Depending on your political-environmental math, it’s been seasonal affective disorder [SAD] time for two to five years, people. SAD is a depressive affliction limited mostly to the months in which there are more hours of darkness than light in a day. This lack of light affects mood, appetite, and energy in a variety of ways. It’s a real thing, but we all possess the tools to fight it—so don’t give up the ship.
We’ve put together songs and albums, new and old, happy and well, errm … reflective, to combat this malady. Most times, the most successful way to conquer a storm is to power directly through it. Getting to the other side, putting a significant distance between you and it, delivers the best outcome while achieving the goal. So dive into our playlist of music that eases seasonal affective disorder and kick winter depression to the curb.
FOAMBOY, MY SOBER DAYDREAM
Feeling bad never bumped so cosmically free. Who knew that one of the most existential Gen-Z-ennui takes on gloom could be a serpentine-wonky earworm of a debut album from some Pacific Northwest eccentrics? Rainy days and Mondays have always been a thing, but seasonal depression has taken on a whole new dimension over the past … well, you get it.
Foamboy, the Portland duo of producer Wil Bakula and vocalist Katy Ohsiek, makes the bad go away, turning uncool topics into danceable arrangements. They’re not stomping out the melancholy. It’s more like they’re stimulating endorphins, helping us work through dark mental places. Credit the stellar drum programming, delicate melodies, and jazz-meets-disco heel-turns for that.
My Sober Daydream is not the normal “I’m from Portland … the rain … the humanity” balderdash takes we outsiders have become used to. Naah. In the fall of 2021, Foamboy procured gorgeous whimsy out of tree-trunk-bump. That type of nervous fonk-melodic stretches—with heartfelt narratives about shutting the information highway down for sanity’s sake. This sound encourages one to get away from the Twitter muggles.
“Better,” the first song on the self-released, pay-your-own-price Daydream from last October, begins underwater, with a rippling keyboard arpeggio that eventually surfaces. An ode to “mingling with the dread of a life under capitalism,” as stated in the liner notes, the ditty was penned by Ohsiek while she worked a taxing job and was observing her life slowly grind itself into dust—all the while watching the sun set at 4:30pm every afternoon.
On the brief half-time pounder “Alien,” this low-end bass energy knocks and swirls about, as the doldrums of stagnation begin to fall away. Ohsiek’s phrasing radiates: “Nobody here really likes me,” pleasant as pie.
“The juxtaposition isn’t intentional, but I think it works,” she told Audiofemme.
My Sober Daydream jams up the adverse effects of isolation via lightheaded, easy-going rhythms with surprising low-end heft. It’s all encased in well-produced synth-pop that hovers around the Stereolab good place. Wrap up in “Logout” and the other nine jawns this winter around the time of that early afternoon sun dip. We got this.
PORTISHEAD, “ONLY YOU”
Sometimes to get through the blues, you need to hear ’em out.
Apart from the band’s ability to pull one out of SAD times, to overlook Portishead’s second album is just gross negligence. Track “Only You” advances with decelerated, intense pace that allows Beth Gibbons (happy belated January 4 bday, BTW) to give those erie frequencies and sad-girl banger lyrics. I’m forever waiting for somebody from Wu Tang to pop up, spit bars, and bounce.
That type of dart accuracy made and maintains Portishead as a standard, forever extolling their existential-type blues.
MNDSGN, “HOPE YOU’RE DOIN BETTER”
With “Hope, You’re Doin’ Better,” a track written while he was processing a loved one’s struggle with mental illness, Mndsgn a.k.a. Ringgo Ancheta pens lush sensory restoration.
Rare Pleasure, his mellow dart of a classic from last year, arrives draped in the cool, calming tones of easy-going. Bordering on ’70s-style schmaltz at times, it features assistance from Swarvy on bass, guitar, and musical director; Stones Throw label mate Kiefer Shackelford on keys; drum work by Will Logan; the blessed percussion of Carlos Niño; Miguel Atwood-Ferguson on strings; and accompanying vocals from Fousheé and Anna Wise.
Rare Pleasure is a deep shag rug. Matter of fact, it’s that durag, tied up the right way, enhanced with a supa-fresh Black & Mild to boot.
