April: the cruelest month? According to T.S. Eliot, yes. Depending on if your team's in the Final Four, possibly. If your team just lost its coach to a state where the horses rule with complete autonomy...wait, what?
Superficially, April's a time of sunny celebration, the official beginning of spring after the four-week climatic lap dance that is March. The weather, at least down South, is typically warm but not hot, wet but not stormy, clear and not windy. Most flowers are in full bloom, as are the Eastertime girls. Sundresses abound. It is, on paper, a beautiful thing.
I don't think April's the cruelest month (far from it), but bad moods can be amplified during it. It's not only acceptable but expected to be moody in February--who wouldn't be? But if it's 75 and breezy outside, and birds and bees sing in harmony through the meadows, and children across all nations join hands and hoola-hoop in unison, and you're still having a bad day...well, that's on you.
For example, have you ever noticed that the "sad" songs from SoCal bands are infinitely more depressing than those from the Brits? Nothing puts a bad mood in higher relief than great weather. Being down in April is like having a bad day in California anytime of the year: it's not supposed to happen.
So, here they are, thirty songs for April: some bright and acoustic, some energized, some lethargic, some joyful and redemptive. Some sound like a sigh of relief. My favorites, though, are the springtime melodies that disguise a melancholy song.
Listen for yourself...then tell me what your Songs for April are!
1) The Decemberists "California Youth and Beauty Brigade"
The song itself is a long and string-laden process; it sounds like something thawing out. The Decemberists also get the nod here because I've given them enough ribbing in this space. At their best, they're a worthwhile band, and "Youth and Beauty" is their best.
2) Simon and Garfunkel "April Come She Will"
3) Josh Ritter "Girl in the War"
It's not just the bright acoustic guitars that sound like April; it's the fact that the song sounds like movement. April's constantly in motion, temperatures getting warmer, breezes picking up, building on its own momentum until it's steamrolling straight into summer.
4) Scott Miller "Freedom Is a Stranger"
A great song that should've been named "Citation" (the album was, at least), this is quintessential springtime driving music. Bonus points for being more than a little dirty, too.
5) Allman Brothers "Blue Sky"
Check that: this is quintessential springtime driving music.
6) Kings of Leon "Taper Jean Girl"
Of the Kings' many talents, I admire their underrated knack for building each song properly. The introduction to "Taper Jean Girl" is flawlessly executed, first drums, then bass, then the wonderfully melodic guitar lead. By the time both guitars play in unison, you have to turn it up.
7) Stereophonics "Plastic California"
Something about sustained open chords and melodic bass lines sound like early spring to me.
8) Vampire Weekend "Mansard Roof"
Some bands are best heard during one season. Vampire Weekend, all Afropop influences, bouncy rhythms, and sunny harmonies, is a band for early spring.
9) Teenage Fanclub "About You"
Speaking of sunny harmonies....
10) Lemonheads "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You"
The sound of general, harmless, unaccounted-for malaise.
11) Wallflowers "Three Marlenas"
I don't know if there's anything inherently April-esque about prostitutes, but the Wallflowers' guitar/organ juxtaposition sounds like a sunset to me.
12) Pearl Jam "Thumbing My Way"
Bright acoustic guitars? Check. A song in motion (literally and figuratively)? Check. Pretty melody matched with a melancholy lyric? Check. Though most Pearl Jam feels like summer and fall to me, they do April well when they want to.
13) REM "Daysleeper"
Because I'm an insomniac, I'm a collector of "up-at-night-or-asleep-during-the-day-or-watching-the-sunrise" songs. There are a thousand great ones, but most have the frenetic energy and full arrangements to match summertime. "Daysleeper" has the right mix of sadness and optimism to fit with the springtime.
14) Son Volt "Too Early"
Really just the sunnier version of the "mid-tempo alt-country" that March brought to the table.
15) Lucero "When You're Gone"
So many Lucero songs are about summertime romances, driving footloose and unfettered down the highway, then coming home to a dead-end relationship. This is the sound before the summer starts, when the weather's getting warm and the wheels are in motion, and promises are made to be broken later.
16) Robert Johnson "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom"
Is it criminal to use Robert Johnson for a spring cleaning pun? Take that, taste!
17) Beatles "Here Comes the Sun"
18) Counting Crows "Children In Bloom"
Again, sustained open chords over a melodic bassline. Bonus points for flower imagery.
19) Phantom Planet "Lonely Day"
Case in SoCal point: this is a beautiful, upbeat, wonderfully inviting song about inescapable depression. It's so successful in disguising itself, in fact, that years ago I could not convince a friend that it is actually sad. That the song called "Lonely Day" is sad.***
20) Elliot Smith "Baby Britain"
My second-favorite Elliot Smith song, behind the gorgeously-morose "Needle in the Hay," and further proof that bouncy piano melodies can sound like April, too.
21) Wilco "Outta Mind (Outta Sight)"
Opposed to the alternate version, "Outta Sight (Outta Mind)," this is the springtime production (cheerful but not raucous, piano instead of electric guitars) to balance the latter's summertime mood.
22) The Thrills "Don't Steal Our Sun"
If the sun imagery, cheerful harmonies, and piano ain't broke, don't fix them.
23) Tom Petty "Wildflowers"
24) Cory Branan "Last Man on Earth"
The first few nights in April where it's warm enough to drive on the highway with the windows down are some of my favorites of the year. This song is what should accompany them.
25) Led Zeppelin "Traveling Riverside Blues"
My favorite of the many versions, because Page's guitar sounds the most fluid, like water finally rising again in the river.
***iMeem doesn't have Zeppelin's version of this. Because they hate freedom.
26) Bob Dylan "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"
From the opening lyric, this song sets a scene in the aftermath of winter and all of its mess. This is the sound of being sad, being tired of being sad, and finally being over it.
27) Big Star "Watch the Sunrise"
The Once and Future Kings of "sad sounds that sound happy," the list wouldn't be complete without them. A classic "sunrise" song, too, especially on the brink of summertime.
28) Pawtuckets "River Road"
A relatively little-known alt-country band, the Pawtuckets have a catalog that matches the springtime beautifully. "River Road" sounds like a thawing-out, but more visceral and optimistic than the one outlined in "California Youth and Beauty Brigade."
***Not on the iMeem player, which keeps adding something called "Hitler's Favorite Wagner" by itself.
29) Rolling Stones "Let It Loose"
April brings about increased activity, but not all of it good. This song is a cautious step into the fray, and a warning from inside it.
30) My Morning Jacket "Rollin' Back"
The sound of the sun, sky, and the dawn of a brand new season.
What are your Songs for April?
***The same friend didn't think the Peanuts cartoon--a cartoon whose protagonist is the 2-D blueprint for "hapless loser"--was sad. Whenever someone's persistent earnestness and effort is thwarted by cruel outside forces, what do people reference? Lucy moving the football when Charlie Brown tries to kick it. That's just one episode in this dude's luckless life. His friends are obnoxious, and patronizing. His dog is a solipsistic non-contributing waste (read: cat). No girls (not even the future lesbian who might experiment) are remotely interested in him. He's six and bald, for crying out loud. I could go on...
"No, they're all walking around, playing and being happy!" There it is!