Valentine’s Day has some claim on sentimentality. It launches love into the spotlight, or at least into your peripheral; it pits love and loneliness against each other, these umbrella terms used as placeholders to describe the diversity of feeling that actually overcomes us. These albums claim that sentimentality back. They let your love, heartbreak, or anything in between be yours, be more than just a refined, courtly love. We hope in these albums you find that indistinguishable, overwhelming feeling, the one you thought no one else could feel or put into words and sounds. Stick with us on these albums, in all their glorious contradictions, and hopefully they seep and settle into your 2020 Valentine’s Day.
Sam Cantie — Daily Music Editor
Caroline Polachek, Pang
Caroline Polachek’s voice sounds like a hallucination. Watching the musician perform her debut album live — even in video — feels alien, like the high and acrobatic vocals integrated into each song aren’t really coming out of her mouth at all. Polachek, best known as the lead vocalist of electronic duo Chairlift, has a particular talent for creating music that makes a listener feel like they are walking on air. Her most recent release, Pang, is a record full of these moments, capturing the emotional confusion and ecstasy of new love with every arc of her uniquely flexible voice.
From tongue-in-cheek dance anthem “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” to raw ballad “Insomnia,” Polachek envelops the listener in a world where the simultaneous excitement and fear of losing yourself in love is made clear. Her songs are not typical love songs, but they are some of the truest presentations of real love that one could listen to ― sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s hard, but giving yourself to another person wholly often feels like you’re entering a kaleidoscope of emotion. Polachek doesn’t try to navigate it, but rather embraces the frenzy of that state with every lyric and riff, making Pang a unique yet effective Valentine’s Day soundtrack.
Clara Scott — Daily Arts Writer
Rex Orange County, Apricot Princess
You and your significant other are looking for a song to call “our song.” A song to send to one another when you’re happy or sad. A song for every heartfelt playlist, every long car ride together and to think of when you’re near or far.
Draw from a hat with every track on Apricot Princess and you’ve found your love song.
Rex Orange County captures the magic of a love that’s just beginning to blossom. Many a lover can relate to the life-changing chemistry of a new-found relationship as told on “Nothing”: “When we first spent the night / Nothing else would ever feel that way / In my room it all changed.” The excitement and butterflies of making the first steps together is encapsulated by “Television / So Far So Good”: “What about you and me together? / Something that can really last forever.” All this over smooth, sexy and sometimes somber instrumentation full of soft twinkles and piano keys. Apricot Princess is creative, full of sounds that always feel fresh, making for a goldmine of love songs that stand the test of time.
Maybe the most relatable sentiment is expressed on title track “Apricot Princess,” where Rex speaks on the doubt that so many relationships must withstand from faithless friends and family. “I wanna show them / That this ain’t a fantasy, she’s my best fucking friend,” he sings. I can immediately think of my own “them” that Rex refers to — the people in my life whose thoughts and feelings I value, but who don’t have faith in my relationship’s longevity. Everyone has their own “them.” Every new lover comes with doubt from someone close, whether it’s well hidden or openly expressed. Weathering that doubt brings two lovers closer. Rex reassures us that real love is not just a fantasy.
Dylan Yono — Daily Arts Writer
Devin the Dude, Just Tryin’ ta Live
People tend to think that interpersonal love is the most important kind of love. It’s not. Everyone is obsessed with finding a partner they can live with, grow with and laugh with, but they forget who the most important person actually is. The true most important kind of love is self-love. It takes work, but not much; you already know yourself, you just need to own who you are and take care of yourself accordingly.
If anyone knows that, it’s Devin the Dude. The oddball rapper was signed to Houston’s Rap-A-Lot Records (a pioneer for gangsta and southern rap) in the late ‘90s and 2000s. Despite Rap-A-Lot’s bad boy reputation, Devin was different. He’s insular, reserved and cautious, but he still knows how to have fun. In 2002, he released his magnum opus Just Tryin’ ta Live. It proved that rappers could be themselves and do the things that make them happy without maintaining any sort of image.
