Heartbreak doesn’t take the season off, and plenty of folks see the gloomy bummer-fest the summer can be, particularly as it contrasts heightened expectation. We’ve gathered 40 angst-ridden or depressing or just plain sinister summer-related tracks for you below, without the typical fare like “Summertime Blues” or newer mediocre tracks like “Summertime Sadness.” These aren’t just the only 40 we could find, but, rather, 40 songs worth spending time with and discovering. And then we ranked them in order from barely sad to utterly depressing…
20. Jets To Brazil – “One Summer Last Fall” and “In The Summer’s When You Really Know”
Two for one sadness special from the best emo band that no one listens to anymore. Former Jawbreaker frontman Blake Schwarzenbach was dense and poetic with his lyrics on the band’s three albums, but it doesn’t take a graduate student to realize he’s heartbroken in these tracks.
19. Death Cab for Cutie – “Summer Skin”
Would it surprise you if I said that Ben Gibbard’s tale of summer love winds up with longing and loss? Didn’t think so…
18. Night Beds – “Wanted You In August”
Let me tell you something about summer love…
17. Cayucas – “A Summer Thing”
Summer love doesn’t work out sometimes. Deal with it and quit bumming us out.
16. Neon Indian – “Deadbeat Summer”
Oh summer, when will you stop breaking our hearts? Neon Indian scores points for the title, at least.
15. Galaxie 500 – “Fourth Of July”
“I wrote a poem on a dog biscuit / And your dog refused to look at it / So I got drunk and looked at the Empire State Building” begins the absurdly sad self-pity romp that doesn’t hide its mopey message despite the upbeat backing music. The song does conclude with Dean Wareham feeling “better when you smile,” so the the holiday does at least offer some reprieve from the sads.
14. Wilco – “Summer Teeth”
Wilco’s deceivingly depressing song about a writer (it seems) is particularly affecting to me because, well, it’s about a writer. Think about it. “One summer, a suicide / Another autumn, a traveler’s guide / He hits snooze twice before he dies / And every evening when he get home / To make his supper and eat it alone.” It goes on. Thanks, Jeff. Us writers needed that.
13. Youth Lagoon – “July”
“July” is a roller-coaster of emotions, with the initial lines describing a Fourth of July gathering poetically, a sepia-toned memory of youth and friendship. But before the song shifts direction, Powers drops the bomb—or firecracker—to his lover, “I love you but I have to cut you loose.” The emotional revelation that comes after this is filled with both youthful simplicity and a mature wisdom, saying “If I had never let go, then only God knows where I would be now / I made a bridge between us then I slowly burned it / Five years ago, in my backyard I sang love away / Little did I know that real love had not quite yet found me.” A bummer song that makes you feel alive, and glad that Independence Day usually involves more canned beer than life-altering decisions.
12. St. Vincent and The National – “Sleep All Summer”
On this Crooked Fingers cover, St. Vinny and Matty B duet a mope fest that is about as perfect as a St. Vincent/The National collaboration sounds in our mind. “We take our empty hearts and fill them up with broken things,” claims Ms. Clark. “I would change but, babe, that doesn’t mean I’m gonna be a better man,” warns Mr. Berninger. Never change, guys. Please.
11. Weekend – “Coma Summer”
Weekend’s noisy romp starts promising, with the narrator waking from a coma, happy to see his love. But, through the magic of vague plots, we wind up with “I saw a bride, I saw a ghost / Waking up, regretted most / I saw a skeleton and golden rings / Forgotten vows and tragedy.” Shoulda stayed in your coma, ammirite?
10. Animal Collective – “Fireworks”
Animal Collective lyrical analysis doesn’t get a whole lot of play, but the words are often as carefully considered as the music. “I’m only all I see sometimes,” worries Avery Tare, finding a different way to describe the essence of depression. Just let the guy watch fireworks, right? Maybe next summer, Avey.
9. The Twilight Sad – “That Summer At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy”
This almost was number one, but I don’t think “the kids are on fire in the bedroom” is literal. Still, a Stand By Me reference and some serious heartbreak and some serious profanity and guttural screaming in a thick Scottish accent. Epic bummer.
8. The Drums – “Saddest Summer”
“The. Saddest. Summer. Ever.” Enough said? No, he doesn’t know the sad that’s yet to come in this list.
7. The Magnetic Fields – “Summer Lies”
In all honesty, some of the best lyricists of the last few decades are on this list, and it’s hard to top Stephin Merritt. So, it’s fitting that his loss of love packs extra punch, as he declares “I’ll never love again,” before a final verse ends with sobering seriousness, “curtains drawn, hiding in my room / wasting away, cutting myself.” No jokes for that one.
6. Ice Cube – “My Summer Vacation”
This is another relative bummer, for a while at least. Sure traveling by plane from L.A. to St. Louis with crack cocaine to sell sounds like a stressful summer to say the least, but Ice Cube seems to be pretty successful at it, managing to survive gunplay with his own corner on arrival. This doesn’t last and the story ends in jail, with the subtle message, “No parole or probation / Now this is a young man’s summer vacation / No chance for rehabilitation / Cause look at the motherfuckin’ years that / I’m facin’ / I’ma end it like this cause you know what’s up / My life is fucked.”
5. No Joy – “No Summer”
Just read those last four words again.
4. Cold Cave – “Icons Of Summer”
Cold Cave’s Wesley Eisold doesn’t seem like a summer person, but opening “Icons of Summer,” he seems in an okay place, calmly noting “Seasons change and passions change.” And, then things go dark. “But I live in a city with no seasons or passions at all / It’s awful / Trouble sleeping / The curse of feeling / Everything and nothing ever at all / You’re awful.”
3. Pedro The Lion – “June 18, 1976”
Alright, if you want to enjoy this narrative as it slowly plays out, stop reading and let David Bazan weave his tale. If not, ••spoiler alert••, a lady has a baby and then throws herself off a building. Good times.
2. Earlimart – “Internet Summer”
1. Yeasayer – “Wait For The Summer”
Remember that summer I killed mom? That was the worssst.