Lyrical things you like


like, they have to snare me with some compelling imagery, something felt, something that tangles up in the gears, catches my sweater, y’know.

like ‘Carpet of Horses’ by Red Red Meat. it’s quite abstract, really, but it has a folky, bluesy feel as a vector, and its imagery is so vivid that it feels distinctive, authentic, vividly real.

Lit deep, tin drops
Half the lights, shot out
The roof of your mouth
Back in your hollow, odd habits, odd

Lidded, stoned and guarded
You never take that face down anymore

Fever to sand, surgery lights
Head full of sin, shot out
Absinthe stutter, heaven knows
Needles off the sand
Carpet of horses from the plane

Shade fell
Shimmering flies in the pauses at your table
The flesh on your back, sparrows swallow
Scratch their way down into you

Lidded, stoned and guarded
If you let it in

Fever to sand, surgery lights
Head full of sin, shot out
Absinthe stutter, heaven knows
Needles off the sand
Carpet of horses from the plane…


ah see, I was just going to say how much I love Joanna’s lyrics - I love the way her songs are so winding and unafraid to go off on a tangent yet always tied to an overarchinig story/theme. Like this whole digression in the middle of Only Skin:

Last week our picture window produced a half-word
Heavy and hollow, hit by a brown bird
We stood and watched her gape like a rattlesnake
And paint and labour over every intake

I said a sort of prayer for some sort of rare grace
Then thought I ought to take her to a higher place
Said “dog nor vulture nor cat shall toy with you
And though you die, bird, you will have a fine view”

Then in my hot hand
She slumped her sick weight
We tramped through the poison oak
Heartbroke and inchoate

The dogs were snapping
And you cuffed their collars
While I climbed the tree-house
Then how I hollered
Well, she’d lain, as still as a stone, in my palm, for a lifetime or two

Then, saw the treetops, cocked her head and up and flew
While, back in the world that moves, often
According to the hoarding of these clues
Dogs still run roughly around
Little tufts of finch-down


I really want to like this. I can see it’s beautifully wrought, intricate, considered, and it reads very well.

but the arrangements and her voice on that album just put me off, sadly, and it’s hard to divorce the lyrics from how fussy it feels on record.

‘The Milk-eyed Mender’ gets right in my bones, riffles through my hair, feels… approachable, knowable.

whereas much of ‘Ys’ and thereafter feels mannered into a kind of baroque stiffness, all posed and daguerreotypical.


One of my favorite things is when a song (or even an entire album) is vague or poetic or cryptic, and then out of nowhere it hits you with a very direct, very emotionally charged line as a knockout punch.

Two of my favorite examples:

The “I just want to be me” in Mayonaise by The Smashing Pumpkins

The “I wish that you were mine” in Recovering the Satellites by Counting Crows


Also, Bankrupt on Selling by Modest Mouse. I love how it gradually transitions from a general story to brutally direct and personal and specific with the “when she used to be sober and I was kinder.”


I loved MEM and had the same reaction to ys for a few years after first hearing it, then one time I listened to sawdust and diamonds and it just completely opened up to me and now I don’t understand how I didn’t always see it. I hate the cover art and blame that a bit.


oh yeah this is a good one, maybe cortez the killer fits it? where he has four verses of dreamy myth and the end one pulls the rug from under you and you’re like ‘was this song about a girl, neil?!’


Oh yeah, definitely! Great call on that one.


I think this description of lyrical approach is Iron & Wine to a tee.


I really feel like I need to go back to Iron & Wine again. there’s a handful of songs I love, but I never got deeper in for some reason. I’ll bear this in mind and pay closer attention.

‘Summer Clouds’ from the most recent album definitely details its way around into the sharpest lines.

Summer clouds blowing up and down the stair
By the end, we’ll take music from them both
Give it back, shining broken glass

Wedding coat, I was waiting there for you
You raised your glass and the scars fell off my heart
We threw a stone, but we never heard it land
There are clouds keeping quiet every night

By the end, we hold something too high to ever come back down
By the end, there’s a song we will sing meant for someone else
By the end, we leave somewhere too long to ever wander back
By the end, we give someone too much to ever close their hand

Summer clouds doing good for gold and gray
Tell me where all this love fits in the world
You can lie, give me all the rain you want


Sam Beam is an amazing lyricist. He does the thing described in the OP - stories that jump in time - often and with great economy of words. I think 16, Maybe Less from the ep he did with Calexico might be the best example, detailing a scene with two young lovers in the woods one night then jumping ahead to the guy looking back longingly on that moment as a married man with a grown up son. It features the gentlest and loveliest description of an ending to a short lived relationship I’ve ever heard: An autumn time lullaby/Sang our newborn love to sleep. Beautiful.


oh man. this one cuts deep.


One of my all time top 10 that track. It’s had me in tears many times.


He’s a very evocative and lyrical lyricist, for sure.

There are things that drift away
Like our endless numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she’s chosen to believe
In the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from their piles of fallen leaves


Passing Afternoon is so perfect in every way. Almost every word feels important, every verse contains some insight and then the final line packs a real punch. Beauty.


I like it when Mark Kozelek talks about something he ate because I like to imagine what it might taste like as there are many foods I’ve never tasted.


what’s kozeleks favourite food? I reckon he’d try and misdirect people and say it’s a hamburger or something.


I was randomly reflecting on lyrics I like last night and realised that a lot of my favourite song lyrics cover a proper story that progresses throughout the verses. My favourite example of this being this gem from Neil Hannon which I absolutely love…


In terms of lyrics in songs this is also one of my favourites. Gorgeous and heartbreaking. Still gives me goosebumps


So, thinking about Waits there, and going back to what I was saying about Passing Afternoon, it brought me to the realisation that one of the lyrical things I like most is a great final line that wraps everything up and packs a punch. The one from Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis being the best example I can think of. Out of context it’s not much but as part of that song, boom, really gets me every time.