It’s my ~favorite time of year~ again, which ironically means that the year has reached a point where it’s blistering cold, hurts to breathe, and everything around me is dying. But, hey, at least the music is good. Around the same time every year (early November, so heyyyy), I can feel myself starting a slow-crawl into a headspace that I don’t like. I become entirely too critical of every choice that I make, everything that I write, the music that I’m listening to, the way that I dress, the way my hair looks– honestly, this list could continue forever. tl;dr If you can think of it, I spend the coming months overanalyzing it and beating the piss out of myself because whatever I’m doing, wearing, etc. isn’t good enough for anyone to care and eventually, I enter this wild phase where I shut myself out of everything that I like doing and tell people that “work has been crazy lol.”
Late Fall and early Winter means that I’m in the throws of a really great cycle that I, for whatever reason, refuse to break even though I’m completely aware of its going on. I could sit here and self-diagnose, but that’s not what we’re here for. Today, we’re here to talk about the music that pulls me through the valleys that come with being human, because not everything can be a goddamn peak, ya know?
I will start by saying that it’s not the same every time. The last time that I spoke publically about mental health was on a blog that I run called 36vultures. July of this year saw me finally coming out of my most recent (and by far, most tumultuous) downswing yet, and in that time I listened to a lot of Say Anything. Specifically, I listened to a lot if …Is A Real Boy, because the twisted and dark caricatures that shone through the majority of that record gave me a sense of ease, as unhealthy as that sounds? Like, hearing somebody singing something nearly identical to thoughts that were constantly racing through my head. I can safely say that at this present moment, I haven’t reached my Max Bemis singing about eating rat poison in The Futile moment yet. We’re in a much more mellow place this November.
In fact, I’ve seen to somehow fallen into a pit of power-pop this time around. Some of it is still self-deprecative in nature, but it’s power-pop all the same. Pet Symmetry, as I’m sure most of you already know by now, is one of the several handfuls of projects that Evan Weiss has his hands in at the moment. It’s a warm, chunky, and melodic power-pop that puts a smile on your face, even when it seems to perfectly capture every single aspect of that shitty feeling that you’re trying to keep stowed away in that one corner of your brain until you feel ready to talk about it.
The song “My Exhausted Month (of May)” is the perfect example of this. It’s so catchy and melodic that you can’t help but sing along with a big, fat, Pet Symmetry at Audiotree Live smile on your face, but goddamn does it feel good to hear someone start a song singing “Spent the last year motivating everyone else/While I should have been motivating myself/I’ve hardly moved or got off the couch/In my house” because at least you know that you aren’t alone in feeling so suffocated by your own thoughts that doing something as basic as changing your t-shirt feels like moving mountains.
Modern Baseball (RIP) has been a solid choice to help try and drown out this Autumnal Apathy for most of my adult life. It’s no secret that I herald Jake Ewald as one of the most promising songwriters of our generation, but it’s always Bren’s songs that have resonated with me in a way that nobody else has. His lyricism is so sharp and he doesn’t seem to skirt around anything; either completely baring his teeth and cynically snickering his way through things or opening up in a way that is so profound that it was able to move a packed Union Transfer for three nights of sold-out shows.
You’re Gonna Miss It All was the album that made me really start to pay attention to Modern Baseball. There were a handful of songs on Sports. that really spoke to me, but nothing that moved me in the way that the whole of this record did. Even now, I can tell you that this isn’t the best Modern Baseball record, that title belongs strictly to Mobo Presents: The Perfect Cast EP featuring Modern Baseball. I mean, don’t take this the wrong way, but if you don’t think that “The Waterboy Returns” and “The Thrash Particle” are the best Modern Baseball songs–well, you’re wrong. Still, when I’m looking for something that I can sing along to, that sounds like the undefeated version of the narrative that I feel like I’m living, I come back to this record.
“The Old Gospel Choir” is a song that I felt an immediate attachment to. The cynicism that goes into writing lyrics as biting as “Sharp as a tack, but in the sense that I’m not smart, just a prick/In the fingers and the toes of all of those who show interest in me.”
