"A Song About An Anglerfish" by Hank Green is an incredibly upbeat, energetic tune about the narrator dealing with his crushing despair by using an anglerfish as his role model, which has no objective reason to be happy but "has no frickin' idea what else to be" because the anglerfish has only ever known darkness and loneliness and thus has nothing else to compare it to.
Because you can't hate the night if you've lived your whole life without light
And you can't hate the dish if you've only ever eaten fish
And you can't feel alone if it's all you've ever known
"And love is not about whether you get stabbed but how slow the knife is turned."
"Bonecracker", by Shocore, is probably the most light and cheerful hip-hop song about threats of assault and battery that you'll ever hear.
'Me And You Versus The World' by Space is a nice happy little song about a couple of losers who fall in love...and then they try to rob a shop, murder a man by hitting him over the head with a tin of baked beans, and end up getting shot dead. And 'Avenging Angels' takes on a darker tone once you realise it's about dead loved ones.
The title track from the little-known Australian CD Our Stolen Children by Peter Van de Voord is as justifiably angry as you'd expect, but the music is far more laid-back than the lyrics.
The Naked and Famous' Punching In A Dream sounds like an incredibly anthemic ballad of sorts, until you realise the lyrics are about a girl starting to become unclear what's real and what's her nightmares...
The song "Arms Tonite" by Mother Mother is a peppy little song about the narrator dying in someone's arms, remarking that "it was nice" and "it's kinda cute". In addtion, they mention that they're unhappy in the afterlife and are trying to escape in order to get back to the other person.
Deerhunter's "Little Kids" is somewhere between shoegazing and Pet Sounds - it's certainly a bit melancholy sounding, and has an eerie, if not exactly Last Note Nightmare, ending... But you'd expect it to be about bittersweet childhood memories, not children engaging in underaged drinking, then stalking and setting fire to an old man for no reason. The Indecipherable Lyrics can add to the effect - Due to all the reverb and Bradford Cox's Perishing Alt Rock Voice, you might not be able to make out any words beyond the chorus, which is simply "Getting older still".
The entire album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel definitely applies to this trope. On first listen, it's clean folk music. Then you put the pieces together and you realize it's an entire album about Anne Frank.
The Bright Eyes song "At the Bottom of Everything" has a happy-go-lucky folk tune and is sung rather joyously, but the introduction informs the listener that it's a story about a plane full of people that are plummeting to their deaths and who all simultaneously realize that their lives and goals were meaningless. What makes it worse is that it's an Author Tract about how most Americans actually live; the people in the song have the realization of their meaningless lives only because it's too late.
The Vandaveer song "Marianne, you've done it now" is a soft, folksy and catchy song about a gruesomely murdered singer.
The song "Last Run" by Gwen Knighton, while not necessarily upbeat, is definitely dissonant. It combines ballad-style singing and harp-playing with lyrics about a goblin woman whose family abandoned her because of her species change leading a group of folks to hack into a corporation's computers and steal data from them. (Although this is a song about Shadowrun, mind you, which is sort of Schizo Tech)
Passenger's song, "Night Vision Binoculars", has a ridiculously upbeat and cheerful tune for a song about a Stalker with a Crush guy who keeps following a girl everywhere. And it's not played for laughs.
"Little Talks" by Of Monsters And Men is an upbeat song with heavy Ska influences, such as the trumpets blaring and acoustic guitars carrying the song. A man and woman sing back and forth between each other. The man seems to be trying to comfort the woman of her worries, but she has already passed away, and his sorrow is causing her to appear as a ghost to him. They have a conversation of reuniting when he finally passes on.
Don't listen to a word I say! The screams all sound the same! Though the truth may vary, this ship will carry our bodies safe to shore.
Belle and Sebastian often have wistful songs to wistful music, but "Stay Loose" is almost ridiculously singable, though the lyrics are about the fragile relationship between a boy with depression and a girl who won't discuss anything serious. With creepy results.
"The lights are out in the house tonight Gonna creep around, gonna creep into your head..."
Also, one of their most serene instrumentals (from the Storytelling soundtrack), complete with lovely violin, is called "Fuck This Shit". Title Dissonance?
