Forget complaints about Valentine’s Day commercialism. Let’s think instead on the limitations of the kind of love that gets advertised to us. Love comes in all shapes and sizes far beyond romantic, and this playlist reflects all those feelings and shades of love. Wherever you are at in your love life and whoever you love in whatever ways, whether the burning embers of passion or the charcoal heart of getting burned from love; from your lover to your mother, it’s all here:
Listen to BolderBeat’s “(Un)Traditional Love Songs” Playlist:
1. “Death Hex” – The Velveteers – Death Hex (2016)
No one said love came without barbs. Hook, line, and sinker, The Velveteers rock straight for the jugular. John Demitro’s drums thunder with the urgency of foreboding storms while Demi Demitro’s tight, heavy guitar licks smack you awake. Staggered vocal notes build tension up to lift off as Demi lets melodic hollers unapologetically rip. If their rock doesn’t shatter the teacups on your shelf, you haven’t turned that heavy grit up loud enough.
And this one’s lyrical content doesn’t dote expressly on love. Demi speaks to this in an interview covered by BolderBeat’s Hannah Oreskovich, “‘Death Hex’ is about awakening from the dead and saying goodbye to the past. It was really inspired by a sense of magic I felt happening. It’s a story of coming back from a bad situation and coming out on the other side better than you ever imagined.” It might not be about love, but it’s an ages old story, that of the lover who rises from the ashes. Take your heartbreak, wipe the floor clean with it, and rise from the ashes bigger, better, stronger, faster, badder-asser.
2. “Didn’t See You There” – Red Fox Run – Red Fox Run (2015)
Ever turned around or glanced sidelong at your buddy and all of a sudden SPLAT, you think, “I did NOT realize my friend was this cute let alone that that I was in love with them this whole time?” This number cascades and careens as your own feelings might at such a realization. Red Fox Run fearlessly showcase vocalist and rhythm guitarist Daniel Rondeau shouting out a proclamation from the truths that sit in the center pit of a heart. He’s proclaiming hopeful, but it’s clearly uncertain since “I couldn’t love you more than I do right now” isn’t the end of the sentence. Red Fox Run keep it playful, but in the end, they’ve said all they need to say.
It’s the year anniversary of Red Fox Run being no longer, an anniversary that may bring with it many a fan’s broken heart. But the good news is that three out of four original RFR members continue on in their new Denver-based project Wildermiss.
3. “I Like You” – Ned Garthe Explosion – Flashlight Tan (2016)
Crash forward, skid in sideways, stop abruptly- you’ll travel at all different speeds in Ned Garthe Explosion’s capable hands. Splaying themselves across diverse elements is something familiar to Ned Garthe Explosion and their fans. As Andy Thomas of Westword notes, 2016’s Flashlight Tan finds frontman Ned Garthe and his co-conspirators messing around with genre and intent “writing deliberately toward a certain genre, in an earnest near-parody that’s so good you can’t tell it’s a parody. It’s a depth of vision that can only be achieved late at night, when the cops are nowhere to be found.” But isn’t that love sometimes? Crashing forward, landing backwards… and even sometimes ending in a weird parody you sort of knew existed.
4. “Call Through the Wire” – Inner Oceans – Call Through the Wire (2016)
“If I leave you in the night...” The suggestion alone leaves you indignant, does it not? The sentiment wells up from something clearly much deeper as Inner Oceans’ frontman Griffith Snyder sings lushly of the story unfolding. “I see you all the time and it hurts to think you were right,” he sings. The sound is atmospherically absorbing while the message delivers clear adoration with a twinge of regret and a still-in-love/lust-with-you. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two, in life or in music, and I can’t come down on which it might be here but I’m ok with it.
