For the past five years or so, I have dealt with anxiety that has manifested in pervasive tension and occasionally acute stress. On any given day I could be extremely worried about my own mortality or a pitch I had missed in softball practice in high school. I know that a lot of people are upset right now. Despite how much we might joke or make memes about the current situation, a worldwide pandemic and this sharp departure from our normal lives is justifiably scary, saddening, and anxiety-inducing. Something that I always found I could turn to when I was particularly overwhelmed was music. Music has always had a powerfully cathartic effect on me, and I hope it can help you too, if you need it. These are the songs for crying in front of mirrors, going on long dissociative walks, or just sitting in your bedroom feeling kind of lonely. Of course, they can be listened to in other circumstances, because they’re damn good songs, but I’ve just found that they bring me a certain type of comfort when I need it. I hope you give them a listen and find that somehow, you’re going to be alright too.
1. “11th Dimension” – Julian Casablancas
Maybe it’s the upbeat synth that opens the song, or maybe it’s The Strokes’ singer telling the listener “don’t be sad, won’t ever happen like this anymore,” but this song possesses a certain quality equal to that of a serotonin boost. Julian Casablancas has a great voice and you can’t help but believe him when he says, “it won’t end here, your faith has got to be greater than your fear.” Overall, a wonderful 2000s throwback type of sound that can help lift the mood if you’re feeling down.
2. “Starjumper” – Bad Suns
Man, I just love this song. The opening is soft and instrumental, as Christo Bowman’s cracking, imperfect voice is accompanied only by piano and some minor string instruments. But as we reach the second refrain, the sudden introduction of the drums and guitar make the song swell and come alive. In my opinion, it’s a very beautiful song with a lot of astral imagery.
3. “Where’d All the Time Go?” – Dr. Dog
This was one of my favorite songs growing up. I don’t know why, but the line “she gets dressed up like a pillow so she’s always in bed” always struck me as funny as a kid. There’s definitely a type of wistfulness about the song, but the wonderful lyricism and retro sound (brought especially by the backing vocals and the lively guitar) mask its true meaning and make it a terrific listen.
4. “Oh Sailor” – Mr. Little Jeans
This song features The Silverlake Conservatory of Music Youth Chorale and they make this song as powerful as it is—though Mr. Little Jeans herself has great, mystical-sounding vocals. The refrain never fails to make me want to cry (good tears): “When you feel like you’re out there on your own, know there is someone watching over you / When out at sea feels nothing like a home, Oh Sailor, we will blow the wind right through.” Loneliness can be a really persistent and painful ache and the lyrics of this song are comforting, even if the singer and the listener are strangers.
5. “Little Secrets” – Passion Pit
It was really hard for me not to put the entirety of Chunk of Change (2008), Manners (2009), and Gossamer (2012) on this list, because if I’m being honest, Passion Pit’s discography is the first thing I turn to when I feel upset. Frontrunner Michael Angelakos’s music is deeply nostalgic to me as it was basically all I listened to from ages eight to twelve. I still remember laying out in my yard on an October afternoon, wearing a long sleeve ACDC t-shirt and listening to Manners track by track about five times in a row on my iPod Mini. It’s always what I’ll go to when I describe my favorite music and it is the peak of 2000s indie electronica. “Little Secrets” was always the song that my dad played to get me hyped up for soccer though, so that’s why it remains a positive mood-maker all these years later.
6. “Nights” – Frank Ocean
What would this list be without a Frank song? King of emotion. King of lyrics. In my opinion this is his best song. It starts with a psychedelic hip hop beat coupled with mesmerizing lyricism and morphs into a fading, warbling, spectacular ballad. While it might not be considered a classic pick-me-up, it’s so damn good that it can be comforting by just providing a reminder that brilliant artists exist and have lots of enjoyable content out there to consume.
7. “Sunlight” – The One AM Radio
“Sunlight” makes you feel like you’re coming home to L.A. even if you aren’t from the City of Angels. It’s a really beautiful, dreamy, song that feels like it should be played while driving around your empty neighborhood at dawn. The One AM Radio is also criminally underrated, so I highly recommend it!
8. “Night Time” – Superorganism
In contrast to the previous song, “Night Time” revels in the curiosities and lives that thrive in the dark. It is upbeat but not annoyingly so and has an incredibly catchy hook. It’s the type of song you can get up and thrash around to at any time. This quirky art-pop group always brings fun and oddity to their songs and reminds their listeners to pay attention to the strangeness and beauty of the world around them.
9. “Of Moons, Birds, & Monsters” – MGMT
The trippy, distorted guitar. The warped vocals (especially that talk-box moment at 1:22!!). The utterly absurd lyrics. There’s a reason this is one of my favorite songs of all time and it’s because it is so fucking weird and beautiful. The first time I listened to this song I remember thinking, “What? People make music like this?” It sounds like how a fever dream feels. And it sounds so good. The lengthy guitar solo in the middle of the song is wicked and Andrew VanWyngarden’s vocals are echoing and fantastic. Though it’s a little haunting, a lot weird, and maybe even slightly melancholy, I have always found this song to be comforting because of its complexity and incomprehensibility. Sometimes it’s nice to just have no idea what someone’s talking about and go with the flow of the music.
10. “One Way Trigger” – The Strokes
This was a close tie with “Tap Out” from the same album, but Julian Casablancas’s awesome falsetto makes this song a winner. This is quintessential alt-rock and if that’s your jam, then this song will fit you perfectly.
11. “Feel Good Inc” – Gorillaz
For the final song I had to choose an actual feel-good bop. What’s more feel good than “Feel Good Inc”? Gorillaz are a unique virtual band and their sound ranges from melancholic (“Melancholy Hill”, anyone?) to bouncing hip hop beats. “Feel Good Inc” is in the latter category and it really does make you want to get up and move.
No matter what type of music you’re into, I hope you’ve found something on this list that you like and that makes you feel calmer and happier—whether it be the upbeat pop-rap or the more chill, reflective beats. Music is by no means a perfect balm, but it can certainly help in the moment, and in this moment I think we all might need it.