Five Songs That Make Me Emotional

Due to some circumstances that I shan’t go into here, I’ve felt slightly melancholic and emotional lately. Just because of who and what I am, I tend to get caught up on little things that mostly only exist in my head and am unable to adequately express these things to others.

At my work, I’ve recently been forced by circumstances beyond my control to take on different responsibilities. Specifically, until further notice and for reasons outside my control, I am unable to do my real job. Instead I am now acting as a floorwalker to help my colleagues do their jobs. I wander around, people shout my name or put their hands up, I walk over and say “I don’t really know, sorry…” One of the positive things about this is that I’ve overcome my natural shyness and actually getting to know people, in a work environment kind of way at least. This is new and exciting for me.

Oh I’m still clumsy and foolish, and slow to pick up on certain social cues, but the point is that doing this has kind of brought me out of my shell a bit. On the other hand, the shock of this change has also exposed some of my vulnerabilities that I don’t know how to deal with. I muddle through, though.

On top of this, there are some big changes looming in my life, and for the first time I actually feel kind of sad about what happens next. Canada is more of an option for next year than ever, but I suddenly feel as though the place I’m in now is about to get ripped out from under me just as I was beginning to settle in, and I’m going to end up back at square one.

Anyway, all that life stuff aside, I have listened to music a lot lately, but I’ve jumped from artist to artist, unable to really stay on any one thing. It feels as though I’m searching for some emotional fix that I can’t quite pinpoint without music. Sometimes that mood is one of loneliness and isolation, sometimes of love and community, sometimes misplaced feelings or unrequited love, sometimes a vague sense of spirituality, and sometimes pure visceral energy.

Today I thought I would use this as an excuse for a blog post. So, after altogether too much ado about nothing, here are five songs that elicit in me a strong emotional response. In no particular order, let’s begin.

Tom Waits – Hold On

To my ears one of Waits’ sweetest songs. It’s a simple lyrical sentiment that I think speaks for itself. What really sells this though is its musical setting, firmly within Waits’ unique old-timey ramshackle sound, or at least a muted version of it. A quiet shuffling shaker rhythm sets the pace while guitars are gently picked and strummed.

Hans Zimmer – Time

I re-watched Inception a couple of weeks ago, which reminded me just how intense my love for that film is. It is pretty near to being a perfect film for me. It expresses ideas which are impossible and strange, but it frames them on such a story built of simple human emotion.

Having listened to the soundtrack a whole bunch for the past year, some of the moments in the film resonated even more strongly than they had before. None more so than scene accompanying this piece, Time, which I think is one of the best melodic themes from any film score of the past decade. It does not feature the trademark BWOM! noise that’s become so famous, but it does build to a fairly bombastic climax as the film draws to an end.

I’m not sure how to describe it exactly, but it plays on the themes of the film, of reality and of dreams, of inception and the power of ideas, and of course, of love, loss and regret.

The National – Conversation 16

Fun fact, I am not lucky in love. However, I am familiar with depression. This song is performed by my musical discovery of the year The National, and expresses a dark melodrama of a failing relationship. It’s about that place people sometimes get to where they still love the person they are with, but their own neuroses that they had tried to hide and ignore have started to eat away at everything.

Distant shuddering tremolo guitar and starkly pristine drums, surrounding a mixture of woodwinds, synth pads, and ghostly backing vocals forming the perfect accompaniment to Matt Berninger’s weary baritone, in which he somehow manages to make the line “I was afraid I’d eat your brains” a truly haunting metaphorical refrain.

There is a place in my heart for songs like this which are about love, but do not glorify banal teenage fantasies or empty materialistic lust, and instead examine the darker personal side of it all. I like it when songs deal with the strange feelings people don’t normally talk about.

The video is pretty stupid though, despite starring John Slattery and Kristen Schaal. Its silliness slightly undermines the emotion I’m talking about.

R.E.M. – Belong

“Oh god, not another R.E.M. song! WHY WON’T HE JUST SHUT THE UP ABOUT R.E.M.?!”

Yes, I talk about R.E.M. a lot. Sorry.

Anyway, this song is not Everybody Hurts. Nor is it Losing My Religion, though it is from the same album as that. This song is Belong. It is notable for a number of reasons, primarily that it consists of spoken word verse interspersed with wordless group choruses, that are really beautifully arranged and performed. There’s also a prominent little bass fill that’s very catchy, among the usual piano chords and guitar jangling you may have come to expect. Also, a catchy beat mostly consisting of alternating finger-clicks and claps over the regular drumming.

Oh, and the words are beautiful and abstract the way the best R.E.M. songs are. There’s a mother, and a child, and a sense of passing on, of some revolution or event that opens a child up to a bold new world of possibilities. I don’t know what it’s about really, but I get a lot out of it. What about you, huh?

The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band – Triumph of Our Tired Eyes

Although this list was in no particular order, I think I did unconsciously save the most important one for last.

I probably don’t come across as a particularly emotional guy, but there are a lot of Silver Mt. Zion songs that hit me right where it hurts. For me,  they specialise in the kind of songs that you feel like a strange ache in your heart. This band has more of them than any other band I know of. I think it’s because of some combination of their wavering tremolo guitar, soaring violins and broken untrained vocals singing beautiful words so damn beautifully I can literally barely stand it.

I think, if anyone wants to know how I truly feel about life, about love, about everything in the whole damn world, this song is a fairly close approximation. It is hopelessness and fear given way to redemption and love, but in a quietly mundane kind of way. It’s about the smallness and the strength of individual action. The words celebrate humanity in all its flaws, while still maintaining that hope of something strong inside us all.


Sorry for trying to put some genuine emotion into words, I’m not sure I’m very good at it. Now, if only I could express my emotions out of my mouth, to other people. Or know what to say at all to certain people for who my brain decides it’s vitally important to temporarily reduce the power of speech to incomprehensible babble.

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