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Weeping At The Wheel: Crushingly Sad Songs

Not every road trip is a symbol of celebration and freedom; sometimes you're just wallowing in grief, or perhaps fleeing the soul-shrapnelizing ruin you've created back home. Regardless of your misery's root cause — and, let's face it, it's probably your own dumb fault — there's no better place to mourn ostentatiously than alone in a car late at night, when no one's around to witness your pitiful, spluttering sobs.

These five songs all come from a bountiful crop of mid-'00s miserablism, with no shortage of guilt, disappointment, regret and even death in their grim words. But they're all beautiful, cathartic and useful in their own way — kind of like ipecac for your tear glands. Once they're over, when you've come back and are safely nestled beneath the damp covers of your musty futon, be sure to grab your laptop, click here and cry yourself to sleep.

For more entries in this summer's weekly Road Trip: Songs to Drive By series, click here.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Locusts

The Frames' Glen Hansard has a way of ripping out the listener's heart and massaging it tenderly before returning it in better condition than he found it. In "Locusts," he contemplates the emotional wreckage around him and ultimately opts to flee -- hey, just like you're doing! "I'm moving off / I'm packing up," he sings, adding, "I'm willing to be wrong." Fortunately, in Hansard's music, glimmers of redemption and contentment pop up in the grimmest of moments: "The bells that ring in hope are swinging from the ropes / we thought we'd one day perish on." That's the spirit!

Astronaut

A criminally under-appreciated singer-songwriter, David Mead is at his best when he's ruminating wistfully on places he's had to abandon or pass by altogether. Mead followed his 2004 sleeper masterpiece Indiana -- which uses the titular state as a metaphor for the space between home and where we find ourselves -- with the similarly winsome yearning of an EP called Wherever You Are. In "Astronaut," Mead laments leaving a city he loves, but adds a bit of motivation for his departure: "Then you tell me a lie and say you'll miss me when I'm gone." It's a painful roundabout admission that, while the places we leave exert a gravitational pull, they can never miss us the way we miss them.

Casimir Pulaski Day

Here's hoping that the specifics of "Casimir Pulaski Day" don't apply to your own tearful drive: In all likelihood, you're not a young man who falls in love at Bible Study and questions his faith after watching the object of his unconsummated love die of bone cancer. If you are? Wow, sorry to hear that. But either way, it isn't necessary to fully relate to Sufjan Stevens' ornate ballad: It just sounds like sadness, what with its solemn trumpet and its cooing mourners and, well, the fact that, in the song, someone dies of bone cancer. If you're sad, "Casimir Pulaski Day" isn't going to cheer you up; let's leave it at that.

Our Hell

The five stages of grief end with acceptance, right? In "Our Hell," Metric's Emily Haines reflects on a relationship and declares, however unconvincingly, that "our hell is a good life." It's a wrenchingly hollow victory -- taking comfort in the fact that an awful existence is worth striving for -- but as you drift along some dusty highway, "Our Hell" at least helps you count your blessings. And, of course, it'll remind you of their insignificance, in the process helping you overthrow the tyranny of hope. "I tried to save you," Haines sings, "but it can't be done."

Your Ex-Lover Is Dead

A bittersweet narrative unfolds in Stars' "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead," during which former lovers experience an awkward and accidental reunion before applying revisionist history to their difficult past. She's philosophical about their relationship, while he obscures his feelings beneath bogus bravado, but their ambivalence and sadness coalesce around one breathtaking line near the end: "Live through this / and you won't look back." No matter how bad it gets, at least "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" helps you take a measure of solace in the fact that memories fade.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)