We all love sad music. We love it when there is something about sad music we can relate to through our own sad personal life experiences. It is pleasant to listen to a song about heartbreak when your heart is broken. It is also pleasant to listen to a song about heartbreak when your heart is not broken, but when it has been broken in the past, and you can recall that sad feeling through a sad song. We even enjoy it when the sadness of a particular song is a type of sadness we have never personally experienced, because we can put ourselves in other people’s shoes and temporarily enjoy their sadness. There are many different modes of sadness and many different modes of sad music. But these are 10 terribly sad albums you should listen to before you die.
See also: Ten Metal Albums to Hear Before You Die
10. Sun Kil Moon
Sun Kil Moon, and Mark Kozeleck’s other project, Red House Painters, are both known for really sad music. But this new album (out this week through Caldo Verde) is the saddest thing he has ever made. It is so sad it is surreal. Someone is always dying. In “I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same,” Kozeleck goes on and on about how much he loved watching the Led Zeppelin movie The Song Remains The Same one warm summer weekend with his friends in a theater in Canton, Ohio, and how much he was mesmerized by Jimmy Page and Peter Grant and John Paul Jones. Then, out of nowhere, his friend falls off a moped, a truck backs over him and he dies. Then a girl he sits next to in school dies. Then his grandmother dies. In “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love,” Kozeleck sings about how he can’t live without his mother’s love. He says he will miss taking walks with her. He will miss playing Scrabble with her. He will miss calling her on the telephone to talk. “My mother is 75/ She’s the closest friend I have in my life/ Take her from me I’ll break down and bawl/ And whither away like old leaves in the fall.” It’s devastating.
9. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)
“Where will it end?” sang Ian Curtis, of Joy Division, on “Day of the Lords.” It ended just over a year after this depressing album came out. Curtis hung himself in his kitchen. He was 23.
8. Counting Crows
August & Everything After (1993)
“Mr. Jones” is not an uplifting song. It is about being an ugly and insignificant man. It is about staring, creepily, at beautiful women, at a party, and knowing those beautiful women will never love you. It is about a vain world where being a big star is the only hope, and then realizing it is not a possible future world for you. Because you are ugly. Because you are insignificant. Because no one will ever love you. The next song, “Perfect Blue Buildings,” is about death. The whole album is about death. A very slow death.
7. Cat Power
What Would the Community Think (1996)
This album starts with Chan Marshall inviting you down into her hole. “In this hole we have fixed,” she sings. Fixed, as in: trapped. By the end, however, she lets you out of the hole. “I saw you outside that hole, your skull outside that hole, your mind finally free.” Do not rejoice. It is not your body that is outside of the hole. Your mind is free because you no longer have a body. You’re dead. You’re free. Have fun. “Good Clean Fun” to be exact, in which Chan reminds you there is absolutely no fun to be had in her bummer world where bodies and hats never matchup, and where the community is constantly judging you according to some sick rules that are never revealed.
6. Hank Williams Sr.
20 of Hank Williams’s Greatest Hits (1990)
Note: You are too sad to complain about this being a greatest hits compilation. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” in which Hank is so lonesome he could cry. “Ramblin Man,” in which Hank is thrown into a world where it is ontologically impossible for him to be happy. “Cold, Cold Heart,” in which Hank’s love is perpetually rotten. “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight,” in which Hank is clearly lying to himself. There will only be teardrops tonight. And tomorrow night. And every night, forevermore.
There was something almost too hopeful about the way Cat Power freed you from that hole. This doesn’t happen in Portishead’s “Strangers.” “Did you realize no one can see inside your view,” Beth Gibbons sings. “Did you realize the world inside belongs to you?” You are trapped inside yourself because you are your own worst hole. Nobody can see into you. You cannot see out of yourself. Also: nobody loves you. It’s true. Nobody.
4. Elliott Smith
Elliott Smith died from multiple stab wounds to his chest. The autopsy was inconclusive, but it is possible he stabbed himself in the heart. He was 34.
3. Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday Sings (1952)
Billie Holiday’s “(In My) Solitude” is one of the saddest songs ever written. “I sit in my chair/ And filled with despair/ There’s no one could be so sad/ With gloom everywhere, I sit and I stare, I know that I’ll soon go mad.” This is next-level sadness: madness through sadness. This is the type of sadness from which there is no return. A slow, haunting, agonizing slide into absolute despair.
Take Care (2011)
Everything should be perfect. You should be happy. You are not. You go to parties. You try really, really hard to have fun. You can’t. You smile and laugh but it’s all a facade and nothing really matters now. You hide in the bathroom. You lock the door. You can hear them having fun in the other room, and their happy sounds make you sadder. You stare into the mirror. You sob. (See also: Xasthur’s “Prison Of Mirrors.”)
1. Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)
Once up a time, there was a man named Justin Vernon. His girlfriend had just broken up with him. He had mono. He went to a cabin somewhere in Nowhere, Wisconsin. He sat there alone for three months. He recorded nine sad songs about his life. The End. You don’t even have to hear these songs to feel sad. The creation narrative is miserable enough.