I love sad music. Sit me down with a bottle of something only someone that has given up on life would drink and an appropriate soundtrack and I am just as happy as I can be. That's just the way I roll.
In general, Houston does not produce a lot of sad music. We're more of an upbeat bunch that puts a premium on enthusiastic live performance. It's rare to find something recorded here that really opens up the windows of the soul and lets the dark pour in.
Luckily for you, I happen to have heard most of it. So sit back, kick back, and make sure that all firearms and sharp objects have been stowed beyond your reach because we're going to keep things dismal as hell from here on out.
10. Pain Teens, "Story of Isaac" Let's pour one out real quick for a much-missed band, Bliss Blood and her Pain Teens. Better known for their raucous onstage performances, the Teens nonetheless had a knack for occasional moroseness. This cover of Leonard Cohen's "Story of Isaac," from 1993's Destroy Me, Lover, adds an empty pain to the interpretation that is missing from the original, and is creepy as hell to boot.
9. ZZ Top, "Over You" I usually ignore the bigger acts from Houston when compiling lists such as these, but Chris Gray wouldn't leave me alone until I sampled ZZ Top's "Over You" from last year's La Futura. I am so glad that I did. [Told you -- Ed.]
In addition to just being a damn good blues song in its own right, Billy Gibbons shows off a soul-searing vocal talent I have honestly never from the man before. It's also making me reconsider bitching about Rick Rubin's production so much -- though it might have benefited from a little more depth in the mix, there's a restraint to Rubin's notorious noisepunch here.
8. Poor Dumb Bastards, "Gun Room" Not everything sad has to be quiet, and Poor Dumb Bastards prove that in spades. "All I need is a small quiet room, a revolver, and some time to myself." It may be energetic, but make no mistake that this song has all the hopelessness of a good Pogues tunes screeching over the guitars. It's seriously hurtful.
Even sadder songs on the next page.
7. Kathryn Hallberg, "Move On" Yet another musician that we've lost as she recently left us to attend school in Boston, but before Kathryn Hallberg did she put out Nocturnal last year. It opens with one of the best resolute breakup songs I have ever heard, "Move On," which is just chock-full of brilliant turns of phrase on top of that special haunting quality that is the trademark of producers at Red Tree Recording Studio. It's a balm for the troubled mind, and one of the songs that I have on a continuous loop in dark days.
6. Tomas Glass, "Last Goodbye" When it comes to shocking openings of a song, it's really hard to beat Tomas Glass and "Woke up this morning to find you'd shot yourself." Really gets your attention. Glass seems to exist on the edge of perception here in town, but he's a real genius as both a vocal and visual artist on his way up. He has a soft, self-deprecating style that makes every note feel like a confession, and I've interviewed him enough times to know that when he talks about death and loss, he really freakin' means it.
5. Vertigo Blue, "Raven In the Snow" Of all the people in Houston to put out a dirge, you just don't expect it to be Mike Naus. I've seen him onstage and he's basically Dr. Teeth in black. He's the happiest damn goth I know, yet "Raven in the Snow" is just plain upsetting.
Naus told me via email that it's a song that deals with physical impairments he suffered after an ambulance accident that severely injured his neck and back during his days as an EMT. Naus never complains of his pain, but he lays it all out in this work for all to see.
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Even sadder songs on the next page.
4. Jandek, "I Passed By the Building" Now what would a Houston sad-bastard playlist in Houston be without the one and only Jandek? "I Passed the Building" is the Jandek song I play for people I want to introduce to him. First, because it's one of the more listenable tracks in his weird-ass tuning. Second, I can use it as part of my theory that if Jim Morrison had lived this is eventually what he would have become. And third, if you can survive the lyrics and that voice then you'll survive anything else he's put out.
3. Robin Kirby feat. Patrick Mikulin, "Stop the Pain" Robin Kirby is one of those artists I just keep forgetting exists sometimes, and that's unfortunate because she is easily one of our best voices. As a songwriter she excels at delivering a near-Joplinesque level of bluesy tearjerkers, and that husky voice makes the whole thing feel like a fever dream.
Mikulin adds a wonderful bass element to the song, calling to mind Trent Reznor dropping in on Tori Amos' "Past the Mission." The best part, though, is that there is no best part. The song offers no salvation at all. Just hurt unending. I like that.
2. Linus Pauling Quartet, "La Jete" "La Jete," a recent track from LP4, is what inspired the whole article. I must have listened to it two dozen times on repeat, pulling every ounce of hurt from the track and analyzing it from every angle.
LP4 Guitarist Ramon Medina has assured me it's not the anthem to lost love I initially interpreted it as, and is in reality quite a happy tune in its intent. Far be it from me to tell another singer what the hell his song is really about, but that's not what I get from "La Jete." I picture it being sung from the last exploded piece of the planet, a final goodbye sent out into space.
See Houston's No. 1 saddest song on the next page.
1. Evangeline, "We're Alright Down Here" Jeffery Armstreet is probably the most underrated producer in all of Houston, but he's responsible for some of my favorite songs to come out of the city. Before he went to work behind the console, he was the bassist and primary lyricist of Evangeline, and this song is without a doubt the saddest song in Houston.
It's just so... I don't even know the word. It's an ode to an existence under pain. It's a hymn to survival in world that just does not care whether you exist or not. Shut up, monkey, and make your fucking widgets. If you don't like it we'll hire someone else.
That's what the song says to me, and yet right down there at the bottom is a tiny nugget of unbeatable spirit that acknowledges every crack of the whip, accepts it, and still strives for some kind of meaning and beauty even while bleeding. It's just exceptional.
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