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So Your Tiny Black Heart Is Broken

Valentine's Day has always been a cruel holiday: For those in love, it applies pressure to perform — to prove one's devotion through a series of insipid gestures. For those in the tentative early stages of courtship, it litters the emotional terrain with landmines, forcing new couples to state feelings they might not be ready to express. And, for those beset by heartbreak or loneliness, Valentine's Day provides a crass, cruel reminder.

These five songs — all great, all released in the past five years — are for those wishing to wallow in the holiday's sheer, soul-wrecking brutality. Each is carefully selected to provide a vivid soundtrack for those moments when alcohol isn't even necessary, so drunk is the listener on his or her own misery. Enjoy!

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No Children

Perhaps The Mountain Goats' greatest song -- and certainly the one most likely to induce fevered sing-alongs at the band's shows -- "No Children" captures the twisted, co-dependent, narcissistic sado-masochism of a relationship perpetuated by its own poisonousness and little else. In the process, John Darnielle mixes the poetic ("Our friends say it's darkest before the sun rises / We're pretty sure they're all wrong") and the visceral ("I hope you die / I hope we both die").

Too Much Space

A song so sad it seems to suck the oxygen out of the room, Lisa Germano's "Too Much Space" pulsates with the ache of unwelcome solitude. As Germano takes stock of an eerily quiet home that's lost the telltale comforts of companionship, the music keeps getting more unsettling, as a lone piano and gentle strings give way to whirring effects that whiz by like satellites. As Germano closes the song with repetition of the words "One of us," it's hard to take solace in joining the company of her misery.


The Frames' Glen Hansard has become a media darling in recent months for his performance in the indie musical Once, which has popularized some of his most bittersweet, hopeful material. But the soundtrack also contains a version of the remarkable "Leave" -- a visceral, white-knuckle hellride through the emotionally gory moment when a troubled relationship hits its ugly, implosive breaking point. "I hope you feel better, now that it's out," he seethes. "What took you so long?"

Get out Get out Get Out

Crushing sadness is Jason Molina's first language, and English is second. The singer-songwriter behind Songs:Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co, Molina writes low-tech, raw-boned odes to suffering that practically bleed self-pity. "Get Out Get Out Get Out" may be all bleakness and sorrow ("I lived low enough so the moon wouldn't waste its light on me"), but it also exudes clear-eyed beauty, thanks in large part to a gutty, gorgeous vocal.

My Most Meaningful Relationships Are with Dead People

At seven funereal minutes, The Late Cord's "My Most Meaningful Relationships Are with Dead People" feels about as uplifting as its title would indicate. Amid a moody, molasses-slow arrangement that would do Angelo Badalamenti proud, great young singer Micah P. Hinson applies his prematurely world-weary croak to an oppressively sad dirge. "Is it too far gone," he asks, "to be saved?" Yeah, probably.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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