Twee pop may seem an obvious go-to for a Valentines Day playlist, with its reputation for painfully sweet melodies and lyrics coupled with cutesy instrumentation and aesthetics. However, as we’ve explained before, this genre isn’t just Zooey Deschanel and heart-shaped sugar cookies. With this playlist for your indie-pop Valentine’s Day, we’ve rounded up the best twee music both for basking in love and wallowing in heartbreak — or, you know, just telling it all to go to hell. As with all music in this genre, whatever the subject, if it’s not making you feel at least a bit warm and fuzzy, it should start looking for new work.
The Lucksmiths — “Sunlight in a Jar”
This song encompasses pretty much anything you could want from a twee love song — it’s self-referential, self-deprecating, has clever lyrics and an irresistible melody. It’s one of our favorite Lucksmiths songs (and that’s saying a lot), due in part to typically brilliant lines, i.e. “like a self help manual that’s been written in braille/ It seems the more that we touch the more we learn about our failings,” but our adoration is sealed by the fact that we can’t listen to it without smiling. We wish there were more songs like this one, that admit that even good relationships aren’t a fix-all for life’s problems, but with “complex completely credible love” you can count on occasional moments of pure joy.
Tullycraft — “Leaders of the New School”
This wistful song by twee staples Tullycraft looks back at better times in a love that has already faded. As you can count on in any Tullycraft song, there are gratuitous scene-y music references — how twee is it that their idea of rebellion is “tearing the White Stripes off the wall”? But the song’s real sweetness comes from the lyrics that show they haven’t given up quite yet, that “the bus stop to your heart may still be on the way.” Awww.
Traveling — “Pt. 2 Less Than True Love”
Traveling is the new project of Ginger Alford, of the Bloomington, IN wordy pop-punk outfit Good Luck. We saw her a few weeks ago at the new DIY venue Big Snow in Bushwick, and the songs we’ve been loving on her demo EP came off even more charming and cathartic live. “Pt. 2 Less Than True Love” is the perfect song for someone who’s spending this Valentine’s Day alone — and likes it that way. “I’d rather be alone/ Than standing still with you while your life passes by,” Alford sings, staring boldly in the face of loneliness and asserting that she’s going to be just fine.
Jens Lekman — “Maple Leaves (7″ Version)”
This isn’t just one of our favorite love songs, it’s one of our favorite songs, period. Jens Lekman excels at writing pretty pop about love and longing, but this is his masterpiece. Employing cutesy misunderstandings (“and when you talked about a fall, I thought you talked about Mark E. Smith”) to underscore the painful miscommunication that plagues everyone who decides to throw themselves into a new infatuation, he gracefully elucidates a complex relationship that has insecurity and affection going in both directions. The conclusion, in Lekman’s melodramatic but sweet words, is: “If you don’t take my hand I’ll lose my mind completely/ Madness will finally defeat me.” It gets us every time.
Heavenly — “Three Star Compartment”
We’re pretty sure there are plenty of people who’ve heard this sweet-sounding song by twee-pop OGs Heavenly in passing and come away thinking, “What a cute love song.” Those people didn’t listen to the words. It’s not like hiding barbed lyrics under jangly guitars and pretty melodies is something new, but Heavenly do it better than most. Plenty of these lines about the narrator’s complete disillusionment with the concept of love and the ex’s self-indulgent heartbreak, embedded in the song’s sweet-as-can-be melody, are pretty fucking harsh. “You think love is ceaseless and enduring/ Well, if that’s so it’s unceasingly boring.” Yeesh. Slip this one on that next passive-agressive mixtape for your ex.
Voxtrot — “The Start of Something”
We’re still sad about Voxtrot. They had so much promise five years ago, when they released three totally excellent EPs of well-written emotional indie pop. But by the time they put out their full-length in 2007, we could tell they’d lost their spark, and the band didn’t last to make another album. We’d like to remember them at their best — this song, specifically, which brings back memories of sunny days and driving on country roads with the windows down. Many bands draw inspiration from ’90s twee and employ lo-fi aesthetics, but few do it this perfectly, with songwriting this good. To this day, we listen to this song anytime we want to feel that terrifying, amazing rush of falling for someone new.
Los Campesinos! — “Knee Deep at ATP”
With one foot in the twee pop of their early music and the other in the noisy catharsis of their newer work, “Knee Deep at ATP,” from Los Campesinos!’s first full-length, nails the anxiety of knowing the person you’ve been seeing is hiding something, and barrels towards the almost-relief of giving up hope. The details that Gareth Campesinos! works brilliantly into his overstuffed lyrics are at their peak here, with references to “his K Records t-shirt,” a recurring theme of punctuation puns, and the title itself nodding at a song off the first Camera Obscura album (another band that excels at heartbreaking pop). By the end of the short song we’re right there with him, screaming along as we punch our cardigan-clad arms in the air.
Born Ruffians — “Little Garcon, Little Fille”
Of all the songs on this list, this one comes the closest to the line where twee stops being fun and starts making us want to vomit. We wouldn’t recommend this one if you’re not mostly satisfied in your love life. But for those lucky ones among us, it’s a sweetly indulgent folk pop number about hanging out in bed with your significant other. We’re sure Zooey Deschanel will cover it in the next six months.
Dreamdate — “Tour Song”
We love this anti-love song by the under-appreciated pop group Dreamdate because it reverses the stereotype of a guy on tour forgetting about his girl at home, and does it elegantly, with minimal instrumentation, in just under two minutes. “Forgetting about what’s back home and not giving a fuck” sounds pretty nice to us, sometimes.
Slow Club — “It Doesn’t Always Have to Be Beautiful”
British boy-girl pop duo Slow Club (or, as we like to think of them, “British Cults with more than one good song”) have grown quite a bit since their first LP, Yeah So. Paradise, released last year, is more emotional, features more interesting songwriting, and stronger vocals. However, we’ll probably never get over our obsession with this pop gem off their first album, a song that sweeps you up in its frenetic joy before you realize it’s not a love song — it’s about an infatuation you don’t want to admit is over. Even still, when the chorus kicks in, just try to not smile and turn it up.
The Blow — “Parentheses”
Cutesy punctuation metaphors? Check. Handclaps? Check. Unbelievably difficult to get out of your head? Super check. We still aren’t sure what’s so terrifying about the “deli aisle,” though.
Belle and Sebastian — “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”
Finally, a classic twee-pop fuck-you to love, Valentine’s Day, twee itself, and everything you once knew and loved. One of the reasons Belle and Sebastian were so brilliant at their peak was their awareness of the absurdity of the culture they were part of, and their ability to write songs that embraced it and parodied it simultaneously, while staying sincere enough to pack an emotional punch (or at least a disapproving look). It was our theme song in high school, and what is Valentine’s Day if not a rehash of everything you angsted about as a teenager? “I could kill you, sure/ But I could only make you cry with these words,” indeed.