Data Driven Depression
February 22, 2017 2:39 PM   Subscribe

Much of Radiohead’s music is undeniably sad, and this post catalogs my journey to quantify that sadness, concluding in a data-driven determination of their most depressing song. Spotify’s Web API provides detailed audio statistics for each song in their library. One of these metrics, “valence”, measures a song’s positivity. ... So valence provides a measure of how sad a song sounds from a musical perspective. Another key component of a song’s sentiment is its lyrics, and it just so happens that Genius Lyrics also has an API to pull track-level data. To see how sadness evolved across all nine albums, I calculated the average gloom index per album and plotted each song by album release date.
posted by incomple (69 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
/yells "pay Creep!" from the back of the room.
posted by Artw at 2:42 PM on February 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


Let Down is the saddest Radiohead song. Also the best one.

You have failed to teach your computer to feel, sir.
posted by axiom at 2:45 PM on February 22, 2017 [10 favorites]


I always found Pink Floyd more depressing than Radiohead. Although the most depressing song of all time is John Prine's "Sam Stone."
posted by jonmc at 2:48 PM on February 22, 2017 [8 favorites]


valence provides a measure of how sad a song sounds from a musical perspective

That's an inherently inaccurate statement since how tonal combinations are perceived is culturally determined. Related is the concept that music is a "universal language" which it is not. It is just that most of the world is familiar enough with Western music traditions to speak it.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:49 PM on February 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


Well, this certainly counts as more productive.
posted by scratch at 2:50 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Although the most depressing song of all time is John Prine's "Sam Stone."

I'm going with Townes Van Zandt, "Marie"
posted by thelonius at 2:53 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Funny that he leans so heavily on "True Love Waits" in his explanation, given that the song was first performed in 1995, and released on a live album in 2001.
posted by explosion at 3:04 PM on February 22, 2017


"I always found Pink Floyd more depressing than Radiohead."

For the past few months, I've been very melancholy, and so I've been repeatedly listening to both Dark Side of the Moon and Kid A, mostly at night. Often I fall asleep to the music.

I figure that these two particular albums, listened to under these conditions (in bed, in the dark), probably pinpoint my demographics: age, gender, class, politics, as well as revealing a fair amount about my personality. Especially that I find this "comforting".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:07 PM on February 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


Neural Network that generates Radiohead songs based on sketches of a sad looking Thom Yorke.
posted by Artw at 3:08 PM on February 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


I'm putting on Radiohead's most cheerful song - 15 Step!
posted by wotsac at 3:08 PM on February 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


If you have a Spotify account, a great tool if you want to play with "valence" or the other Spotify audio features is Sort Your Music, where once you log in with your Spotify credentials you can sort any playlist by any feature (and optionally save it to the client as a copy.) Note that this study used other features than just the audio-based valence feature so it will give different results for the sad Radiohead songs.
posted by brianwhitman at 3:10 PM on February 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


How To Disappear Completely.

'Winner' by a long, sad mile floating down the Liffey.
posted by kariebookish at 3:14 PM on February 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


That's an inherently inaccurate statement since how tonal combinations are perceived is culturally determined.

Oh FFS, just because the rules of Western music are culturally defined and determined doesn't make Western music theory useless or meaningless, nor does it undermine the universality of certain musical experiences. Only people familiar with Western music always hear the beginning of Beethoven 6 as a joyful thing, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a joyful thing.

Also this is fucking amazing and R coder and bloggers are my favorite people. Hat tip to this guy. Fun stuff.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:15 PM on February 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


> Although the most depressing song of all time is John Prine's "Sam Stone."

>> I'm going with Townes Van Zandt, "Marie"


I was going to toss up "There were Roses" and "No Man's Land" as contenders, but having just read the lyrics to "Sam Stone" and "Marie," I think I'll just shush.

God damn.
posted by Myca at 3:15 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


How To Disappear Completely.

'Winner' by a long, sad mile floating down the Liffey.


I agree with you, which is probably why this has always been unequivocally my favorite radiohead song.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:16 PM on February 22, 2017


Especially that I find this "comforting".

I am often drawn to sad music and I do really love Radiohead. Is there a term or condition or something in which sad music actually makes you happy? A sort of musical misery-loves-company? Because sad music is often therapeutic for me.
posted by zardoz at 3:17 PM on February 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


Although the most depressing song of all time is John Prine's "Sam Stone."

See also Tom Waits' Blue Valentine.
posted by not_the_water at 3:21 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Street Spirit (Fade Out) is the only song that ever brought involuntary tears to my eyes, but I think that's because I was a hormonal 14 yo when I first heard it.

