Ahh, feel that? That’s the cool breeze of fall. You know what that means: sweaters, pumpkin flavored soap, squashes, cute lil ghosts, lovely leaves, and the stabbing reminder that everything inevitably dies. Luckily, the changing leaves and crisp air create a top-notch environment to pop on your favorite record and assume a shaking fetal position on the floor. Plus, it’s never too early to get a head start on this year’s bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
It’s proven that crying is good for you on an emotional, psychological, physical and chemical level. This is where any self-respecting journalist would link you to one of hundreds of scientific articles explaining the benefits of tears. However, everybody can remember that time they felt like shit, wailed like an infant for a few hours, picked themselves up off the floor, expelled the demon out of their pores, cooked some kale, ran a damn marathon, picked up a car and threw it across town, discovered the chemical formula to make gold from dirt and moved the hell on as a New And Improved superhuman — tear-stained face and all. I think that’s all the proof you need.
Just because crying is amazing and healing, it doesn’t mean it always comes easy, especially when the world loves to shame emotion. Cue music. Sometimes you just need a little audible or lyrical push to let the floodgates loose. The following have served as solid soundtracks to many personal cathartic releases, and I hope they do the same for you.
Mitski is a raw, bubbling fountain of honesty with the emotional vocabulary of someone that has read a million emotional dictionaries. Like a persistent pill-pushing doctor, I’ve prescribed this album to everyone I care about that has ever come to me hurting. Bury Me At Makeout Creek runs the gamut of painful layers from the agonizing feeling of missing someone (“I don’t know what to do without you / I don’t know where to put my hands / I’ve been trying to lay my head down, but I’m writing this at 3 a.m.”) to the weight of your own life/death (I always wanted to die clean and pretty / But I'd be too busy on working days”) to emotional shame itself (“wild women don't get the blues / but I find that lately I've been crying like a tall child”). This entire album is a validation, a level of candidness that’s incredibly painful, but healing to its core.
You can buy this album right here.
The phrase “breakup album” often has the unfair tendency to conjure up images of corny, hyperdramatic songs to which we can numbly spoon ice cream out of a tub on your bed. If oversaturated breakup classics are fast pitches in the ballgame of getting over someone, Vulnicura is a flaming, lightning-fast orb of biting alien energy that comes out of nowhere and knocks you into the dugout. Bjork took the kind of raw wound that can only be made by something like the devastating end of an over-10-year relationship with the father of your child and spun it into this blow of an album. With the aid of producers Arca and Haxan Cloak, Bjork put out an album that’s soundscape is just as crushingly effective as the deeply personal lyrics it accompanies. The precise combination of internally butchering sounds and words requires you to surrender your whole self to this album, to let it wound you. Tears are inevitable.
The feeling that occurs as a result of growing up and growing away is a very specific type of bittersweet. The cocktail of fear, nostalgia and dizzying newness that accompanies realizing the world is bigger than you ever could have realized is a real doozy. Perspective is, of course, an incredible thing, but the process of gathering it can suck. Two years ago, when I moved away from my family and my hometown to go to big ol’ college, the need to look back, to feel small again, was overwhelming. I quickly sprouted in this new environment, but the period of adjustment was a cold shock. This album encapsulates that nearly universal pull toward the dreamy simplicity of childhood (“I just miss how I felt standing next to you / Wearing matching dresses / Before the world was big”). Girlpool is two women who are 19 and 20; it makes sense that they can so perfectly describe the uncertainty of navigating the world for the first time when no one really takes you seriously (“I’m still looking for sureness in the way I say my name”). Even the timbre of their imperfect voices and wary, but explorative instrumentals radiate questioned progression. While usually for the better, I’m not entirely sure expanding ever stops hurting; I’m glad Before the World Was Big will be there to speak to that. But what do I know? I’m only 20.
Despite their infinite abundance on our Twitter feeds, most of us don’t live our lives in a series of grandiose headlines. Instead, we find a vast majority of our existence in the muddled, subtle spaces in between. These moments can be weightier than more eventful checkpoints of our lives, but often harder to explain or acknowledge. Music that candidly finds a staggering home within the mundane gray area that comprises most of our time feels like a rare validation. Going By, Felix Walworth’s sophomore album under the name Told Slant, manages to craft a concrete presence among the sublunary familiarity of passing thoughts and feelings. Tackling the nuances of struggle in a body that is without a conventional label through events that are without a notable category, Going By is powerfully demonstrative to those that can’t relate and crushingly recognizable to those who can. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to “Tsunami” all the way through without at least a tear.