In I Could Be Dreaming, a cheerful song about murdering a girl's abusive SO:
"Do you want to do it now? Outside the butcher's with a knife and a bike chain... la da da."
"We Will Become Silhouettes" by The Postal Service is a bubbly, cheerful, upbeat tune, typical of TPS. It's about being blown up by an atomic bomb that causes the victims' cells to "divide at an alarming rate" until their bodies explode, leaving only the eponymous Hiroshima lovers-style silhouettes. The video features bandmembers Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tamberello and Jenny Lewis in kooky early-70s styles bicycling around a spookily empty suburban neighborhood on a bright happy sunny day.
You wouldn't tell just by listening to the music (it's all Foreign Sounding Gibberish), but if the music video is any indication, The Real Tuesday Weld's cheery song "Bathtime in Clerkenwell" is about Nazis taking over England.
Bah, those birds were much too cute to represent Nazis. Even though they were wearing Nazi symbols.
A majority of The Real Tuesday Weld's songs can fall into this. They all start off reminiscent of Older songs with happy-go-lucky tunes, then they all turn out to be around breakup (See: Kix). They're so upbeat you don't realize you're singing along to talking about how Drugs and Whores are more meaningful to you than your Ex.
One of the best examples of this is Heavenly's song "Me and My Madness". A relaxed, enjoyable melody is paired with lyrics like "Cut my hair/And then I cut my skin/Hurt myself instead of hurting him".
The band The Boy Least Likely To is a master at this, combining delicate, sweet pop melodies and twee instrumentation with dark themes.
"I Box Up All the Butterflies" sounds incredibly cheerful, and happy, and sweet, until you listen to the lyrics and realize that the singer spends his summers ripping up all the flowers, killing the birds and bees, and tearing all the butterflies apart before pinning them and packing them away.
"Foundations" by Kate Nash, a cheery sounding song about a woman who can't bring herself to leave a bad relationship that is turning worse. Although the last verse does seem to imply she'll leave someday...
"Sweet Tangerine" by the Hush Sound is an upbeat pop/rock song about a stalker creeping into his ex-lover's bedroom.
"Your Arms Around Me" by Jens Lekman sounds like a really pretty love song (and was in fact used during the love scene in the movie Whip It). But if you listen to the lyrics, they tell a story about the singer accidentally cutting off his fingertip after being startled by a lover while slicing an avocado. Complete with him noticing blood spray. Yeah. (And, on some morbid level, it sort of is a love song—said lover takes him to the ER, and they have a tender moment.)
"Greatest Hits" by Mystery Jets is a snappy, upbeat song which Name Drops a ton of classic indie rock albums. It becomes apparent rather quickly that the reason for all the name drops is because the song is about the narrator and his ex-girlfriend are acrimoniously splitting their record collection post-split.
Ingrid Michaelson's "Maybe". It's either about an optimistic narrator who is unable to let go of her boyfriend but does so anyway because "the only way to really know [if they were meant to be] is to really let it go" so that "maybe, in the future, you're gonna come back to me". It's not very depressing/sad, but when you think about the implications that she's not going to move on, keep hoping for him to come back...
"Sort Of" is a cute/upbeat sounding song about being in a relationship with someone who doesn't love you back. The protagonist is not strong enough to end it.
Some Nights by Fun. Imagine the most upbeat perky beat but with lyrics like;
But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for, oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don't know... (come on)
Metric's song "Clone" appears to be a somewhat cheerful and mellow song at first listen, but then when you actually pay attention to the lyrics, it basically talks about the dark side of achieving success.
Very Truly Yours' song, "1234". Cute-sounding female vocalist? Check. Upbeat, sweet tune? Check. Lyrics about a depressed, insomniac girl who can't get over his boyfriend (or is currently in a bad relationship)? Fucking check.
1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1.
I don't know what I've become.
Can somebody find my heart?
It's in two pieces, I lost it on the sidewalk somewhere.
FosterThePeople's "Pumped Up Kicks" is a mellow, danceable song about a kid, who is very unhappy with life after his drug-addict father neglects and beats him, so he finds his father's gun and decides to go on a killing spree. The cheerful whistling that kicks in towards the end of the song definitely adds to the lyrical dissonance.
