"Peppy" songs with dark lyrics...help me find more!
February 2, 2010 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Upbeat music, dark lyrics, intriguing narrator to whom you can't really relate...help me find more songs like these!

Lately I've been really intrigued by a certain type of song, but I don't know quite how to describe its "category." The subject matter is dark, but the music is peppy enough so that the dark lyrics seem out of place. The narrator is hard to relate to, yet very interesting. And the songs are dark...sometimes really dark comedy, but dark nevertheless.

Perhaps most helpful would be examples of the sort of song to which I'm referring...the three that best fit what I'm thinking of are The Mountain Goats' "No Children" and the Decemberists' "The Rake Song" and "We Both Go Down Together."

So, can you help me find more songs that are peppy, dark / darkly comic, with weird but intriguing narrators? (Or if my question makes no sense, feel free to let me know that, too.)
posted by mingodingo to Media & Arts (64 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
The Curse of Millhaven by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds seems to fit the bill
posted by ian1977 at 5:37 PM on February 2, 2010

mingodingo, meet Of Montreal. I think you'll be very happy together.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:38 PM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

A lot of songs by The Smiths fit your criteria.
posted by biochemist at 5:39 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Obtain The Randy Newman Songbook album. In it, he sings from the point of view of a womanizing crooner, a slave trader, an articulate Southern racist, a mocking capitalist, a German child-killer, and God Himself who declares "Man means nothing / He means less to me / Than the lowliest cactus flower / The harmless yucca tree."
posted by meadowlark lime at 5:39 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Crane Wife by the Decemberists have several songs of this nature. You could probably find songs like this on each one of their albums.
posted by amethysts at 5:40 PM on February 2, 2010

Quite a bit of Bright Eyes fits this description, especially Lifted...
posted by youcancallmeal at 5:45 PM on February 2, 2010

I believe you are looking for Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head by the Gorillaz
posted by rebent at 5:48 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, old Barenaked Ladies up through Maroon fits this nicely.
posted by youcancallmeal at 5:50 PM on February 2, 2010

Jim O'Rourke's "Insignificance" album has a pop / rocky feel, but dark, sneering lyrics. A sample, from the song "Memory Lame":

These things I say, may seem to offend
But not half as much, as I’d like to intend
Listening to you, reminds me of
A motor’s endless drone
And how the deaf are so damn lucky

It's also an amazingly catchy album with standout drumming.
posted by meadowlark lime at 5:51 PM on February 2, 2010

Johnny Cash (try Cocaine Blues, for example)

The Housemartins (like the Smiths, but a brazilian times as upbeat, to the point that I really don't like them at all, but it's upbeat with dark lyrics).
posted by The World Famous at 5:52 PM on February 2, 2010

You might want the Divine Comedy. Try "Your Daddy's Car" or "Everybody Knows That I Love You". I grew up on Mountain Goats, Divine Comedy, and Magnetic Fields, and they all kind of work here. (Based on what you already listen to I'm guessing you already listen to Magnetic Fields, but in case not, "Strange Powers" or "Famous" or "Dream Hat" or for that matter "You Love to Fail" would all be great examples of what you want.)
posted by escabeche at 5:55 PM on February 2, 2010

The Magnetic Fields, maybe?
posted by sallybrown at 5:56 PM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yep, just coming here to suggest the Divine Comedy and Magnetic Fields -- they're perfect for this.
posted by scody at 5:56 PM on February 2, 2010

I'll get my Strawfoot (try 'The Lord's Wrath) and Rev Glasseye (eg, Mother is a Carpegian) suggestions out of the way first. The entire gothic americana genre has catchy, messed up narrators, but it's usually a bit dirgey. You'll have to go through albums to find the more up-beat songs, although sometimes the entire album will have a theme or narrator.

The poppiest song that gets stuck in my head but isn't for singing out loud is 'Grey Victory' by 10,000 Maniacs. That's definitely a band in which the catchier songs can still be morbid.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 6:18 PM on February 2, 2010

Wow, Of Montreal is such a perfect recommendation. I have nothing to add to this.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:18 PM on February 2, 2010

The Mountain Goats - Dance Music

I've wondered about this question myself, actually.
posted by nicething at 6:19 PM on February 2, 2010

"Never Again" and "Codeine" by Trampled by Turtles. If you like bluegrass.
posted by nicething at 6:29 PM on February 2, 2010

I'm surprised no one has mentioned "pretty much anything" by Tom Waits.
posted by jkaczor at 6:37 PM on February 2, 2010

My talent feeds my darker side, yet no one will complain. So sings Cake's Opera Singer.
posted by drdanger at 6:38 PM on February 2, 2010

Actually - alot of Corb Lunds' stuff is peppy, but dark and yet subversively funny - but it is country-ish. Especially the album "Horse Soldier".
posted by jkaczor at 6:39 PM on February 2, 2010

