The National is a Brooklyn-based indie rock band who comprise lead singer Matt Berninger and two pairs of brothers: Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf. This is the opening track from their fifth album, High Violet.
This song's sound is typical of the much denser and heavier instrumentation on High Violet compared to what the National has done previously. Aaron Dessner explained to The Quietus: "'Loose wool' is 'Terrible Love.' I remember Bryce saying, 'Ok, what does loose wool sound like?' and Matt went, 'bam-bam-bam' [makes much more sense audibly] so then I created this effect and turned the amp up beyond loud, tuned the guitar down and just had these harmonic pedals on that make it sound weird. I was strumming simple chords – the chord progression is like a Bon Jovi progression, like G, C – but because of the weird effect it doesn't sound like it. So we ran with that idea and a lot of the songs have a similar texture."
In an interview with Spinner UK, the comment was made that the lyrics of High Violet seem despairing and paranoid. Berninger responded: "There is a lot of mental chaos and the character is overwhelmed a lot. 'Terrible Love,' it isn't necessarily so bad, it's just about being overwhelmed by this emotion of love, whatever that is, or if you did something wrong to someone you love. There's a lot of stress and anxiety on there."