The Tear Blog – Melancholy Mega-mix (Spotify Playlist)

Image

I thought that an interesting avenue of exploration for the Tear Blog might be if I made a compilation of the kind of songs that make me feel sad.

Hopefully some passing commenter can point me in the direction of similar songs that might unlock my inchoate tear glands.

The Mega-mix is available as a Spotify playlist here:

The Tear Blog – Melancholy Megamix

I tried not to go for any obvious ballads, because that would probably end up being a bit much. I thought I’d pick a selection of songs that capture a range of different kinds of sadness.

A major caveat is that Joanna Newsom’s songs aren’t on Spotify. Her best songs are intensely sad, but maybe it’s for the best that she wasn’t part of this mega-mix because her songs are usually quite long and would probably weigh the whole experience down a bit too much; and that’s not what a mega-mix should be about!

It was for the same reason that I left off quite a few, really titanic, melancholy songs like “Hope There’s Someone” by Anthony and the Johnsons or “Blame Game” by Kanye West, because they are just too imposing. I tried to go for a selection of less showy songs that hopefully work well together.

As a word of caution, a lot of my opinions are just based off the songs themselves, so in quite a few cases I have probably completely misconstrued what they were even supposed to be about.

ONTO THE MEGA-MIX:

The Tear Blog – Melancholy Mega-mix Tracklist

1. Colour Me In – Broadcast
2. Tonight – The Avalanches
3. Enchanting Ghost – Sufjan Stevens
4. No One Asked Me to Dance – Deerhoof
5.  Mathew 25:21 – The Mountain Goats
6. Replica – Onehotrix Point Never
7. This Night Has Opened My Eyes – The Smiths
8. Surf’s Up (solo version) – The Beach Boys
9. We Were Wasted – The Leisure Society
10. Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying – Colin Stetson & Shara Worden
11. This Woman’s Work – Kate Bush
12. Prospector’s Quartet – Jonny Greenwood

Running time: 43 minutes

MELANCHOLY COMMENTARY:

1. Colour Me In – Broadcast

Thought I would start with a song that, when it was first written, wasn’t that sad but has since gained an unbearable amount of poignance. I only got into this group after lead singer Trish Keenan’s death, due to pneumonia, last year. The song sees Keenan singing to a potential lover, who hasn’t responded to her advances yet, but she is not put off, telling them that “it’s never too late, to colour me in.” It is too late now as she is dead. Unrequited love makes me very sad indeed. I used to get deeply upset at the squirrel scene in The Sword in the Stone, aged 6.

2. Tonight – The Avalanches

Almost all of The Avalanches songs on Since I Left You songs are unabashed concentrated joy, so it is particularly jarring when this song turns up suddenly. The reassembled sound collage approach of the rest of the album is used to opposite ends on this song. The murky salvaged piano melody coupled with the torch-bearing sentiment of the vocals produces a sad, nostaligic feel. It seems to be about one night of happiness simultaneously shot through with sadness because you don’t know whether you will even see the people/person again.

3. Enchanting Ghost – Sufjan Stevens

I am a big fan of Sufjan Stevens’ more arch songs, but for all the conceptual weight and effort he puts into his music, he would be as successful (probably even moreso financially speaking) if he just kept doing the kind of powerful stripped down ballads that he (seems almost ashamed) he can do in his sleep. This song is about being haunted by the memory of someone you continue to love despite their absence.

4. No One Asked Me to Dance – Deerhoof

Despite being one of my favourite bands, Deerhoof nevertheless have very few songs that have any kind of identifiable sentiment to any rational person, unless your children have ever been kidnapped by a man who lives in the clouds (a subject they dedicated an entire album to). No One Asked Me to Dance might be their most direct and simple song ever, a classy Spanish guitar riff, and lyrics about watching people on the dancefloor but not taking part.

