Depressing Music for Depressing Times

GEORGE OSBORN wades through hours of depressing songs wrists intact.

Bon Iver Ed Harcourt Elbow Glasvegas Guillemots Music Radiohead Stabbed

“God I’m so depressed” is a phrase you’ll have heard a lot of in recent times. The week four blues, followed by the week five “what’s the point” and then followed by the week six “why does the misery of existence never END??” does do a lot to sap your tiny reserves of genuine energy. The ones built by 7 cans of relentless and an overdose of pro plus everyday at 7am sharp don’t count only mask the shiteness of “life” and early mornings and, as a result, it can be a tough time to get through.

Some people suggest the powers of positive thinking, watching feel good films, a better diet, more exercise and force feeding your misery sodden head with an artillery assault of incessantly happy music. Unfortunately, those ideas are all as wrong as clipping your toenails over the top of one of your housemates bowls of Alpen as he dives into the toilet, only to realise that he’s not using your milk and you’ve condemned him to eating the fungus that your doctor had described as “dangerous to society” for no reason at all. Instead, what you should be doing is pulping your brain with all manner of morose music to compound your misery further, until you think “Thank god I’m not as miserable as these fuckers are” and get on with your life. But it’s a careful balancing act still: I find Chipmunk, Newton Faulkner and Fall Out Boy depressing, for example, but that’s because they are total shit, devoid of talent and roughly as offensive as Danish cartoons of a certain religious prophet. What you really need to do is find those songs that really tap into your sad side because they, you know, genuinely connect with you, so this guide provides a bit of a rundown of some of the most upsetting, depressing and lonely songs ever written to inspire us all out of the pit of despair, all with a little blurb to describe which form of sadness it’s appropriate for. We can’t guarantee it’ll make you feel better, but hope this reminds you that everyone feels like this at some point and you can get through it.

Rain on the Pretty Ones – Ed Harcourt

Built out of a devastatingly powerful piano and strings opening, Ed’s vocals pour out over the top of the desolate landscape like some form of quivering oral rain and the lyrics themselves are saturated in a sense of bleak irony. Such gems as “I'm the dreamer, who jumps off the bridge” or “I'm the lover, who dies in his bed” flow out across the thundering hammering of the keys straight into the part of the brain labelled “Tear Duct on”, but even these depressing snippets fail to convey the transient nature of our reality as the last example of lyrical lamentations from this song. “You leave no footprints in the dust” is a line that could be passed over but is loaded with some ridiculously obvious death metaphors to anyone with a GCSE in English Literature and leaves you in no doubt that this is a sad, sad song. The fact that the album it comes from, The Beautiful Lie, also contains numerous other heartbreakers such as “The Last Cigarette”, “Braille” and “Until tomorrow Then”, the last discussing what would happen when the world ends, suggests Mr Harcourt has a talent for touching a nerve.

Best Used When: You’ve broken up with a partner, you’ve had a borderline near death experience or you enjoy thinking that the world is acting in the most ironic manner to screw you over.

See also: Switching Off by Elbow

Stabbed – Glasvegas

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is a piece of serene beauty, tinged with a vague sense of emptiness. When combined to the pleas of a Glaswegian man not to be stabbed by someone going for his wallet and then describing his desperate flee into the night, it becomes something with a deadly raw edge to it. While coming from Glasgow is probably quite depressing anyway and that describing getting the school bus in the morning over the top of Chopin’s funeral march may have worked too, “Stabbed” remains uniquely individual and powerful. Everyone has that fear that the world is not as nice and as friendly a place as it seems, but the honest spoken style of James Allan’s voice lends it that individuality that makes it seem horrifically potent. After the last line “Run Rabbit Run” fades into a piano chord that echoes funeral bells, you can’t fail to share the feeling that a genuinely haunting experience has occurred.  Absolutely fricking harrowing.

Best Used When: You’ve had some kind of experience that you can’t get out of your head, ranging from DoS meetings to a big argument. This puts it in perspective.

See also: The entire album by dubstep artist Burial called Untrue.

If the World Ends – Guillemots

Yes, this is the second time a song has been mentioned that has clear connotations about the end of the world. But few songs combine such an edge of pure, heartfelt sentiment to the delicate arrangement organised here to create something beautifully sad. Fyfe Dangerfield has a lightly delicate vocal style that suits the quietly beautiful sentiments on display but really the way it weaves around a constantly shimmering and shifting landscape is what makes this especially sad. When a line such as “Water was running through both of your hands” has the ability to melt the heart, it’s apparent that you are listening to something special. If the world ends for Guillemots, it will in a quiet and intimate manner but nonetheless it will end and you have to accept your mortality. Both a beautiful love song and an acceptance of the ultimate tragedy of death in ending love; it’s a song for those wonderful moments in life and for the saddest too.

Best Used When: You’ve lost something or someone close to you and need reminding that life is kind of beautiful even when you are bummed out.

See Also: Re: Stacks by Bon Iver

You and Whose Army – Radiohead

Is this a cliché having a Radiohead song in a list of depressing songs? Not really. Thom Yorke is a man who feels alienated a lot of the time and as a result regularly writes fantastic songs about it but retains humanity and hope still. Paranoid Android is the regularly cited one, alongside No Surprises and Creep, but really the depth of his moroseness fails to hit a bottom. Talk Show Host, Exit Music, I Will, Like Spinning Plates and Pyramid Song are all great examples but I’ve picked “You and Whose Army” purely because it is my favourite out of a bunch of songs that are all brilliant when feeling down. The vocals start smothered, the guitar is muted and the song echoes as if empty before bursting into a spine tingling crescendo. There’s nothing really that you can put your finger on other than the shift from downtrodden to borderline euphoria that magnifies the sense that you can grow out of your sadness. It gives you that tiny bit of hope that even when you feel grim, things can rise again somehow.

Best used When: You need to pick yourself up and realise that everyone in the world may have something rubbish going on but everything still carries on anyway.

See also: Amsterdam by Coldplay

Say Hello to the Angels – Interpol

Ok, so I’ve covered the bases of loneliness, sadness and broken hearts but what about frustration and annoyance? What can you use to deal with the red mist? Angry fast paced music is good and Interpol are frankly brilliant at creating exhilarating walls of guitar fury that are perfect to bash your head too. Loud, aggressive, frantic vocals but still smothered in a fantastic layer of cool, it feels positively acceptable to smash your anger against this especially when the shredding sounds break in and best of all it ends on a quieter note too, providing some sense of blowing yourself out. Some people might suggest heavy metal, emo or something louder might work better but I say two things to them: firstly, that’s all unsubtle stuff compared to the uber hip fury exhibited here and secondly, this is a fucking immense song that deserves to be listened to. And it sounds awesome when blasting through a good set of speakers or headphones.

Best Used When: You’re ready to smash your head against the wall as your flatmate has accidentally blown up the toaster or your supervisor is being an idiot.

See also: Exhibit A by The Features

So there we have it, a brief run through of some stuff to help you out with/compound further the impending misery of these few weeks. Wait til that next rainy day and you’ll appreciate the power of depressing music in getting you in touch with your emotions. For the better. Hopefully.

To read George Osborn's recommendations on where to get musical bargains in Cambridge click here.