If you read articles about how to help someone with depression, you encounter a few common themes. Don’t tell people to “snap out of it.” Don’t say you know what they feel like. Don’t act as though they have a choice in the matter.
The view of depression as a clinical, chemical phenomenon—an illness—is, theoretically, commonly accepted. Still, many people with depression say that it’s often talked about in unhelpful ways. Music, perhaps, can help. Deep, enduring sadness has been a muse for rock artists for most of the genre’s lifespan, but this year has provided a fascinating crop of young talents finding fresh ways to make art about the topic. The most vibrant examples are Mitski, a 25-year-old singer/songwriter, and Car Seat Headrest, a Seattle band. “Catharsis” doesn’t seem like the right word for what they’re doing; they’re dissecting feelings, trying to convey how they work and what effect they have on a person’s life. The joy of the music is partly in recognition—both of truth and of a sharp writer’s talents.
Mitski’s Puberty 2 opens with a dull jackhammering pulse, maybe meant to represent a kind of looming dread. The song is called “Happy,” and she sings about the title emotion as a one-night stand who disappears from her apartment while she’s in the bathroom, leaving her to clean up candy wrappers and other detritus from his visit. Incongruously loud saxophones blare to horrifying effect, but Mitski’s chorus, like many on the album, is surprisingly sweet-sounding. It’s a very smart take on the idea of emotional absence, and in her press materials Mitski explained what exactly she’s going for: “Happiness is up, sadness is down, but one’s almost more destructive than the other. When you realize you can’t have one without the other, it’s possible to spend periods of happiness just waiting for that other wave.”