Last night, it snowed for the first time in New York all winter. It was absolutely frigid. (Note that my perception of this may be affected by the fact that I was wearing a summer dress without tights as I ran weekly errands.
Because I am an idiot with no foresight.) The sky was this incredibly dismal grey color, deep and gloomy. If a vibrant sunset is a work of art, oil on canvas, this sky was the murky, opaque water left behind after the brushes are washed between colors. It made a jarring contrast with the ivory falling fast, coating the ground with a thin layer of icy down, shockingly white in a black-and-grey landscape.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about grey areas. Not so much the uncertainty or the vagueness that the colloquialism implies, but the grey areas in which we contain ourselves, hearts heavy and heads buzzing, the moments in which our lives are so consumed by violent darkness and weariness that even the brightest moments are covered by a thin layer of ash. The greyness can be dusky, a storm cloud hanging over the sun, preventing any lightness from breaking through, or it can be leaden, like your lungs are suddenly filling with cement, you, human pavement, footprints left by those who couldn’t wait for the concrete to settle. But either way, the greyness reduces you to a silent film, the color drained from your cheeks, your eyes dull and tired.
It can be hard to be braver than the grey areas, to pull yourself out of the rut of steel and charcoal; it’s an even harder task when you feel as if you’re alone in monochrome.
Music can be a remarkably comforting force here. Even when the greyness draws you into yourself and your defense mechanisms leave you seeking solace in solitude, the feeling of being understood and encouraged, even if it’s by a disembodied voice on the radio, is imperative in overcoming grey days and gloomy moods. There’s an electricity and inherent vibrancy to music that corrupts the grey with chromatics; but beyond that, there’s also another human voice, a voice that says, “Hey, I’ve been there too. And it’s going to be okay.”
So if you’re feeling gloomy or the day seems rather grey, here’s a few songs that’ll drum up some bright and shiny vibes.
Dust the ash off yourself; we’ll get through the smoke and rubble together.
“Surface Envy” Sleater-Kinney
I’ll row you an ocean, I could do more
I feel so much stronger, now that you’re here
We’ve got so much to do, let me make that clear
We win, we lose, only together do we break the rules.
There’s a real sense of comfort in the camaraderie that the riotgrrl turned alt-rock trio drums up in this track, a jam off their latest album (which was released last January and was, in my humble opinion, the best album released in 2015) No Cities to Love. Corin Tucker’s frantic, pleading vocals layered over those incredible scale-sliding riffs makes for an emotional crescendo, while the lyrics are defiant, a double-dog-dare to darkness and anxiety.
“Ten Things” (Paul Baribeau)
Name ten thousand reasons why you never wanna die, go and tell someone who might’ve forgotten
Try to list the endless reasons why it’s good to be alive, and then just smile for awhile about them.
Man, this song is good vibes made audible. Whenever I feel myself consumed with self-pity or self-loathing or any of the other incredibly exciting side effects of anxiety, I find instant therapeutic value in this bouncy little folk punk anthem. The lyrics are so simple yet something I think everyone can get a little something out of; there’s value in darkness, as it makes you grateful for the light.
“Screen” (twenty one pilots)
While you’re doing fine, there’s some people and I
Who have a really tough time getting through this life
So excuse us while we sing to the sky…
We’re broken people.
A few months back, my friend Ari was relaying the experience she had at a twenty one pilots concert earlier in the year. She told me that the highlight of the show came during “Screen”, a track off their junior album Vessel. If you need elaboration on why, just imagine a ballroom full of people shouting, “We’re broken people!” in solidarity. It’s that sense of community and understanding that this song offers, a good offset for loneliness. That “we” is key; it’s not a solitary battle, no one is fighting alone.
“Maya the Psychic” (Gerard Way)
Are you hearing voices again?
Are they with you, and are they giving you commands?
I know you’ve had choices to make.