Adding to the irony, the songwriter specifically said that the kid is shooting hipsters...exactly the sort of people who love the song.
The Decemberists' song "Sons and Daughters" is Squee-level happy, in mood and most of the lyrics. However, a few phrases scattered around the song as well as the repeated last line make it clear that it's being sung in a bomb shelter, presumably to cheer up the survivors.
Alternatively, it's about a family fleeing a war-torn country to a new land, but in the distant past, with the references to aluminum and cinnamon being a Genius Bonus, as both were once considered precious commodities
Alternatively the song's about a group of settlers escaping a war and arriving on a new land, doomed to failure because they have no idea what they're doing.
While another of their songs, "O Valencia!" sounds rather upbeat, the chorus mentions the blood of the singer's lover being 'still warm on the ground' and burning the city down. The last verse has the lover being shot in the singer's arms, 'and an oath of love was your dying cry.'
"O Valencia!" was played unironically in the trailer for the romantic comedy Leap Year. Dying lovers, warring gangs, blood on the ground, and Amy Adams acting cute.
Their song "You'll Not Feel the Drowning" sounds like pretty, soothing lullaby, complete with a beautiful instrumental in the middle, but it's about a pirate about to drown a girl he kidnapped.note Or, well, something like that. The song is also based on The Tempest, so we're pretty sure that one of the characters is Caliban. Other than that, not much is clear.
Go to sleep now, little ugly Go to sleep now, you little fool Forty-winking in the belfry You'll not feel the drowning You'll not feel the drowning
"The Rake's Song" is way, way too catchy and upbeat for a song about the titular widowed rake murdering his three children so he could continue enjoying his life unattached, and saying proudly that he regrets nothing.
"The Chimbley Sweep" has a lively, catchy tune, and lyrics which are about the hard life of a boy who, going by the last verse, may be either a literal chimney sweep or using the term as an Unusual Euphemism for a child prostitute, but either way there are clearly some unpleasant shenanigans going on.
"July, July!" is a lively, cheerful song which, before the end of the first verse, veers suddenly into Gorn about how "your uncle was a crooked French Canadian and he was gut-shot running gin".
The Decemberists love this trope. "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" is an upbeat and adorable sounding duet between a woman and her husband. The husband is a (probably Confederate) Civil War soldier who was at the Battle of Manassas/Bull Runnote That he calls it Manassas leads to the Confederate conclusion and was killed either there or somewhere else; the chorus is about her coming to find his body and bury him back home.note Where "home" is isn't clear; "Oconee" could be in Illinois, Nebraska, or South Carolina, although it's probably the one in South Carolina. Some of the lyrics are pretty gruesome, too:
But oh, did you see all the dead of Manassas All the bellies and the bones and the bile
How about "Culling of the Fold"? A catchy, highly hummable tune. The chorus goes "Dash her on the paving stones, it may break your heart to break her bones, but someone's got to do the culling of the fold."
The song is actually so graphic that Jenny asked that it be left off of albums; it can be purchased separately on iTunes, but you won't be getting it on a disc anytime soon.
"We Both Go Down Together" has a catchy, upbeat violin melody and tells the story of an aristocrat who's in love with a lower class girl, a match his family won't accept. His method of escaping his family's disapproval? A suicide pact by jumping off the "cliffs of Dover". (Of course, for the additional punch, the lyrics can be interpreted that his love is obsessive and he's preying on the girl.)
The dťnoument to their "folk opera", The Hazards of Love, is entitled The Hazards of Love 4: The Drowned. It's a hauntingly beautiful love song where the characters decide in their last moments before their boat sinks and they drown together to cement their love via 'marriage'. "And with this long last rush of air we'll speak our vows in starry whisper / and as the waves came crashing down he closed his eyes and softly kissed her".
The King Is Dead provides a number of these, but probably the best is "Calamity Song", an uplifting country-folk-Americana tune about the end of the world (It starts "Had a dream/You and me at the war at the end-time...", and proceeds to rhyme that with "As scores of innocents died").