5. Mathew 25:21 – The Mountain Goats

Taken from their album based around verses from the bible: The Life of the World to Come, this is Christian music with a rare dignity. If you have indulged me enough to read (and listen) this far, I suggest dedicating your attention to the narrative of this song, because it loses all it’s power otherwise. The song is an autobiographical account of John Darnielle travelling to visit his mother-in-law, who is dying in the hospital. I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t be moved by his delivery of the line: “And you were a presence full of light upon this earth / and I am a witness to your life and to its worth.” It’s weird to hear someone have something pleasant to say about their mother-in-law, have we finally escaped the Bernard Manning paradigm?

6. Replica – Onehotrix Point Never

After a song as heavy as the previous, I thought I would leave a bit of breathing space with an instrumental. Like the Avalanches’ Tonight, this song is made from various bits of salvaged audio, most prominently a melancholic piano tune. In this song’s case, the audio was sourced predominantly from trashy old adverts that were then subsequently manipulated into something far more unusual. The song/album’s conceptual underpinning is how future generations, or even otherworldly beings might, one day, piece together various disposable fragments of our present day culture but approximate it completely incorrectly. It is a simultaneously depressing and funny concept I think.

7. This Night Has Opened My Eyes – The Smiths

Despite liking The Smiths and Morrissey, I had somehow not encountered this song before last week. Shame on me, because it might now be one of my favourites of theirs. An account of a young girl feeling emotionally blank, neither happy or sad, after secretly giving away a child born out of wedlock. The guitar riff sounds strangely disco.

8. Surf’s Up (solo version) – The Beach Boys

Despite the generally upbeat and chipper nature of their music, the Beach Boys’ story is one that is filled with sadness. Parental abuse, substance abuse, debilitating mental illness and, in the case of Dennis Wilson: drowning in the ocean. This song is taken from an album with one of the most monumentally depressing covers ever:

Image

It’s not a song I feel like I fully understand, but it is a song I find moving regardless.

Surf’s Up paints a picture of the american aristocracy at a music hall show on New Year’s Eve, before suddenly transitioning into an impressionistic passage about everything being washed away by a tidal wave, letting a new generation begin from scratch. There is something inherently sad about the band who gave surfing such a mythical, good-time vibe inverting that image and using it as an analogy for something destructive, albeit cleansing. The solo piano version from the Smile Sessions boxset is a particularly sad rendition of the song.

9. We Were Wasted – The Leisure Society

This immaculate song is now inextricably linked with the ending of Paddy Considine’s directorial debut Tyrannosaur, which I liked but perhaps laid on the misery a bit too thick. Taken on its own terms, the song turns a wild night of drinking into an analogy for having wasted your life.

10. Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying – Colin Stetson & Shara Worden

A nightmarish reinvention of a Blues standard. Stripped of almost all musical accompaniment other than one rumbling unconsummated saxophone note, coupled with an uncomfortably raw vocal. This is a harsh song, thankfully its atmosphere and emotion stop it simply being an endurance test.

11. This Woman’s Work – Kate Bush

First heard this, aged 7, on some kind of feminist compilation CD my mam used to listen to whilst tidying up (called New Woman vol. II or something like that). It is one of my favourite Kate Bush songs, it’s open-ended sentiment means it could be about any number of things, the only thing that is certain is that it is one of the saddest songs ever written.

12. Prospector’s Quartet – Jonny Greenwood

Getting your head around the There Will Be Blood soundtrack means that you get to enjoy repeat viewings of the film, almost, as a musical. This piece of music plays during the montage that establishes the context for the indelible finale. I don’t think there will be a time I can hear this piece of music without getting chills up my spine.

——————–

…and that’s the Melancholy Mega-Mix! Hope you don’t want to kill yourself!

If you can hint me in the direction of any powerful songs you reckon I might like, just pop me a message.

