When most people think about their favorite sad song, it’s usually a slower song with some kind of acoustic accompaniment and pretty vocals singing sad and relatable lyrics. And that’s great, there’s something intrinsically comforting and beautiful about that.
But when you’ve fallen into a deep depression, it feels like there’s no way out. It’s overwhelming. It’s suffocating. Your head is filled with the noise of a million racing thoughts. There’s nothing beautiful about it. That feeling is what the self-titled album by Giles Corey captures so well.
“Giles Corey” is a concept album with a laser focus on its themes of depression, loneliness and suicide. It’s the story of a man who’s fallen so deep into despair that he can no longer see any kind of light or hope. It’s all just downhill from here, and the music reflects that. Heavy, booming drums, painfully plucked strings and eerie vocals make up much of the musical content.
It’s a crushingly bleak project. While there are some beautiful acoustic guitar sections, much of the album is distorted by heavy reverb and segments overrun by noise. And when the instrumentation is more minimalist, there’s just something haunting and ethereal about it.
The overwhelmingly dark atmosphere of the album communicates so much about the feeling of depression just on its own. But the lyrical content, and the pain with which it’s delivered, is what really makes this album.
“I open up my heart, and stick my fingers in. But you will never want what I have to give.”
“I am entombed in my bed, with those words that you said that I kept: that I’m not the only one that you never loved.”
“You are everyone you hate and it’s ruining your life.”
There’s something so raw and personal to me about many of the lines on this album. They feel so blunt, so unashamed. “This is me,” they seem to say, “and it’s not pretty.”
The first song I ever heard off this album was “No One Is Ever Going to Want Me.” It’s a song with a slow, quiet start, with the vocals almost being whispered to you. “I ruin everything I get my bony hands on,” he sings, just before the music starts to pick up a bit.
There’s a deep, hopeless melancholy to the song, just like the rest of the album. Towards the end is a longer, repetitive and relatively quiet guitar passage. Then, without warning, it’s broken by a shout. The music suddenly explodes in volume as the singer cries out “I wanna feel like I feel when I’m asleep!” over and over again.
It felt like a mental breakdown given musical form. And then, as quickly and suddenly as it came, it’s all gone quiet again.
As corny as it might sound, hearing this song was the first time I ever felt understood. Not comforted by warm vocals, or encouraged by inspiring lyrics written by someone with more money than I will ever see. Just understood. And that’s all I needed in that moment.
The album ends as bleakly as it started. The final song is a reprise of the first. Nothing good has happened in the album’s runtime, nothing has changed and there’s no new lease on life to celebrate. We’re right back where we started.
“Giles Corey” is the ugly-crying of sad music. It captures everything about the feeling of depression, from its long moments of quiet anguish to its sudden outbursts of anger and frustration, to the sense that it will never pass. It makes no concessions to be more “listenable” or to make its message or themes more accessible.
It paints an unapologetic image of someone gasping for air while being swallowed up and suffocated by their malaise. It’s a deeply harrowing album, loud and uncomfortable at times, and one of the most important pieces of music I’ve ever listened to.