They're not happy-clappy, but they're also not gloomy. These songs hit that middle-ground sweet spot - peaceful melancholy. Maxim & David
10. Joshua Tree - Ruthie Collins
On the face of it, this might seem like an odd choice, because the story Ruthie Collins tells in ‘Joshua Tree’ is beyond tragic, and it’s hard to see where the ‘peace’ is to balance out the ‘melancholy’. It’s based on the death of Country singer Gram Parsons in 1973, after an overdose while staying at the Joshua Tree Inn. Collins’ ethereal voice meanders hauntingly through emotions of fleeting optimism, before spirally into fear and grief. But despite all the despair that comes with this story, Collins sings with a sense of calm self-awareness, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that ‘Joshua Tree’ is hopeful, I do think there’s an alluring stillness about it. Although it’s subtle, there’s also a tone of defiance when she sings to the loved one, “Will you say my name like hallelujah, love me like you’re free”, suggesting that perhaps Collins’ modern-day take on Parsons’ story doesn’t have such a tragic ending. MM
9. To Build a Home - The Cinematic Orchestra
This feels a bit like I’m cheating. ‘To Build a Home’ is the poster boy for both peaceful and melancholic so feels like an uninspired choice but also seems impossible to omit. The lyrical content isn’t actually that melancholic but the beautiful vocals and incredible sound are so emotional in themselves. It’s almost witchcraft the ability this song has to tug on the heartstrings. Since I was introduced to it a few years ago I’ve noticed it being used in countless tv shows and films to try and force an emotional response to usually sad scenes. If you don’t know the song by title give it a listen and I bet you recognise at least parts of it! DD
8. Photograph - Ed Sheeran
Ed has released his fair share of tearjerkers, but this one in particular always gets me. Depending on how you hear it, it can either be about being apart from the one you love, or it can be about a relationship that’s ended. Personally, I think the lyrics suggest it’s the former, in which case it’s the perfect song for anyone who’s been missing someone during the pandemic. Ed sings that even though they can’t yet be together in person, they can hold onto a photograph of each other until then. The photograph captures a moment frozen in time where there is no heartbreak and the lovers’ “eyes are never closing”, and for me, this sentiment underlines what peaceful melancholy means. It’s that feeling of sadness about something inevitable, whether it be time apart from a loved one, or possibly even death; but it’s balanced out by an inspiring sense of acceptance and resilient hope that continues, despite everything. MM
7. Caught Up - Caleborate
Again this feels like a really uninspired choice because this will be it’s third inclusion by me in a top ten, but since hearing it a while back in a film, it has quickly become one of my all time favourite songs. The song is so chilled out and peaceful from start to finish, with a simple but beautiful instrumental accompanied by a basic drum beat and Caleborate’s smooth vocals. The song sees the rapper open up about past relationships and how he feels he has somewhat lost himself; I’m not sure whether the song is autobiographical, but it feels extremely honest and emotional. One of the main reasons I love this song so much is it has this calming power that seems to grip me as soon as it starts playing. I was tempted not to include this because of its previous features but saw no way to leave it out, I compromised by having it lower on my list but realistically I’d have it top! DD
6. Homecoming Queen? - Kelsea Ballerini
Kelsea has one of my favourite voices in Country music, and the stripped-back production of this song really allows her vocals to take centre stage. I love this song because it’s all about reaching out to someone who we put on a pedestal, and who seems like they have it all, but underneath this facade they’re actually struggling with a number of issues. The key lyric for me is “Did you want the crown? Or does it weigh you down? Nobody’s feeling sorry for you”. I think it sends out such an important message of no matter who you are and no matter how good people think you have it, your feelings are still valid. There’s a lot of sorrow in this song, but it’s constantly underpinned by the hope and acceptance that’s being given to this ‘Homecoming Queen’ character. MM
5. Changes - XXXTENTACION
XXXTENTACION is always a subject of division within my own mind; whilst it is well documented that he has a less than squeaky clean past it was an absolute tragedy to lose someone so talented so young. I find that it’s best to just focus on his music; which I love. ‘Changes’ is one of his most beautiful songs. The simple piano and strings perfectly accompany the vocal that is filled with emotion. In fact what makes this song so special is its simplicity. The lyrics are repetitive and limited, but that only stands to strengthen the message; with each time it is sung it has a slightly different inflection and feels like a genuine plea. The vocals are definitely melancholic and the song is peace and beauty in it’s finest form. DD
4. Knowing You - Kenny Chesney
Country music has always had a knack for nostalgia, and ‘Knowing You’ has this down to a T. It’s all about having a feeling of gratitude for someone who’s had a huge impact on your life, but who, for whatever reason, you’ve lost. This isn’t necessarily about death, nor does it have to be about a break-up. When explaining the meaning behind ‘Knowing You’, Kenny said that, “You may never be together again, but that moment – no matter where you are – you can close your eyes and remember everything about the people, the places, the joy comes right back” . The main emotion is one of appreciation for the wonderful way in which this person changed your life, but this is undercut by an inevitable sense of wistfulness, and the lingering question of what could have been. MM
3. Play this when I'm gone - Machine Gun Kelly
Anyone who read my review of Machine Gun Kelly’s Tickets to my Downfall will know I gushed over this song then and I still do now. The lyrics are so brutally and beautifully honest at the same time. The song had me in literal tears when I first listened to it as the suicide note format of the song feels so real. To accompany the haunting lyrics are a simple guitar riff and what some sort of sound effect that to me sounds a bit like gushing wind; whatever it is it makes the song so peaceful. For anyone who hasn’t I suggest you listen to this song because It’s so worth it. DD
2. Same Drugs - Chance the Rapper
I remember the first time I heard Chance’s magnum opus, Coloring Book, this song really stood out to me. A lot of people probably know Chance for his larger-than-life, carefree presence on tracks such as DJ Khaled’s ‘I’m the One’ or Ed Sheeran’s ‘Cross Me’. But on ‘Same Drugs’, it’s all stripped down and pulled in, and the outcome is a tenderness and fragility that a lot of rappers don’t have in their armoury. It’s a song about a past relationship that didn’t work out, with Chance using the metaphor of how the couple “don’t do the same drugs” anymore (he was keen to stress when it came out that this song isn’t actually about drugs). Although it’s tinged with sadness, Chance’s retrospection clearly comes from a place of peace, with the overwhelming feeling being one of gratitude for what happened, rather than regret about what didn’t. MM
1. Strong - London Grammar
For me you cannot make a peaceful melancholy playlist without including London Grammar. Despite being in and around the charts for the last 8 years or so the group never really got the full recognition that I thought they should. The trio has a truly beautiful sound with atmospheric production supporting the vocals of Hannah Reid who has, in my opinion, one of the most rich, unique and incredible voices around. I could have picked a plethora of their songs but I decided to limit it to one; ‘Strong’. This song is one of my favourites from their 2013 debut album If You Wait and is a perfect demonstration of the group’s talent. The simple instrumental comprises, on the most part, a piano and some distant drums, but these expertly drop in and out to allow the vocal to shine through. The lyrics tell a story of someone who has been abandoned and unloved by a parent or partner, and is ‘caught in the middle’ of their persistent love for this person whilst still feeling betrayed, and that despite appearing strong on the surface, they are suffering within. Peaceful and melancholic at its finest.
Listen to the full Peaceful Melancholy playlist below!
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