An intricate, swirling feeling that we can all relate to, yet struggle to communicate;
A state of subtle, unlocatable sadness, or unshakable loneliness, melancholy is possibly the most complex and profound feeling a human being can experience. Over the ages, artists, intellectuals and even psychologists have stayed steadily interested in developing an outlet to express and engage with the unique qualities of such a curious feeling. The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, regarded melancholy as a naturally underlying part of what it means to be human. Kierkegaard, well known as a self-proclaimed melancholic, speaks to the mysterious and inexpressible nature of such a feeling through his various writings. He believed the experience of melancholy did not pertain to a definite emotion, but to a state of being. Plato thought of melancholy as a peculiarly spiritual state, in that a soul washed over by waves of melancholy became, in those moments, more susceptible to the registering of ethereal or esoteric experiences.*
It seems, to me anyways, that music has continually stood as the most precise medium for capturing and displaying the way melancholy undetectably pierces through the security or comfortability of our very existence. I have chosen to review a few songs that not only do a brilliant job at expressing the sound of the melancholy but do so through an interesting method of conveying themes and feelings of the expansive outer space that envelopes our planet. There seems to be a powerful overlapping of the existential feelings engendered by a perpetually expanding universe we find ourselves placed somewhere within, and this feeling of a covertly present melancholic-loneliness, confusion and yearning.
Our interest in the unknown of space can be compared with the need to know ourselves in entirety, exploring our deepest emotions in the same way our telescopes and spacecrafts hope to uncover the dazzling truths of our galactic inhabitance. There is a lot to be explored within the relationship of existing within a vast universe and the feelings of melancholy, and I believe these songs, in particular, beautifully articulate this connection.
1. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space - Spiritualized (1997)
Sonically, there is a lot going on in this song by Spiritualized. There are many layers of voices that echo almost like mantras throughout the song, while in the background there are various beeping sounds representing space-equipment-type- noises that one could imagine can be heard inside some sort of vessel or transmission system. Blatant in the title, the song is an ode to the fact that we are in fact ‘floating in space’ and our habitat on earth is not as stagnant and fixed as we assume it to be. The uncertainty of our interstellar positioning creates a complex, perhaps daunting, background which always exists just behind the earth-bound lives that we lead.
Everything happens today
And we're out here in space
And I don't know where we are all going
Beautifully orchestrated, the song is somber in nature, replicating the depths of a melancholic experience. The song crafts a sort of existential notion that we do not know exactly where we are going or what is happening in the big picture, while simultaneously, reminding us of the powerful human emotions we grapple with on a daily basis; that of love and pain.
2. Andromeda - Weyes Blood (2019)
The extremely talented Natalie Mering, the lead voice of Weyes Blood, has a mystifying timber to her voice that draws the listener closer to both the hypnotizing tones and esoteric texture of this colourful acknowledgment of our neighbouring galaxy, Andromeda. The chords that start the song are very alive. They have a wavy, magnetizing feeling, as if they are pulling you towards some sort of cosmic secret, untethering you from the confines of gravity. The song is constructed through a perfect balance of beauty and distress. While listening, your heart, like an astronaut floating aimlessly in the emptiness of space, desperately yearns to grasp at anything solid to reestablish some sense of ground.
Runnin' from my own life now
I'm really turnin' some time
Looking up to the sky for something I may never find
Similar to the effects of melancholy, there appears to be a sorrowful tone emanating outwards from the center of the tune, but when investigated further, it seems to disappear within the vibrant atmosphere that surrounds it. Although our larger, neighbouring galaxy swirls with the life of millions of starts, there are no guarantees that it contains any of the remedies needed to treat the most curious anxieties we face here in our own, ever-evolving, galaxy. Still though, it sure is beautiful.
3. Space Song - Beach House (2015)
This song truly is a marvel. The instrumental interlude sets a stage that is both familiar and warm, yet somehow simultaneously distant, like a dream that you suddenly remember just enough to realize that you have forgotten it. It is this feeling, somewhere between amnesia and homesickness, that Beach House leaves swimming in your mind throughout the entirety of the tune. One of the prevalent themes, that of the orientation of one’s placement or positioning, is tenderly spoken through a chill inducing chorus that rings through the ears like chant mediation.
What makes this fragile world go 'round?
Were you ever lost?
Was she ever found?
Since the beginning of human consciousness, one of the main questions has always been: where do we fit in all of this? This song calmly reminds the listener, as a mother comforts a young one who knows little about the world they exist in, that although we may experience the soul- sadness of never truly knowing an answer to that timeless question, we will always be exactly where we are, wherever we are. The spatial and temporal ambiguity of our exact location or direction can surely bring about an unsettling feeling in anyone pondering such matters. This feeling can be mollified by the unifying reality that we are all in the same situation. The Space Song reassures the point that: we are lost together…all trying to find our place.
4. Space Oddity - David Bowie (1969)
Created by the eccentric and dazzling David Bowie, comes perhaps the most well known and celebrated musical representation of the emotional trials of space travel. His Space Oddity paints a vivid picture of an astronaut leaving everything he knows behind to venture into the vacuous depths of the outer realms of existence. Largely inspired by the ground-breaking Kubrick film, (and most definitely, loopy drug binges), this tune palpably instills a sense of yearning for something beyond our limited scope of understanding. In order to truly discover the unknowable, we must take a leap of faith and travel far from the places we feel most secure.
Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles
I'm feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Naturally, there will always be a special sort of sadness that follows such a departure from the safety and comfort of the “normal”. The loneliness of such an exertion reverberates within the beauty of this song. New horizons are the result of familiar ones left behind. Daunting and sometimes even unfathomable, the deepest trips, the ones where you cannot take anybody but yourself, are often the ones you learn the most.
5. The Lovely Universe - Circulatory System (2001)
I wanted to end this list off with a more uplifting tone, so I figured I could incorporate the beautifully optimistic aspects of melancholy within this final review, a song by Circulatory System. Along with the UFO beeps and ominous static, creating a listening experience that feels distant from our planet, this song at times has a sort of carnival-like sound to it, highlighting the peculiar and extravagant nature of the universe.
In us all, it's a lovely Universe
In us all, you'll be fine
It speaks to the consoling fact that, although we may find ourselves in the thick of a cavernous melancholic state from time to time, it is a feeling that we all live with; one that brings us back to the roots of what it means to be having a human experience. The lyrics promote a sense of solidarity, reminding you that you are not alone when treading through overwhelming states of bewilderment, while at the same time, urging you to courageously break past the limitations of conventional ways of thinking or experiencing the world around you.
Delicate, complex and deeply mysterious, the state of melancholy evades linguist description, inspiring artistic endeavours, and encouraging uninhibited communication in order to express itself.
This experience of melancholy, one in which mirrors the feelings of loneliness or confusion when contemplating your place in the expansive cosmos, leads to profound states of wonder and a primal yearning for wisdom of the unknown. This calling, not only to explore the farthest reaches of space, but the deepest parts of our very souls, is what advances all experience forward towards life’s deepest and most remarkable truths. Next time you feel yourself feeling existentially lost, aimlessly sad or anxiety stricken by the absurdity of all that is unknown, remember; those feelings are part of a grander, endless wonderment for such a magical, strange and lovely universe.
*Ferguson, Harvie. Melancholy and the Critique of Modernity – Soren Kierkegaard’s Religious Psychology. 1995. Routledge. London & New York. Page: 7.