Finally, an album that hits right in the ol’ convoluted parental relationships, although maybe not in the most relatable way for every listener. Sufjan penned this album after the death of his mother who struggled with depression, schizophrenia and alcoholism, at one point abandoning Stevens and his siblings. The songs chronicle unimaginably difficult and abstracted love, and the aftermath of that love’s death. “Fourth of July,” in particular, contains festering, intimate descriptions of his mother’s last sentiments (“Did you get enough love / My little dove / Why do you cry?”) and regrets (“I’m sorry I left / But it was for the best / ’Though it never felt right”). His words were so soft, so specific, so personal that I often feel as though I’m eavesdropping when I listen to the album. Crying to Carrie & Lowell feels slightly less like shedding tears over your own pain, and more like shedding tears on behalf of Sufjan’s.
I first heard this experimental album in the lost, dismal days that only fester in repetitive heat of summer, and the escapism it provided was a dark and welcome force. If the goal of this list is to cover as many specific types of weeping as humanly possible, this one induces and accompanies that rare, wild existential cry that makes you question the whole of everything you know. There’s something as splitting and visceral about these tracks as the act crying itself. Arca creates moods, creates energy and, through that, addresses the larger cultural moment surrounding fluidity and experimentation across endless forms. Mutant often walks a fine line between beauty, repulsiveness, instinct, order and chaos that’s tangible in daily life, but rarely encapsulated in music. The sounds, much like emotion and existence, aren’t exactly easy to process, but if you give yourself to it, ride it out, it’ll repay you.
When I say “Fleetwood Mac is one of the greatest crying albums” what I mean is “'Landslide' is the best crying song ever written.” Is it cheating to include this album based off of only one song? Maybe. But I’m writing this thing, and I say the cry weight of “Landslide” is so high that even if Fleetwood Mac housed the song “I’m Walking on Sunshine,” it would still be on of the best damn crying albums. Fleetwood Mac so perfectly slayed the dizzying feeling of moving on from something you know so well (“I've been afraid of changin' / 'Cause I've built my life around you”) and that’s something I think we can all relate to. Maybe a little too well. Maybe so well that it comes on when you’re hungover at a diner on a Sunday morning, and you have to throw a plate across the room to distract the public from the fucking Yukon River spewing from your eyes. Not that that has ever happened.
Honestly, nothing feels more cliche than crying to “For Emma.” But some things are cliche because they’ve provided resonance more times than people able to digest with sincerity before we start making fun of them. But if you don’t know the pain of 2008 cabin-fever-induced tears, you are likely either a more stable person than I or do not live in northern Wisconsin. Either way, it’s hard to deny the beautiful emptiness that’s palpable on each track of For Emma. For something as audibly stunning, in the most conventional sense of the word, the tracks contain some delightfully bitter moments: “Go find another lover; To bring a ... to string along / With all your lies, you're still very lovable.” That’s what makes this one hit so hard: the groggy, but undeniable beauty Vernon was able to extrapolate out his squash soup-heart following one monster of a breakup. Thanks, Emma!!
This album covers a range of the crying spectrum. First, you have your more obvious, but classic sad weeps from tunes like “My Heart Cries” and “All I Could Do Was Cry.” And then, you’ve got have the happy cry — the kind of tears that come at weddings and from seeing dogs on the street. You can replicate this cry with just one listen to “Sunday Kind of Love” or “My Dearest Darling.” I’m not a doctor, but I’m fairly certain these tears come from your heartwarming and heating your tear ducts, resulting in your tears boiling over and onto your face. And if you didn’t newborn-baby-blubber when you watched Michelle and Barack dance to Beyoncé covering “At Last,” you probably have a tiny, evil grinch heart.
Comprised of moody, but upbeat, shoegaze-y indie rock, it’s definitely not a first thought when it comes to good cry music. But the emotional current runs strong through all 9 tracks, most of which were written around the time Michelle Zauner’s mom was dying of cancer. In the song “In Heaven,” she chronicles the grief and confusion of her loss (“The dog’s confused / She just paces around all day / She’s sniffing at your empty room”). The title track “Psychopomp” is a moving electronically influenced ambient masterpiece, ending in what sounds like an immensely personal voicemail: “It’s okay, sweetheart. Don’t cry... I love you.”
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.
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