5. “Shooting Star” – Rossonian – You Are Your Own Dentist (2013)
Rossonian use space and astral phenomena as metaphor, delivering dreamy and delicate wonder. This one is absolutely a love song, but also earns love for the success of their symbolic narrative. It propels, then floats, taking pause to deliver changes in emphatic subtleties. Rossonian is master of small sound shifts across a slow build, lending the song a complexity that doesn’t announce itself like a smack to the face, but rather comes at and through you like the feeling of slowly waking up. This one’s a gentle journey from one end of conscious awareness to another, starting gently and sleepily as it comes to burn bright-eyed awake.
6. “Day I Was Born” – 5ive, Jessica Jones – Radioland (2016)
There’s romantic love, and then there’s the love for your mother. Both can overpower. If I had any doubts as to which it was here at first (the word “mama” is sufficiently vague enough terminology to always throw me off without further clear direction), Jessica Jones’ vocal turn sways results to the latter. “Mama you believed in me, even when my skies were gray, you gave me the entire world… people asked me how’d I got so strong. I tell ‘em that my mama showed me the way. You always raised me up right, with all the love you gave.” Where 5ive (Quinn Lynch) and Jessica Jones put the soul in your playlist, your mother put you and your soul into this world. So if you tell anyone you love them on Valentine’s Day, make it your mother and be sure to thank her.
7. “If I Grew a Violet (You’d Ask for a Rose)” – Andy Sydow – A Little Messed Up (2016)
Ever read the children’s book If You Give A Mouse A Cookie? This is an adult version of that tale in more ways than one. If you give a mouse a cookie, they’ll want a glass of milk. They will want something else and more after the glass of milk, so on and so forth until eternity. Sydow dishes up love pangs boiled over lost hopes in the spirit of said book. Emotionally honest, raw words of disappointed love come in, combined with loving, earnest, even sweet melody. The message delivered could interpret as one lover's greed or the other’s embittered pessimistic complacency. You can’t tell who is at fault but you can tell who fell short of the two: the “I” of the singer. It sounds at once an apology, and at once a screw you.
But this tune is also for the times everything you give or have isn’t enough. It’s a song of love exhausted and felled short. Although heartbreak does lead to some great songwriting, as Andy Sydow reminds. Thank you for breaking your open heart for us, Andy.
8. “Tilt-A-Whirl” – The Railsplitters – The Faster It Goes (2015)
If Colorado’s associated with bluegrass, The Railsplitters play a huge support role in buttressing the strong reputation and taking it on tour across the nation. Clear-ringing harmonies usher in a fast-paced minimalism foregrounding wise essentials and together, they come carrying melodies at different speeds, much as a Tilt-a-Whirl carousel making circles. Research lends insight here, for when Dusty Rider songwrites he, “writes with the full band in mind, imagining an entire song in his head before it’s even heard it out loud.” This one is a reflective reminiscence on the memories of someone who came before, but is gone now. And with mind racing, you start to question yourself and all that was.
Lauren Stoval’s lead vocals are clear as sunlight on snow, while Dusty Rider and Peter Sharpe’s alternations between plucking each note and full-bodied strumming chords lend interest and supplement with distinctive, rhythmic filler. Leslie Ziegler’s bass comes in barely, but richly, serving the more invisible role, like that of editor to writer. And of course, there’s Joe D’Esposito’s fiddle coming in on the top to send the song off into its final soars of that gloriously spinning Tilt-a-Whirl.
9. “Someone Like Me” – SF1 – Inamorata (2012)
From hand drums to lyrical repetitions, SF1 keeps their sound light, and their message relatively straightforward. There’s a serious sense in which this song seems at once upbeat, and then anything but. It’s a song that wouldn’t have to come without heartbreak, but it takes its pride on walking away in fulfilled request from another. “You’ll never find someone like me” could come out all wrong in a breakup, but the cheerful sonic delivery here gives this song a quality of what you sing in your head knowingly to comfort and uplift your own self on the walk home, giving props to your emotional regulation in honoring a request, and moving on.
