Just as I might respond to anyone who objects to my appreciation of a nice hand cream or an attractive tote bag as an unashamed modern man of the 21st century, he or she who fancies telling me that I also can’t enjoy an occasional cathartic cry to a sad song written by a girl can fuck right off. Especially as pickings are so rich at the moment, with a whole wave of fantastic young female songwriters coming especially out of the US, whose ways with an exquisitely dismal lyric are such that you’ve got to wonder if they haven’t secretly got shares in Kleenex.
Take Virginian indie-rock force of nature Lucy Dacus, for instance, and her recent second album for Matador Records Historian, specifically the blistering track Night Shift. Our harrowed heroine breaks up bad with someone who seems to be a colleague in some shit job or other, and so changes her hours in order to no longer cross paths with said ex. “Pay for my coffee and leave before the sun goes down,” she sets out solemnly, accepting her fate with the same reluctant stoicism as one might dental surgery, “walk for hours in the dark feeling all hell”. I swear I just sobbed so hard all over my laptop there sparks started coming out of it.
Country music is, as we all know, like the Olympics of sad, with Dolly Parton the Usain Bolt of the misery 100 metres, Johnny Cash the Michael Phelps of the swimming pool of tears and Patsy Cline able to chuck a javelin through your heart from a ridiculous distance. Which puts one of the most exciting emerging voices in country Courtney Marie Andrews first off the blocks as she races to stand tallest on the podium of woe, with 2014’s Near You, and this agonising evocation of toxic love. “You can have eyes for anyone in the room, I just want to be near you,” she submits, laying down like the barroom doormat. “You okay hun?” you may feel inclined to ask, upon spotting me in the corner blubbing into a bourbon, and it’d be a fair question. It can’t get sadder than that, can it?
Bridgers does sad so well she really ought to be pretty happy.
To which Phoebe Bridgers responds: hold my beer. The Ryan Adams and Conor Oberst-championed Californian’s debut album Stranger in the Alps is a tour de force of beautifully, brutally frank indie-Americana song-writing, and one of the hands-down best records of last year. Be it in the chorus of Scott Street when she asks “Do you feel ashamed when you hear my name?”, or the bit in Motion Sickness when she admits to a former lover that she faked it every time but it’s fine because she can hardly feel anything these days anyway because she’s just so bloody sad. Bridgers does sad so well she really ought to be pretty happy.
Those are practically light-hearted moments relative to the song Funeral, in which our pained protagonist is asked back to her home town to sing at the funeral of a kid who was a year older than her, causing a whole load of pent-up emotional issues and anxieties to unravel, leading to Bridgers passing out in her car and waking up in her childhood bed wishing she was someone else. “When I remembered someone’s kid is dead,” she suddenly catches herself. “Jesus Christ I’m so blue all the time and that’s just how I feel,” Bridgers continues in the chorus, just hosing on the sadness by this point, “always have and I always will”. See that man-sized puddle of clear salty liquid on the floor, next to the hand cream and the soggy tote bag? That used to be me.