The Delgados' joyous anti-anthem "All You Need Is Hate."
Hate is all around find it in your heart in every waking sound On your way to school, work or church you'll find that it's the only rule Build a different world, hate will help you find what you've been looking for Hate is everywhere, inside your mother's heart and you will find it there
Also, "Woke From Dreaming" is a beautiful little tune, about an abducted girl strangling her kidnapper.
Another Canadian band called McKenna is an Irish rock band known for their rousing songs about drinking and songs that were written while drunk (like all Irish rock bands). Two songs in particular are quite happy in tune but sad in lyrics, however. The song "Guinness For Two" sounds like a love song, especially when heard in concert. The song, however, is about the death of a loved one (possibly a girlfriend) and how the narrator will have to drink by himself. It does end on a hopeful note, though, with the lyrics "Though I miss you like burning/I don't wish your returning/for you have gone on to joy evermore./And I'll follow you soon/for a life is a tune/and together we'll sing the encore". The other song is a little more obvious, as it's title is "The Accident Song". Just listening to it absentmindedly, it sounds like the narrator is trying to get home to his sweetheart. However, a closer listen reveals that he is traveling by the scene of a fatal accident and that he is thankful he can see his girlfriend and other loved ones, unlike the people in the car.
The indie-rock band Beulah made liberal use of this. For instance, the song "Popular Mechanics for Lovers" features upbeat, jangly guitars and lyrics lamenting the fact that the narrator had been passed over for a girl's affection by another man. It doesn't hurt that rather than the song title, the actual lyrics in the song are "Popular Mechanics for Broken Hearts could help me now".
Also from Beulah, the chorus to the song Gene Autry takes a turn at the end:
When I get to California gonna write my name in the sand
Gonna lay this body down and watch the waves the roll in
Gonna rest this weary head on someone who I think will care
But when the stars in the sky start falling, I think you'll understand
That the city spreads out just like a cut vein and everybody drowns sad and lonely
A lot of songs by The Indelicates are like this. "Flesh" is a pretty, soothing song about rape, plastic surgery, stripping, and feminist bitterness, and includes the c-word. Bonus points for dissonance within the lyrics:
Strip me and dissect me,
milk my tears and tap my bile
Hey doc can you take my skin
and melt it into plastic
Beauty isnít truth, itís just youth,
and itís adaptive and itís elasticÖ
And I love you, whoever you are, yeah, I love you.
Hey girls, weíre all the same, arenít we
Our Daughters Will Never Be Free is bright, peppy, and along similar lines.
Pretty much all of The Wombats' repertoire. "School Uniforms" is about a lost childhood love, "Backfire at the Disco" is about a date gone wrong, "My First Wedding" is about a man attending the marriage of a girl he loves to another man, and "Here Comes the Anxiety" is about how his own self-doubt and loathing sabotage his relationships. And they're all pretty dancable.
Jim O'Rourke's "Halfway to a Threeway" is a parody of intimate love ballads, by being concerned with a man ready to involve his (literally) braindead girlfriend in a threesome with another woman.
Animal Collective's "Graze" starts off with a voice gently singing how awesome it is to wake up on a beautiful morning like this one. Then it slowly builds to a climax, but when it hits in all its joyous panfluting majesty, it's accompanied by lyrics as "Why do you have to go? / I'm in the dark unknown / And you're staying home".
The Eels' "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues".
"Last Stop: This Town" is also very cheery-sounding and danceable for being about taking a final trip around the neighborhood you grew up in after you've died (although in the context of the album it's on, it kind of is a positive song).
"What Is This Note?" is an interesting inversion of how the band usually uses the trope: If you read the lyrics sheet first, you would expect it to sound like a typical Silly Love Song... instead it's based around a fast, angry-sounding Punk Rock guitar riff, and the lyrics are shouted through a distortion effect.
"Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)" is yet another song that uses this trope; a song that sounds like a musician's house party opens with the line "Do you know what it's like to fall on the floor, cry your guts out til you got no more" and "Do you know what it's like to care too much about someone that you're never gonna get to touch"
Although the song is more about how both your good and bad experiences affirm your life, and an upbeat accompaniment would probably fit in that respect.