We Suck Young Blood is a bummer of a song, but I wouldn't exactly call it sad.

Unlistenable, but not sad
posted by Existential Dread at 3:23 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Well, no surprises here.

I'll see myself out.
posted by a halcyon day at 3:25 PM on February 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


Is there a term or condition or something in which sad music actually makes you happy?

Frontiers in Psychology, 2013 Sad music induces pleasant emotion (I think this was a previous FPP? Or somehow otherwise linked somewhere on mefi a few years back?)

My only other observation is that the top 3 in this list all prominently feature a negative second person imperative ("Don't leave"/"Don't hurt me"/"Stop sending letters"). Kind of a weird thing that's hard not to notice if you're listening sequentially.
posted by btfreek at 3:28 PM on February 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


CALLED IT! "True Love Waits" is easily the most depressing Radiohead song. I much prefer the live I Might Be Wrong version to the Moon-Shaped Pool version though.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:31 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


See also Tom Waits' Blue Valentine .

Or the ballads on Blood Money. Actually pretty much all of Blood Money. But seriously, All the World is Green and The Part You Throw Away...excuse me, I'm going to go cry in the corner for awhile
posted by Existential Dread at 3:31 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I always found Pink Floyd more depressing than Radiohead.

Yeah, but they only became mopey sad sacks after Syd Barrett left the band, taking his shimmery psychedelic-pop sensibility along with him. (Incidentally, the first recording session for The Piper at the Gates of Dawn occurred exactly 50 years ago yesterday.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:38 PM on February 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


Ivan, on TV I saw a documentary where Roger Waters (son of an RAF pilot who died during WWII) was performing and recording with disabled vets who said that Floyd's music had helped get them through rough times. It was something to see this notoriously morose man smile.
posted by jonmc at 3:44 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Górecki or GTFO.
posted by Artw at 3:45 PM on February 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


It's really something that a song titled Optimistic has a "gloom index" of 72.09.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 3:46 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Well, in this case higher gloom index = less gloomy, so Optimistic is (fittingly) the least gloomy song on Kid A!

Motion Picture Soundtrack was robbed
posted by btfreek at 3:51 PM on February 22, 2017


The most depressing thing about "exit music ( for a film)" are the lyrics.
posted by Pendragon at 4:00 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


Excellent, this graph further proves that the Bends is my favorite Radiohead album.


I'm bad at interpreting graphs.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:08 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Agree on Let Down being too low in a relative sense, regardless of what the data say, but I have to give a shoutout to fitteR happieR as the title of this project.
posted by deludingmyself at 4:10 PM on February 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but they only became mopey sad sacks after Syd Barrett left the band, taking his shimmery psychedelic-pop sensibility along with him.

Well yes, their friend's descent into insanity may have made them a bit sad sacky.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:10 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


R. Waters got a wee tiny bit polemical at some point.
posted by Artw at 4:26 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is great, but it would be even greater if the abscissa was indexed to track position, not just album. According to this metric, In Rainbows starts off big, plummets, hangs around slightly sad, rises back up, then plummets again to the 10th saddest song in Radiohead's catalog.
posted by miguelcervantes at 4:31 PM on February 22, 2017


Hard not to think that "True Love Waits" is not a farewell song to fans. Good-bye Radiohead.
posted by My Dad at 4:48 PM on February 22, 2017


"I am often drawn to sad music and I do really love Radiohead. Is there a term or condition or something in which sad music actually makes you happy? A sort of musical misery-loves-company? Because sad music is often therapeutic for me."

Well, you're not alone!
posted by Grandysaur at 4:55 PM on February 22, 2017


From Spotify's explanation of "valence":
It’s no easy feat to have a computer listen to a song in three seconds and determine its emotional valence, but we’ve figured out how to do it. (One key aspect: We have a music expert classify some sample songs by valence, then use machine-learning to extend those rules to all of the rest of the music in the world, fine tuning as we go.)
a.k.a., horseshit. Also, the NRC lexicon is not the right one to be using, especially for song lyrics with repeated refrains. I'd go for something non-lexical that parses the whole sentence, like this one, and downweight repeats.

Also also, "No Surprises" is obviously the most depressing.
posted by supercres at 5:14 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


Maybe RCharlie should get in touch with the Doom Metal Scientists
posted by k8bot at 5:15 PM on February 22, 2017


The most depressing song of all-time is Townes Van Zandt, "Waiting'Round to Die," specifically as performed in this video.
posted by waitingtoderail at 5:17 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I've shed my share of tears getting over a breakup listening to "How to Disappear Completely" but these days if I really want to go down to the depths I'll listen to "Jackie and Edna", or really most anything by Kevin Coyne.

