Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2015 incredible. Today, Key contributor Allie Volpe shares the year’s most devastating songs.
There is a line in the cinematic classic Precious (based on the 1996 novel Push) where the film’s titular character expresses in voiceover, “The other day I cried. I felt stupid. You know what? Fuck that day.”
I’ve always held the same frame of mind as Precious until 2015 came around and smacked me in the face with the most devastating, gut-wrenching, life changing melodies, lyrics, messages. Some of it made me laugh, some of it made me want to dance and some of it made me cry—and for the first time, the latter didn’t result in Precious’ eloquent wisdom running through my head.
It was a tearful awakening, a snotty sense of independence, necessitating a need for Kleenex, yet so freeing. This new sensation—“What is this I’m feeling?”—was exciting and addicting.
Along with a fixation on flip-flops with arch support, 2015 was the year I became obsessed with sad music.
The weight of parental woes, the burden of low self-worth, the darkness in indecision—the songwriters of 2015 ran the gamut on heartstring-pulling tropes and I fell victim to its wonder.
Here are five that particularly spoke to me this year.
The Decemberists – “Make You Better”
Technically, the first single from The Decemberists’ What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World was released in late 2014. That’s when “Make You Better” initially entered the void that is my psyche. Crisp and methodical, the almost scientific description of want and need and self-growth and dependency spoke to the dynamic of relationships and partnerships that you only see in movies or the imaginary movies that you yourself star in.
Father John Misty – “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)”
Though not explicitly morose in sound or message—this is actually a grand and sweeping love song—Father John Misty’s depiction of early infatuation with his now-wife evokes a warm sense of gloom. There’s something about the way Father John delivers “What are you doing with your whole life?” that incites an excitement and fear, one that either proves or refutes the fact that you’re with “The One.”
Julien Baker – “Go Home”
Julien Baker is a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from Memphis, Tennessee and she’s been through a lot: she’s battled substance abuse, wrestled with the idea of God, faced her flaws head on. She also produced one of the starkest and evocative albums of the year with her debut Sprained Ankle. It’s closer “Go Home” presents the heaviest lyric “And I haven’t been taking my meds / so lock all the cabinets and send me to bed / because I know you’re still worried / I’m gonna get scared again / and make my insides clean with the kitchen bleach. / And I’ve kissed enough bathroom sinks / to make up for the lovers that never loved me. / And I know my body is just dirty clothes / I’m tired of washing my hands / God, I want to go home.” Baker is perfect because we all feel a little imbalanced and imperfect sometimes and just being home in bed can make that be a little less of a burden.
Sufjan Stevens – “Fourth of July”
The story behind Sufjan Steven’s Carrie and Lowell has been told time and time again. The masterpiece discusses Stevens’ dimensional and dysfunctional relationship between he and his mother, Carrie, and stepfather Lowell. The album’s centerpiece “Fourth of July” boldly declares “We’re all gonna die” a lot. There’s nothing that makes you realize your own mortality than hearing Stevens’ soft tenor lull you into deep sobs. As I reached the halfway point on a 12-hour hike in Yosemite National Park this summer, I realized this and thus declared to get the line tattooed on my body. I have since decided otherwise.
San Fermin – “No Devil”
Any song who’s chorus is highlighted by declarations of “I’m having trouble, I’m not well!” is one I will frequently blare in my car and sing with fervor. There’s something so anthemic in the way San Fermin lyricist and composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone cleanly summates the mental wellbeing of so many #lost and #confused #millennials. We’ll get through this together.
For more songs that made me cry this year, check out this Spotify playlist, curated by yours truly.
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