The year was 2009. A handful of years had flown by since some good good pals of mine had instituted a cherished annual tradition with me and my wife: The Fall Festival. A full autumn day spent in the complete and shameless devotion to all the beauty and bounty of our favorite season. Food, fire pits, friendship, a hike through the technicolor woods. It quickly became one of the most anticipated days on my calendar.
In ‘09, I wanted to supplement Fall Festival with my own unique offering. Music! I went to work combing through my CD collection (this was in a time when CD’s were not quite so irrelevant yet…) grabbing up all the autumn tinged audio. Little did I know as embarked on the task that the finding, compiling, and anthologizing of all the autumn songs would become it’s own little yearly tradition (re:obsession) as deeply cherished by me as Fall Festival itself.
I ended up with two discs worth of music that first year and they became the first two volumes of this anthology. Autumn has always seemed to be a two sided shimmering gold coin flip. 50/50 odds for either tremendous joy/beauty or melancholy introspection. Two seemingly opposing feelings that live together in some strange seasonal symbiotic relationship during the autumn. It’s perhaps this enigmatic part of autumn that makes it so fascinating and wonderful for me.
So Volumes 1 and 2 of Autumn this Year are split up into these two respective feels. Volume One has a mood devoted to the melancholy feels of the season: heartbreak, change, the pain of leaving or being left.
But don’t let it get you down. As soon as it is done you can throw on Volume Two to pick you back up!
Autumn This Year Volume 1: It’s Bound To Make You Sadder…
Tom Waits - I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You (1973)
A bar scene might seem like a strange place to start a series of autumn songs, but Tom Waits’ tale of a barfly talking himself out of falling for the stranger across the way is actually a pretty apt description of my yearly interaction with this season:
Me in September: “Don’t get too attached to this… it will be gone soon.”
Me in October: “Don’t fall too deep for this season… it will only hurt you.”
Me in November: “Maybe I can just invite autumn to have this empty seat next to me…”
Winter: “Is this seat taken?”
Me in December: “Uh, actually… I was…” *turns to see that Autumn has left.*
Richard Shindell - Are You Happy Now? (2002)
Dude. It’s cold enough that she took the toaster and stiffed him on the rent. However, when it’s revealed that she also took ALL THE CANDY ON HALLOWEEN you feel the chill of a stiff autumn wind. At least Richard keeps a bit of his humor as he hides in his darkened house from the disappointed trick-or-treaters on his porch…
Ben Folds Five - Don’t Change Your Plans (1999)
Ben Folds has always had oniony layers as a songwriter. I think folks like him who write so hilariously often have the advantage to backdoor surprise us with strong sentiment. Or… he did for me back when this tune was released. Nowadays, his full emotional range is well expected.
But the way he captured saying farewell to a relationship because of circumstances beyond your actual feelings really gets me. That last line repeated just to hammer it home:
“I love you… goodbye”
Coldplay - Don’t Panic (2000)
Only in autumn (and from Chris Martin) can a phrase like “we live in a beautiful world” feel so true and simultaneously feel so. damn. sad.
Yo La Tengo - Autumn Sweater (1997)
The quintessential 90’s indie autumn tune. The heartbeat drums, the organ’s sorrowful moan, the bass/conga solos. Mwah! The perfect intensity of encroaching dread to backdrop an unwanted autumn conversation.
“We could slip away - wouldn’t that be better
Me with nothing to say - and you in your autumn sweater”
The Be Good Tanyas - Scattered Leaves (2006)
Frenzy Ford has one of the coolest voices in the known galaxy and I love how she warbles out these lines of autumn betrayal. Gorgeous harmonies make it more bittersweet.
“And I love all the leaves from green to red - bah-lowing ina whind stahhhhrm.”
