When many of us hear the words “love songs” or “romantic music,” we envision some syrupy, sugar-coated ballads that make our lips pucker like we’ve been sucking on a lemon. For these intents and purposes, we leave behind the greeting card industry’s version of “love” to discover the more nuanced, complex musings on the multidimensional subject from some lesser known musical gurus (along with a few well-known ones thrown in for good measure). This is not your typical love fest of sexy songs to help get you in the mood. This mix is here to offer a comforting, easy-going journey through the myriad highs and occasional lows of the ever-expanding universe that is L-O-V-E.
Just to keep you on your toes, we begin with a one-two punch exploring the darker side of relationships (i.e. the end of them) in the form of “Miss You (Nouvelle Vague Remix)” by Carla Bruni and “Am I just A Man” by Steve Mason. Nouvelle Vague is a French conglomerate that has compiled a rather large body of lounge-y, tropical covers of rock songs that you know and love. Mick Jagger’s wandering through Central Park never sounded so pleasant as it does purring forth from the lips of Bruni. And Steve Mason, best known as the defacto leader of the dearly departed Beta Band, follows that up with his beautifully produced reflections on what it feels like post-breakup, debating if he’s a man in love or an out-of-touch boy. I’m always rooting for Mason, as he’s had a tough go of it in terms of finding traction in the U.S. for his weapons-grade, life-enhancing music over these many years.
If you haven’t heard of South Africa’s Desmond and The Tutus, fear not — their song, “Teenagers,” is the ideal introductory track, which perfectly captures the spirit of the band via lead singer Shane Durrant’s detailed insights into crushing on someone like a teenager. Fave line: “Wrote you a note, sealed it with a complicated fold. Made you a tape — OK, a CD, we’re not that old.”
Zero 7 might be a name that jumps to you thanks to their most excellent down-tempo output from the early- to mid-2000s (specifically their debut album, Simple Things, and its many chillaxing hits). On this 2013 track, they shape-shift with the help of Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Tom Leonard into a Sade-esque, funky rock groove. Leonard offers a cautionary tale in which it’s alright to engage in longing and maybe even some yearning, but, under no circumstances, should you fall in/call it love.
Sustaining the energy from the super-fresh “Gold” by Chet Faker, Børns (aka Garrett Borns) of Grand Haven, Michigan, delivers the goods on the forward thinking “10,000 Emerald Pools.” His churning studio wizardry gets you floating all over the plac as you feel the pull of diving down to the bottom of 10,000 emerald pools with the object of Børns’ desire becoming both the treasure and all he needs to breathe.
On the heels of (and in a similar vein to) Børns and Faker comes the big, enveloping sound of Scotland’s Pictish Trail (aka Johnny Lynch). “Far Gone (Don’t Leave)” is a deep breath of spaced-out, fresh air. Pictish is the extinct language of the Picts, the people of Eastern and Northern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. With a vibe that bellows from such a lofty heritage, this track is spellbinding.
The soft, contemplative “Getting It On” by SALES does a stellar job of conveying the awkwardness of hooking up with an ex. Floating atop some endearing angular guitar, lead singer Lauren Morgan provides the unexpected news that this is “so wrong” despite the song sounding rather inviting and soothing, making the paradox all the more captivating.
Following some of the more popular artists on the mix, The Funky Lowlives, hailing from London, bring some very cool, sun-drenched tropicalia by way of “Breathless.” Having gotten their start on Kruder & Dorfmeister‘s G-Stone record label in 2001, it’s a wonder that this duo, with their top-notch stable of guest singers, haven’t become more popular.
And finally, as we ease more and more off the gas pedal, we end with a unique, contemplative cover. Trust me, I hear ya — “Wonderwall” by Oasis is so ingrained in the world’s collective psyche that it seems near impossible to consider it in any other way. Thank you, Ryan Adams, for giving it a sparse reworking that wraps us up in some mystical mist.
May this playlist enhance whatever side of the romantic equation you find yourself (in, out, unsure) as we gather steam toward the mid-February love lamboree that is V-Day. XOXO!
Featured image courtesy of FPG/Getty Images.