He goes for the sad music/happy lyrics version of this trope on "Things The Grandchildren Should Know" - sadly beautiful acoustic guitars with plenty of weeping lap-steel, balanced against triumphant, if realistic, lyrics.
I knew true love and I knew passion And the difference between the two And I had some regrets But if I had to do it all again Well, it's something I'd like to do
The band Islands loves this trope. Examples include "Pieces of You" (a bouncy, upbeat tune where the title is very literal), "Volcanoes" (a rather blissful-sounding song about the end of the world), and "Humans" (another bouncy tune about the survivors of some disaster dying off).
The world beat you for the something nice
You worked hard, died poor
You mined what you died for
Diamonds di di di di di uh
"Masterpiece" by Meg and Dia has an upbeat, catchy, bouncy melody, and the sisters' sweet soprano voices lend an innocent quality to the song. Then you listen a little closer...
I am no masterpiece where innocence is painted green
Isn't it strange to think that you created all of me?
Done by the hands of a broken artist
You painted black where my naked heart is
I finally know what wrong is
Now I finally know that you bleed for nothing
Carved like a stone with your hands still shaking
On display through a soul still breaking
Aren't you proud you're the one that made me?
Not to mention "Cardigan Weather", which is about the narrator's boyfriend cheating on her, so she sews him into her mattress and hooks up with other guys on top of it.
A mattress for a coffin suits you very fine...
"Monster" has a surprisingly upbeat tune for a song about child abuse, rape, and suicide.
Monster. How should I feel?
Turn the sheets down, murder ears wth pillow lace
There's bathtubs, filled with glow flies
Bathe in kerosene
Their words tattooed in his veins.
Elliott Smith's song "Memory Lane", is a horribly depressing song set to a cheerful, folky tune in a major key. As if that wasn't bad enough, his voice sounds so perversely hopeful while he's singing it.("Isolation pushes past self hatred, guilt and shame to a place where suffering is just a game.")
Any of Elliott Smith's more upbeat sounding songs, in general. See Also: "Say Yes," "Baby Britain."
"My Slow Descent into Alcoholism" by The New Pornographers has one of the most cheery and upbeat tunes ever. The lyrics, however, stick closely to the title.
"Now She Knows She's Wrong" by Jellyfish is a cheery song set to vibraphone, harpsichord, and other happy instrumentation about a woman grieving after finding out her husband of twenty years was cheating on her. The final minute is particularly disturbing for having the entire band sing the chorus in a "We Are the World"-style harmony.
Jellyfish's "Bedspring Kiss" also qualifies, being a lounge, jazz-styled piece about a character, Jimmy, killing a prostitute in a drug-induced rage.
David Ford's "Have Yourself a Bitter Little Christmas" rather gives it away in the title; the jaunty banjo, mandolin and glockenspiel accompaniment would make for a great Christmas song if it weren't about leaving your wife on Christmas day.
The Faint, especially tracks off of Danse Macabre, if you just listen to the backing it's a pretty cool new-wave dance band. The lyrics and some of the track names (Agenda Suicide for example) are much less upbeat (Working yourself to death? Never reaching your dreams because of work? Super-happy!)
The majority of the music made by Get Set Go. A review for their CD Sunshine, Joy and Happiness says it best:
(Reviewer) Blythe Tellefsen: "Get Set Go continues with this CD to combine "pop" sound (albeit with the unusual and haunting addition of a cello) with lyrics that usually remain just at the edge of a suicide note."
Most of Motion City Soundtrack's music is lively and upbeat. Most of it also references chronic depression, struggles with alcoholism, and/or an inability to relate to people.
Shiny Toy Guns' "When They Came For Us" is a rather cheery number about the loss of one's innocence in a war: "When they took the beach that day / They stole the children, took them away / And I miss everyone, but most of all, the little ones, and their shiny toy guns /" The title is also a possible reference to the Holocaust.
