Photo: Father John Misty
Welcome back to week #10 of 69 Love-songs (we’re nearly halfway!) After the last episode’s 80s/90s guitar-rock-fest, I’ve got some more modern selections for you today. As usual, the week’s “songs about love” have been selected for their seamless segues (you’re most welcome). Shall we, then?
1. Some Things Cosmic – Angel Olsen
Angel Olsen is a rising star on the alternative country scene; her latest album, My Woman, was released to critical acclaim just last month and it’s a really rather beautiful thing. The roots of Olsen’s heart-wrenching (and yet strangely punk-rock) gentility can be traced back to her first album – specifically, this track; one she still plays live today. Some Things Cosmic is about as lo-fi as it gets: crackling production, muffled instruments and naturally, the genre’s near-sanctimonious handling of reverb. Underneath this soft chaos though, lie a gorgeous melody and a bewitching lyric. Alongside the butter-wouldn’t-melt acoustic arpeggios, Olsen’s broad birdsong oscillates arrestingly, delivering its damning message of imminent departure: “know that I am hanging on / to the things that you said”, she sadly intones. Compared with the energy of Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Olsen sounds almost unfinished here; scratchy and half-baked even. But then, isn’t that the charm of it? After all, this isn’t just a relatable poem about the end of love; it actually sounds as though it were intentionally left on a telephone answer machine for you to discover and perversely cherish, sobbing uncontrollably with every repeat listen. Unquestionably, the best performance of this track is the Pitchfork Festival recording from last year; Olsen’s vocal delivery is effortless and the audience are rightly transfixed. You can check it out here.
2. Brutal Love – Green Day
Never was a rock album so shambolically promoted – let alone three. Green Day’s ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré! trilogy was a train-wreck, start to finish: Billie-Joe Armstrong’s now infamous Justin Bieber rant led straight to spell in rehab; ¡Uno!’s release, days later, was met with ambivalence at best; and finally, the desperate-looking release date change for ¡Tré! from January to December ended up totally backfiring, as Green Day finished the race with a disgusting peak of #31 in the UK album chart. There were no singles from the second and third albums; the new material was almost totally side-lined in live shows; the critics hated it. Now, for me, the period produced some interesting stuff. To my ears, Green Day were making superfluous pop-punk again, a welcome break from the by-then contrived rock-opera format. There are some real bangers in there: Nuclear Family, Sweet 16, X-Kid etc. There are also some heartfelt experiments, namely the Amy Winehouse tribute that closes ¡Dos!, a sparse, delicate moment in a three-record barrage of thick guitars. Another of these interludes comes in the form of Brutal Love, track one on ¡Tré! Written in waltz-time and built on fantastic chords, Brutal Love is yet another opine on the agony of romance and it’s certainly no work of lyrical genius – melodically however, it’s a deeply satisfying thing, with stunning production and an excellently structured key change finale. It does make an inconsistent thing of ¡Tré!; and yes, it isn’t as objectively clever as Jesus Of Suburbia. It is however, a really lovely tune and, like the rest of this unfairly lambasted moment in the Green Day canon, deserves a fairer chance.
3. Holy Shit – Father John Misty
After years spent singing incredibly dark, incredibly sincere and incredibly unsuccessful folk-songs, Joshua Tillman reinvented himself. The result, postmodern evangelist Father John Misty, is one of the most exciting musical personas of today. With razor-sharp wit and a tempestuously vicious social media presence, Misty has won the affection of today’s disaffected transatlantic youth as Morrissey once did that of bedroom skulkers in mid-eighties Britain. I Love You, Honeybear, his second record, is rife with near-invasive declarations of love; it’s fuelled by exquisite lust, gorgeous cynicism and wildly erotic idiosyncrasy – it was, in other words, my record of 2015. This, its penultimate track, bowled me away the second I heard it. Mired in complex chord suspensions and orchestrally backlit, it is, in essence, a fantastic list: all of the things that define modern living in the age-old epoch of desperately necessary love. It was, allegedly, written on Tillman’s wedding day, which would explain its relative magnificence on the album. On that note, it’s also brilliantly sequenced: the ensuing I Went To The Store One Day recalls the moment Misty met his wife in a supermarket, snapping straight back to the humble beginning of the narrative from its romantically hyperbolic end. Of all the frightening and excellent details however, it’s the final two stanzas that Tillman uses to break my heart – and he does it every single time. The lyric, likening love to “an institution based on human frailty” and, latterly, “an economy based on resource scarcity” is, for me personally, sublime. What an incredible suggestion; perhaps even more strikingly, what an injection of insecurity in a moment of apparent bliss. I’ve decided after long consideration, that it’s my all-time favourite lyric. For those of you that know me, I don’t say such things lightly.