Well, well, well, welcome to Nikki’s obsession: stories about the end of the world. Today, in musical form. There are a lot of songs about the end. You’d think it was some sort of cultural obsession or something, geez.
This episode of Science Fiction Mix Tape (Loves the Apocalypse) accidentally became Science Fiction Mix Tape Loves the Apocalypse as Sung by Indie Rock Bands, more or less. But with the hundreds (yes, seriously, hundreds) of songs on the topic out there swirling around, we could cover ten songs about the end of the world in a different genre (type of music or type of end, take your pick) every month. And maybe we will, but for now, let’s listen to these ten delicious takes on the last story.
Dead Flag Blues by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
This song is THE quintessential apocalyptic song. I don’t need to listen to any others; it is just a fucking masterpiece. Dim the lights and close your eyes and listen to the story, let the sounds in the background sweep you away with their own dark wind. Oh my fucking cod, this song.
“The car is on fire, and there’s no driver at the wheel
And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides
And a dark wind blows
“The government is corrupt
And we’re on so many drugs
With the radio on and the curtains drawn
“We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine
And the machine is bleeding to death”
No One Would Riot for Less by Bright Eyes
“Death may come invisible or in a holy wall of fire
In the breath between the markers on some black I-80 mile
From the madness of the governments to the vengeance of the sea
Everything is eclipsed by the shape of destiny
“So love me now
Hell is coming
Kiss my mouth
Hell is here”
You know what? A lot of post-apocalyptic songs are better written stories than the post-apocalyptic novels I’ve been reading lately. Maybe the long-form authors should take a hint. Then again, music can carry emotions with it that are hard to imitate on paper.
Catastrophe by Rainer Maria
Unfortunately (for the likes of my taste, but maybe not for yours), this song is more pop less weird indie rock than the music these guys were making back when I used to be in love with them. For a catastrophe song, it is strangely upbeat. It is one of those end of the world “I will find you” love stories, and I have to admit, I’m a sucker for that old line.
“All the damns will give at the end, at the end of the world. Will you swim for me? And the lights could go at any time. How will you look for me?”
Calamity Song by The Decemberists
The Decemberists are great lyricists, often very literary lyricists, so it’s not wonder that they’ve written a really enjoyable PA story song here. And hey, did you know that they also wrote The Wildwood Chronicles?
“Had a dream
You and me and the war of the end times
And I believe
California succumbed to the fault line
We heaved relief
As scores of innocents died
“And the Andalusian tribes
Setting the lay of Nebraska alight
‘Til all that remains is the arms of the angel”
Tables and Chairs – Andrew Bird
This is perhaps the most subtlely post-apocalyptic of all the songs on today’s list. At least at first.
“I know we’re going to meet some day in the crumbled financial institutions of this land. There will be tables and chairs. There’ll be pony rides and dancing bears. There’ll even be a band cause listen, after the fall there will be no more countries, no currencies at all. We’re gonna live on our wits, we’re gonna throw away survival kits, trade butterfly-knives for adderal, and that’s not all.”
When the Wheels Don’t Move by Son Volt
End times, social commentary, the end of car culture, fuck yeah.
“Man’s power over nature
Hubris and greed let the fossil fuels burn
No way to keep the wings in flight
When the turbine engines don’t move
“Going green a casino catch phrase
Ethanol’s made of smoke and mirrors
Who makes the decision to feed the tanks
And not the mouths when the wheels don’t move?
When the wheels don’t move
“Red planet as salvation
Divine hope turns to depredation
Who’ll be left to make that station?
Devoid of God and nation we trust
The wheels don’t move”
The Day the Basement Flooded by Phoebe Kreutz
End times contemplation with a touch of humor. We might as well go down with a laugh, right?
“If the planet floods I think our little basement probably is screwed. We should move to higher ground in like a dryer latitude. And I will be in charge of weeping, you’re in charge of finding food. Cause the future’s pretty scary, and it may not be so great. But if the end of times is coming then I’m glad I’ve got a date. If we have to stat a new world cause the current one’s a dud, I hope that you’ll be with me in the flood.”
Phoebe also has a great song about Frankenstein and science gone wrong that you can listen to right here.
Earth Died Screaming by Tom Waits
I have a deep and everlasting love for Tom Waits. He may be the king of the story song (though he’d have to fight John Darnielle for that title in a battle to the death first). He is the master of creepy, of fucking phenomenol lyrics, shit of fucking everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of his songs were about the end of the world, but this is the first that comes to mind.
“There was thunder
There was lightning
Then the stars went out
And the moon fell from the sky
It rained mackerel
It rained trout
And the great day of wrath has come
And here’s mud in your big red eye
The poker’s in the fire
And the locusts take the sky
And the earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming of you”
Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens
Moving right along, how about some biblical apocalypse then?
“We didn’t sleep too late
There was a fire in the yard
All of the tress were in light
They had no faces to show
“I saw a sign in the sky
Seven swans, seven swans, seven swans
I heard a voice in my mind
I will try, I will try, I will try”
Speaking of, there must be hella Christian rock bands out there singing about revelations, right? I’m going to have to dig some of that shit up for another episode of Science Fiction Mix Tape.
We Will Become Silhouettes by The Postal Service
“I’ve got a cupboard with cans of food, filtered water, and pictures of you and I’m not coming out
until this is all over. And I’m looking through the glass where the light bends at the cracks and I’m screaming at the top of my lungs pretending the echoes belong to someone.”