Bonus points to Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" which causes me to spontaneously erupt in tears after the first chord.
posted by alvin pacino at 5:30 PM on February 22, 2017


R. Waters got a wee tiny bit polemical at some point.

True, but it was still nice to see him happy.
posted by jonmc at 5:35 PM on February 22, 2017


It’s no easy feat to have a computer listen to a song in three seconds and determine its emotional valence, but we’ve figured out how to do it.

I can name that valence in 2 seconds.
posted by tclark at 5:40 PM on February 22, 2017


Westworld's use of "Motion Picture Soundtrack" affirmed my longstanding affection for it. Not surprised to see it up on the list.
posted by lumensimus at 5:46 PM on February 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


Also also, "No Surprises" is obviously the most depressing. Lyrically, but doesn't the melody take the sting out? What about Pyramid Song?
posted by benadryl at 5:53 PM on February 22, 2017


I always felt like You and Whose Army was one of their happier ones.
posted by benadryl at 5:55 PM on February 22, 2017


I like the idea but can't get on board somehow and clearly no one is listening to the new album other than Burn the Witch.
posted by sibboleth at 6:15 PM on February 22, 2017


You and Whose Army is my fight song.
posted by Doleful Creature at 6:24 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


You and Whose Army is my fight song.

We ride tonight!
We ride tonight!
Ghost horses
Ghost horses

It's true.
posted by tclark at 6:27 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


I like the rigor, I can't get behind their definition of gloom. A low valence I can get behind, but using the % of negativity in lyrics doesn't sit well without some level of analysis on the appropriate length of the n-grams for context. Moreover, the weighting between the two is pretty even - which I'm not sure is a necessarily valid assumption. I mean, we get to an answer faster, but this is a very subjective definition of negativity and gloom.

I feel like this needs to be re-applied and tested vs... maybe the complete works of Aqua or ABBA to see how 'happy' those groups would be comparatively. It would make sense that this would be able to pinpoint the saddest ABBA song very clearly - and the assumption would be that their dominated 'happy' repertoire should make their sad songs more evident, and thereby allow you to tune your coefficients.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:45 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


Eh, machine learning doesn't have to be horseshit. It just often is horseshit, and it's hard to tell when that's the case.

I'd be interested to see what the correlation is between Spotify's valence and the calculated mood from the lyrics. You would expect them to be connected, and would give me confidence that they are both actually measuring what they purport to be measuring. Maybe extend the dataset to more than just Radiohead albums too.

Also, I'm not sure if I'm reading this right, but it's he normalizing the data? With one song at nearly 100 and one at nearly 0 it looks like he is. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with this, but it means that the moodiness calculated here wouldn't directly compare to something calculated for another artist.
posted by Arandia at 6:51 PM on February 22, 2017


Nanukthedog, see I feel like ABBAs songs have a sadness that neither the lyrics or the music can quantitatively capture... like the actual performance has to be factored in no?
posted by benadryl at 7:28 PM on February 22, 2017


How To Disappear Completely

I really, really like Hayley Richman's gorgeous, gloomy cover and may or may not have had it effectively on permanent repeat all last year.
posted by byanyothername at 8:00 PM on February 22, 2017


>One of these metrics, “valence”, measures a song’s positivity

How does it do that again?
posted by Sutekh at 8:00 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't know about sadness, but when it comes to pure rage, the election of Trump has given "2+2=5" a new relevance...

"It's the devil's way now
There is no way out
You can scream and you can shout
It is too late now
Because
YOU HAVE NOT BEEN
PAYING ATTENTION
YOU HAVE NOT BEEN
PAYING ATTENTION
YOU HAVE NOT BEEN
PAYING ATTENTION
YOU HAVE NOT EVEN BEEN PAYING ATTENTION, ATTENTION, ATTENTION!!!!!!"
posted by ELF Radio at 8:04 PM on February 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


Oh FFS, just because the rules of Western music are culturally defined and determined doesn't make Western music theory useless or meaningless, nor does it undermine the universality of certain musical experiences. Only people familiar with Western music always hear the beginning of Beethoven 6 as a joyful thing, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a joyful thing

Nothing is useless about Western music theory, but the idea that its concepts are somehow universal is an artifact of cultural imperialism. This is a cool project, don't get me wrong, but I take umbrage at a reductive view of essentially subjective qualities turned into quantitative datapoints. There's a reason that D minor being the "saddest of all keys" was such a good joke.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:40 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


