Winter is ending, and spring has begun – not that you’d notice, by looking out the window. If you’re somehow still suffering from January blues, then these songs just might help you get through it. They capture incredibly well just how crap life can be at times, and when you’re feeling down it’s always a little therapeutic to indulge in some well deserved moping. These themes can come out of nearly every genre – and across the board, our just passed 2015 was actually a great year for meaningful, if slightly bleak, alternative music.
Stick these on, look outside at the rain, and melt into the melancholy.
Sufjan Stevens – ‘Fourth of July’
The soft-sounding piano chords give the piece a sweet and childlike innocence that is almost ironic. Low-sounding synthesiser underneath piano chords give the piece sinister undertones that undermine its surface-level sweetness. This is a song about the death of loved ones and the loss of innocence; the album from which it is drawn, Carrie & Lowell, documents the death of Stevens’ mother, her illnesses and their ventures past. ‘Fourth of July’ itself is a song of absolute, soul-crushing beauty – and I absolutely love it.
“Sitting at the bed with the halo at your head, was it all a disguise? Like Juniour High, everything was fiction, future and prediction – now where am I?” This song can hopefully remind us that we all need to make the most of the brief time we have.
Courtney Barnett – ‘Depreston’
Courtney Barnett has built up a reputation as an excellent lyricist. Her style is to essentially record her entire train of thought, no matter how insignificant such thoughts seem – they all add to the reality and richness of the stories she tells. In this song, she is at a house viewing and ends up daydreaming. “I can’t think of floorboards anymore, whether the porch faces south or north.”
Hopefully any students burdened by laundry, washing-up and trying to find a house can relate to the themes Courtney sings about here. The song follows her thought process as she goes from thinking about the practicalities, to eventually daydreaming about the lives of the previous owners of the house. When forced to complete chores of an intrinsically practical and boring nature, our thoughts and individuality are often set aside. But this song captures how they will always force themselves back through.
Chet Faker – ‘Birthday Card’
Chet Faker (feat. Marcus Marr) released an EP called ‘Work’ late last year. Track ‘Birthday Card’ is an exercise in creating a mood; beats and bass build an up-tempo atmosphere, switching it up occasionally like any good electronica should. But the carefully constructed mood is overlaid with vulnerable vocals, almost ethereal in their tone; think Bon Iver or James Vincent McMorrow.
It’s a single, soulful and sorrowful voice on top of an almost overpowering baseline. With lyrics like, “I want a cause, so bad. I need a reason to be in this world,” you rather get where he’s coming from.
Everything Everything – ‘No Reptiles’
English indie band Everything Everything’s 2015 album Get to Heaven covered a range of themes from UKIP to ISIS, much of the inspiration apparently coming from Higgs watching the news on a ‘rolling loop’.
When I first heard this song, the lyric that stuck with me most was, “It’s alright to feel like a fat child in a pushchair old enough to run, old enough to fire a gun”. This, to me, is about not feeling the independence society promises. It is about feeling that one is worthless and that they can’t contribute to society. At first, I thought this was a song about feeling small.
However, I was surprised to read later that there’s something much darker behind this song. It’s actually about committing an act of violence, and what inspires people to do such things. It is about how such feelings of insignificance, and the need for a meaning and purpose in life can drive people to evil.
The idea of violence is clearer in the bloody video. “I’m going to kill a stranger – don’t you be a stranger.” This emphasises the idea that people committing horrific acts often do so out of alienation, and perhaps if they were better loved and more understood, violence and hatred would be gone.
Strings and vocal harmonies bring the song to an emotional climax towards the end, concluding the piece with what seems like hope… “just give me one moment to feel on the right path”. The singer, Jonathon Higgs, dreams of contributing to the world and feeling worthwhile, just like we all should be able to do. But in this case, ‘the right path’ could be an act of terror.
Higgs himself called the song a “death Bible”.