It’s Valentine’s Day. To me, that fact is as unremarkable and innocuous as someone giving me the time. But there’s no denying that there is an acute and powerful symbolism to the day. I got my first tattoo on Valentine’s Day years ago, an exercise in self-care and resilience after months of post-breakup depression. It was a Gaslight Anthem lyric (stop laughing), and I still love it. I used music like medicine, and Brian Fallon’s mournful, hopelessly romantic words helped assuage my anguish. I see that tattoo as a declaration of giving a shit; there’s value in admitting you care about something, pride be damned, whether it’s your partner, your ex, yourself, or Valentine’s Day. Or Gaslight Anthem.
If you just got your heart torn out Indian Jones-style, you’ve probably got some ~feels~ to work out, and like I did, you’re probably self-medicating with some songs to ugly-cry to. You’re also probably sick of listening to “The Scientist” by Coldplay and sampling James Blunt, so in the spirit of today, here’s a list of overlooked modern breakup songs to help you express your feelings. From wrenching honesty to booming pop-punk to empowering anthems to plain old emo, here’s your ticket to self-care via some frickin’ bangin’ heartbreak anthems.
“I’m Giving Up On U2” – Antarctigo Vespucci (2014)
Back in 2014, dear friends and punk celebrities Jeff Rosenstock and Chris Farren started Antarctigo Vespucci (“Amerigo Vespucci is the guy who discovered America so it stands to reason that Antarctigo Vespucci would be the guy who discovered Antarctica”), recording the riotous, lo-fi Soulmate Stuff EP. “I’m Giving Up On U2” is a jubilant, defiant, and flawlessly-titled clap-back at a faltering relationship: “You gave up on me so now I don’t want you around!” It’s a shrugging, ‘fuck it’-type affair, punctuated by the anthemic chorus, “I’m giving up on you, too!” It’s the kind of self-indulgent affirmation that you can belt to yourself this Valentine’s Day.
The Menzingers – “Gates” (2012)
Things get a little darker here as the Pennsylvania punks navigate the memories that colour and accentuate heartbreak, relaying the stages of a relationship via economic, devastating metaphor: “You’ll get seated as diners, lovers/You’ll get the cheque as friends for the better.” Then, the most gutting and wizened of all, the realization that the monuments you erected to your love, all of the memories and keepsakes and love letters, will, in time, decay and lose all meaning: “You’ll carve your names into the Paupack Cliffs just to read ’em when you get old enough to know that happiness is just a moment.”
Frightened Rabbit – “Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms” (2008)
Arguably the most visceral and (self-)lacerating track in this collection, this Midnight Organ Fight cut finds singer Scott Hutchison drowning in post-break up desperation and confusion at seeing his ex-partner with someone new. What sets “Good Arms” apart is its’ brutal honesty, its’ commitment to expressing a truth, no matter how humiliating or pitiful or painful. Hutchison yelps, “I might not want you back, but I want to kill him.” Most would bury these confessions for fear of embarrassment or appearing hapless and self-pitying; Hutchison embraces and releases these suppressed emotions to weave a truly agonizing portrait of a person in pain, culminating with a desperate plea: “I’m not ready to see you this happy.”
Best Coast – “Fine Without You” (2016)
Bethany Cosentino lends her confidence and wisdom to navigating the single life on this ripper off of her charming release California Nights. It serves as a self-empowering spin on jealousy through the verses: “If you spent all your life comparing yourself to her/Eventually you will find there’s no one like you in this world.” Despite the platitude, she admits her own frustration in “wondering how to be fine without you.” It’s a jangly, contemplative ride, winding down on a bitter, humbling note as Cosentino admits, “I can’t have fun, I’m not fine without you.”
Modern Baseball – “Your Graduation” (2014)
“It’s been three whole years of me thinking ’bout you everyday,” mumbles Brendan Lukens to kick off Modern Baseball’s 2014 hit, and with those first words comes one of the greatest break-up songs of the mid-2010s emo revival. Lukens draws from the same self-effacing well as Scott Hutchison, frantically tracing the outline of a doomed partnership while refusing to accept its’ demise: “Bullshit, you fuckin’ miss me.” All this transpires over churning, gritty, classic emo instrumentals, crashing into Lukens’ final remarks: “I never thought that I would see the day/Where I’d just let you go, let you walk away/Go ahead and walk away.”
