Music is many things, but for the artist it’s often a therapeutic way to deal with feelings and emotional energy. Putting one’s feelings into lyrics and instruments is a great way to channel this energy, whether you’re celebrating an amazing relationship, lamenting losing your lover or anything in between. Because of this, the ‘love song’ is one of the most repeated tropes in music.
Love songs take many forms. They span eras and genres, constantly evolving. Some love songs are obviously and outwardly about love and romance, while others are more subtle and personal. With that, here are some of the best love songs written by artists from the Madison area.
“I Know What It’s Like” by Disq
The Madison natives Disq are starting to gain some critical attention, riding their guitar-heavy, melody driven indie rock. “I Know What It’s Like” was released as a single in 2020, and it’s among the band’s most popular songs. With layers of guitars, keyboards and harmonies, the song is melodically inviting and robust. There’s also a trippy outro with all kinds of effects and reversed tracks to create a disorienting field of sound. Based purely on songwriting merit, this track is the band’s best.
“I Know What It’s Like” is a love song that doesn’t focus on a story or a person, but rather a feeling, with vocalist Isaac deBroux-Slone singing “I know what it’s like, to not feel love,” and then later “to not feel pain.” The chorus builds on these emotions and conveys feelings of being lost, using the metaphor of losing your page in a book. Disq is a talented group, and I still hold that “I Know What It’s Like” is their most impressive work. At heart, it’s a catchy power pop song, reminiscent of tracks like The dB’s classic “Black and White.”
“Idaho” by Slow Pulp
One of the band’s most popular tracks, “Idaho” is bittersweet, spacey and luscious. Like much of the band’s material, it’s heavily inspired by the shoegaze sound, with waves of guitars washing over the listener. The chorus is anchored by a catchy guitar riff, simple but perfect for the slower, hazy song.
“Idaho” is one of those subtle love songs, where the lyrics don’t exactly confirm the song’s romantic meaning. This makes sense though as the song is deeply personal and reflective. Discussing the song, lead singer and guitarist of the band Emily Massey admitted she was in a rough emotional state, feeling “really un-genuine to the people I was seeing, because they’re saying all these nice things to me, and I just wasn’t taking it well or believing it.” This isn’t a song about loving a specific person, it’s about learning to love yourself so you can love others. As Massey puts it, “I think the song is about trying to accept other people’s love and kindness when you don’t love yourself.”
“Damian” by Deryk G
The indie rocker and current UW-Madison senior Deryk G has a growing catalog of impressive tracks, but “Damian” might be his best yet. It’s one of his most listened-to songs on streaming services, and at his concert at Der Rathskeller in November, the small but passionate audience knew most of the words.
“Damian” is mellow and laid back, while still being full of emotion. There’s a little Steve Lacy in Deryk G, and that knack for soulful melodies shines bright on this track. The pseudo-rap on the verses is also reminiscent of some of Lacy’s music. “Damian” doesn’t get too deep into specifics, but the lyrics paint a picture of a tantalizing relationship, making Deryk question and re-evaluate himself at every turn. It’s a song about an indescribable feeling, one that eats at you but gives you purpose at the same time. We see this with the juxtaposition of lines like “I’m too busy living in my own head” with “You make me wanna be a better me.”
“#1 Crush” by Garbage
“#1 Crush,” one of Garbage’s earlier songs, is their best love song. The song prominently features a very sexual moaning sample, with an echo that makes each moan land on beat. This sample, combined with a breakbeat and a funky bass line, form the basis for the track.
“#1 Crush” throws the subtle, introspective love song out the window and goes for straight-up obsession. Singer Shirley Manson embodies this angle, with lines like “I will wash away your pain with all my tears” and “I will twist the knife and bleed my aching heart.” It’s psychotic and lustful, with some borderline masochist lines. The song is most likely written from the perspective of someone else, but regardless, it embodies a darker, bare emotional side of love that many musicians won’t even address.