Autumn evokes auras of both decay and renewal often found within music. I associate the season with the new beginnings of a new school year as I simultaneously leave behind the summer. Each autumn of my life has reinforced the homely traditions and atmospheres I enjoyed with loved ones in years past: newfound coolness in the air, apple picking, Sunday football games, stunning foliage and more. The core tension of summer’s end juxtaposed with both the nostalgic comforts and uncertain beginnings of fall has imprinted this season on my memory as a profoundly sentimental time of remembrance and melancholy. With autumn setting in, I thought it would be the perfect moment to highlight my favorite albums to accompany the season and all of its complexities.
A survey of autumnal albums would not be complete without a folk record that elicits the pastoral mood of the season. This quality is embodied deeply by Nick Drake’s masterpiece “Pink Moon.” The project was Drake’s final work, recorded in a period marked by depression that ultimately ended in antidepressant overdose (whether this can be attributed to suicide or not has been disputed, per All Music). Drake sings with a subdued unease, the album consisting of quiet folk songs that limit instrumentation to guitar and brief piano on the title track. This simplicity brings out his unique voice as the project’s defining feature, imparting a mix of serenity and melancholy upon the listener. “Place to Be” reflects on aging weakness and sorting out one’s life, pertinent to a time of year in which we all must remake ourselves through choices that impact our future wellbeing. The third verse of “Things Behind the Sun” mentions learning to fly and being able to “see the sun when the day is done,” which will come to us on a “rainy day in autumn” to say “be what you’ll be.” The overarching message across these two tracks insists on a need to confront the renewal of autumn, sonically backed by an elegant, naturalistic style of playing and singing that reminds one of the season’s physical sensations. Other standout tracks like “Harvest Breed” and “Pink Moon” further reinforce this autumnal atmosphere in both title and style, making the album an amazing project to listen to as you walk amongst falling leaves on your way to class.
An album that more explicitly links itself to autumn is Carissa Wierd’s “Songs About Leaving.” Drawing on mixed influences from indie rock, chamber pop and slowcore, the album is lush yet bittersweet, with inward-looking lyrics that the heart-tugging strings and piano only emphasize. Chamber pop’s particular influence reminds me of my own experiences with music at Vassar, as fall tends to be a busy season for performances, auditions and immersion in the sounds of classical instruments. “September Come Take This Heart Away” and “A New Holiday (November 16th)” most clearly make mention of autumn, with Nov. 16 referenced again in the lyrics to “Ignorant Piece of Shit” as being the narrator’s engagement day. This new beginning coincides with the depressing warning of “They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave,” which laments the closing storm that approaches “when it’s time to leave,” referring to an uncertain beginning the narrator must confront as they leave behind part of their past. The beauty of the chamber instrumentation used for such melancholic purposes embodies exactly what autumn means to me as a phase of both comfort and apprehension, with the lyrics speaking to the broader experiences of continuation and loss often encountered at this point of the year. Despite being less emotionally discernable than winter or summer, autumn’s fundamental spirit is remarkably captured in all aspects of “Songs About Leaving.”
Sun Kil Moon’s “Ghosts of the Great Highway” is a more personally-oriented choice for autumnal listening. I first heard the album during October of last year; its impassioned yet mellow sound immediately stuck with me, becoming the default soundtrack to my first Vassar fall. On the shuttle to Boston for October break, I distinctly remember passing through the mountains as the expansive song “Duk Koo Kim” played in my years-old wired earbuds. It was my first break after settling into a new life that would become my routine for the next four years, reaffirmed by the traditions of the season as I simultaneously moved forward into unknown waters; this transitory journey finds musical form within the song’s various movements, shifting melodies and instrumental development. It opens with the core guitar melody before introducing drums and vocals. The melody then changes as the song shifts direction, altering the lead vocal line and drumming pattern before ultimately layering mandolins and glockenspiel to back the vocals. Afterwards the sound strips itself down, moving away from earlier distortion into a new acoustic guitar melody. This segment slowly builds itself up by introducing electric guitar and ghostly singing, finally bringing the song to its close while accented by cymbals rather than a standard drum beat. In structure alone, the song itself can be seen as a journey, and certainly it provides similar emotional purpose within personal listening context. Whether it is the powerful guitars of “Salvador Sanchez” or “Gentle Moon’s” more serene sound, the album’s overarching emotional vulnerability speaks to the dual experience of bittersweet remembrance and emotional adaptation, familiar to all who have passed through high school into contrasting life territory.
My recent musical exploration has led me to stumble across an album which has, so far, soundtracked the end of my summer and beginning of sophomore year. Hood’s “Cold House” sounds like the first cold day of autumn, with airy guitars and dry percussion that blow like a breeze behind the tepid breath of the vocals. It anticipates the coldness to come, with tracks like “The Winter Hit Hard” most directly contributing to this atmosphere in title and sound. Glitchy electronics and surrealist vocals are recurring experimentations that color Hood’s post-rock sound, with tracks like “You’re Worth the Whole World” and “Branches Bare” contributing to an eerie, brisk quality that recalls the transition into winter. Slowcore songs like “Enemy of Time” and “Lines Low to Frozen Ground” contrast as being more sparse and lonely in sound, eliciting the sound of wind blowing through empty trees on nights that grow longer and longer in length. As fall reaches its eventual close, I can guarantee this record will still be a go-to for myself, serving as the perfect background for autumn flowing into winter.
Although difficult to characterize a specific emotion or ambiance, autumn’s distinct character still finds form in many types of music. Each album is unique in its own sound, yet all embody the season through their particular sounds and lyrical themes. As you explore music in the upcoming months, consider these records as part of your seasonal listening experience; you will surely find a new soundtrack among these treasures.