Pick-Me-Up Albums for When Life is Hard

By Hannah Wisterman
Music Journalist

There is no mood so tense and hopeless as the one that exists on college campuses the week after spring break. We’ve all spent a week running away from all our problems, completely ignoring schoolwork, living our best lives and tasting once again that fleeting flavor of freedom—only to return to class and find our lives to be a giant firestorm, the likes of which we cannot comprehend. April is one of the hardest months of the academic year and she’s almost got us in her jaws. With that sort of impending terror, it’s exceedingly easy to reach for Salvia Palth or The Antlers and sink deep into that mid-semester depression.

But no! You must not give in! The weather is turning around, you’ve got just a month to go in the semester (more or less), and if you’ve been surviving thus far, who’s to say you can’t keep going? Snap that vinyl of depression music in half! What you need right now is a pep talk, and if you can’t get it from someone in your life, you can get it from these cream-of-the-crop albums. Load these bad boys into your library, turn ‘em up, and get back on your grind.

EMOTION, Carly Rae Jepsen

There’s more than a few diehard supporters of Ms. Jepsen here at KTSW, and we’re no strangers to lauding her work. Without repeating too much of what we’ve said already, this album is liberating as hell. Carly knows things have been hard, and guess what? She’s here for you. Whether your struggles have been of the fluffy romance variety or not, this album has the perfect formula to chip away at those stubborn feelings of fear and inadequacy. The formula is this: authenticity of lyrical and vocal tone + a rich, upbeat pop soundscape. Even if you’re face down in bed, elbow deep in a bag of chips, putting on EMOTION will at least validate you while doing so. Again, I can’t stress this enough: the variety of hardship you’re going through won’t impact how you enjoy this album. The message of EMOTION is to own your feelings and understand the beauty in the pain. That on top of Jepsen’s infectious bubblegum attitude makes a great start to get you out of the mid-semester funk

Roots, Saor

Trying to get people to listen to metal can be an undertaking, to say the least. We all know the connotation: scary men with face paint who burn down churches and kill people, or to a lesser scale, terrifying, ugly vocals. But it’s a truly empowering genre that, for the right people, can be a massage for the soul. With that in mind, consider atmospheric metal as an entry point to the genre and community, exemplified by such bands as Saor. Roots is probably the best pick of their discography to get you back on your feet. It’s an exhibition in the band’s ability to blend rousing, kickdrum-heavy percussion (integral to good metal) with their Scottish heritage influence: lilting, sweeping melodies that call to mind enormous landscapes, with the use of some wind instruments like flute, among others. Heads up: there’s plenty of enormous screams and other unclean vocals, so brace yourself, but I promise the band uses them tastefully. (Plus, it’s totally worth it for the bagpipes.) For best effect, get that volume up. It may not be your cup of tea, but open up your homework and try it on for size. Roots might just give you the boost you need.

Moh Lean Expanded, WHY?

Maybe you don’t need a huge, epic metal power boost. Maybe you just need an album that makes things feel a little easier. In that case, turn to Moh Lean Expanded. The album is a re-release of 2017’s Moh Lean, one of the most hopeful in the band’s discography, with additional remixes by artists like Baths, Astronautalis, and Kishi Bashi. Yoni Wolf applies his signature understated rap style to lyrics that look to the future and are contented with the present, all at once. I hesitate to call this an inspirational album, but for one reason or another, it is uplifting. Part of it is the knowledge that Wolf has been at this for a while, and there’s always a special beauty in hearing albums from artists who have had time to mature and reflect. Wolf is trying to give you advice; take it. Plus, the remixes, while occasionally venturing into the land of the weird, may give you the little burst of upbeat energy you need to get through that mound of intimidating assignments.

Tourist History, Two Door Cinema Club

Yes, it’s a throwback, yes, Two Door Cinema Club is the pinnacle of 2012 indie culture, but it’s almost inarguable that this album is the pick-me-up album of the decade. That shrill guitar? Those unforgiving drums that just won’t quit? It’s pretty hard to top. This album works its magic best in combination with other strategies, namely the magic of dance. You’re going to want to bop your head listening to it: let yourself do just that. Shimmy the shoulders. Do a little boogie with the hips. The depression can’t catch you if you’re dancing—or at least, getting yourself moving a little might inspire some endorphins to alleviate your anguish and push you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to indulge in a little nostalgia. Throw this album on, have a little dance party, and re-approach your Everest.

As always, this list is not exhaustive. Each of these albums can inspire their own trip into similar music, and you may have some go-to albums of your own. You may even want to take a few tracks from each album and cook yourself up a motivational playlist. Music isn’t a cure-all, and we won’t pretend like it is, but these albums might get you off a nasty track. Good luck!

Featured illustration by Hannah Wisterman.

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