Sad Indie Songs

Sometimes feeling bad feels so good. Music is a perfect and direct way to wallow in your sad emotions, and nobody makes sadder music than an indie musician with a guitar. Grab a box of tissues, and let’s look at some sad indie songs you may be able to relate to.

1. “Two” by the Antlers

Song Year: 2009

The Antlers’ 2009 album, Hospice, is a contender for the saddest piece of art ever created. “Two” is the cherry on top of that depressing sundae. The song tells the story of a young man watching his partner slowly die from a malignant illness.

“Two” details the way the lovers have come to resent each other, made worse by the isolation her condition has caused. The sickness caused a separation between the partners while alienating them from their friends, so they only have each other. The song is, to put it mildly, a massive bummer but a pretty-sounding one.

2. “Amy in the White Coat” by Bright Eyes

Song Year: 2006

“Amy in the White Coat” is a massive trigger warning of a song. The Bright Eyes’ song finds Conor Oberst whisper-singing the story of a girl repeatedly abused by her father.

The song is a brutal portrait of endurance. The melancholic tune lacks any hopefulness; the titular Amy is isolated, lonely, and abused, without any opportunity for escape.

3. “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith

Song Year: 1995

Elliott Smith helped create the gold standard for sad indie songs. The singer-songwriter expertly layered thoughtful lyrics, his delicate vocals, and melancholy acoustic guitar to haunting effect in “Needle in the Hay.”

The song details the singer’s struggle with heroin, a subject matter that becomes more fraught when the listener considers Smith’s life-long battle with addiction.

4. “Sleep” by Azure Ray

Song Year: 2001

Azure Ray consistently finds the prettiness in their saddest songs. The duo of Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor harmonize beautifully, creating a soft, melancholy sonic blanket.

Listeners may not understand precisely why “Sleep” makes them sad, but trust that it will bum you out. The song’s lyrics are vaguely despondent and could be about a lost love or a personal journey. However, the words carry the veneer of sadness.

5. “Personal” by Stars

Song Year: 2007

“Personal” by Canadian band Stars is a hard listen. The song tells the cruel story of a couple communicating via personal ads. Torquil Campbell and Amy Milan sing the letters to each other as the pair get acquainted and decide to meet.

When the night comes for the couple to meet, the woman, who has previously expressed her insecurities and difficult history, waits. But the man never shows. She establishes in a follow-up letter that he came, saw her, and left because of her appearance.

6. “A Man/Me/Then Jim” by Rilo Kiley

Song Year: 2004

Rilo Kiley tells three stories of lost love in “A Man/Me/Then Jim.” The song examines how painful it is when passion fades away so slowly you don’t notice until it’s gone.

The song is a melancholy lament, buoyed by Jenny Lewis’s sparkling but empathetic vocals. Each character in the narrative suffers because of the gradual abating of affection, resulting in a feeling of isolation and alienation.

7. “I Get Overwhelmed” by Dark Rooms

Song Year: 2017

“I Get Overwhelmed” featured prominently in one of the saddest movies of the last several years, A Ghost Story. In a cracking falsetto, the singer tells the story of ennui. He’s disaffected and alienated; he and his girlfriend are unhappy and nearing a disaster point. Nothing massively awful has happened to him, but he still feels beaten down by depression.

8. “Flirted With You All My Life” by Vic Chestnutt

Song Year: 2009

Don’t be fooled by the title; “Flirted With You All My Life” is not a cute love song. Vic Chestnutt sings his beautiful song to death, with whom he’s had a contentious off-and-on relationship.

The singer has courted thoughts of suicide but ultimately doesn’t feel ready for the end. He discusses the cruelty of death, telling the story of his mother’s cancer battle. “Flirted With You All My Life” is beautiful but absolutely devastating.

9. “What Sarah Said” by Death Cab For Cutie

Song Year: 2005

“What Sarah Said” grapples with the impossible hopelessness of discovering someone you love is terminally ill and not being able to do anything about it.

The narrator discusses the complicated reality of loving someone, acknowledging that it inevitably means losing them. “What Sarah Said” posits that love means being present even when you can’t possibly impact the outcome of a difficult situation.

10. “The Ballad of Bird and Fox” by Don’t Stop or We’ll Die

“The Ballad of Bird and Fox” by Don’t Stop or We’ll Die

Song Year: 2010

Don’t Stop or We’ll Die applies a fairy tale lens to the complicated question of separation. “The Ballad of Bird and Fox” tells the story of a pair of woodland creatures who fall in love and have a little bird-fox child.

