10 Sad Songs To Pick You Up

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A good lyric has to be honest, slightly barbed, and without pretentiousness (at least overt pretentiousness). It cant be too maudlin or too derivative.  Maybe overcast and self-deprecating – show me transparency, son! I collected ten of my favorite sad songs. There aren’t a lot of older tracks on here – sorry, “Going To California” by Led Zeppelin. The job of trimming the fat from this playlist was an enormous task. Reptar’s “Breezy” almost made the cut for the aching malaise of its opening lines (Woke up reaching for the edges of your phone/I don’t think I’ve ever been down quite this low before). EMA’s “California”, also containing the broken glass of contemporary uneasiness, begins its opening salvo with the curt lines “fuck California, you made me boring.” These are both striking, vulnerable, and uncompromising ways to christen the first few seconds of a track. Dirty Gold’s brilliantly sad cover of TV Girl’s “On Land” contains the aching lyric “I time traveled and unraveled the mysteries of the universe/Now I know/Now I know what not to do with you.”  That simple revelation, paired with the beach glow of sand-dusted instrumentation, makes the cozy resignation feel that much more resonant. Meanwhile, the mind-scrambling discord of Moonface’s “Fast Peter” woozily gallops out of the gates with the richly disorienting “So, Peter loves a girl/The way that only Peter does/He told me all about it on the balcony/When we were high on drugs.” Still, none of the aforementioned songs channel the devastating blur of the following tracks. Get ready for regret, self-referential madness, bruised memories, and the fear the mortality! And, hey, there’s a Spotify playlist at the bottom!

10. Neko Case – Star Witness

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A rich, forlorn narrative that feels of loose rocks, skinned knees, and dirty oil pans. The warpaint of weathered memories, open wounds, and monochromatic fate. Neko emblazons the proceedings with a drunken wanderlust. Life is all violence and regret. Sadness and hope. It’s a clasping of dust and fresh air. All things wicked.

My true love drowned in a dirty old pan
Of oil that did run from the block
Of a Falcon sedan 1969
The paper said ’75
There were no survivors
None found alive

Trees break the sidewalk
And the sidewalk skins my knees
There’s glass in my thermos
And blood on my jeans
Nickels and dimes of the Fourth of July
Roll off in a crooked line
To the chain-link lots where the red tails dive
Oh how I forgot what it’s like

Hey when she sings, when she sings, when she sings like she runs
Moves like she runs
Hey when she moves, when she moves, when she moves like she runs
Moves like she runs

Hey there, there’s such deadly wolves ’round town tonight
‘Round the town tonight
Hey there, there’s such deadly wolves ’round town tonight
‘Round the town tonight

“Hey pretty baby get high with me
We can go to my sister’s if we say we’ll watch the baby”
The look on your face yanks my neck on the chain
And I would do anything (I would do anything)
To see you again
So I’ve fallen behind

Hey when she sings, when she sings, when she sings like she runs
Moves like she runs
Hey when she moves, when she moves, when she moves like she runs
Moves like she runs

Hey there, there’s such deadly wolves ’round town tonight
‘Round the town tonight
Hey there, there’s such deadly wolves ’round town tonight
‘Round the town tonight

Go on, go on and scream and cry
You’re miles from where anyone will find you
This is nothing new, no television crew
They don’t even put on the sirens
My nightgown sweeps the pavement, please
Don’t let him die

Oh how I forgot…

09. Rilo Kiley – The Good That Won’t Come Out

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Jenny Lewis is at her most honest here. Buoyed by textural descriptions of friendship, mortality, and the abstract notions of wilted comfort, Lewis is disarmed by revelation. She’s exploring life, pressing her hands over the door frame. It’s both self-effacing and hopeful. And one of the most important songs of the aughts.

Let’s get together and talk about the modern age
All of our friends were gathered there with their pets
Just talking shit about how we’re all so upset about the disappearing ground
As we watch it melt….