10. “Bloodstream” – Iolite – Bloodstream (2016)
Bloodstream’s sophisticated stormy pop comes through even better on headphones, as Iolite’s (Elina Odnorlav) full-bodied indie-electronica pounces at you with confident authority. She fuses an ear, talent, and a decade of piano work with electronic assets wisely, and all at the ripe old age of seventeen. Laying down this kind of sophisticated, well-calibrated arrangement with undergirding convinces you she’s worth your ear time. The sheer carnal sensuality of this tune pulses at you with a cosmopolitan sensibility, one that makes the heart beat fast. Iolite is fierce, and if you need more proof, read BolderBeat’s interview with Odnorlav by Sierra Voss.
11. "Wait to Rust” – Kayla Marque, Kid Astronaut, Sur Ellz – Live and Die Like This (2016)
Triple Denver whammy! This Kayla Marque, Kid Astronaut (Jon Shockness), and Sur Ellz (Khalil Arcady) collaboration 110% comes out the most natural thing in the world. Lyrically and vocally caressing you with emotion, this trio allures in their fervent R&B/soul blend as soft finger snaps and harmonies soften your ear and melt into your heart chambers.
Marque caresses your emotions with intimacy in both lyric and lead vocals. Muted cymbal, reliant drums, and the hushed guitar unobtrusively lend rhythm, combining together and across this song to create instrumental romance and a certain sense of enchantment. The heart, bloodstream, nervous system, and muscle memory in you recognize the message: wanting something at a cellular level you know at a cognitive one is only going to destroy or undo you. Having a heart is a wonderful gift and real son of a gun, ain’t it?
12. “They Love to Hate” – Molina Speaks, DJ Icewater – Sex Money Ego (2016)
Robust, fresh beats thump and bump as they palpitate at heart rate speed. Chill, smooth, and with a pinch of lyrical sass, this one’s also purely carnal. It’s got sexy love and wantingness combined with a creed of holding-your-cool and enjoying all the spontaneous pleasures of life. It’s definitely a turn-up tune for cruising in your car, or even cooler, on your low-rider bike with the sweet speaker you should probably have. Molina Speaks and DJ Icewater have collaborated to make something seductive, both in romantic passions and in making you just want to live out loud to the full. So get to it.
13. “Lucid Recall” – Sunboy – Yesterday Is in Love With You (2016)
Yes to a song that I’d enjoy instrumentally, yet do with its lyrics just the same. Sunboy give it a good 55 seconds before vocals seep in though, setting the feel first. If only we all had lucid recall, but memory doesn’t always work that way. Yet, at the same time, it’s by dint of the lyric “haven’t felt this way in a long time” that we remember: sometimes it isn’t the memory, but the feelings evoked that bring back lucid recall in all its vivid glory. And what a robust memory sensation it is when it hits.
Synthy sounds and a certain protraction allow emotions here to take flight. Vocals and piano instrumentation undergird a sound that might be tinny and emotionless otherwise, which would be the last desirable thing in a song so emotionally charged in content. Like Iolite’s “Bloodstream,” headphones are most recommended on Sunboy’s “Lucid Recall” for best up-close-and-personal vibes.
14. “Medicine” – Rose Quartz – Axis of Love (2015)
In the abstract, medicine is there to make us better. Humans are no strangers to using or abusing another person in this way at some time. Sometimes leaning on others is necessary and appropriate. But there is a difference between asking for help and being soul-suckingly co-dependent or reliant. Like a prescription drug, it can be toxic, and this song rails against the notion that one partner serves that role. You can use medicine or abuse it, and this one splits the difference.
A combination of electronic space-esque warble, full-bodied guitar notes, and clips on the drum machine set the scene. Lyrically unapologetic, this is a power number for those times you need to speak to your decision to leave someone who treats you like something to be used up rather than given to. Rose Quartz build and release tension with efficacy, establishing a subtle back and forth strain that fits the bill in the stark truths this electronic groove-pop song seeks to sing out and deliver sans apology. The only thing bigger than its sound may be the heart behind it. This is definitely one to get sassy to under lights on the dance floor, and that sounds like a great way to spend Valentine’s Day.
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All songs per the artists featured. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.