They'll Need a Crane along with just about everything else from Lincoln by They Might Be Giants.
posted by hobgadling at 6:40 PM on February 2, 2010

Warren Zevon Excitable Boy, big time.
posted by otolith at 6:45 PM on February 2, 2010

Love Will Tear Us Apart - the signer's tragic fate and the song's super depressing lyrics tend to make people forget that this is a really energetic song.
posted by eggplantplacebo at 6:53 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

The first song that came to my mind that fits this description perfectly is "Who Loves You Now?" by the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy. Other good bets that haven't been mentioned yet are Stan Ridgway, Starlings, Pulp, and a good bit of Smog/Bill Callahan.
posted by carrienation at 7:00 PM on February 2, 2010

Holland 1945 and in fact just about everything by Neutral Milk Hotel.
posted by peep at 7:09 PM on February 2, 2010

You may also like a lot of Bee Thousand by Guided by Voices. Echos Myron and Hot Freaks particularly.
posted by peep at 7:13 PM on February 2, 2010

Oh yes, just about everything by the Smiths, as well as Morrissey's solo stuff. Example: The Last of the Famous International Playboys (it's about the the Kray Twins). I think Pulp's Common People also fits
posted by thewrongparty at 7:18 PM on February 2, 2010

-Passenger, Walk You Home (UK) / Night Vision Binoculars (US) (stalkeriffic!)

-Pine Box Boys, I Kept Her Heart (All their stuff is deep south bluegrass murder ballads)

-Nick Lowe, Marie Provost (about a silent screen star who was eaten by her Dachshund)
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:29 PM on February 2, 2010

Maybe something by Serge Gainsbourg (yt)?
posted by juv3nal at 7:32 PM on February 2, 2010

Sons and Daughters, Rama Lama comes to mind immediately.
posted by desuetude at 7:37 PM on February 2, 2010

MC 900 Foot Jesus! This YouTube song always cheers me up when I don't want to go to work. I like all his stuff: dark, antisocial, but it has a beat you can dance to!
posted by sfkiddo at 7:38 PM on February 2, 2010

Glad to hear Pulp getting a mention--other songs of theirs fit your description, too. 'Mile End', for example, one of the most upbeat (albeit with a certain intensity that reflects the lyrics), and which is about a nightmarish squat in an east London tower block. Rooms full of flies, child molesters prowling the bogs, cars on fire outside, all to a chirpy two-beat rhythm. There's even a xylophone solo.

And then there's 'The night that Minnie Timperley died', or 'Bob Lind (The only way is down)', or--or--or...
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:50 PM on February 2, 2010

Sorry, I should have said Mile End.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:54 PM on February 2, 2010

"Memory Lane" by Elliott Smith on his posthumous "From a Basement on the Hill" ; music by the Monkees, lyrics by Bram Stoker's Renfield (metaphorically speaking).
posted by fydfyd at 7:56 PM on February 2, 2010

It's likely you would enjoy The Auteurs, especially After Murder Park.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:31 PM on February 2, 2010

A lot of Violent Femmes tunes fit this bill - Gone Daddy Gone for one.
posted by davey_darling at 8:50 PM on February 2, 2010

Be Your Own Pet - Becky
posted by Large Marge at 8:59 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

So much Beautiful South (You Keep It All In) and Belle & Sebastian fit that description. I love this particular genre--I'll think of more songs for you.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:10 PM on February 2, 2010

Jonathan Coulton, RE: Your Brains.
posted by scalefree at 9:58 PM on February 2, 2010

Jason Webley
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:29 PM on February 2, 2010


Goth comedy...
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 12:48 AM on February 3, 2010

The Cure, The Cure, The Cure! One of my favourite bands ever.
posted by emeiji at 1:21 AM on February 3, 2010

STOP! Go no further than Severed Heads - "Dead Eyes Opened".

"I won't go into details - I prefer to spare you that - of how Mahon dismembered the dead woman; it's too horrible. So horrible, that when Bernard Spillsbury examined the residual shambles in the bungalow, he said it was more gruesome than anything even he had ever seen.

That, from a great pathologist with unique experience, constitutes a warning not to be ignored."

All that and it rips up the dance floor!
posted by Sutekh at 1:34 AM on February 3, 2010

Yes, early They Might Be Giants is the foundation upon this subgenre rests. Take this bit from "I Palindrome I" off of Apollo 18:

Someday mother will die and I'll get the money
Mom leans down and says, "My sentiments exactly,
You son of a bitch"

And that's just the merest fragment of whole albums of this stuff. The self-titled album, Lincoln, Apollo 18, Flood... their later stuff gets less conflicted and more kid friendly, but nothing beats early TMBG for inexplicably creepy upbeat music.
posted by speicus at 1:38 AM on February 3, 2010

Also seconding Belle and Sebastian, and in the same vein Camera Obscura. Oh, and it's dissimilar from the rest of their stuff, but Railroad by the Zutons might fit the bill also. I'm suprised no-one has suggested any Midlake yet, which is a bit more initially downbeat, but fills the rest of your criteria.

