The Pessimist’s Playlist: Volume 1

In the words of Lemony Snicket, “a good long session of weeping can often make you feel better, even if your circumstances have not changed one bit.” Such cynicism can be applied to the act of listening to sad music, where the feelings associated with a myriad of negative emotions can be conveyed. Thoughts of hopelessness, apathy and existentialism are rife within the human condition and translate quite nicely into thought- provoking ballads. Such words, dare I say it, can be regarded as woefully pessimistic. This notion of a ‘pessimistic’ human has become philosophical in nature, the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or other-worldly value at its core.

The albums below embody good ol’ misery and fatalism in lyrical form, whose musicians sing of the banality of life. Indeed, following the likes of pessimistic bigwigs such as Albert Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche, these essential works of art definitely view the cup as being half empty.

In the Seams- Saint Saviour

A record of pure darkness regarding the human condition, Saint Saviour offers words that neither comfort or supports. One song entitled “Nobody Died” is, unsurprisingly, very bleak. “Day becomes Night/ and Comes again,” sings Saviour. “It Never Ends.” It is not explicit as to what “never ends,” but we can assume it’s the banality of a life that does not have any meaning. Despite her objections that “nobody died,” the tone and general desolation suggests otherwise. Complete with a funeral orchestra and haunting voice that is reminiscent of a woeful Kate Bush, the album slips deeper into its melancholic form.

Born to Die- Lana Del Rey

The glorious Born to Die wonderfully encapsulates the pessimist’s message: even when you are born, your only destination is to die- rendering life completely pointless. Performed by a woman who my friend once described as sounding dead inside, the album is melancholy from start to finish. The main video even sees Del Rey die in a fiery car crash, as if to point out the futility in it all. “The road is long/ We carry on/ Try to have fun in the meantime,” we are told, as we try to ignore the rising feeling of hopelessness.

Carrie and Lowell- Sufjan Stevens

Opening with a song entitled “Death with Dignity,” the listener instantly knows they are for a rough ride. Indeed, the inspiration for the record is Steven’s late mother and ex-husband Lowell, alongside a childhood that was tainted by the events of his mother’s death. The themes of death and despair permeate every lyric, such as when Stevens laments that “there is nothing left […] no reason to live.” It would seem that we are unable to escape the inevitable feelings of hopelessness and should therefore invest our time listening to something with equal calibre.  To go straight to the centre, listen to “Fourth of July.” The last thirty seconds is just “We’re all going to die,” repeated with ironic nonchalance.

Either/ Or- Elliot Smith

Written by a man who may or may not have stabbed himself to death at 34, Smith’s sophomore album is filled to the brim with pessimism and general world-weariness. Even before his tragic untimely end, the album was noted for its dominant tones of loneliness and isolation.

The Wall- Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd can be described as overlords of progressive rock, who forged a career lamenting about the demise of their friend, Syd Barrett. Their third album of the Seventies, the predecessors being equally pessimistic, tells the story of Pink, who has basically been tormented since birth. Eventually giving up on such a cruel existence, he retreats to the metaphorical and literal ‘wall’ of his mind.’ One song (“Goodbye Blue Sky”) details how Pink was bombed out by Nazi aeroplanes, while ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ facilitates his surrender on reality. All happy stuff. “Comfortably Numb,” known throughout the world as a song that epitomises complete hopelessness, is the cherry on top of a wonderfully pessimistic work.

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