"PDA" by Interpol has this written throughout the song. It's a cheery song about a psychopathic rapist/killer running a hotel who goes to jail after raping one of his tenants
Regina Spektor's song "Two Birds" could also count. It may sound upbeat, even cute, until you realize it's describing a relationship wherein one person seems to be afraid of commitment and continuously lies/makes excuses. What's more heartbreaking is that the other is oblivious to the lies and promises to never leave the other. The only thing keeping it from being a total downer is the last line, "One tries to fly away, and the other..." which implies that he might "fly away" too, but the outcome is never known.
Regina Spektor seems to use this trope a lot in her songs. "Buildings" almost seems cheery until you realize it's talking about a husband with a wife suffering from possible depression (and an alcoholic as well) and she keeps promising to change, as the husband believes that if they can make 'buildings so tall these days' then she can overcome her problems. And "That Time" is a cheery song that talks about cute, normal things like reading only the backs of cereal boxes and deciding to kiss anywhere except the mouth... and also has a human tooth found on Delancey, a pigeon being eaten by a cat, a friend overdosing twice, and the narrator taking them to the ER while their hallucinating over drugs as well.
Flyin' is a fun and catchy beat... and then the lyrics take a tailspin from cute and quirky to realization that she's talking about a student who was taken advantage of by a teacher.
THEN you can add the popular interpretation that 'flyin' outta my window' is about drug use, and suddenly you realize that the teacher doped her up in the story when she refused, and became addicted to drugs.
Tindersticks, occasionally. "Snowy in F# minor" is one of the more obvious examples.
Why, hello there, Death Cab for Cutie. Ever wonder why Ben Gibbard is sometimes called the master of this? Well, there's:
"No Sunlight", a beach-pop tune about the loss of innocence. Oh, and also the nuclear apocalypse.
"The Sound of Settling", which is a indie-pop Crowd Song about crippling shyness.
"You Can Do Better Than Me" sounds fairly upbeat and cheery, until you realize that the lyrics are about about someone who feels as though their relationship is falling apart, but their lack of self-esteem means that they're willing to cling to the relationship.
"Underneath the Sycamore", an upbeat tune that begins with the character in the song dying in a terrible car crash! The song goes on to say that that the character finds their peace "underneath the sycamore" aka six feet under in a graveyard. Cheery!
And all of this, mind you, is merely scratching the surface. Suffice it to say that a good description of the band's style is "The songwriter writes melancholy ballads. The band sets them to whatever music sounds cool—which is usually rather upbeat."
Amanda Palmer's "Oasis" is an upbeat, absurdly catchy song, which in the narrator happily tells the audience how she was raped, got pregnant, had an abortion, and got backstabbed by her close friend who told about it to everyone at school.
The Mountain Goats' "No Children", a fast paced, major keyed song about a horrible relationship compared to drowning. The lyrics are sung so cheerfully that it all becomes Black Comedy.
I am drowning. There is no sign of land You are coming down with me, hand in unlovable hand and I hope you die! I hope that we both die!
St Vincent invokes this trope to great effect quite often: "What Me Worry," a calm and careless tune, takes a sudden turn when you hear the lyric "Love is just a blood match to see who can endure lash after lash." Then you realize that someone is saying this to their lover.
From the same album, Human Racing, with special mentions to the line:
Little lamb, what's your plan?
Greener pastures in the sky? It's a shame you want to die, know why
And Now, Now, about an abusive relationship:
I'm not your mother's favorite dog
I'm not the carpet you walk on
And her album Actor invokes it all along. It opens with The Strangers, a melodic and calm song about a delusional relationship sung by the point of view of someone who seems to have lived A LOT of delusional relationships already:
What do I share?
What do I keep from all the strangers
Who sleep where I sleep?
Then goes to Black Rainbow, with someone having what seems to be a nervous breakdown (the songs subverts this trope in the last minute, with a really long Last Note Nightmare):
Think I'm glass, I think I'm breaking it, wrecking ball outside my door
Slint's song "Breadcrumb Trail" inverts the way this trope is frequently applied: although the song has a dark and violently heavy midsection, the entire story of the song is essentially "a man goes to a carnival and meets a new friend", and the anguished, soul-wrenching vocals in the middle are really just a description of riding a roller coaster.