The most depressing thing about "exit music ( for a film)" are the lyrics.
posted by Pendragon at 4:00 PM on February 22 [2 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


Oh God YES! The lyrics drag you down to a slow warmish place... so sad! But number one sad song for me is The Smith's Asleep!! Oh - my 17 year old Semi Goth (well - as Gothy as an Asian kid in Business School could be a Goth) - could listen to this track for hours. HOURS!
posted by helmutdog at 8:42 PM on February 22, 2017


Can you do us an x-y scatter of valence vs sentiment?
posted by selfish at 8:47 PM on February 22, 2017


I think this may be the contender for most sorrowful Radiohead cover. I saw them perform this live.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:49 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I was thinking the other day--Radiohead has been around for 25 years and hasn't started sucking. Still doing great stuff. They're like the Haydn of popular music.
posted by persona au gratin at 11:35 PM on February 22, 2017


./gloom_stat_gather_v17.r gloomy_sunday.txt
SIGKILLMYSELF received
(core dumped)
posted by pseudocode at 2:31 AM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


I guess Acting was the first step in replicating human emotions. Once we are able to analyse the sadness in a singer's voice (where a voice pauses, breaks, breathes, how long, etc), I guess any computer program will be able to churn out lyrics, melody, and deliver emotions.
I guess it's just another way of delivery but it takes the delivery out of our physical bodies.
posted by gt2 at 3:16 AM on February 23, 2017


That's an inherently inaccurate statement since how tonal combinations are perceived is culturally determined.

I admittedly don't know much about other cultures' music, but I would be at least a little surprised if there existed a culture in which an ascending run of octaves is perceived as having a more negative valence than a descending run of minor thirds. Yes, tonal combinations are culturally influenced, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some relationships that are at least as predictable as anything else in psychology (which is to say, in a broad statistical sense).
posted by Jpfed at 6:09 AM on February 23, 2017


If we're counting covers, I've always found this one particularly devastating.
posted by thivaia at 6:32 AM on February 23, 2017


The headline made me picture a world where Facebook or Tumblr notices our posting is getting mopey and tells our friends to maybe check up on us.

Frankly, my generation could probably use that.
posted by MuppetNavy at 10:53 AM on February 23, 2017


I admittedly don't know much about other cultures' music, but I would be at least a little surprised if there existed a culture in which an ascending run of octaves is perceived as having a more negative valence than a descending run of minor thirds.

I'm no musicologist, but a musical culture that makes no use of those intervals or structures seems not beyond the realm of possibility. Both of the examples would perhaps just seem like dissonance or noise to people with such a background.

Anyway, I don't see where the project clims that their valence metric has any universal or cross-cultural validity, and it seems to me pretty reasonable to assume it applies to the kind of music that makes up most of the Spotify database, which is what they built it against.

How does it work? I think this kind of thing is done by developing techniques to assign functions from a sample of music to a big honkin' linear algebra space, and scoring that against the sad-o-meter. (Handwaving intensifies). A crude beginning would be to assign more sad to slow tempo music, for instance.
posted by thelonius at 1:00 PM on February 23, 2017


Just in the interest of putting forth more sad bastard music, 40 Watt Sun's latest has been on heavy rotation for me.
posted by Existential Dread at 1:30 PM on February 23, 2017


@bestalbum95 is gearing up to do 1994 so I've been putting Dummy on again.
posted by Artw at 1:31 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Calling Radiohead "sad" or "depressing" gives us their general emotional tenor without telling us anything about what their music is doing. Likewise, the valence and sentiment metrics are kind of neat but they obscure all the interesting details. The analysis is determined by the tools, not by the object of study. What does it mean to say that "Everything in Its Right Place" is the second-saddest song on Kid A? Wouldn't it be more interesting to talk about the song's contained tension, that sinisterness just below the surface (as in so many of their songs), the effect of that numb and directionless keyboard phrase that keeps stumbling and repeating itself over and over, the increasingly surreal transformations of the vocals and lyrics, the way the song fits into and plays off the arc of the band's development...?

Also, this needs B-sides. How does "Banana Co." compare to "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy"? Inquiring minds want to know!
posted by Gerald Bostock at 11:16 PM on February 23, 2017


Sampling a few data points on this, I can't help but feel it's a pretty bad metric - things like 'Like Spinning Plates' and 'Reckoner' are at about the same middling score, where the former is a miserable depression/anxiety spiral and the latter is grand and triumphant.
posted by cwill at 2:09 PM on February 25, 2017




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