“Learn to Say No” – Lydia Loveless
Just 21, Loveless sings from a deep reserve of heart, soul, and older-than-her-years affliction. A cursory listen puts this one in the alt-country-with-an-attitude box (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but closer inspection reveals a gratifying depth to both her singer and songwriter sides.
To begin with there’s her voice, a potent combination of anger and sadness; she navigates the pain-filled lyrics (“Why does it take so much out of me/To be this weak?”) teetering between control and breakdown. You can hear it in the tiniest moments, like the way she sings the word “I” in the phrase “when I’m usually wrong” (0:21)—there’s a lot of emotion buried in that condensed flutter that aches out and is quickly reeled back in. Or, the way she chokes out the word “someday” at the beginning of the the chorus the second time through (1:50). Reinforcing the impression that she probably never sings the same word the same way twice is a song that offers subtle changes throughout its development. We don’t hear the signature guitar riff until 1:10, and when the verses return after the chorus, the melody has been subtly changed, which you can hear most clearly at the pause that appears at 1:27—a nice moment that has no equivalent point when the verses were initially presented.
Loveless, raised in rural Ohio, has a complicated back story, but the upshot is she has been playing professionally since she was 13 and quickly fell into habits and behaviors not necessarily associated with the middle-school-aged, to put it delicately. After being in the new-wavey band Carson Drew with her sisters and her father, Loveless released her first solo album in 2010. “Learn To Say No” is from album number two, Indestructible Machine, which has been out on Bloodshot Records since September. The song has been floating around the internet since at least December but it just came to my attention last week, thanks to Largehearted Boy.
MP3 via Bloodshot Records, and there’s one more free and legal MP3 from the album available via the record company. Note that the label also sells a beverage cooler/holder that says “DRINK MORE. LOVE LESS,” which has a certain pugnacious charm about it.