Playlist: Songs I Love That Don’t Have Words

I’ve lived an entire lifetime through words. I’ve held conversations and written poetry, kept journals and poured out letters, published stuff on the Internet and written notes. I’ve managed planners and schedules and spreadsheets. I’ve captioned photos and sent messages on Facebook; salvaged entire pieces of my life with words while I sunk some of the rest. I’ve typed words, written them out by hand and even contemplated tattooing them on my body. I believed deeply, at one point, that words could do a majority of the communicating and explaining I would need to do in my life. I was wrong.

I was wrong because sometimes you love someone so much there are no words, or no right combination, or nothing anyone has ever said before. Sometimes no card exists for “I think you’re so fucking beautiful” or “I think I’ve finally found home.” And sometimes you are so scared, or so unbelievably strong, or so impeccably uplifted and inspired and deeply moved, or so bold and so sure, or so terrified that there is no way to string it together in just one set of letters. Sometimes it’s more like a feeling, or the way she looks when she’s asleep, or the way the breeze feels after work, or the way the sun is hitting your skin. Sometimes the music in the background is what makes you cry, rejoice, or remember. Sometimes everything else everyone said just isn’t what you’re feeling. Sometimes your heart is a cello, or a piano, or a violin – not a poem or a good line or a hook or a chorus. Sometimes nobody else can say it for you but you still need something to press “play” for.

The more I experience the more I realize what I need is an original soundtrack and not a mixtape.

These are songs I love without words.†

Songs I Love That Don’t Have Words: A Playlist


Open Sea Theme – Sven Libaek
Sparkplug Minuet – Mark Mothersbaugh
1440 – Olafur Arnalds
Suite Bergamesque – Alexis Weissenberg
Njonavelin – Sigur Ros*
Fern – Zoe Keating
American Beauty – Thomas Newman
Farewell to Earnest – Jyotirindra Moitra
Do You Think There’s A Heaven – Mychael Danna and DeVotchKa
Redford (For Yia Yia & Pappou) – Sufjan Stevens
The Snow Before Us – Charles Atlas
Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel – Atlas Sound
My Only Swerving – El Ten Eleven

Songs I Love That Don’t Have Words from Autostraddle on 8tracks.

† This embarrassingly had many words.

* WIKIPEDIA: All of the lyrics on ( ) are sung in Vonlenska, also known as Hopelandic, a constructed language without semantic meaning, technically glossolalia, which resembles the phonology of the Icelandic language. It has also been said that the listener is supposed to interpret their own meanings of the lyrics which can then be written in the blank pages in the album booklet.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. Perfection! This playlist is exactly what I needed to concentrate today. Thank you! :)

  2. you wrote such a beautiful intro, carmen.

    “sometimes you are so scared, or so unbelievably strong, or so impeccably uplifted and inspired and deeply moved, or so bold and so sure, or so terrified that there is no way to string it together in just one set of letters.”

  3. Indeed, music is awesome in all its forms, whether it has lyrics, it’s instrumental, or constructed of a made up language. I’m reminded of Ekova, who sings in a made up language and their music is beautiful (, &, along with Sigur Rós, et al.

    In any event, my recently most played instrumental is this bad boy right here: Kuedo – Work, Live & Sleep in Collapsing Space –, which I’ve been playing non-stop.

  4. EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY!! Come on. Pretty much everything and anything by them, but I am partial to “First Breath after Coma” & “Your hand in mine.” Check them out, ladies. <3

    • Yesss. This. Explosions in the sky. “Glittering Blackness” has forever my heart. But also “The Only Moment We Were Alone”. And I agree with “First Breath after Coma” too.
      Mogwai – “Helps both ways” & “Summer (Priority Version)”
      Sigur Rós – untitled (popplagið)
      Mondkopf – Day of Anger
      Saez – Goraszewska
      Moderat – A New Error

  5. EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY!! Come on. Pretty much everything and anything by them, but I am partial to “First Breath after Coma” & “Your hand in mine.” Check them out, ladies. <3

  6. You should add “Can Anyone Who Has Heard This Music Really Be a Bad Person?” by Kaki King… It does things to me.

    • Or anything by Kaki King, really. How can a list on instrumental music on a lesbian website leave off the most awesome lesbian guitarist who writes the most beautiful music ever?

