The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Valentine’s Day 2023: The best alternative love songs

Valentine’s Day: It’s a holiday for many, but for others it’s a sore subject. Whether you’re celebrating romance or yearning for one, KRUI brings you a select set of songs that embody the triumphs and trials of love.

“Mais je t’aime” – Grands Corps Malade and Camille Lellouche

This is the best love song, not only because it is sung in the language of love (French), but also because the heart-felt words are expressed through a combination of singing and speaking. The greatest thing about this song? It talks about real love – love that is not always easy due to past experiences. Love that burns, but sometimes burns too hot. Still, we try, we do our best, we love. We love with all that we have and know. We love, as much as we can.

Je ne suis pas parfait. Je suis brisé. Mais je t’aime.
[I am not perfect. I am broken. But I love you]. – Suzan van den Broek, Online Content

“True Blue” – Mark Ronson (feat. Angel Olsen)

In the next room over, someone tunes an old FM radio and you hear the sultry voice of a chanteuse. The song couldn’t possibly be from this era. Did the tuning of the dial  take us a century back? You walk into the next room to investigate the haunting yet beautiful noise. The audio is more high fidelity now, and it sounds like the hottest pop song of 1986, one your mom probably loves.

This is the best way I can describe the transportive experience Mark Ronson takes us on in the first minute of his excellent collaboration with Angel Olsen, “True Blue.” Although it has a vintage aesthetic quality, Olsen cuts through with her modern songwriting: “f*****g around, I’m falling in love.” What a perfect way to describe the foolishness and magnetism of new romance. 

One of my favorite songs in general, it’s an especially fitting love song for the romantics who crave a little sadness. It’s for those with a penchant for melodrama, those who aren’t just in love but in the mood for love. Among an expansive catalog of songs for yearners, Olsen may have peaked with this depressing bop

When she sings the vague but hard-hitting lyric “I ran to you and you know why,” you wonder her complicated love affair. What did it cost? What did she give up? (a lyrical callback to another phenomenal, very different  Olsen love song) But these questions never get answered. We’re left to ponder our own old flames, current loves, and the hopelessness of knowing why love is the way it is. – Sam Bowden, Online Content

“How Can You Live If You Can’t Love How Can You If You Do” – Wednesday

Love brings us some of the most joyous and blissful moments we can recollect. But when it’s gone, it brings the most excruciating, soul-shredding feelings a human can have. No song conveys this feeling better than Wednesday’s “How Can You Live If You Can’t Love How Can You If You Do” off their 2021 album “Twin Plagues.”

An album and a band that traverses many sounds from dramatic grunge to screaming shoegaze, this song embraces a country sound. The song opens with quickly plucked, twangy arpeggios, and the gliding sound of lap steel that invoke feelings of a wide open, lonely frontier. Karly Hartzman sings in a dejected somber tone over a staggering guitar.

The lyrics, formed around a James Baldwin quote from his novel “Another Country,” are about a cherished former lover who left long ago. Someone whom Hartzman is constantly reminded of. The line “Has shown me that I know your voice in every sound I hear” reflects how at any given moment in our waking lives we can be whisked away by one of our senses to a bittersweet moment. A deep nostalgia for what was once so loved.

The last lines of the second and third verses and the namesake of the song are a trio of the most brutal emotional gut punches. Love can put us through the worst experiences that makes us feel like life is too painful to live through. But what is not the point of living other than to appreciate those that we stumbled across and now adore with every essence of our mortal being? – John Glab, Music and Online Content

“I’ll be Here in the Morning” – Jason Molina (Townes Van Zandt cover)

“I’ll be Here in the Morning” is a slice of positivity in these both of these artists’ troubled careers. While Townes Van Zandt’s version features exquisite fingerpicking and a wavering harmonica solo, Jason Molina’s cover is a thoughtful and personal rendition. This is a heart wrenching song about the sacrifices we make for loved ones. 

The song originally appears on Townes Van Zandt’s self-titled album, a masterpiece filled with complex fingerpicking and intricate songwriting. Van Zandt’s writing evokes a powerful clarity with poetic imagery. Lines like “I like to lean myself against the wind and tell myself I’m free/But your softest whisper’s louder than the highways call to me” capture the song’s tenderness. 

Molina’s personal touch makes this cover stand out. “This is a… Townes song,” Molina clarifies at the start of the track. Chirping birds fill the silence before a warm guitar hums a bright riff. His jangling electric guitar matches his soft voice. Molina places his inflection on “morning”, choosing to drag out the vocal pattern. Molina used home studio. The production value is noticeably lower than Townes Van Zandt’s version recorded in Nashville. Guitar parts collide into a soupy mix in his verses. But there’s beauty in the homelier quality. As his guitar fades, songbirds chirp away on a ripe morning. 

Jason Molina’s version started when he met with visual artist William Schaff after a Chicago concert in the early 2000s. Molina led the group Songs: Ohia at the time. After Molina requested an art piece, Schaff said he would oblige if Molina sent the Townes Van Zandt covers from the show. Months later, Schaff received them along with demos from Molina’s upcoming album, “The Magnolia Electric Co.”, including his most familiar song, “Farewell Transmission”.   

This song stands out from his bleak catalogue of shattered stories and broken people. Molina and Van Zandt have eerie parallels. Both artists shied away from fame. Alcoholism ripped both Van Zandt and Molina’s genius from them. And both showed devout care for those who helped them through their hardships. – Nick Layeux, Online Content

To check out these songs and other alternative love songs, check out KRUI’s Valentine’s Day playlist. Happy listening!