And as a bit more of an oddball pick, try Boring by The Pierces.
posted by jzed at 3:20 AM on February 3, 2010

Kate Bush's "Heads We're Dancing" tells the story of a woman who meets a
charming young man at a dance party, revealing his name at the end of the song to be Adolf.
posted by DWRoelands at 3:48 AM on February 3, 2010

You just described, quite precisely, the song "Just a Man" from Faith No More's third album, King for a Day Fool for a Lifetime. Mike Patton even literally narrates in the song: during the bridge, there's this odd little spoken-word segment, then it goes back to him singing with gospel-y accompaniment.
posted by AugieAugustus at 3:50 AM on February 3, 2010

The TV Tropes "Lyrical Dissonance" page has a very very long, somewhat over-inclusive, list of choices.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 4:19 AM on February 3, 2010

The Unicorns are a good fit for your criteria.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 5:18 AM on February 3, 2010

This is the bit where I get to tell you about Shearwater! "(I've Got a) Right to Cry" fits your specs perfectly, and any excuse to listen to their album Rook is a good excuse.
posted by stuck on an island at 5:50 AM on February 3, 2010

Patrick Wolf. Search: Wind in the Wires, Magic Position, and The Bachelor
posted by mr. remy at 5:51 AM on February 3, 2010

recoil has a couple of songs like this. check out the album 'unsound methods'.
posted by lester at 5:56 AM on February 3, 2010

Another big fat Tom Waits suggestion. Check out the "Brawlers" disc from his Set, Orphans. It's all uptempo, dark, and entirely impossible to relate to for anyone who hasn't spent at least a month in a boxcar.
posted by The White Hat at 5:58 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

very surprised no one recommended jens lekman. he's quite odd/upbeat/etc./everything else you said.
posted by apostrophe at 6:32 AM on February 3, 2010

First song that came to mind was "Westfall" by Okkervil River, and they have a few others that work. Kind of a sister act with Shearwater I think which someone mentioned.
posted by pete_22 at 7:48 AM on February 3, 2010

Sorry, my geek is showing, but how about Still Alive from the end of Portal? It's another Jonathan Coulton song.
posted by sigmagalator at 8:21 AM on February 3, 2010

Oh, and Beautiful South, of course. (Ne plus ultra may be "Woman in the Wall.") I can't linky you from work, sorry.
posted by desuetude at 8:23 AM on February 3, 2010

A lot of Xiu Xiu fits this description. Also his previous band Ten in the Swear Jar
"LDN" by Lily Allen (some of her other songs fit this as well)
"Heartbeats" by The Knife
"BMFA" by Martha Wainwright
"I've Got a Feeling" by Neva Dinova
"The Futile" and "Woe" and "Alive With the Glory of Love" by Say Anything
"John Wayne Gacy Jr" by Sufjan Stevens (maybe not peppy, but sweet sounding at least)
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:11 AM on February 3, 2010

Last Kiss performed by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers.
posted by Gary at 11:01 AM on February 3, 2010

(I'm not sure if the lyrics quite fit in that case, but the song has always felt way more upbeat than the subject matter should permit).
posted by Gary at 11:03 AM on February 3, 2010

"Ready to Die" by the Unicorns is a lovely example.
I grew up on the Smiths & the Cure and they always make me happy, in that slightly melancholy way.
posted by mdn at 11:48 AM on February 3, 2010

You have got to check out Imperial Teen's first album Seasick. Especially "Blaming the Baby" the catchiest pop song about being molested as a child ever written.
posted by holdkris99 at 5:16 PM on February 3, 2010

The 1925 tune "The Death of Floyd Collins" by Vernon Dalhart. I have an Edisonola and this is one of the 64 disks that my grandfather bought for it. My brother and I played them often growing up. The player and dicks are in good shape and I still crank it up sometimes.
posted by bjgeiger at 5:20 PM on February 3, 2010

This is a cheesy suggestion but I feel compelled to give it because I also LOVE The Mountain Goats and the Decemberists and some of the other bands mentioned here. I have a dorky love for rock operas (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Tommy, Spring Awakening, Next to Normal...) and I think it's partly because they have upbeat catchy songs with extremely dark lyrics. If you're not too cool, you might like these too. :)

Also, some other bands off the top of my head: Rilo Kiley, Girls in Trouble, Andrew Bird...Hope this helps.
posted by tacoma1 at 10:39 AM on February 9, 2010

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