Lullaby Love- Roo Panes

This is a classic case of ‘YouTube recommendation gone right’. This string heavy composition by English artist Roo Panes is as hypnotic and catchy as a lullaby but one that keeps the ‘listener awake’ and makes one join in the introspective acknowledgement of the singer’s love.

The song opens with a cello and guitar coming together and the notes set the tone for the track. Roo’s deep voice comes in and he opens the song talking about a love that lifts him up, that reveals to him things that give him strength. I like that ‘Lullaby’ has been used to describe a love that works as an escape, that shrouds the singer and helps calm his troubled soul, that keeps him level despite his seemingly self-destructive way of life (when I am seeing double). The kind of love that keeps him sane and steady, comforts him as he deals with the rushes and blurs of life. The lullaby love is his everyday savior.

The cellos and guitars soon return but this time we hear some trumpets adding to the emotion as a prelude to the second verse. The backing vocals are much more emphatic and distinct after the second verse, working to seal the overall spirit of the song. The composition and instrumentation is so unpretentious and earnest that it really makes the lyric come across in a powerful way.

The track ends with the same calming stillness this with which it begins, this time marked by Roo’s speculative humming. Guess that’s the nature of introspective revelations, they come with a high of awareness and then settle down with gratitude and become the simple truths about one’s life.


Habits (Stay High) – Tove Lo

This track by Swedish singer Tove Lo drifted to me sometime in late 2014, through the radio waves. I instantly liked it because of the musical contrast that forms its core. While the words speak of a dark phase in a young woman’s life as she grapples with coming to terms with being dumped, the pleasant and catchy music diminishes and lightens the severity of her reaction and her pain.

The confessional first person lyrics are flanked by vivid, bold descriptions of her self destructive way of life with references to junk food, meaningless affairs and alcoholism; things you don’t normally hear about in mainstream pop. ‘Staying high’ is the only way she can escape the reality. The electronic music perfectly compliments the despair without taking away from it. It has a lingering presence that extends the vivid descriptions. However, the burden of unexpected loneliness, the extremities that she subjects herself to, her defeatist coping strategy, are all expressed by Tove Lo’s vocals in a rather impassive & cold manner which makes me think that there might be more to it than meets the ears.

I feel that beyond the outspoken & unapologetic vulnerability, this song is also a message, a pleading of sorts. It’s as if she’s making her former lover feel guilty for the disaster that has hit her. It’s remarkable that she is aware of how completely incapable and uninterested she is in dealing with it (staying in my play pretend). The underlying call is: “How can you watch me destroy myself, please come back and make all this, that I am subjecting myself to, go away. I’ll stop if you come back.”

This song makes rock bottom sounds like a party at first, before one peels away to the numbness behind it all.

Please Read the Letter – Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

This song came into my life in 2008 through a colleague who is a major Led Zep fan. It grew on me and I remember listening to it on loop back then and thereafter it just disappeared from my life until another Led Zeppelin admirer brought it back to me.

This special collaboration between the legend- Robert Plant and bluegrass artist Alison Krauss is a tale of a recently estranged couple. It’s plea to have one’s former lover read a letter, a letter possibly of confessions, explanations, regrets and deep truths. The one sided-ness of a letter is a safe choice, with no threat of confrontation. However it’s ironical that while one went up to their lover’s door to nail the letter, they did not stay to actually speak the actual words and left it all on…the letter.

Plant leads the vocals and enough cannot be said about how perfect he sounds. Krauss’s voice blends so well with his creating a pleasant harmony, that adds more weight to what’s being said, especially to the main request. The snare drum and the bass guitar hold the sound together. The guitar notes keep things simple allowing the vocals to shine through. The fiddle in the bridge captures the spirit of yearning and regret that fill this whole track adding a new sonic dimension to the otherwise rock affair. Things pick pace towards the second half, when the sound becomes more intense and beats become harder; those words must be read before it’s too late.

This track is so hauntingly beautiful and charming; like and old, warm room full of memories and heartbreak with only a floating letter for respite.


La La La – Naughty Boy feat. Sam Smith

This track came to me through Vh1 in 2013 and one of the reasons for me to notice it was the beautiful lion like Chow Pei in the music video. This track by Naughty Boy (a.k.a Shahid Khan) also has some shades of Bollywood sounds (the hook ‘La La La’ in a child’s voice) which attracted me to it. I didn’t know of ‘the Sam Smith’ then and this song became even more special when I discovered that it was the him all along!