It’s all of the good that won’t come out of us
And how eventually our hands will just turn to dust
If we keep shaking them
Standing here on this frozen lake

I do this thing where I think I’m real sick
But I won’t go to the doctor to find out about it
Cause they make you stay real still in a real small space
As they chart up your insides and put them on display
They’d see all of it, all of me, all of it

All the good that won’t come out of me
And all the stupid lies I hide behind
It’s such a big mistake
Lying here in your warm embrace

Oh, you’re almost home
I’ve been waiting for you to come in
Dancing around in your old suits going crazy in your room again
I think I’ll go out an embarrass myself by getting drunk and falling down in
The street
You say I choose sadness
That it never once has chosen me
Maybe you’re right…

Let’s talk about all of our friends who lost the war
And all of the novels that had yet to be written about them

It’s all the good that won’t come out of them
And all the stupid lies they hide behind
It’s such a big mistake
Standing here on this frozen lake

It’s all of the good that won’t come out of me
And how eventually my mouth will just turn to dust
If I don’t tell you quick
Standing here on this frozen lake

08. The Fiery Furnaces – Benton Harbor Blues – Again

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The first of two Eleanor Friedberger songs on this list, Benton Harbor Blues, much like its album’s cover, is playfully despondent. The song’s loneliness and self-doubt is perforated by the energetic bounce and pattering of its whimsical instrumentation. The seemingly innocuous imagery – riding a bike down to the mini-mart – is met with unexpected bursts of sadness (“I thought of ways that I have broke my own heart”). It’s a collision of acute sadness and the meandering doldrums of day-to-day life.

As I try to fill all of my empty days
I stumble round on through my memory’s maze;
Of all my past, only the sadness stays

I went moping down by the bridge;
I rode a bike in the snow to the mini-mart;
I thought of the ways that I have broke my own heart

It’s not for me to fill the blue sea with tears
But when I think back on all the wasted years
All the good cheer and all of the charm disappears

I wore the exact same clothes for five days;
The bailbondsman gave me a smile;
I was just thinking of only my sins all the while

As I try to fill all of my empty days
I stumble round on through my memory’s maze;
Of all my past, only the sadness stays

07. Moonface – City Wrecker

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Spencer Krug is one of the most extremely talented songwriters of the past twenty years. Bridging esoteric melancholia with sweeping imagery, Krug is grandiose and yet stricken by diffidence. It’s that very combination of humility and strength that makes his music so hypnotically evocative. Here, he grapples with the erosion of time and ideas. Of relationships and metropolitan mysteriousness. It’s a rip-current of powerlessness.

Jenny Lee, Montreal was never the same once you were gone
Jenny Lee, you should know the city fell into a sort of boring ruin
And so we leave Montreal and so the wild mother we once knew
Jenny Lee, I know that my behaviour was probably partly why you turned into a blade of grass and a blade of steel

I was a city wrecker then
I was a city wrecker then, I was a city wrecker then
I was the eye pointed in
That was 2009-or-so, I am still a city wrecker now
Now

And now you live back with the anglophones
And I am where my lover needed me to go
And I love her, so I step onto the ice
While you possess the common sense to demand paradise

My lover, bless her patient heart
Deep down, I know this town’s not as bad as I pretend

I am a city wrecker, then
I am a city wrecker, then, I am a city wrecker, then
I am the eye pointed in
It is 2000-and-whatever, I am still a city wrecker but a different kind of wrecker
I am a different kind of wrecker, singing “la-la-la-la-la”s
I step onto the ice
It is 2000-and-whatever, I am still a city wrecker now
Now
Now

06. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Cold White Christmas

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Again, one of the most literary songwriters in recent memory, Owen Ashworth describes the emotional maladies of a particular crestfallen person in St. Paul, Minnesota. The solitude is described richly, with Ashworth’s trembling vocals adding a graininess to the already foggy proceedings. This is the kind of erudite writing that Ben Gibbard was doing in the late nineties, before he became a characterization of himself.

Cap & gown in purple & gold
You’re 22 years old & a woman now you’re told
Aunt Beth & Charlie cut a check for the graduating niece
& you marked your independence with a signature on a lease
But home was a photograph you taped to your wall
It’s gonna be a cold white Christmas in St Paul

Beer for breakfast who’s gonna scold
You’ve got your early hours dulled by the cigarettes you rolled
Second shift as a fry cook that’s your holiday in grease
& you trudge to work through the snow in a coat down to your knees
& you linger at the twinkle lights as you pass by the mall
& count the days to a cold white Christmas in St Paul

Feather down the nights get so cold
& you ignore the smell of mold as you smooth out the folds
When you’re on your own you’ve got no one to please
In a Minnesota city just as bare & as mean as the winter trees
But you’ll be damned if you’re the one making collect calls
On a cold white Christmas in St Paul
Yeah it’s a cold white Christmas in St Paul

05. Florist – Thank You

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A sliver of sun threads through the dusty blinds, and Emily Sprague quietly describes her losses, her hopes, her pain. It’s a masthead of light and wind. Sprague’s spectral delivery, pinned to the simplicity of Florist’s early morning instrumentation, creates a scene of floating dust particles suspended in emotion.

The mountains around my eyes set on fire before I could even swallow my own spit
I was born a boy with many opinions
and now i’m a girl who doesn’t really care about anything
This beautiful thing happens every day it’s called the sun
it’s called my blood
and it’s the only thing making us want to be alive

I’m really grateful for the people I’ve met but that won’t make me die any less
A mound of dust that light somehow seeps through and creates you
thank you

The snow is falling at the perfect speed
The rain is falling at the perfect speed
The cars are moving at the perfect speed
My legs are moving at the perfect speed

4. Great Lake Swimmers – Various Stages

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One of the most realistic, romantic, and beautiful depictions of love in a song ever. It’s beauty through pain, happiness through struggle. It’s a pirouette of reflection. The honesty is staggering. What is love? And, emotionally, who are we?

I have seen you in various stages of undress
I have seen you through various states of madness
I have seen your refractions and I did not recognize you
I have seen you in various states of madness

How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?
How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?

I am sorry I had nothing left for you
My mind was willing and my spirit was strong
My lips were tired and tightened from singing along
My eyelids are heavy as anchors thrown over

How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?
How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?

I have seen you in the eyes of a hundred thousand other stranger faces
I have seen you in unlikely and unfamiliar places
I have seen you be reckless in matters of love
I have seen by degrees the boiling point come and go

How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?
How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?
What lies at the end of this long and dark and twisted road?
How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?

I have seen you in various stages of undress
I have seen you through various states of madness

03. Julia Holter – Feel Me

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Julia Holter’s “Feel Me” is unique, conceptually, in its pastoral and dreamlike imagery. Precipitation, traffic, loneliness, and a half-extinguished lighthouse of hope. “Can I feel you? Are you mythological?” is devastating in its confusion and vulnerability. Making my list of top songs from 2015, Holter’s “Feel Me” is both loose earth and monolithic city.

My first thought was
There are so many days of rain
In Mexico City –
A good reason to go
You know I love to run away from sun

Is it time to dance?
I’ll fall – you know I like to fall

I’m hopeful for
The rush hour car
Stares and
The memory of your piano

Can I feel you? Are you
Mythological?

Figures pass so quickly
That I realize my
Eyes know very well
It’s impossible to see
Who I’m waiting for in
My raincoat

The time change worked well
I had a good excuse for being late
But I pushed open the door –
The room was empty all the people gone
When the cab pulled up
I laughed, I forgot where I was going
There I stood mystified
I could give no reason for my frozen stare

Am I heading toward you?
It’s a hot day

Can I feel you? Are you
Mythological?