Just Tryin’ ta Live is an album about just that: living for yourself and not giving a fuck. It kicks off with “Zeldar,” a goofy weed anthem that finds Devin rapping like an alien who just smoked for the first time. It’s a strange track, for sure, but Devin stays true to his weirdo roots and he owns it. The same goes for “R & B,” short for reefer and beer. It’s a track about drinking and smoking in an attempt to “Sit back and recline and try to relax [his] mind.” Devin knows what he needs, and he’s willing to go to lengths to get it. Album crown gem “Doobie Ashtray” is a testament to what happens when you forget about yourself and focus on others first, rapping on the hook: “What you gonna do when the people go home / And you wanna smoke weed but the reefer's all gone / And somebody had the nerve / To take the herb / Up out the doobie ashtray / Why they do me that way?”
Just Tryin’ ta Live, as a whole, is an album devoted to self-love, and Devin the Dude explains exactly who the most vital relationship is with — yourself. That’s all anyone really needs.
Jim Wilson — Daily Arts Writer
The Walters, Songs for Dads
The Walters 2014 EP Songs for Dads is not an overtly happy EP. In fact, several of the featured tracks focus on heartbreak, not joyful romance. Songs for Dads, however, is not an angst-fueled breakup album. Rather, this EP functions like a make-shift anthology series: Each song spotlights a different kind of love, from platonic to romantic, from painful to hopeful. Songs for Dads is on this list because it eyes the bigger picture. It elbows in some much-deserved room for all the other kinds of love we encounter in our lives.
The Walters EP is full of opposites, too –– each song acts unexpectedly. Lover’s laments are matched with a bouncy-beat and touch of lightness; sadness is turned on its head, and ushered out the door. Perhaps the best example of this is “I Love You So,” a song about struggling to let go of toxic relationships despite still being in love. Yet, the repetitive chant of the chorus “But I love you so” is hypnotizing and encompassing. These words echo loudly, obscuring the rest of the lyrics –– a fitting parallel to the turmoil of the moment. The song is bittersweet, like the rest of the album.
Bittersweet may seem strange for a Valentine’s day album, but isn’t that how love is? Even at its best, no love is perfect, whether it be for lovers, family or friends. Songs for Dads adds a touch of realism, then. Maybe we don’t need another reminder of love’s imperfections. That’s okay –– like I said, The Walters don’t do “sad” very well anyway.
Madeleine Virginia Gannon — Daily Arts Writer
Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
What are all the emotions that one experiences after a breakup? After getting dumped by Kate Radley, Jason Pierce of Spiritualized decided to write Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, an album that answers that very question.
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space begins with Pierce feeling a deeply nostalgic love. It is powerful, but also temporary.
The next emotion is withdrawal. There is a brutal comparison made between infatuation and drug addiction. The statement ‘love is like a drug’ could not be more true for Pierce, who acknowledges he has since switched to heroin.
As a result, Pierce becomes cynical. His cynicism makes him think love is nothing more than a primitive reaction akin to hunger.
After this is obsession. At first it’s a romantic obsession, one that lacks real agency and only provides a wistful memory. Then it becomes dangerous. Like driving a car too fast or as Pierce puts it, “playin’ with fire.”
Later, there’s frustration. Frustration from his lack of productivity, from his inability to stop drinking. All of this because he can’t get her off his mind. This love is like a ringing in the ears that just won’t go away.
Then comes acceptance, but in a rather pitiful fashion. Pierce understands and accepts that she doesn’t love him anymore. He just begs for it to be a gradual process. But at the time he wrote this, he knew what happened was the polar opposite.
He ends the album not able to get over her. The feeling of a burden lifted that was supposed to arrive with time hasn’t come yet. This leads him into a deeper cycle of drug abuse. Love is cruel. Pierce knows this more than most, because he had to record the entire record alongside his band member, keyboardist and prior lover: Kate Radley.