Olivier Messiaen – Oraison

The big feature of Spotify that I can’t work out whether I love or despise is the Orwellian ticker telling you what all your friends have been listening to:

‘X listened to Tellin’ Stories by The Charlatans’

‘X listened to Exo-Politics by Muse’

‘X listened to Baby By Me by 50 Cent’

‘X listened to The Moose Song by Aaron Vande Wege’

‘X listened to Baby Come Home by The Scissor Sisters’

‘X listened to MIA by Emmy The Great’

‘X listened to Whistle by Can You Blow My’

‘X listened to Gorecki by Lamb’

‘X listened to If This Is It – 2006 Digital Remaster by Huey Lewis and the News’

‘X listened to Ex-Ravers by Zach Hill’

‘X listened to The House That Heaven Built by Japandroids’

‘X listened to It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy’

A diverse selection of songs, the majority of which I do not know; compiled mainly from people I haven’t seen in years, but am still inextricably connected to through facebook. Facebook induces a weird schizophrenia where I feel like I know so many people, and what they are interested in, very well; but I can’t have talked to many of them for more than a few minutes in real life. It’s like having surplus of imaginary friends on tap…

I would be interested in listening to some of the song selections to work out what they are like (particularly The Moose Song by Aaron Vande Wege) but the difficulty is: that if I do listen, then that person might notice that I’m listening to what they have been listening to. In which case, I either look like a musical parasite, or worse, that person becomes conscious they are broadcasting, affecting what they decide to listen to. Rather than discovering new things through people’s playlists, the opposite happens, this weird tension develops that means I find myself actively shying away from listening to what other people are listening to.

It is just too awkward when you that see someone is listening to the same song/album as you at the same time; producing a similar sensation to when someone catches you staring at them in the street. I also fret as to whether my song choices are dictated by what I want people to know I listen to, rather than what I actually want to listen to at any given moment.

I might have to disable the function entirely as it inflames my most twattish, paranoid instincts that I’d rather remain unconscious of.

One feature of Spotify that I have been getting into that is less psychologically daunting, is Artist Radio. You pick an artist/album that you are fond of and Spotify fishes out a randomized playlist of songs by associated artists, leading you into listening to things that you likely would never have encountered on your own. This has been particularly useful for attempting to get into modern classical/instrumental music (about which I am entirely ignorant). This was not driven by a desire to be more highbrow, but chiefly because I cannot concentrate on work at all if music has lyrics.

Artist Radio endeared itself to me instantly as the very first song it picked out was Oraison by Olivier Messiaen.

I found the song completely transfixing and densely sad. It is difficult to guess when it was written on first listen, it seems like it could be from last year or a century ago. It is played on an instrument that sounds like it is from the future. A future that is going to be sad in ways we can’t yet fathom.

Subsequent investigation revealed that it was one of the first pieces of electronic music.

It was produced by Messiaen for an instrument called the Ondes Martenot and premiered at the 1937 Paris World Fair. A precursor to the theremin (the Ondes Martenot was also used copiously on Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack to There Will Be Blood; a score that, I have previously established, gives my tear glands a stiffy).

Like the theremin, the Ondes Martenot was later used to create the incidental music for a variety of trashy sci-fi shows/films of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It adds to the sadness of the thing that the first piece of music written for this instrument is so moving and dignified, before it quickly becomes taken advantage of to create a campy, trashy effect.

The piece was subsequently re-worked using more traditional instrumentation for a longer suite called Quartet for the End of Time. During WW2 Messiaen was taken to a P.O.W. camp. It was there that he composed the Quartet after receiving a pencil and some paper from a sympathetic guard. The story of the piece’s first performance (from Wikipedia) is absolutely sensational and is surely ripe for a schmaltzy director to adapt it:

“The completed quartet was premiered in Stalag VIII-A in Görlitz, Germany outdoors in the rain on January 15, 1941, with old, broken instruments before an audience of about four hundred fellow prisoners of war and prison guards. Messiaen later recalled: “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension.”

A powerful tale showing the strength of an individual able to create something beautiful and timeless whilst trapped somewhere that was summoned into being through mankind’s most destructive, hateful instincts. To quote RiRi, he “found love in a hopeless place.”

Good job they didn’t have smartphones back then. Our generation is a petty shower of shits who are only capable of watching gigs through screens. Recording it only to boast to others; then never watching the video again.

This entire generation is entirely self-obsessed; social-networking has made every action and cultural choice into a sculpted aspect of the image we want to present to others.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the next couple of hours looking at the Spotify ticker to see if anyone listens to Oraison. That way I will get vindication of what a powerfully influential individual with great taste I am. I hope one of my imaginary friends ‘likes’ this post.

TEAR RATING: