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Before I decided to blog about these songs, two of my favorites from 2013, I would have described them as straightforward love songs. “Demon Dance” begins with a wail of guitars that bleeds into verses made up of short lyric phrases over chunky chords, sort of Pixies-ish, before blossoming out into a full-throated, unexpectedly melodic chorus. The singer sounds so exuberant he gives up singing about 2/3 of the way in and begins shouting, as though too impatient to communicate his happiness to wait for the music to keep up. The lyrics are mostly buried, but endearing lines pop out: “let me connect to your server,” “I want to be the one who puts you back on your throne,” and most affectionately:

     You and me are apples and trees
     Don’t fall far from me…

“Varsity” is gentler. A pound of drums leads into a synthesizer wash that sounds a bit like Squeeze’s “Up the Junction,” and then a guy with a sweet, emo-ish voice describes his journey from “Thought I was a loner/’Til I went out on my own” to “Safety came in numbers/But all needed was just one.” Again, the lyrics are often buried, but the chorus seems a plea to the singer’s beloved to wait for him to return:

    And I know it’s hard to be alone
    Count the days, count the nights, but don’t get by…

Aw, shucks, right? But then, doing my due diligence, I hit the lyrics sites (why are there so many of these? do people on the Internet really think the act of writing out a set of lyrics or meticulously describing the plot of a TV show episode provides ownership of the song or show, as though through transciption they’ve somehow participated in its creation?) And in both songs, the situation is a bit more…complicated than I’d first thought. “Demon Dance” includes lines that compare love to “hounds of hell” that need organs and limbs to tear, that exuberant chorus is actually an offer by the singer to “suck the venom” out of the bones of his beloved, and what he’s shouting during the shouted section is “Apologies, meet apologies.”  I begin to get paternal, old man-ish: “Nice people,” I want to say, “don’t talk to each this way if they want to continue to be treated nicely!”

And in “Varsity,” if you look at the complete lyrics it’s not even clear the guy is still involved with the person he’s writing to. He talks about thinking he “always had to win/or he wasn’t anything,” and then justifies the attitude with a tossed-off “it’s a point of view,” the equivalent of a take-it-or-leave-it-oh-you’re-already-gone. And the last line, which I’d heard as “And I’ll be hanging on to you,” is really “And I ain’t hanging on to you.”

So look: if I was in my late twenties (as I imagine Surfer Blood and the Smith Westerns are) and writing a love song, I probably also would have written more about ambivalence than love. (And I did, in fiction at least: I fondly remember having a character in a difficult relationship refer to himself as “the sultan of stuck.”) But I’m still disappointed these songs aren’t the unequivocal declarations of affection I first heard. Sometimes, I guess, you’re better off not paying too much attention to the words.