Proven beatmaker, vocalist, songwriter, and arranger Ancheta dials up a new flex, a slo-mo movement that calms the nerves in a world gone berserk. Inspired by samba, exotica, and ’70s/’80s library records, Mndsgn comes in with the sentiment, advancing that wavy mellow bump.
“Hope You’re Doing Better” is a hand-sewn patchwork AOR groover that will make you summon your own inner emotional rescue panda. Mndsgn is there for the hugging.
KANO, KANO (Remastered 2021)
Anybody worth their salt from a roller disco past knows about “I’m Ready,” the evergreen finger guns anthem. Millions of kids used to “shoot the duck” to it, trying desperately not to bust their young asses, in pursuit of impressing that sexy little disco friend on the rink. The instrumental jammer, still futuristic and slightly corny in a good way, remains sovereign as the electronic, Italo, retro wave, nu-disco, global eargasm that nobody can deny. Grape soda, hot dogs, and popcorn STILL get stuck in my head when I hear theses chords from my childhood bumping.
It’s even been known to hit over the Walgreen sound system while I’m waiting in the checkout line. I’ve had to step outside or duck into the laxative aisle on occasion, just to get down. Bust a move. No—I’m serious, they got me on a security cam, killing it. The running man never looked so good in front of a Red Box rental machine.
Kano, the 1980 self-titled album from the Italo disco pioneers, took electro, disco, and synth-funk and created several movements. Breakdancers have forever leaned on these bass lines for inspirational configurations. Finally, the historic document is being reissued and remastered on vinyl for the first time since its original release. Order it here and then check Amazon for some parachute pants, cause “I’m Ready” still goes hard in the paint. Even at the dollar store. They got me on a security cam too.
PETE ROCK & C.L. SMOOTH, “TAKE YOU THERE”
Pete Rock productions ARE meditations. Word up. Talk about a sound bath. This song is a pepper pot, a mellow stew of jazz, blues, horns, strings, and piano chords that makes it clear that he is one of the best producers—notice I did not say limit that to hip hop—to ever do it.
Ever since the late ’80s, when he was a teenaged WBLS DJ in New York, up to producing classics during the golden age of hip hop in the ’90s—the master producer is still sought out by emcees to this day who are yearning for that SP1200, drum machine, and sampler 360 sound.
J Dilla even spoke of his influence on him. J Dilla, y’all.
“Take You There” is definitely one of his more radio-ready arrangements. Melodic, soulful hip hop that folks try to copy, but still can’t get it down right. Not a thing watered-down here. put it on a soundsystem and watch the subwoofer and horn conduct their own little dance.
Pete Rock is known for buying certain sections of a record store’s jazz collection (Open Mind that was located here in SF back in the day was one of them.) He is hip hop.
Listen to him flip Pat Benetar.
ROTARY CONNECTION, “RESPECT”
One of the quickest ways to kick depression in the pants is a change of order, the breaking up of routine. Enter Rotary Connection. “Respect,” the Otis-Redding-penned hit that gave Aretha Franklin infamy, gets turned out by the psychedelic soul band, morphed into some type of abstract break-beat bop that still seems from the future today in 2022. It’s HEAT people, HEAT.
With the almighty Minnie Ripperton on lead vocals and Charles Stepney’s wayward classical-meets-soul direction, this cover writes its own story. Minus the lyrics, it presents a different planet. Nope, let me get a bit more specific. An alternate solar system to which we mortals are still building the proper transportation.
With an arrangement so open, so moon surface pictoral, you get the vapors (RIP BIZ MARKIE.)
TODD RUNDGREN, “I SAW THE LIGHT”
This track has such a classic pop framework, with its chorus, hook, and infamous piano accompaniment, I still get it twisted that Carole King did not write this staple of ’70s soft rock. Nope, strictly Todd Rundgren.
It hits my ’70s singer-songwriter happy place, from the sample-friendly intro to the swirling strings and its story-scenario lyrics and breezy delivery—even that paint-by-numbers guitar solo, simple and difficult like a Sly and Robbie bassline. Todd Rundgren, who produced New York Dolls and XTC and hired DāM-FunK to back him up on keyboards during a 2015 tour, remains a master of the songwriting craft.