  7. EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY! Come on. Pretty much everything and anything by them, but I am partial to “First Breath after Coma” & “Your hand in mine.” Check them out, ladies. <3

  8. I’ve been listening to a lot of songs without words lately. They help me make sense of things. So thank you for a new playlist!

  9. Love this playlist so much. Here are my picks. The first two make me feel so fucking hopeful/content/loved. The last one makes me brood/rage like a mother fucker.

    Sigur Ros: Olsen Olsen
    DeVotchka & Mychael Danna: The Winner Is
    Clint Mansell: The Last Man

  10. I’ve long been a fan of the Cocteau Twins. Rarely is there a clear word from Liz Fraser, but her voice is so powerful and soulful that words aren’t needed. The opening track from The Moon and the Melodies is one of their most beautiful, in my opinion:

    Victorialand and Heaven Or Las Vegas are also excellent albums of theirs.

  11. So maybe I am the odd woman out here….but generally the music I listen to that doesn’t have lyrics is jazz. See John Coltrane Love Supreme or Terence Blanchard Double Happiness. I am going to give your playlist a try, new horizons.

  12. Your intro is so beautiful, Carmen. And I wanna mention “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited… it’s my favorite song in the world!!

  13. This is probably my favourite playlist yet.

    () is my favourite Sigur Ros album because Vonlenska is just so damn cool.

    Thanks Carmen!

  14. Speaking of Thomas Newman, I really like the “Six Feet Under” theme song. Perfection.

    I also love listening to the Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine– basically any band where they’re singing something, but you can’t really tell what.

  15. My first comment on this site, YAY! -waves-

    I love instrumentals. Some favorites:

    “Cumulus” by Imogen Heap. SO. Beautiful. It makes me cry. I could listen to it forever.

    “Stumble Then Rise on Some Awkward Morning” by A Silver Mt. Zion. It’s VERY haunting; I like it.

    “Lullaby for My Favorite Insomniac” by Ahn Trio. It’s a trio of sisters, playing violin, cello, and piano. This song is so relaxing and pretty. :D

    “Saikai no chi to bara” by Malice Mizer. Haunting and beautiful.

    “Fish- Silent Cruise” from the Ghost in the Shell soundtrack by Yoko Kanno. THIS SONG. The first couple minutes are just a crystal clear voice saying “la” and then after that the most mesmerizing instrumental.

    I will leave off with that.

  16. This is great. I had an old Japancakes album I would listen to all the time when studying, etc, and I need more of that kind of interesting and wordless music in my life.

  17. This is wonderful and even more wonderful because I always listen to instrumental music at night and, well, it’s night. I love when people share things, especially music. So Carmen, a thank you for that. In the meantime, I’ll share a few:
    The three of us – Ben Harper
    The swell season – the swell season
    Amy – Dirty Three
    Pastures New – Nickel Creek
    London in February – Coastal
    Let me back in – explosions in the sky

  18. I can’t believe no one mentioned Ratatat. They are great music for jammmin’ out with lovely sick beats. Good songs are “Seventeen Years” and “Germany to Germany” and “Loud Pipes.” They’re really good to play in the background while eating dinner with friends because you still have up tempo music and you aren’t distracted by wanting to sing along with words. Puuuuurrrrr-fection.

  19. Pretty good playlist. When the Open Sea Theme came on I thought, “this is silly I’ve heard this before,” and of course, it’s from The Life Aquatic. Speaking of great instrumental music, can’t forget The Album Leaf (Vermillion, Another Day are good tracks to start with).

    • PS. Also! Emilie Autumn’s “Laced/Unlaced” – the first half is classical violin interpretations & the second half is electric violin originals that are simply brilliant. “Manic Depression” & “A Strange Device” = YES.

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