The music starts of with innocent, gentle synth notes followed by an unexpected la la- na na in a child’s voice. It’s interesting that Sam isn’t singing the hook. The switch between his and the child’s voice lends a unique sonic contrast while also realizing the childish escapism from the unpleasantness of life and its blows. Sam Smith’s beautiful voice does full justice to the underlying angst of the lyric. The music compliments the vocals letting him say everything he has to without ever taking away from it.

At first listen, this track seems like it’s about coping with an abusive relationship by blocking someone out but after a few listens it appears to be about denial and escapism. There seems to be a new element in the relationship (new person, new messiah) which the singer is not willing to accept. Ironically, he does confess that he’s rather be a coward and not confront the ongoing ruin of the relationship. I find it strange that he is so miserable yet would rather drown his partner out than be the one to pull away from the near dead relationship.

Like an unhappy bird trapped in a cage of his own attachment, locked shut by his own cowardice.

Take Care – Drake feat. Rihanna

One of my favorite pop duets, this track found its way to my life  through a borrowed iPod while on bus ride in Himachal, about 6 years ago.

Spinning modern sounds & modern vulnerabilities on a part of Gil Scott-Heron’s original, Drake & Rihanna keep things simple. Two tired souls, worn out by heartbreak but not so damaged that they have given up on love. I like the spirt of this track, there’s honesty, reassurance and then there’s a promise. It’s two close friends urging each other to not let the past stop them from taking another chance as there’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s comfort in knowing that it is all human and it’s all right to not get it right.

Rihanna’s vocals, while limited only to the hook, still speak volumes of love lost and love to be found. Drake’s larger share of lines are so real and human, he makes vulnerability sound so endearing, and almost cool. The contrast between their voices and style is delightful, with pleasant music working only to support and lift their voices. The synth sounds hold the space while the guitars shoot around with balanced beats adding life to the whole affair.

Makes me think of Netflix’s British Romcom Lovesick. This is what Evie and Dylan would say to each other if they could. 🙂

Cold Little Heart – Michael Kiwanuka

I found the gem called Michael Kiwanuka, thanks to an inflight music library. I instantly fell in love with his soulful, earnest voice loaded with pain and longing. This is song about internal struggle, about the past coming in the way of the present and the singer being aware of its tight clutches on his little heart that’s gone cold, so cold that it’s all that there is to it now.

The extended intro which lasts for over 5 mins, is the highlight of this long track. It stands firm and near complete in its own right, as if it’s said everything it had to, felt everything that was there to feel, gone down the spiral of multiple emotions of regret, pain, guilt, hope and a deep deep resignation, before the vocals rationalise things.

The slow start of soft vocals, almost moaning at first, like innocent ripples of feelings, harmless at first, transcend into intense sounds by joining the deep guitars. The constant strum, a lump of many things  all at once, and then MK’s late vocals capture the realised truth; an apology of sorts with a mild streak of hope and trust in his lover’s belief into a possibility of ‘them’.

Reminds me of Pink’s ‘Don’t Let Me Get Me’ and Julia Roberts’ character in the movie Closer. When one knows that they are their biggest enemy and they just know that it won’t work out because of them. The painful truth striping them off of the privilege of blame.


Too Close – Alex Clare

This track came into my life in 2011, possibly through Vh1 or some radio channel in Delhi. The song is a declaration of the end of a friendship and feels like a letter that Alex Clare is singing to his best friend who has developed romantic feelings for him, that he cannot reciprocate. It’s really a lose-lose situation. The irreversibility of falling in love has destroyed the friendship as they knew it, so what must be saved then?

The writing evokes empathy for the protagonist, who is both sorry for his choice in the matter and also somewhat relieved to have finally made it. I like how the vulnerability is expressed with hints of exasperation and despair at the situation. He is doing this for self preservation, after much trying & suffering; pretending loving back, hiding from the friend and then realizing that the only way to get unstuck from this situation is to walk away.

The music starts light, with the synth leading the way followed by the guitar, almost mysterious signifying the hard decision that’s about to be revealed. The sound transitions into a slow yet catchy beat as Alex Clare vocalizes the tension that one might feel while making such a brutally honest confession to a close friend. It is really the chorus that completely surprises with its heaviness and dubstep edge. Without any warning, the wobbly bass appears out of nowhere and takes an otherwise simple song into a whole new complex space.

This song somehow reminds me of rock climber Aron Ralston’s tragic yet liberating choice, on which the movie 127 hours is based. Sometimes one can choose to lose something valuable to become unstuck and save something even more precious.