Most pop songs are about love — falling in it, basking in its glow, getting sick of it, mourning its death, searching anew for it. Considering how much of our emotional energy is devoted to those things, this makes some sense. But what about feelings that have nothing to do with romance? How can those of us who prefer to treat our psychological excesses with music — rather than, say, talk therapy or medication — revel in nostalgia or beat an acute case of anxiety? We’ve made our prescriptions after the jump; be sure to take two, call us in the morning, and tell us what mood-music pairings you’d add in the comments.
Nostalgic: Beat Happening
Nostalgia is, of course, subjective. Everyone has a particular band that evokes personal childhood or teenage memories. But lo-fi OGs Beat Happening evoke a sort of universal nostalgia, their simple arrangements, charmingly off-key vocals, and unselfconsciously childish lyrics distilling relationships and experiences to their headiest and most innocent core. Delving into this band’s back catalog is the musical equivalent of throwing yourself a tea party, complete with threadbare stuffed animals and oddly dressed dolls.
Sure, there’s no shortage of R.E.M. songs that literally evoke a sense of put-upon fatigue: “Daysleeper,” “Losing My Religion.” But the feeling has been there in the texture of Michael Stipe’s voice since the beginning, its sense of heaviness and strain suggesting a long history of struggle. If you’re feeling exhausted after an endless day — or, you know, lifetime — of work, he’s the guy who’s sure to feel (and maybe even allay) your pain.
Bastards getting you down? Salt-N-Pepa have a song for each and every one of your indignant tantrums. If your man’s messing around behind your back, take a cue from “Step” and tell him, “I leaved ya flat, I leave ya flat, I left ya flatter.” A pesky rival getting up in your face? Let her know, “If you mess with me, I’ll take your man.” Feeling repressed by patriarchy in general? They’ve got “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing” for that. And then, of course, there’s the mother of all self-righteous Salt-N-Pepa rejoinders, “None of Your Business.” The best thing about these songs is that you don’t even have to confront your oppressor for them to be cathartic — you’ve just got to rap along. Loud.
You know the feeling: It’s 3pm on a Friday afternoon, you’re daydreaming about the next two days of freedom and revelry. What can you queue up in iTunes to both prep you for a weekend of adventure and satisfy you until you can escape to it? Robyn, of course. Dance in your chair to anthems like “Call Your Girlfriend,” “Dancing on My Own,” “Who’s That Girl,” and “Hang With Me,” while amusing yourself with “Konichiwa Bitches,” “Fembot,” and other charming curiosities. Those two potentially excruciating hours will fly by.
You’d think feeling destructive would be the opposite of feeling creative, but where they’re similar is in their defining need to make you get up and do something. That dark energy is all over the music of X, in the chaos of squalling guitars and the full-contact mingling of Exene Cervenka and John Doe’s voices, as well as lyrics that — especially on their blistering debut, Los Angeles — cut deep. The next time you feel like punching a wall, trying thrashing around to “The World’s a Mess; It’s in My Kiss” instead.
Decadent: Roxy Music
When you’re struck by the longing to infuse your quotidian existence with a frisson of rock-star opulence, just about any glam act will give you the dose of sex, drugs, and glittery eye makeup you’re looking for. But in our opinion, the most purely decadent band of the bunch is Roxy Music — especially in their early, Brian Eno period. There are songs about “screen dreams” and “pale fountains fizzing forth pink gin” and how the way a girl looks “makes my starry eyes shiver.” One YouTube commenter sums up the entire tone of their catalog in writing of “Love Is the Drug,” “I can’t listen to this without doing coke.” We wouldn’t know about that, but our official line is, if the twisted, debauched Borgias ruled Britain in the ’70s, Roxy Music would have been playing the palace every night.
Anxious: Mazzy Star
Some emotions you can deal with by giving yourself over to them. Others are so noxious, even in small quantities or for short periods, that you’ve got to cut them off ASAP. Anxiety is one of those, and the best treatment we’ve found — this side of Xanax, anyway — is Mazzy Star. Their gentle, sprawling melodies and Hope Sandoval’s pillowy voice are sure to slow your pulse and lull you out of hyper-awareness, into a dreamlike reverie.
Speaking of feelings you’ve got to kick in the ass before they consume you, helplessness is deadly. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — if you give in to defeat, you’ll get a whole lot more of same. Thankfully, Gossip has a whole host of empowerment anthems to get you back on your feet: off the top of our head, there’s “Fire with Fire,” “Standing in the Way of Control,” “Heavy Cross,” “Fire/Sign,” “Listen Up!” If you need help mustering some confidence, Beth Ditto’s totally there for you.
Need some time alone with your thoughts? If you find Enya’s ululations more distracting than peaceful, you might want to give the founding fathers of drone-doom metal a spin. As we suggested a few years back, there’s something serene and mind-clearing about these glacially paced, low-frequency, instrumental compositions, and their sprawling scope makes them the perfect roadtrip soundtrack for any internal journey.
Blocked: The Velvet Underground
Excuse us if we get a little mushy about this one, but whenever we’re working on something creative and find ourselves stuck in a rut, we turn to VU. There’s something so inspiring in this music, which sounded like exactly nothing else out there in 1967. The lyrics may be about heroin, sadomasochism, and Warhol-era downtown icons, but the underlying themes — as the critic Ellen Willis so eloquently pointed out — are purely spiritual. If it’s true, as the cliché goes, that everyone who bought their debut album went out and started their own band, it’s equally possible for The Velvet Underground to help you stop dragging your feet and finish that painting or novel or short film.