Monday, June 17, 2013

Depressing ways to close an album

at 5:52 PM
This started as an idea for a Top Ten, but I realized it's kinda stupid to try to list the "top ten" "most depressing" closing tracks. Would that mean the best ten closers that happen to be depressing, or the ten depressingest? The depressinger, the better? I'm not sure I need to be a trailblazer into quantifying emotion. Positive or negative, it is what it is - as would say the famous Joe Baker, pre-calc teacher at large. Instead, let it suffice for me to mention some particularly effective works which have left an impression on my own personal emotions brain, which will forever characterize not only their album and artist, but the very state of mind that drove their creation.

These songs are particularly haunting as they're the last sound the respective albums offer before the air goes dead. The lyrics linger in our brains, the notes continue to loop, and the mood hangs with us.

"Sara" - Bob Dylan on Desire (sorry I couldn't find the studio version on YT, Bob Dylan is a sellout/etc.)
This is one of those songs that simply can't be separated from the songwriter's biography. I mean it's titled for his ex-wife, for chrissakes. "Sara" is something of Dylan's final elegy to his first marriage, an empty-handed lament of their highs, lows, and the little moments in between. The line "staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel / writin' 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' for you" is utterly heartbreaking - Dylan is reminding us of a love song he wrote a decade ago, telling us it was based on his life, and telling us it ended in unhappiness and despair. Jesus Christ, that's awful! That's like the writer of Toy Story writing an autobiography in a few years about how Toy Story was based on his real childhood experiences and how he grew to hate the toys and destroyed them, and then killed himself.

"Here Comes a Regular" - The Replacements on Tim
A lot of what we find emotionally effective derives from shared experiences. A song about substance abuse is certainly more likely to hit home with someone who has struggled down the path of substance abuse. I'm not sure this would be the time or place to talk about whether I've had such experiences, but "Here Comes a Regular" works equally effectively at a broader level - it's a song about falling into a rhythm and becoming estranged from that rhythm, completely losing sight of why we wake up and do the same thing everyday and who the hell the people surrounding us are. "Am I the only one that feels ashamed?"

"Stones from the Sky" - Neurosis on A Sun That Never Sets
I can't honestly say I've ever paid much attention to the lyrics of this song - I know he says "walking amongst the stones from the sky", which conjures an image of a lonely wanderer amidst either a field of meteorites or the Moai statues. But isn't the most successful song one that resonates aurally, not by conjuring visuals or poetry? "Stones from the Sky" presents a series of unforgettable sounds - first the soft, summoning peals of bells, shredded apart by a buzz-saw guitar tone, as if we've arrived to something hideous and destructive. Then the song seems to literally destroy it's own reality - we start hearing static, tracks warble and drop in and out, and soon we abruptly cut to silence.

"The Mosquito Song" - Queens of the Stone Age on Songs for the Deaf
Hey, it's a song that in five minutes conveys the same metaphor that vampire culture has been working on for the past six or seven years! "All of us food / that hasn't died". There's really not much point in writing these songs up except that I write this site and feel some obligation to put some words on the page. Wait, the depression is getting to me! Listen to that negative attitude!

"Desperados Under the Eaves" - Warren Zevon on Warren Zevon
This echoes some of the same themes as "Here Comes a Regular" - the narrator is trapped in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel - not a permanent residence or a particularly desirable destination, just a kind of lie. The great moment that sells the tragedy of this song is one of levity - the classic "I was listening to the air conditioner hum / and it went hmmmm hmmmmmmmm hmmm hm HMM HMM HMM". What a genius way to cut the tension of what otherwise threatens to be an overly serious violin assault.

"Living in Darkness" - Agent Orange on Living in Darkness
The early '80s post-Germs American punk scene was bursting with raw youthful emotion, teenagers screeching out as honestly as any musician ever did. While Minor Threat was all pent-up aggression and Descendents were pure virginal lust, no one quite embodied desperate melancholy like Agent Orange. Not melancholy of the mopey, romantic British variety, nor to the nihilistic degree of Philosophy Majors - just a sort of day-to-day existence at a distance from what we're told is "reality". The song (and album) is called "Living in Darkness" - not "Killing Myself in Darkness". It's an active acceptance of this distance from the world, almost a kind of affirmative depression. I love this lyric, which fantastically shrugs at the notion: "Everybody's askin' me, 'what's it like down there?' / The concrete floor is cold, the walls are bare".

"One by One" - Flipper on Gone Fishin'
Some have said Flipper is the most soul-crushingly depressing band of all time. Probably not true, but a song like "One by One" will certainly take your day down a few pegs. One of the particularly effective aspects of Flipper showcased in this song that really puts their industrial peers to shame is the sheer chaos of it all. A lot of proclaimed nihilistic bands like Throbbing Gristle like to show off how meaningless the world is by putting a lot of effort into playing really mechanical rhythms in extremely precise time signatures. Flipper is so done with it all that they're just kind of playing whatever, however, happy just to get out of the studio and back home to their loving syringes. The mess, the incoherence... it's like the world really is crumbling, starting with this song.

I didn't do a great job of expressing this, but these songs are particularly effective at the close of their respective albums. Don't just click on the youtube links I provided here. Or, do, but just as an introduction. These are fan-fucking-tastic albums - some of my favorites of all time - and the idea is that these songs elevate them to the next level in the way that they send them off. Great albums take us through a variety of mindsets and moods, and these particular albums are united in that they end with this particular feeling. As different as the rest of the tracks are, they're brought together by the atmosphere they leave behind.

edit 2:
okay A Sun That Never Sets isn't exactly "fan-fucking-tastic", it's more like "good". Still worth listening to, particularly thanks to the aforementioned closer, and a few other standouts. But the others. Whew. 

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