Josh Ritter - Leaving (2002)
Leaving is the most overarching theme that threads it’s way through Volume 1. The sadness inherent in leaving or being left keeps flitting in and out. Josh Ritter brings the topic to the forefront as he evokes the birds bailing on us for their summer beach houses:
“Every time I turn around
Something else just floated away
There ain't a single thing that I've found
With wings that decided to stay.”
David Wilcox - Leaving You (1999)
I like little Easter eggs in my track listings and song arranging. So the fact that tracks 6-8 reads “Scattered Leaves-Leaving-Leaving You” makes me downright giddy in a super nerdy way.
I feel like David Wilcox might appreciate it cause he’s super cool in kind of a nerdy way too. If you are not familiar with his work there is a wealth of great songwriting/storytelling/wisdom in his back catalog.
“Leaves fall as the trees give up the view
Lies will fall away - leaving you.”
The Swell Season - This Low (2006)
The ache inherent in this song is so palpable. But it’s also so beautiful that you just want to swing in the arms of it for a while.
Sting - Fields of Gold (2006)
The lute version of this song is superior to the original. There, I said it… deal with it!
Barenaked Ladies - You Will Be Waiting (1994)
Another band that could surprise you with some deep emotions. I always had a soft-spot for this band even long after they fell out of favor with most folks. This song is just one example of why.
For Lack of Better Words - October Breezes (2003)
One of my good friends Sarah (who happens to be a co-Fall Festival founder) had a college band back in the day that was rather indecisive… even on band names. They put out one CD and it had a fantastic introspective little autumn ode. Since it was released pre-digital wave it is sadly not on Spotify (or anywhere else in the known interwebs…)
EXCEPT! Right down below. I’ll gladly be the one place in the world you can hear this tune.
Sarah will probably be mortified… though I am not.
Sufjan Stevens - All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands (2004)
The imagery of this song’s title is beautifully autumnal all on its own. Add in a banjo sounding about as majestic as a banjo can possibly sound and some of Sufjan’s quasi-religious deep thoughts and we are solidly in the autumosphere (<— Not a real word… just made it up). The opening line is about as melancholy as a thought can be: “If I am alive this time next year…” Autumn is when these thoughts make themselves at home and we question how long anything really gets to stay.
Nico - The Fairest of the Seasons (1967)
Nico’s Chelsea Girl album has a pair of fantastic autumn songs penned by Jackson Browne. “The Fairest of the Seasons” continues our leaving theme as she ponders “should I stay or should I go?”
Covers of her other autumny tune “These Days” have been featured in Volumes 4 and 12… and the Royal Tenenbaums, of course.
Ray LaMontagne - Winter Birds (2009)
There’s so much poetic autumnal imagery seasoned in this track packaged in Ray LaMontagne’s cornhusk hushed voice. There’s such a sweet sorrow to his clinging close to his lady as the season changes before their very eyes.
“And though all these things will change
The memories will remain
As green to gold, and gold to brown
The leaves will fall to feed the ground
And in their falling, make no sound”
The Autumn Defense - About to Change (2007)
If you are going to put the word “Autumn” in your band name you better back it up with some songwriting fit for the season. The Autumn Defense gets it, man.
Jon Foreman - My Love Goes Free (2007)
Jon Foreman’s 2007 EP project highlighting each of the four seasons just might have been the catalyst for this anthology. I can recall dabbling in seasonal-song-thinking prior but that was a big moment in my autumn tune gathering/collecting/(eventually obsessive hoarding) progression. As a tip o’ the hat in thanks I put him on both Volume 1 AND 2. A double dose from his Fall EP: the more melancholy one here (letting things leave again being the topic) and the more warm and contented “Southbound Train” on 2. Cheers Jon!
U2 - October (1981)
A tiny little ode to autumn from the Dublin boys to wrap this first volume up. It’s a perfect little bridge to Volume 2 because though it is heartbreakingly sad and highlights the departure of the trees duds it ends on a bit of hope that something good remains and in fact goes “on and on.” Volume 2 will pick up that theme of all the good in Autumn and will relish in it…