Depression music is a pernicious endeavor, since there’s an inevitable, imperceptible transition from catharsis to causation: one second, you’re listening to Ben Harper’s acoustic catalogue to help cope with your pain; the next, Ben Harper’s acoustic catalogue is elongating your depression because it’s so fucking sad. But all you, the depressed listener, can discern is that you were depressed then, and you’re still depressed now—you cannot tell that your actual melancholy is over, and that Ben Harper’s girly falsetto is the sole cause of your being down. It’s a scientific truth, just like gravity or farts being flammable: depression music only makes you more depressed.
That said, there’s so much good depression music that being upset is way worth it, just for the soundtrack. But finding the right dirge can be difficult—hence, here’s a can’t-miss guide to tracking down the crying anthem that matches your tears:
1. Anything white, geeky, male teenagers love on a creepy, cultish level is depressing.
This includes Alice in Chains, the Smashing Pumpkins, Lamb of God, Radiohead, Nirvana, Sufjan Stevens, and Dream Theater. There are countless other bands in the same category; white, geeky, male teenagers are real sluts about loving music.
Exceptions: Sublime, jambands.
2. Music with singing/songwriting and one or more acoustic guitars is depressing.
This refers to the aforementioned Harper, Damien Rice, half of Jack Johnson’s songs, the Grateful Dead, and Hank Williams.
Exceptions: The other half of Jack Johnson’s songs.
3. Non-jazz female singers are depressing.
Attention Imogen Heap, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Grace Potter, Joni Mitchell, Dido, Alison Krauss, Ani DiFranco, Stevie Nicks, Regina Spektor, and that chick from the Cranberries: Get over yourselves. Besides, only half of you are attractive.
Exceptions: Alanis Morissette, Daughtry.
4. “Beautiful” songs are depressing.
Cortez the Killer, Fake Plastic Trees, Fade to Black, Rat Race, Sugaree, Soul Meets Body, Such Great Heights, I Can’t Stop Loving You, and Helpless are all personal favorites. They could also make me cry while I was watching four girls undress and snorting lines of gold cocaine. Wild Horses couldn’t help my mood.
Exceptions: Sorry, what was I saying? I was pulling $64,000 worth of bullion blow out of my nose.
5. Justin Timberlake is depressing.
Word has it he’s dating Jessica Alba. I hate myself. No exceptions.
To be more specific about effective melodic moroseness, I went on record a few blogs ago as calling Coldplay’s “X&Y” a terrible piece of music. I’m sticking to that—it’s an awful, awful, predictable, formulaic, awful, patronizing, awful album. However, I underestimated its value as a depression album, as a collection of songs you unleash just before you reach for the valium and dive in to mindless streaming TV on alluc.org. Any semi- to normally-balanced human being would be too distracted by X&Y’s negatives to appreciate its woebegone-ness. Heavy-hearted people, though, hear music solely as emotion, and X&Y is a monumental downer, right up there with Damien Rice’s “O” (a killer album) and The Postal Service’s “Give Up” (even more brilliant than it is sad). Unfortunately, X&Y doesn’t have the chops to keep up with “O” or “Give Up,” but it’ll do just as well with a handle of cough syrup and 20 minutes of erotic web surfing.
Stay Sullen, San Diego