To whatever meaning and whatever end life comes to, whatever started it and whatever happens afterward, most of us agree on one simple thing: Life is good. There are times, however, when even that idea is disagreeable. This playlist is for those times. No, these are not upbeat songs that will perk you up and put you into prime shape to get back to your capitalist grind. Instead, they’re songs that validate our misery because art is the only thing that can do that. Music can empathize without speaking to us; it provides an authentic emotional quality with the unique power to ease loneliness.
“Slow Motion” by Tiny Vipers
This is a down-tempo and simple song, just Jesy Fortino’s empty, lonely voice and four minor chords on a mellow guitar. The chords maintain a low-lit atmosphere, while the lyrics hold the weight of acceptance of the world’s harshness and the impermanence of joy.
“Northern Star” by Hole
“Northern Star” is one of Hole’s few acoustic pieces, the speaker in the lyrics contemplating the destruction and self-destruction of her dead lover.
“Two” by The Antlers
The speaker’s girlfriend is diagnosed with terminal bone cancer in what are arguably the most despairingly miserable lyrics ever written in English. He recalls their life together, characterized by her always running away and him always pulling her back. He is now trapped in the hell of being simultaneously abused by her and emotionally dependent on their love, which is given an expiration date. Meanwhile, the girlfriend is too angered and blinded by her illness to properly deal with their unresolved problems, leaving him completely alone in his complicated pain. This is a depressing song, folks.
“Long Dark Century” by Fern Knight
This is a more instrumental piece, with the focus placed on the downtrodden melody lead by a violin and cello harmony. The lyrics are pictorial, describing scenes of death, darkness and decay, with no emotional response, suggestive of equanimity to it all.
“Arms and Horses” by Arborea
Two guitars and a violin play a gorgeous melody as Shanti Curran’s haunting voice lulls through images of tragedy resulting from war or violence. The mood in this song is truly made by the melody of the music, which the lyrics merely supplement.
“Silent from Above” by Mirrorring
An acoustic guitar plays melancholy arpeggios above electronic ambience as the singer drawls out her resentment of time, loneliness and the inability of words to lead toward the understanding of those concepts.
“The Donor” by Judee Sill
This is a grandiose vocal piece featuring 40 voices in a hymn of “Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy),” a piano keeping them in rhythm. The singer lost her dreams, and is hit by “sorrow like an arrow”. Having given up, the only thing she has left to do is pray for a break from life’s sorrows.
“Two-Headed Boy” by Neutral Milk Hotel
It is not easy to say what makes this song so sad. Like most Neutral Milk Hotel songs, the lyrics follow a nonsensical stream of consciousness that adds little to the mood. Nevertheless, I am not the only one who almost cries whenever I’m listening to it.