The 11 Best Nickel Creek Songs

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After nearly seven years apart, Nickel Creek recently returned with a new album. For fans of the talented trio, there isn’t much need to stoke excitement. They know how special it is to have Chris Thile, Sara and Sean Watkins back together. But, if you’ve never heard the three as Nickel Creek, or it’s been some time since you last did, we have just the list to prepare you for A Dotted Line. Here are the 11 best Nickel Creek songs:

11. Young

(from the album This Side)
Chris Thile is no stranger to writing about love. Critics have even knocked him for writing too often on the matter. On “Young,” though, Thile doesn’t merely present a tale of heartbreak, but of the confusion young lovers often face. “It’s not like I wanna get married/ I never asked you to kiss me/ I just don’t want you to be sorry you didn’t try,” he sings, and the pains of middle school resurface quicker than you can remind yourself you also had frosted tips in middle school, so maybe you should just forget that part of your life. Add in Watkins’ effective guitar riff, giving the song an added edge, and you’ve got a great Nickel Creek love song.

10. This Side

(from the album This Side)
The title track to Nickel Creek’s fourth record is led by Sean Watkins. It’s also the perfect embodiment of a classic Nickel Creek song, following the formula that made so many of their tracks successful. There is a singular prominent voice, backing harmonies, the occasional instrumental solo and a catchy melody. What works really great here is the differing tone color of Sean and Chris’ voices, and how they are able to meld together seamlessly. Chris’ voice is so distinct in its timbre that it often can overpower and take hold of a song, but here it simply supports.

9. Destination

(from the album A Dotted Line)
Sure, A Dotted Line was just released, but this song is so much fun because of its steady rhythm, its singability and the sheer fact that Nickel Creek is back. It’s been a long time since these three have been together, and the time shows—just not as you might expect, though. Thile and the Watkins don’t sound rusty, but more mature and polished than ever.

8. Ode to a Butterfly

(from the album Nickel Creek)
This stunning instrumental kicked off Nickel Creek’s new musical life. As the first track on the group’s self-titled record—often considered their debut as it reintroduced the band with a more vocally driven sound—it perfectly displays the virtuosity of each member. The brisk pace, light melody and complex rhythmic sections embody the song’s namesake and show just what ability Chris Thile has to compose and arrange a bluegrass tune.

7. Somebody More Like You

(from the album This Side)
Why Should the Fire Die? marked a distinct change for Nickel Creek. They left producer Allison Krauss and joined forces with Eric Valentine (who produced the trio’s new record, A Dotted Line) and Tony Berg, who helped the band craft a sound more rock influenced. The first selection from the record echoes that sentiment clearly. Sparse instrumentation, by Nickel Creek standards, but a steady rhythm give the song, written and sung by Sean Watkins, it’s drive and bite.

6. Helena

(from the album Why Should the Fire Die?)
The climax of Why Should the Fire Die?, “Helena” seems to never stop building—a four minute crescendo that never really culminates. There isn’t a moment of release like in “Can’t Complain”; instead, the song never allows the listener to escape the tension. Even when it ends, it leaves a haze of the wickedly dark song behind. Nothing is resolved, at least not satisfactorily, and isn’t that just how it goes sometimes?

5. I Should’ve Known Better

(from the album This Side)
The fifth song on Nickel Creek’s fourth record is laced with attitude. It is a precursor to songs that Sara Watkins, as both part of Nickel Creek and solo, would make later in her career that take the spurned love-story and inject it with fire. Songs like “When It Pleases You,” the best tune from Watkins’ latest solo record, Sun Midnight Sun, begin here. Watkins didn’t pen either tracks, but the flames within the songs, the attitude, the panache, belong to no one but her.

4. The Lighthouse’s Tale

(from the album Nickel Creek)
The songs of Nickel Creek are often concerned with the matters of love, but the trio have also proven to be deft storytellers over the years. One of their best comes from the 2000 self-titled record. The song tells the story of a lighthouse, serving as the narrator, its keeper and the keeper’s fiancé. It’s a haunting five minutes, filled with sadness and death, but wonderfully sung and arranged.

3. Out of the Woods

(from the album Nickel Creek)
Harmonies are an enormous part of Nickel Creek, and the ability of the group to support each other vocally is, without a doubt, a large reason for their success. “Out of the Woods” is built on harmonies, with Sara singing lead vocals, and Sean and Chris supporting her throughout. The song is soft and sweet, without much decoration from the singers, but a great understanding of how to work together. Near the three-minute mark, the song opens up as multiple vocal lines intersect with each other, winding in and out in gorgeous fashion.

2. Can’t Complain

(from the album Why Should the Fire Die?)
“Can’t Complain,” a Chris Thile composed song, received mixed reviews upon its initial release. Some felt that the song was a generic love ballad with little substance, while others thought it a rich and brilliantly composed tune. Like many Nickel Creek songs, “Can’t Complain” details the loss of love, but the most interesting moment in this particular entry into the lonely hearts songbook comes at around the three-and-a-half-minute mark. Thile sings, at nearly a whisper, “I cheated on her with a friend of mine/ There are no days when we don’t fight/ But, remember I warned her and I’m a guy/ So, she can’t complain.” The verbiage may seem misogynistic, but Thile is smarter than that. In the moments after the line, the song fades into a momentary silence before a grandiose explosion in which Thile repeats the line, “She can’t complain,” over and over and over. The explosion fights against the notion that a person could use their sex to justify an act of betrayal and infidelity, or perhaps it displays the narrator’s disgust with his use of such a tactic. He may be screaming the words, but he knows they’re wrong. Thile has said that nothing as dramatic as the actions in “Can’t Complain” happened in his own life, and other reports say the song is from the perspective of a friend, but wherever it came from, it’s one of the most fascinating songs in the entire Nickel Creek library.

1. When You Come Back Down

(from the album Nickel Creek)
The final selection from the band’s self-titled record is also the first with Chris in lead. A relatively simple song, “When You Come Back Down” is a great example of the star quality that emanates from Thile in everything he does. Throughout most of the track’s three-plus minutes, Thile carries the tune nearly by his lonesome and not once do you feel that anything is missing. Here, his voice is sweet, delicate and captivating, ferrying the graceful melody, the strongest aspect of the song, to the finish.