Drew Gadbois — Daily Arts Writer
Soccer Mommy, Clean
Sophie Allison, better known as Soccer Mommy, released her studio album Clean in 2018, following her rise on platforms like Bandcamp (a rise propelled by grungy love songs). Clean’s sound is no different from her older music in terms of its discordant style and soft sighs of vocals, but the variety of heartbreak songs on the album is ingenious. Allison goes from “Your Dog,” a bitter, angry anthem about not wanting to be treated like a “fucking dog,” to “Blossom (Wasting All My Time),” a heart-wrenching, vulnerable track that’s simple yet personal. The record is an all-encompassing breakup album; it’s great for feeling angry and powerful after having your heart broken, but also for burying your face into a pillow and sobbing. Arguably the best breakup song of all time is “Still Clean,” the first track on the album. I cannot reasonably guess the number of times I’ve cried to that song, both when I’ve been actually sad and when I had no reason to be sad at all — just for a good cry. Clean came to me when I was going through my first real breakup and I truly believe it was a match made in heaven. I don’t think any other album will ever carry me through heartbreak the way this one did. And for that, Sophie Allison, I thank you.
Gigi Ciulla — Daily Arts Writer
Taylor Swift, 1989
I’ll admit it, the day I found out Taylor was breaking up with country music, I shed a few tears. And it wasn’t until months later, pacing my room as I hit play on my favorite artist’s first pop album, that I was finally set at ease. I loved it. Of course, 1989 is a breakup album in the more traditional sense as well. Almost every track finds Taylor peering behind her, trying to figure out how a past relationship with a certain boy band member turned sour. The upbeat, ‘80s synth production just barely manages to coat over her heartbreak. But that’s the magic of it. Somewhere in the hours of Taylor footage seared into my brain, I can see her saying, “Just because something is over, doesn’t mean it wasn’t special.” 1989 captures that. Songs like “Out of the Woods” and “Wildest Dreams” aren’t meant to diminish a failed relationship, but remember it for what it was in all of its heart-racing, mind-boggling, ill-fated glory.
Taylor chopped her signature curls, moved to the big city and took the biggest risk of her career — and was rewarded for it. Listening to 1989, you get the feeling that you can start all over again too, then come back better than ever.
Katie Beekman — Daily Arts Writer
Fleetwood Mac, Rumors
Rumours was Fleetwood Mac at their most successful, yet their most unstable. The thematic cohesion of this spiteful album evolved from a uniform distaste among the band members for each other; Rumours is the bitter aftermath of fractures and splits within Fleetwood Mac. At the time, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had officially ended their long term relationship and Christine and John McVie had filed for divorce. The members could barely tolerate one another’s presence — but they pushed forward for the sake of music. Only one song on the album credits every band member for songwriting, “The Chain.” Built in a patchwork fashion that borrowed individual pieces from each members’ writing, the song’s title is a metaphor for the band’s makeup. Each member is a link to this “chain.” It’s constraining, but they refuse to break from the chain, because that would mean dismantling their music. Perhaps this is a heartbreak album for those of us who are most bitter this Valentine’s Day. Rumours is venomous, without remorse or consideration for the other party’s feelings. But damn is it good.
Diana Yassin — Daily Arts Writer
Julia Jacklin, Crushing
Julia Jacklin crushes me, fully and completely. Her sophomore album Crushing paints the perspective of what it means to be “a crusher,” the ironic nature of coming apart at the seams when you were the one who pulled the thread. The wisdom behind her vocals builds up tension and compression, the soundscape being a force that’s both insular and a spectacle and this absolutely destroys me.
Jacklin covers all the phases of the crumble — getting back out on the scene, loneliness, the echoes of what once was, of wanting your moms to still be friends, even when you break up. When you know you’re still bewitched by the qualities, the things, the stuff of this person, but you’re driven by taking yourself back as your own.
“What if I cleaned up? / What if I worked on my skin? / I could scrub until I am red, hot, weak and thin” These lyrics from “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” still cling to me — they opened up this album for me. It turns everything inward. It was you, wasn’t it, holding this whole thing back? You want so badly to love them so, but you know you can’t do that in the way you should, in the way they deserve. Closing track “Comfort” flips this on its head, turning back outwards: “You can’t be the one to hold him / when you were / The one who left.”
So, on this Valentine’s Day, it might be important to wonder: Will you crumble when you muster the conviction to crush them?
Sam Cantie — Daily Music Editor