One-Stop Shop for Songs to Cry to

It’s good to cry every once in a while. Whether it’s a silent sob as you’re curled in bed in the dark, or a deafening weep that threatens to puncture the confines of your car as you drive, crying rules. If you’re already crying and looking for accompaniment, or rather that one song to set you over the edge for a much needed bawl, here are some songs to cry to.

The songs have been organized into three broad categories: general sadness, romantic relationships, and the loss of a loved one. For best results, listening in order is recommended.

General Sadness

1. “Novocaine” by Fog Lake
Goes great with: Crying in the bathroom while getting ready for work

“They put a stake right through my heart
They bled me dry ’til the feeling stopped”

“Novocaine” sets a clear tone for an impending crying session. The monotonous repetition of the slow guitar and soft cymbals sounds like if the color gray were a song. The slightly muted instruments feel distant, as if you’re listening with your ear held up to a closed door. The listless narrator trudges along with the drowsy instrumentation in a way that essentially spoon feeds sadness. The final lyrics of the song are heard roughly at the half way mark, and the remaining two minutes of meditative instrumentation and vocalizations imitate the spreading of anesthetic as it pulses slowly through your veins.

2. “Partners in Crime” by Coma Cinema
Goes great with: Staring at the wall while sitting upright on your bed

“A buried past is flowering
Around the church of suffering
Don’t let it in”

In unison with an acoustic guitar, “Partners in Crime” begins with an exasperated sigh that arguably communicates more than any lyrics could. If not paying close attention, the listener might mistake the only instrument present to be the guitar. However, upon listening more closely, a timid piano and hushed bass drum can be heard, each emphasizing the isolation of the narrator: the muffled piano invokes holding your breath underwater, and the drum beat mimics the pattern of a heartbeat, which you can only hear when pushing your hands tightly against your ears. Though the narrator reflects on experiences with an assumed romantic partner, the song says less about that relationship than it does about grappling with the past. How can you look forward when history keeps creeping up on you from behind?

3. “12 Stout Street” by Rx Papi and Gud
Goes great with: Pretending this gym session is the one that gets you ripped

“How you gon’ do that, knowin’ they killed my dad?
You supposed to be my mom and my dad”

This song is for an angry cry – one where the tears are streaming down your cheeks hot and fast. Though the song is an incredibly personal account of an upbringing of crime, violence, and abandonment, the narrator’s tangible frustration is something listeners can identify with. The instrumentation defies cohesion: marimbas, synths, and some form of unidentifiable percussion make unlikely yet welcome neighbors. Lacking in structure, the monologue-like purging of intrusive thoughts provides a sense of catharsis. When you feel antagonized by circumstances you have zero control over, and everything in your power has been exhausted to no avail, listen to “12 Stout Street.”

Romantic Relationships

4. “The Only Thing” by Sufjan Stevens
Goes great with: Doing a 1500 piece puzzle while you wait for him to text back

“Should I tear my eyes out now?
Everything I see returns to you somehow
Should I tear my heart out now?
Everything I feel returns to you somehow”

Context points the subject of “The Only Thing” to Stevens’s mother; however, the lyrics leave the matter ambiguous. I’ve always interpreted this song as a lament for a lost romantic partner, but maybe that says more about me than it does about the artist. Regardless, the juxtaposition of the delicate-sounding instruments with the weight of Stevens’s grief never fails to absolutely shatter me. The lack of percussion leaves room for the narrator to demonstrate an incredible vocal vulnerability, articulating the torment that comes from being all-consumed by somebody who is no longer here.

5. “The Wolves (Act I and II)” by Bon Iver
Goes great with: Reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, not for school but for fun

“Swing wide your crane and run me through”

A contemplative acoustic guitar asks questions that are answered by silence. Sometimes, no answer is an answer. “The Wolves (Act I and II)” is not necessarily about what is being said, but how it’s being said. The listener can practically plot on a graph the narrator’s gradual acceptance of his former love as the song steadily builds. Like an actor repeating the same line with different inflections, Vernon’s repetition suggests a sense of closure by the time the song erupts into a climactic finale, all before returning once more to a restrained approach. This time, though, the narrator isn’t searching for answers in the silence; he no longer has any questions to ask.

6. “The Hill” by Marketa Irglova
Goes great with: Staring at yourself in the mirror for forty-five minutes

“I’m on my knees in front of him
But he doesn’t seem to see me
With all his troubles on his mind
He’s looking right through me”

Once is one of my all-time favorite movies, so of course I’m including one of the songs from the soundtrack here. This song stands on its own, but when placed within the context of the film, it’s enough to give me goosebumps every time I hear it. Accompanied by a poignant piano and somber strings, Irglova details the experience of giving everything to someone who gives nothing in return. Her tender voice trembles under the weight of the relationship placed on her shoulders. However, despite the pain caused by the subject’s lack of reciprocation, she continues to give him the benefit of the doubt, all while she’s on the verge of tears.