But I’m with you-
You’re never facing them alone again
I’d venture to say that one of the grey-est areas of your life has got to be your teenage years. As I’m on the cusp of turning twenty, I can’t help but reminiscence on the ways I’ve felt for the past six or so years. You’re lost; too big to be a kid (the world demands responsibility and maturity!) but too young to claim adulthood (c’mon, you’re not old enough!). It’s such an in-between era. My Chemical Romance was a big factor during these years for me; they were a band that made me feel like I had a place in the world. This track from former-MCR-frontman Gerard Way’s solo shoegaze album (which was so fascinatingly delightful) plays tribute to that callback to the adolescent years, offering solace to the younger generation as he directs his song to “teenage believers, rallied up against the fence.” It’s playful and odd and bizarrely soothing.
“The Waterboy Returns” (Modern Baseball)
Hey man, whatcha thinking about?
Not to be blunt, but haven’t heard from you in days.
Are you okay? You can talk to me.
Do you have anything to say?
It’s fun to be all talk, but I won’t be here forever.
Rough time to be a lost soul, I’m sure, but we feel the same.
Sometimes you get so trapped up in your own sadness that you neglect to acknowledge the fact that, in hurting and isolating yourself, you’re hurting the people who love and care for you most. This track combats that self-imposed loneliness; vocalist Brendan Lukens is a friend on the other end of the phone, just calling to check in. When I saw Modern Baseball perform at Webster Hall this past December, it had the same feel, like a group of pals gathered, breaking through the darkness together. So whatcha thinking about? Talk it out or sing along.
“Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist” (Ramshackle Glory)
Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist,
Keep on loving. Keep on fighting.
And hold on, hold on,
Hold on for your life.
I’ll admit it; I have the lyrics to this song scrawled in Sharpie on my bedroom mirror. It’s upbeat, charismatic, and, toward the end of the song, utterly heartbreaking. It’s like a jolt to the veins, telling you to stay strong, stay scrappy, and kill ’em with kindness. And, c’mon, nothing breaks up a grey day like that introductory drumbeat and those emphatic vocals.
“A Better Place, A Better Time” (Toh Kay)
I’ll start the engine but I can’t take this ride for you
I’ll draw your bath and I’ll load your gun
But I hope so bad that you’ll bathe and hunt.
Both the Toh Kay and Streetlight Manifesto versions of this track carry the same weight; the lyrics are straight-forward and nearly begging, asking you to reconsider a fate you may have assigned yourself – but I really like the Toh Kay version’s mellow, nearly spoken-word delivery. It’s haunting and honest and I may or may not have teared up to this song more times than I’d ever be comfortable admitting.
“Plastic Flowers” (The Front Bottoms)
Cause we are all eventually
Either the victims or the victim’s family
Okay, everyone shut the fuck up a minute
I have something to say
Listen just because something burns bright
Doesn’t mean it’s going to burn forever
So all these people around you saying
“You’ve got so much further to go!
It’s going to get worse before it gets better!”
I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s true.
Sometimes it feels like everyone around you is just prophesying your eventual happiness. This can be incredibly frustrating when you’re in a depressive or anxious rut, because eventuality does not seem appealing. This track is so, so good for that very reason. In a spoken word interlude, frontman Brian Sella expresses his suspicion about these optimistic claims, mirroring a lot of internal monologues. He’s still getting through the darkness, but promises solace in the form of a sing-a-long bit, “I believe that someone, somewhere’s got a plan for me even if I don’t know it yet.” It may not got better as instantaneously as people promise, he sings, but a little belief goes a hell of a long way.
“Missing You” (All Time Low)
Hold on tight
This ride is a wild one
Make no mistake, the day will come
When you can’t cover up what you’ve done
Now don’t lose your fight, kid
It only takes a little push to pull on through
With so much left to do
You’ll be missing out
And we’ll be missing you.
Okay, confession time. I don’t actually listen to All Time Low. They’ve never really been my speed. I didn’t even know this song existed a few weeks ago but now I’m so, so glad that I do. Someone very important to me showed it to me at a time when it really hit home and I felt it harder than I thought I was going to.