PWR BTTM – “C U Around” (2015)
From New York’s genderqueer garage-punk duo PWR BTTM, comprised of Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce, comes an every-day, decidedly mature recounting of running into an ex out and about. The re-cobbling of throbbing minutiae like a heart-rate quickening or a fake smile are played out over a song that sees Bruce, though depressed and anxious, ultimately pitying their ex: “I noticed you look down/I hope you’re okay, I’ll see you around.” It’s an exercise in empathy.
Cloud Nothings – “I’m Not Part Of Me” (2014)
This track skews towards self-actualization coming on the tail-end of a breakup. Of course, it’s not easily attainable, and more often than not, this state is achieved after hitting rock fucking bottom. But this is a song of resistance, development, change, reconstruction, and independence: “It’s over now, there’s a way I was before/But I can’t recall how I was those days anymore.” As frontman Dylan Baldi is “learning how to be here and nowhere else,” he starts rebuilding his defences, declaring himself: “I’m not telling you all I’m going through/I feel fine.” Paired with thrashing guitars and pounding, relentless drums, the track is one of the strongest to be released in the 21st century.
Mitski – “Your Best American Girl” (2016)
Mitski’s trying, splendid Puberty 2, which garnered universal acclaim upon its release last summer, housed one of the most important documents of breakup literature in American history, “Your Best American Girl.” A keen repurposing of Weezerish riffing (and of Rivers Cuomo’s reductive fetishization of her ethnicity), the song finds Mitski coming to terms with her upbringing, her identity, and herself, in the wake of a relationship plagued by cultural pressures, wherein Mitski felt she was not “American” enough for her partner. She wrestles with this gap before finding self-acceptance: “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me/But I do, I finally do.”
Craig Finn – “No Future”
Craig Finn rose to prominence as the affable, beloved frontman of Brooklyn bar-rock poets The Hold Steady, but his solo work is just as prestigious, and marked by the same detail and strife. On “No Future,” his voice nestled among a thrumming bass line and punchy chords, Finn is having difficulty adjusting to life on his own: “February’s about as long as it is wide.” Here, he’s what we’ve all been in the throes of heartbreak: “rigid and depressed, needy, halfway-pissed and resigned.” As he details a cold, isolating winter in the rubble of a partnership, he strikes out against the misery, asserting his self-worth: “I suppose you thought I’d be gushing blood/Not true, I only died on the inside/I’m still alive on the outside.”
Maren Morris – “I Wish I Was” (2016)
Maren Morris took the country world by storm last year with a stunningly well-crafted major label debut, meriting her a Saturday Night Live appearance and four Grammy nods. “I Wish I Was” warms up with breezy John Mayer blues-country licks before the whole band slinks in, organ and all, as Morris explains a semi-wistful, semi-recovered romance. “I’m not the hero in the story/I’m not the girl that gets the glory,” Morris shrugs. It’s almost nonchalant, save for her downtrodden admittance: “I’m not the one, but I wish I was.”
Spoon – “Anything You Want” (2001)
I’m not an advocate for getting back together with an ex (in fact I’m almost unequivocally against this masochistic practice), and “Anything You Want” isn’t suggesting it. Rather, it’s an expression of strength, self-confidence and maturity. Britt Daniel articulates a rare position here: the point where you’ve learned to love and value yourself as much as anyone else, unwilling and unable to chase an old spark, as he remarks airily, “If there’s anything you want/Come on back ’cause it’s all still here.” It feels like a stroll on a watery, bright spring day after a devastating winter, remembering how good the sun feels, smelling the wind, and feeling okay with being alone: “Time is my time, time is my own/I feel so alive yet feel so alone.” It’s a delightful, empowering exercise in reflection, independence and honesty, rooted by the most quixotic, endearing organ melody you ever did hear.