The couple begins to resent each other, each party claiming the child favors them. The pair resolves to move past their differences to give their son a happy life, but the underlying tensions remain. The song is shockingly effective; the adorableness of the animal lovers is immediately undercut by the very real and very human pain of a rotting love affair.

11. “The Temptation of Adam” by Josh Ritter

Song Year: 2007

“The Temptation of Adam” is a nesting doll of a song. Josh Ritter brilliantly combines wordplay, a nuclear war story, delicate acoustic guitar, and vocals into one of the saddest songs you’ll ever hear.

Ritter is one of the few songwriters gifted enough to make such a technically proficient song so heartbreaking. The narrator spends his time doing nuclear research with a female scientist, possibly Marie Curie, and falls in love. He doubts the pair would survive outside of the extreme circumstances and is tempted to detonate the atomic bomb, making them the last people on earth.

12. “Let it Die” by Feist

Song Year: 2004

“Let it Die,” Feist’s dark song, considers the irritation of holding onto feelings after a relationship ends. The singer wants to move on and forget her partner, but he keeps invading her thoughts.

The singer lost herself in the relationship and feels she has learned a great deal about what she wants from a partner after their love. However, neither party can move forward, creating a tragic feedback loop.

13. “Album of the Year” by The Good Life

Song Year: 2004

The Good Life specializes in sad songs. “Album of the Year” is the most depressing of a bleak collection. The song tells a familiar story. A boy meets a girl in a bar, and they fall in and out of love.

However, Tim Kasher infuses the song with specificity and life. The singer-songwriter includes personal details that make the lovers feel authentic and intimate, making their inevitable separation painful to witness.

14. “Heartbeats” by Jose Gonzalez

Song Year: 2003

Swedish electro-pop duo The Knife wrote and released the original version of “Heartbeats,” but Jose Gonzalez elevated the song to supreme heartbreak. Gonzalez strips the ode to a one-night stand down to a finger-picked guitar line.

His delicate vocals heighten the sense of sadness created by knowing the flush of excitement from the fling is temporary and fleeting.

15. “Passing Afternoon” by Iron & Wine

Song Year: 2004

“Passing Afternoon” carries a softer sadness than many of the songs on this list. Iron & Wine’s gentle folk ballad tells the story of a lost love. While the narrator laments the end of his affair, he remembers his lover fondly and thinks of her often.

Her memory inspires a sense of loss and melancholy. Sam Beam uses stripped-down instrumentation, allowing his acoustic guitar and voice to do the heavy lifting, building a bittersweet sonic wall of sadness and beauty.

16. “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti” by Sufjan Stevens

Song Year: 2003

Sufjan Stevens uses his soft vocals and delicate demeanor to lull listeners into a false sense of security. However, “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti” isn’t only the longest-titled song on this list; it’s one of the most devastating.

Stevens builds his ode to orphans and widows over gentle banjo chords. The piece focuses on loss and sacrifice.

17. “Something” by Julien Baker

Song Year: 2015

Julien Baker’s painful ballad, “Something,” isn’t for the emotionally fragile. The song builds on repetition and Baker’s soulful vocals, trembling over simple instrumentation.

The singer’s lover left, and now she is alone in her bed, wishing she had something to convince him to say. She can’t think past him, and her sadness immobilizes her.

18. “Telepath” by Manchester Orchestra

Song Year: 2021

Manchester Orchestra has a lot of heavy thoughts on its mind for its 2021 album, The Million Masks of God. “Telepath”’s narrator balances the joy of loving someone with the inevitability of losing them.

Mortality weighs heavily on the narrative. The singer traces the pair’s relationship through the years, tempering every happy memory with the shadow of loss.

19. “My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist” by The Decemberists

Song Year: 2004

“My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist” tells a poignant story of a spy meeting and falling in love with an artist during World War II. The star-crossed lovers have children they abandon, one of which is the song’s narrator.

The song uses a vaguely convoluted story to express loneliness and isolation. The narrator longs for a home he never had, aching for human connection.

Sad Indie Songs, Final Thoughts

These sad indie songs are bound to descend you into a sad spiral, but the kind that you can turn off or pause when you need a break. The bands crafting these songs sing about mortality, love, and loss.

Add these tunes to your playlist for when you want to feel a little blue, grab a blanket and some tissues, and have yourself a cozy little cry.

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