Whether you want to impress that cutie at the Dav or maybe serenade that one classmate you’ve had a crush on just before you leave for summer break, here are a few tracks that are a bit heavy on the sentiment, handpicked for romantic endeavors. Don’t be afraid to mix up the arrangement by either going acoustic or full orchestra, complete with a dance sequence. You’ll be sure to amaze that special someone.
1. Lykke Li (Sweden) – “Little Bit”
Hailing from the quaint Swedish port town of Ystad, singer-songwriter Lykke Li released her debut album, Youth Novels, in 2008 at the age of 22. The album, produced by Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, was met with critical acclaim and launched her onto the international stage. She has played at popular festivals including Coachella, Glastonbury and Lollapalooza and had a sold-out tour. It took her three years to release her second album, Wounded Rhymes, where she successfully avoided the sophomore slump only to have her popularity grow.
“Little Bit” is the first single off of Youth Novels and appropriately showcases Li’s wistful soprano and precocious instrumentation. With hypnotic percussive and bass lines combined with mature lyrics, this track is a not-love song where Li tries to convince herself she’s not as in love as she really is. But as the song progresses, it’s clear that this is more than physical attraction as she sings, “I would do it / push a button / pull a trigger / climb a mountain / jump off a cliff,” which shows a devotion that’s a bit deeper than lust. This song is fitting for those who are in denial and know it.
2. The Maccabees (UK) – “Toothpaste Kisses”
This five-piece band from Brighton released their debut album, Colour It In, in 2007 and has released two more albums since then. The darlings of indie music in the UK, they’ve toured with Bloc Party before headlining their own sold-out tour around the UK and US. Their third and latest album, Given to the Wild, which was released just last year, debuted at #4 in the UK and was nominated for a Mercury Prize, an award that is given to the best British or Irish album of the year. Last year’s nominees included Lianne La Havas, Django Django and Alt-J.
“Toothpaste Kisses” is one of the most well-known singles off their debut album as it was featured in a Samsung commercial and popular British chick flick, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. While the song is short and consists mostly of instrumentals, the sparse lyrics speak volumes without being too obvious. Affection is present in the physical; “heart shaped bruises” and “late night kisses” eventually meld into “toothpaste kisses” as these lovers spend the night and perhaps the morning together. The swelling guitar and soft whistling outro add to the intimate feeling of the song.
3. The Rubens (AUS) – “Lay It Down”
Composed of three brothers and a friend, these blues rockers from Menangle, New South Wales formed in 2011 and immediately started churning out music. Their first song, “Lay It Down”, was featured on Triple J’s Unearthed Radio station that only plays independent, Australian artists. That was enough to catch the attention of producer David Kahne who has worked with The Strokes, Regina Spektor and Lana Del Rey. Thus, The Rubens recorded their eponymous debut album in New York City and released it just last year where it shot to #3 in Australia. With success in their home country, they’ll be testing out the international stage with an appearance in this year’s Governor’s Ball Music Festival in New York City this June.
Lead singer, Sam Margin, croons with all the soul in his body for “Lay It Down”. Backed with slow, sensual guitars and a simmering bass line, Margin’s voice fits perfectly, crackling and sliding in perfect timing. This is another not-love song where Margin sings about being blindsided into feeling this weird, intense emotion.
4. Solange (USA) – “I Decided”
Appropriately picked to coincide with tonight’s sold-out show at D.C.’s own 9:30 Club, “I Decided” is off Solange’s sophomore album, Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams. The album reached #9 on US Charts but even then, her exposure seemed limited. Since then, her recognition has been steadily expanding with the release of her 2012 EP, True, and a national tour which has had several sold-out shows and a spot in several European music festivals.
Produced by Pharrell Williams, “I Decided” has all the makings of a Motown throwback. It even samples the handclaps from “Where Did Our Love Go”, a track by The Supremes. With resilient lyrics about a misunderstood girl who has finally found her match, Solange sings with confidence and spirit. This track is perfect for those looking for a soulful revival to clearly express their feels.
5. Justin Timberlake (USA) – “Pusher Love Girl”
What better way to end the list than with a track from the expert in serenading. In fact, The 20/20 Experience is rife with classy, sweeping love songs that range from the optimistic to the lustful. Without going on a fangirl rant about the merits of Timberlake’s third studio album after a seven-year hiatus, it should be the go-to album for serenades of any kind. It’s nearly impossible to pick one song but a highlight would be the first track off the album, “Pusher Love Girl” because although it runs for eight minutes, it’s never boring. It begins with a full orchestral movement, an appropriate opening for Timberlake’s mature and elegant album. But then it melts into the main movement of the track, a soul-tinged confection that seamlessly displays Timberlake’s detailed vocals where his falsetto has never sounded better. The outro involves Timberlake quasi-rapping, comparing his love to several addictive substances to the backing of a more hip-hop oriented beat. Even if the “love is a drug” metaphor is overdone, Timberlake sings with so much panache that it doesn’t seem passé.
BONUS: Need more Timberlake to impress? Try “That Girl” and have everyone swooning.