7. “Like Slow Disappearing” by Turnover
Goes great with: Remembering the first time that special someone reached for your hand

“I felt you buried deep under my chest
Like my lungs when I’m breathing in
And I was not myself when I opened up my eyes again”

In an attempt to lighten the mood, if only briefly, “Like Slow Disappearing” illustrates the opposite end of the “crying because of a relationship” spectrum. Here, the desire to shed a tear comes not from tender anguish, but from blissful contentment. The song reads like a sweet thank you note from one partner to another, and unlike the previously discussed songs, it demonstrates the positive outcome that can result from putting all of your trust into another person. Austin Getz’s narrative lyricism visualizes the intangible bond one feels when overwhelmed by love, what it’s like to feel changed on a molecular level for the better.

Loss of a Loved One

8. “Get Better” by alt-J
Goes great with: Rearranging the furniture in your room

“I still pretend you’re only out of sight in another room
Smiling at your phone”

Deceptively optimistic, alt-J’s “Get Better” begins with a confident narrator relishing in the charming memories he has of his partner. His untroubled tone implies the subject is absent, but not for long; surely, more happy memories are to be made shortly. However, as the song continues, the listener can infer the narrator is perhaps an unreliable one. There is an abrupt realization that the subject was involved in a violent car accident, and the narrator seems unable to digest what has happened. A deep breath taken mid-chorus betrays his hidden grief before he continues to distract himself from the reality of loss. At the end of the track, a recording of the assumed deceased subject is heard cheerfully saying, “Get better.” The narrator says he will, then rewinds the tape and plays it again. The song’s focus shifts from subject to narrator for the first time, and the listener’s hope in him is restored as he vows to his deceased partner that he will get better.

9. “Seaweed” by Mount Eerie
Goes great with: Sitting on a bench facing a small pond

“But the truth is I don’t think of that dust as you
You are the sunset”

Whereas the narrator of “Get Better” refuses to acknowledge his grief, Phil Elverum on “Seaweed” seems entirely consumed by it in his song about spreading the ashes of his recently deceased wife. His matter of fact musings are jarring, but the narrator doesn’t realize the sadness of his own observations; it’s the only way he knows how to communicate. He directs questions towards his wife who is no longer standing next to him, pondering whether or not the features of nature around him are signs from her. But even if they are, does it really matter?

10. “27” by Title Fight
Goes great with: Driving slightly too fast to Target to get soap before they close

“If I said your name 27 times
Would that bring you back to life?”

When processing grief, the next stage after anger is bargaining. This is the stage we find the narrator of “27” in. Relentlessly desperate, Ned Russin’s vocals amplify the feeling that comes with asking for something despite already knowing the answer is “no.” The loss of his father has, understandably, devastated him. However, acceptance is not an option – not yet. The one thing he has left to try is his father’s superstition.

11. “Nana” by The 1975
Goes great with: Looking through old family photos taken with disposable cameras

“I don’t like it now you’re dead
It’s not the same when I scratch my own head
I haven’t got the nails for it”

The 1975 is very good at writing fun, interesting pop music. The band is also very good at being contemplative and sensitive. “Nana” is a welcome departure from the fist-pumping pop anthems, requesting its audience to be patient as Matt Healy processes the loss of his grandmother. Intimate moments give the listener a glimpse into the special relationship between the two, but the song’s flexibility in allowing listeners to insert themselves into the narrative is what makes it effective. As Healy digests his grief, the audience is urged to reflect on their own experiences with loss, and a kinship between consumer and performer is formed.

The Finale

12. “Wait” by M83
Goes great with: Going on a walk in your parents’ neighborhood after it stops raining

“Send your dreams
Where nobody hides
Give your tears
To the tide”

“Wait” provides the much needed cathartic release when you’ve been crying for a while and don’t exactly remember why you started crying in the first place. The gradual intensification of strings and synths embody the feeling of walking across a plateau under a wide, open sky. Suddenly, you walk far enough to see the plateau is actually a cliff, and there’s a massive ocean below you had no idea was there. Anthony Gonzalez emits strange exclamations that sound like serendipitous sobs; the feeling of freedom that bursts into the air as they echo assures the listener that the worst has already happened. Catharsis gives way to closure as your tears are swallowed by the tide.