming generation, many of whom are choosing to forego all the hustle and bustle of an extravagant wedding ceremony and simply enjoy each other's company. After listening to the song, you'll wish you were in this kind of relationship or, if you're lucky, be glad that you are in one like this.

1. Neutral Milk Hotel - "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"

Neutral Milk Hotel's 1998 magnum opus In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is, undeniably, a strange album: between Jeff Mangum's wailing and shrieking, the Holocaust-centered theme, and the persistent occurrence of distortion and clipping, it's not your average folk rock record. Most of the album's tracks contain bizarre and often jarring lyrics: take "Communist Daughter" line "semen stains the mountain tops" as an example. Of course, all of the album's eccentricities are what make it so fantastically brilliant. Which is why the LP's crown jewel comes in its most straightforward track, the one for which it is named. "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" does away with Mangum's penchant for metaphors and historical references, instead opting for an explicit expression of love. "What a beautiful face/I have found in this place/that is circling all 'round the sun" may be my favorite opening lyric ever, and Mangum's message only gets sweeter in the second verse. He cries, "and one day we will die/and our ashes will fly/from the aeroplane over the sea/but for now we are young/let us lay in the sun/and count every beautiful thing we can see." Both haunting and innocent, the songs lyrics describe a universal kind of love that one hopes will continue after death. The song is striking because it could be about any kind of relationship, whether it be high school sweethearts or elderly retirees falling in love. Of course, it wouldn't be an NMH song without at least a hint of weirdness (see: the bridge), but by and large "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" is a modest profession of love and, in my mind, probably the greatest such message ever put into music.

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