That’s the thing about the greyness; it’s not necessarily about feeling super exuberant and peachy-keen all of a suddenly. It’s about feeling, really feeling, vividly. And being okay with feeling. Even if it hurts. And I love the lyricism here, about life being some insane off-the-roads journey, full of hiccups in the ride, potholes in pavement. But holding onto yourself, and others, for some stability can be extraordinarily helpful.
“Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas” (Beach Slang)
I’m tracing the lines on your handsome face
The scars on your arms, the shape of your veins
We are not alone. We are not mistakes
Don’t whisper now. We’re allowed to be loud.
This Beach Slang track has an incredible New Order-y sound which I really adore, but it’s the lyrics and delivery that really hit home. This concept of silence is one that plagues discussions of mental illness and the gloomy, anxious, or irritated moods that accompany them; we’re told to put a pin in it and shut up unless we’ve got something positive to say. But get loud, use your voice. Shout at the top of your lungs because you deserve to be heard. That’s the message in this track; no matter who you are, you’re not a mistake. And you’re not the only one who believes yourself to be one, either.
“Right Between the Eyes” (Garbage)
Don’t care what they have to say
You shouldn’t listen to them anyway
Stick it to them like a phoenix rise
There’s nothing grander than the big surprise
They can’t hurt you with their sticks and stones
About time take them right between the eyes.
I love Garbage; they’ve been one of my favorite bands since I was far too young to even comprehend the lyrics I was belting out in the backseat of my mom’s station wagon. In fact, the first record I bought with my own money was their Beautiful Garbage. But this track is ferocious; it’s no secret frontwoman Shirley Manson is essentially fire incarnate but there’s an understated vulnerability here as well. When they world’s not too kind to you, it’s easy to shrivel up and hide your head. But Manson suggests otherwise; give ’em hell, kid.
“Ghosts on the Boardwalk” (Bouncing Souls)
You say you’re empty, stripped away by the pain of broken dreams
All these emotions clouding up your eyes ’til you can’t see, you can’t breathe, you can’t see, you can’t breathe.
There’s a getaway element to this song that really resonates; it’s not so much a “run-away-from-your-problems” as a “get-away-from-the-negativity-and-hurt-that’s-eating-you-alive-so-you-can-be-healthy-and-enjoy-your-life”. And that makes a world of difference. It’s a friend’s guiding hand in the guise of a song, a promise that no matter how much you feel like you’re drowning that the water will leave your lungs, that you’ll pull yourself ashore, sputtering but still breathing.
“Run Fast” (The Julie Ruin)
But whatever the truth, in the end we made
tiny islands where we didn’t always have to be afraid.
And an “X” will forever mark the spot
when we decided we had had just about enough.
We ran so fast.
Of all the genres and sub-genres of punk and alt and rock-n-roll that dominate my playlists, I always find myself coming back to riot grrl; this song is a testament, and an explanation, of why. Here is an example of the comfort that women in the scene can find in fearless representation and unafraid vocalization of the fears and trials we face everyday. This song deals with self-image, sexuality, bullying, assault, and marginalization with a sing-song-synth in the background pushing it forward. Kathleen Hanna’s iconic vocals screech and soar all over the track, off-key and owning it. It’s a song that makes you feel like you’ve just sprinted for half a mile, lungs burning, red-faced and proud.
“I Wanna Get Better” (Bleachers)
And I miss the days of a life still permanent
Mourn the years before I got carried away
So now I’m staring at the interstate screaming at myself,
“Hey, I wanna get better!”
This song is literally Jack Antonoff’s self-exploratory manifesto. He runs through personal struggles with trauma and tragedy; he discusses his loss of purpose following a life surrounded by death, including the September 11th terrorist attacks and his sister’s death, as well as his own harrowing experiences with drugs and pornography addiction, which warped his own self-image and his view of the world. The song itself is a battle cry, an acknowledgement of pain suffered and stormy, clouded moods followed by a clamor, an insatiable desire to cure oneself, to move on and to find solace. And with the earnest truth in Antonoff’s vocals, that reality seems near attainable.
What songs do you listen to when you have to battle back the gloom? Let us know in the comments!