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John Southworth (Cory Bruyea)
John Southworth (Cory Bruyea)

Two songs you need to hear: Sean Michaels’s playlist of the week Add to ...

John Southworth — Loving You (2014)

A stunning love song that simply incandesces behind its new music video, released this week. Part of Loving You’s power comes from timing. “This video from a 2yr old record almost didn’t get released,” Southworth tweeted on Tuesday. “But in light of recent events … LOVE hath no boundary.” The clip has a home-video quality, hand-held glimpses into a couple’s life – a feeling that’s reinforced by Loving You’s humble acoustics: piano and organ and Kodachrome-tinted voices. We see the future lovers’ first encounter, in a leaf-strewn Toronto park; we see them at home, sharing a pot of tea; we see them dancing together, embracing, and walking together through Bloordale. We also see them staring at paperwork, scanning websites, waiting nervously outside an Immigration Canada office. This is a refugee’s love story, we learn, and perhaps, during a different week, this would have felt like the main thing. However, it’s also a queer love story, in a world where queer love stories remain rare. In a world where people are killed over these stories.

“Loving you,” Southworth sings, “that’s what my heart’s supposed to do.” A sentiment like this one should require only a very little courage; the LGBT community shouldn’t need to be so brave. Orlando was another reminder that the rest of us are listening too seldom, changing too slowly, risking too little. We ought to be asking ourselves the question that undergirds this song, like its glimmering chords: Can I love you more?

Maggie Rogers — Alaska (2016)

Electro-pop with a light touch and a gorgeous hook, Rogers’s Alaska went viral after a demo brought Pharrell Williams nearly to tears. “I’ve never heard anyone like you before, and I’ve never heard anything that sounds like that,” he said. I wouldn’t go that far: There’s a straightish line leading from Everything But The Girl to Lykke Li to Braids to Rogers, and Alaska’s not the first melancholy dance track to spread like quicksilver across SoundCloud.

But innovation in pop music is usually a boring conversation, anyway. Alaska dazzles with the ambiguous longing of its refrain, the juxtapositions of its musical components: Neptunes-like fingersnaps against Fleetwood Mac-like drums; ponging steel drums against sighing synths; and Rogers’s clever way of singing.

Her voice in the verses has the loping confidence of a free roamer, mirroring lyrics about independence, reinvention, hiking through alpine streams. In the chorus all that strength drops away: “You and I,” she exhales in a windblown falsetto, “there’s air in between.” It’s quite suddenly affecting, at least to me – a gust of vulnerability across all that imperviousness.

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