Now, raise your hand if you love Motion City Soundtrack. I better see a lot of goddamn hands in the air because that is one of the best bands to have ever graced the planet, and I will fight ANYONE who tries to tell me otherwise. We did not deserve that band and that’s just a fact. Justin Pierre’s lyrics have always been riddled with personal anxieties. They’ve never tried to dress it up or hide it. Hell, two of their most popular songs are called The Future Freaks Me Out and Everything Is Alright; the first dealing with anxiety surrounding things to come, while the latter reads like an appointment with a therapist that cuts deep (but you’ll be damned if you don’t scream every word like it’s the first time, every time).
When I was seventeen, Motion City Soundtrack released their major-label debut, My Dinosaur Life. At this age, most people are wildly uncomfortable with themselves. Most of us are getting ready to graduate high school, and as a result of that, your circle of friends is going to change forever. How many people do you talk to today that you used to talk to in high school? Exactly. As I started to lose touch with some of those people and realized how slow I was to make new friends, the song “Stand Too Close” really began to strike a chord with me.
Lyrically, this was right in Justin’s strong suit; it’s a teardown of self that somehow felt, and still feels like it was written specifically for me. I come back to this song every year, and I don’t know that I’ll ever relate to any other lyrics as much as I relate to “I will understand if you don’t stay/they say I’m great at first, but then the magic fades/into an awful hue of dismal views and pessimistic attitude.”
I’ve talked about my love for The Front Bottoms on this platform before. I’ve talked about how much I love that self-titled record and how I feel that it’s just as much a part of me as my family history of heart disease, but I don’t know that I’ve talked about the punch in the gut feeling I get when “Bathtub” comes on. When I’m in the dregs of these valleys: the parts of this journey where you just can’t seem to shake anything off or the days where you can feel this crushing sense of sadness that starts in the base of your throat and slowly closes its fist around the rest of your head, I don’t let my self near this song. There are two sides to this record, and the back half is a dark trip through a headspace that feels like shrooms on Halloween. If I’m in that headspace and this song comes on, I can feel myself start to sink.
Brian’s broken vocals swell around the bleak imagery of a shower. The performance feels defeated and accepting; retelling events that will replay and knowing that there’s no sense in fighting it. When we hit the second part of the first verse, that’s when I start to feel the knot in my stomach start to grow. Brian sings: “Still I scrub and scrub until my body bleeds/Convince myself I am coming clean/Forget and ignore who I used to be/That kid is never coming back.”
Now, I’ve also gone and record and said that The Front Bottoms are my favorite band. That’s really only a half-truth. The Front Bottoms is my favorite active band, but my favorite band of all time is a title that belongs to You, Me, and Everyone We Know. The band’s first and only full-length album came out when I was a senior in high school, and I can promise you that I was so in love with this record that song lyrics to “The Puzzle” are immortalized as my senior quote. This is the most positive sounding of the songs that made this list, but it’s one that I come back to because it’s anthemic chorus touches on that same universal theme.
It feels a little more hopeful when Ben sings “I’ve been picking apart/The puzzle I’ve been working on/And from what I see from here/There is no point in carrying on./I’ve been picking apart/Been picked apart all night long/And suddenly, my biggest fear:/I’ll never stop picking apart/The puzzle I’ve been working on.” It’s not as dreary or self-deprecative as the rest; there’s a shred of light in the acknowledgment that means that you can move past it. This is just a roadblock and its temporary.
The long and short of this is: this time of year sucks for me. A lack of sunlight leads to an abysmal Winter in which I start to beat myself up and feel bad about everything and eventually either shut down or get over it. Here are five songs that have helped me get through it for the last few years that I’ve been dealing with it. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy these songs, and if you feel even a sliver of an ounce of the same things I do, please talk to somebody about it and don’t just sit around waiting to embrace it. You deserve better than that.