Even now after many years of listening to what many would term sad music, we still don’t really understand it. Our thoughts instantly drift back to the High Fidelity quote, “what came first the music or the misery?” A 2014 study suggested a shift in pop music’s tone, where the pop music of the 1960’s was rife with nostalgia, pain and rebellion, the pop music of this millennium was categorised by themes of loss and desperation. As the report itself puts it, “most of what we like to listen to is steeped in suffering: “Breakup” was the most consistently popular theme, while variations on regret, uncertainty, and longing only grew more intense as pop music aged.” So why has pop music drifted towards sadness? Psychologists have done plenty of research into it, but no great agreement has been reached; do we like music to mirror our moods? Do we enjoy finding someone who’s situation is worse than our own? Does our body produce a hormone preparing itself for sadness that never actually arrives? All possible theories, but ultimately only one conclusion has been reached, sad songs don’t automatically make you sad.
One fan of what many would term sad music is Jeni Magana, or just Magana to use her professional name. Magana is set to release her debut EP, Golden Tongue, at the end of the month on Audio Antihero. Golden Tongue is a remarkable record, across just four tracks it drifts from the pained, tender, and almost resigned balladry of Inches Apart, to the powerful, rhythmic title track Golden Tongue. Jeni’s beautiful and addictive vocal has touch points with Margaret Glaspy, Daughter’s Elena Tonra or Torres, but ultimately is a unique and intriguing prospect entirely her own.
These are early days for the music of Magana, but already she seems to have emerged fully formed and ready to conquer the musical landscape. We wouldn’t bet against her becoming a huge star.
Today Jeni has been kind enough to share with us a playlist of some of the most beautiful, poignant and ultimately sad songs she’s come across. As Jeni herself puts it, “Most people don’t constantly want to listen to sad songs, but when you’re in the mood this playlist will hit the spot. This is a list of songs that are so beautiful, they’ll get you out of your melancholy mood. These songs get you.”
1. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
All of Julien Baker’s songs are sad and beautiful. I probably could have just listed 10 of her songs for this list. She talks openly about her past and things she dealt with and you can just tell that she means it when she’s performing. My favorite line in this song comes near the beginning talking about her labored breathing: “Each one so heavy, each one so cumbersome. Each one a lead weight hanging between my lungs”
2. Angel Olsen – White Fire
This is the kind of melancholy when you’ve passed feeling pain and now you’re just tired. It’s like she’s disconnected from her body and looking back in numbness. She looks so calm but she writes these words and you realize it’s not calm, it’s resignation. When I get disenchanted with my life and my music I listen to this song and feel like she’s commiserating with me. My favorite line: “If you’ve still got some light in you then go before it’s gone. Burn your fire for no witness, it’s the only way it’s done.”
3. Daughter – Smother
“I sometimes wish I’d stayed inside…my mother.” Every time it surprises me. And then makes me sad.
4. Imogen Heap – Hide And Seek
This song sort of defines this playlist for me. So beautiful, so simple.
5. Lucius – Gone Insane
Relationships. Ugh. So hard to figure out. I mean, they’re great and all but there’s this other side with fights, blame, all these other crazy feelings. This song gets it. It’s sad and it’s angry and it’s all the things you feel when you’re going through that situation. I think this line sums it up for me: “You’re throwing words like darts at my head”
This girl is like the antithesis of sad. She’s basically made of big smiles, colorful hair, and shiny clothes. Most of her songs are upbeat and super uplifting, so it’s no surprise that even her most mournful is trying to uplift. If anyone can drag you through the melancholy and the other side, it’s going to be her.
7. AURORA – Through The Eyes Of A Child
The world is filled with so many terrible things, it’s so easy to be cynical. Thinking of all of our problems makes me tired. AURORA reminds me that there was a time when I hadn’t seen so many horrible things and hadn’t felt so much pain. She makes me feel like I can choose to look at the world differently.
8. A Great Big World – Say Something
I like this song for its simplicity. The repetitive chorus is really all you want to say in a situation like that.
9. Daughter – Medicine
Daughter makes it on the list twice! I think this song hits so close to home for me because I’ve known so many people that have struggled with addictions in their lifetime. It’s hard to just watch from the sidelines but there’s not always something you can do to help. Favorite line: “You’ve got a warm heart. You’ve got a beautiful brain, but it’s disintegrating”
10. Nathan Reich – Somewhere In Colorado
Nate once said he wrote mainly happy sounding sad songs. I agree completely. I get so lost singing along with the lovely melody that I almost forget the meaning of the words “I am drowning in a bottle.” It feels catchy and hopeful and sad all at the same time in this mix of emotions that is utterly human.
Golden Tongue is out October 28th via Audio Antihero Records. Click HERE for details of all upcoming Magana shows (US only at the minute sadly for us)