Whether you love or hate Valentine’s Day may depend on your current relationship status; or perhaps on how much you enjoy shopping for (cards/candy/flowers/jewelry), securing (dinner/hotel) reservations and/or (concert/theater/movie/opera) tickets and complying with whatever other demands upon your (time/energy/wallet) that your significant other may make.
Love can be (complicated/difficult/messy/maddening), so it makes sense that a holiday celebrating it would follow suit. It seems that 90% of music deals with love or heartbreak, so when it comes to selecting a soundtrack for your (bliss/misery/indifference) there is plenty to choose from. My favorites all come from artists who excel at cramming every possible shade of (love/hate/confusion) into their songs. So whether you’re (alone and happy/alone and miserable/together and happy/together and miserable) this Valentine’s Day, here’s a dedication for you:
The Decemberists have dedicated an entire album to the hazards of love called, er, The Hazards of Love (2009), but their other albums all devote tracks to love and its pitfalls, as well. My favorite is The Crane Wife (2006), which includes two songs based on a traditional Japanese folktale about a man whose loving (if unconventional) marriage is destroyed by greed. “The Crane Wife 3” opens the album with the story’s conclusion, while “The Crane Wife 1 & 2” comes later to fill in the beginning and middle.
“Aww, you’re cute, Chicago,” Sharon Van Etten told the crowd who’d come to see her at Lincoln Hall right around Valentine’s Day in 2012. Why? Because the audience was full of couples who had come to hear her songs full of heartache stemming perhaps from her own bad relationships. Despite her skepticism, her voice is full of infectious warmth. Listen to “Serpents” from her 2012 album Tramp if you’re feeling particularly bitter, or “One Day” from Epic (2010) if you’re in more of a wistful mood.
Band of Horses may have produced the most affectionately ambiguous breakup song ever in 2008. “No One’s Gonna Love You,” the second track on their album Cease to Begin, makes it clear that the relationship is over with lines like “You are the ever-living ghost of what once was,” then proclaims “No one’s gonna love you more than I do.” Much of their music deals with relationships in various states of (dis)functionality. See Also: pre-breakup song “Factory” and post-breakup song “Evening Kitchen” from 2010’s Infinite Arms.
Neko Case claims literal interpretations of her songs, so “This Tornado Loves You” really could be about a tornado searching obsessively for the one it loves. It’s also easy to imagine a forceful lover who won’t take no for an answer, leaving destruction in their wake. The song opens her album Middle Cyclone (2009). Her killer voice brings songs of love and loss to life on albums Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006) and her latest, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (2013).
The music of Bon Iver might have remained a hipster oddity if he and his 2011 self-titled album hadn’t won Grammys in 2012. The final song on that album, “Beth/Rest“, is a hauntingly beautiful ode that sounds like it shouldn’t work — it features a saxophone and keyboards! — and yet it does. Interestingly, he wrote the album before forming a relationship with fellow musician Kathleen Edwards, and says of it, “… the songs kind of came as this predecessor, as an invitation, to tell myself that I was open to it and knowing that there wasn’t going to be somebody coming along who’s going to change me and want to change who I was.” (from an NPR interview)
I’m going to leave you with that one. May it fill you with (peace/hope/love/nausea).