Figures pass so quickly
That I realize my
Eyes know very well
It’s impossible to see
Who I’m waiting for in
My raincoat

All these perfumes
In this parking lot
Thousands of people pass through
On this festival day
Playing their saxophones
I see a flashing light
I’m blinded by it-
The possibility

It’s impossible to see
Who I’m waiting for in
My raincoat

02. Death Cab for Cutie – No Joy In Mudville

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Ben Gibbard’s best song, lyrically, is “No Joy In Mudville” – a hushed, kaleidoscopic slow-burn of geography and love. Admiration as smoke and mirrors. The romanticism of brownstones in the chill of winter. The undying respect of those you want to be near. It’s a heartbreaking slow-dance of old memories.

Last night I dreamt that I was you
I was dressed all in black with dark glasses and attitude
Such a pose I could simply not hold
Through days in a northern town that I had once called a home
And your studies of fringe New York Streets
I was reading the pavement in every word you would speak
To a “brownstone up three flights of stairs” and it’s on

Buying drinks for the poets upstate
The southern corruption tows you down the interstate
And they all said that you were the king
Of a gloomy disruption that surfaced when you would sing
And this town simply cannot begin to compete
So I’m packing my Bullets and Silvertones and heading east
To a “brownstone up three flights of stairs” and it’s on, on, on, on, it’s

I could have had my way, this year would bridge ’66 again

Trust fund hipsters were casing the room
Chock-full of amphetamines
The overturned kick drum boom
Set the pace with incomparable cool
And if the tempo was lousy it was lost on all but you
And your studies of fringe New York Streets:
I was reading the pavement in every word you would speak
To a “brownstone up three flights of stairs” and it’s on, on, on, on, it’s on

If I could have had my way, this year would bridge ’66 again
If I could have had my way, this year would bridge ’66 again

1. Eleanor Friedberger – Owl’s Head Park

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Once again, heartbreak through geography. A strange, weathered flipbook of recollections. Vividly described, and yet sun bleached by time. Loneliness, codependency, and the endless possibilities of a city’s intimacy. My favorite lyrics ever put to music.

I heard they got used bicycle parts down in Coney Island
There’s a Russian there who makes them out on Surf Avenue
I chose my seat and my wheels, one pink and one white
He said come back in an hour, but I got nothing to do
I gave him sixty bucks, I guess they must’ve been stolen, maybe found
Finally they found their way back to me or you

I don’t know the way from Owl’s Head Park
I don’t know the name of Owl’s Head Park
You know it only rains in Owl’s Head Park
The wind feels just the same

I only took one picture that day
It’s me on the bike posing next to a white Lamborghini on Manhattan Avenue
In front of that tiny, tiny restaurant
Where we had dinner and watched TV
Was hanging from the ceiling in the corner
I strained my neck to see
It’s the only photo I have of that bike on that day
The boys on the F-Train said that frame was fresh
It was the color blue
But I didn’t know my way so I couldn’t get home to you
I didn’t know my way so I couldn’t ride home to you
I had to connect!

I don’t know the way from Owl’s Head Park
I don’t know the name of Owl’s Head Park
You know it only rains in Owl’s Head Park
The wind feels just the same

But it came to me in a fever dream
You’re only here for two days, so it seems
I don’t know the way from Owl’s Head Park, it’s the same
I couldn’t find my way back from the beach that day
Some say it’s Bath Beach, some say it’s Diker Heights
I imagine Governor’s Island is Shutter Island
I imagine Christopher Walken as a dancer named Ryan
It just don’t seem right!
It just don’t seem right
Why I make the most of the dream
It just don’t seem… it just don’t seem right

I don’t know the way from Owl’s Head Park
I don’t know the name of Owl’s Head Park
You know it only rains in Owl’s Head Park
The wind feels just the same

 

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Author: Rob Patrick

A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, Rob created Cinema Spartan after he stepped down as the editor of a weekly. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. He has also introduced films with the Pacific Arts Movement. He co-owns two dire wolves, Buckley and Ruffin. At any given time, he can tell you superfluous hockey statistics. He is the chancellor of Tapatio, an advocate of iced tea, and an owner of at least 70 pairs of Vans.

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