It’s the inevitable consequence of living in the Greatest City in the World™: as the skies turn an adjectiveless gray, the trees stripped to their slender bones, and night falls faster than Gerald Ford down the steps of Air Force One,* most of us get a little visit from our old college buddy seasonal affective disorder. SAD invites himself over for a bottle of Chateau Diana and ends up camping out on your couch for three months because, you know, it’s rough out there, and he needs some time to get his shit together. SAD gets potato chip grease all over your sofa, spills beer on your cat, and never stops talking about his ex. SAD watches every episode of Law & Order, SVU on Netflix Instant and starts a Tumblr devoted to Mariska Hargitay. SAD is miserable, and his goal is to make you as miserable as he is. The asshole.
Some attempt to fight him with sun lamps and regular exercise and vitamin D supplements, but most, if not all, fail. The only way to truly defeat the bastard is to just wait him out. Or you could move to LA, but we all know who the real loser is in that scenario.
Me, I don’t make much of an attempt to fell the great winter beast. I end up couchlifing it with some ordered-in hot wings and a six-pack of something pissy, weak and delicious while watching Olivia Benson chase down sex offenders. But there’s still one thing that helps me with SAD’s doldrums, reminds me that there’s shit to do besides mope, how beautiful New York can be, and how much I adore the people in my life. It’s the thing that gets me out the door every day. Well, most days.
The thing about pop songs is that they are, by and large, bite sized. Yes, you can stack them together to create a larger narrative or context, which, when done right, produces heartbreaking albums of staggering genius, but they should have the ability to stand alone, tell a complete story, create a comprehensive ambience, in approximately three minutes. This is ultimately why music is so important in establishing mood, and why it’s so handy in rescuing oneself from the brink of despair.
Now, what music is best for dealing with seasonal malaise, you ask? Do you try to scour and sandblast the bummers out of your system with Katrina and the Waves and Harry Belafonte? Or do you take the opposite approach and try do befriend SAD by getting heavy into Joy Division and the Smiths, his favorite bands of all time?**
These may work for some, but I’m more of a melancholy guy ’round this time of year. A lot of minor chords strummed by girls very far away, plaintive textures on the brink of collapse, and promises too burdensome to keep. It’s music that acknowledges how shitty it all can get, but retains that one element that distinguishes melancholy from despair: hope. It’s the taste of last kisses, the smell of old books rotting away. It’s missing the last train out of a strange new town, and it’s the January day that you realize you haven’t seen more than thirty minutes of sunlight all week. Melancholy is the cure for what ails ya; allowing you to wallow, but also rise above. Each of these songs is a mini catharsis, a baptism, a chance to find the beauty and the promise even in the coldest, darkest parts of the year.
1. Take Us Back – Alela Diane
2. I See a Darkness – Bonnie “Prince” Billy
3. Katy Song – Red House Painters
4. Guiding Light – Television
5. Lizzy – Ben Kweller
6. Six String Serenade – Mazzy Star
7. Paradise Circus – Massive Attack feat. Hope Sandoval
8. Girl Singing in the Wreckage – Black Box Recorder
9. Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) – Laura Marling
10. Lunar Sea – Camera Obscura
11. Hong Kong – Gorillaz
12. Blues Run the Game – Nick Drake
13. By This River – Brian Eno
14. In the Drugs – Low
15. Don’t Do It – Sharon Van Etten
16. Cotton – The Mountain Goats
17. Two Step – Throwing Muses
18. True Love Waits – Radiohead
*This timely reference was brought to you by the SNL writer’s room circa 1976.
** Seriously though, get him drunk enough and SAD will show you his old Ian Curtis webshrine he built in Angelfire. It’s still up!
Trackback from your site.