Anxiety Anthems

A couple weeks ago on Sound Opinions episode 551, hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot discussed their personal “anxiety anthems.” The songs they’ve chosen, ranging from Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” to Toots and the Maytall’s “Pressure Drop,” convey the feelings and experiences of nervousness and mental unease in different ways. One way can be through descriptive and poetic lyrics, that put words to that uneasy sensation. Othertimes, it can be through frenetic instrumentation, such as harsh drums and jagged electric guitars, that can convey as well as channel youthful anxiety.

Here are my admissions to the asylum of anxiety anthems:

“Aqua Dementia” – Mastodon

My choices for “anxiety anthems” stem mostly from their instrumentation, and this cut from Mastodon’s 2004 Moby-Dick-inspired opus Leviathan. The song starts with an unrelenting and disorienting guitar line by lead guitarist Brent Hinds before launching into a driving, pounding riff propelled by Troy Sanders’ bass and Brann Dailor’s drumming. Meanwhile, ominous lyrics paint a grim picture of maidens used as ashtrays, and of hydras boiling in the sea at sunset, which places this track on the farthest end of the anxiety spectrum. According to the DSM-V, anxiety relates especially to the “anticipation of a future threat,” and the freaky apocalyptic visions therein would definitely haunt the minds of superstitious 19th century whalers.

But what makes “Aqua Dementia” a unique anxiety anthem would be its third movement, when the song goes into the third verse around two minutes, ten seconds in. The song slows down, but the pounding drums and the portentous guitar riff foretell further doom, when guitars, drums, and bass then come crashing down on the listener like a series of high and heavy waves. Anxiety often feels very overwhelming, as if you’re losing control, and as you hear Scott Kelly’s final line close out with a yelling scream, it feels like he’s being engulfed and overtaken by the sea, and the horrors that await in the depths.

“Kuru Kuru Rock” – Illreme

(Skip to around 3:20 in the YouTube video to hear “Kuru Kuru Rock” and see the game in action!)

Of all the “anxiety anthems,” this number from 塊は魂 (Katamari Wa Damashii), the soundtrack to the 2006 PlayStation 2 game We Love Katamari, gets the most physical reaction from me. For the uninitiated, the Katamari Damacy series involves rolling around a ball, picking up random objects as your ball grows bigger. You go from rolling up candies and crumbs, to penguins and people, trees and trucks, all the way up to deities and dinosaurs! Oh, and you have to hit a minimum size within a time limit, and the challenges become more difficult as you go.

The Katamari series has a bewilderingly eclectic soundtrack that’s as colorful and kooky as the game’s look, but “Kuru Kuru Rock” accurately captures the frantic frustration of trying to finish the level in time. The crashing stop-shuffling beat, the collapsing horn and drum samples, and Illreme’s nasally rap (with kid-like backup singers) can stress out even the most seasoned katamari veterans, and bring up traumatic memories of failing the game and incurring the wrath of the King of All Cosmos. I shudder whenever I hear this, whether I’m playing the game or listening on my computer.

With that, what songs do you readers have in mind as your “anxiety anthems”? What songs give you the jitters or take you to a time or place that gets you all wound up?


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