***3 Albums was a semi-regular music series I wrote for the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library between July 2016 and January 2018.
All 3 Albums posts can be found in their original published form HERE***
Ahhhh snap! The air is crisp as a freshly picked apple and the dying leaves have turned the world into a walk-in kaleidoscope.
It is my absolute favorite time of the year… for music!
Divvying up tunes by their seasonal feels and curating seasonal mixtapes has become a full blown hobby for me. (An unusual hobby for sure… but not flat-out weird like taxidermy or ultramarathon running). Most songs find their way somewhat neatly into one or two of the four seasons because every year is a mini-journey through the whole gamut of human emotion: from the bleak, introspective winter to the freewheelin’ splashy summer and everything in between.
Autumn is deceptive though. It’s the proverbial joker in the seasonal deck.
It’s arguably the most beautiful time of the year: the mosaic landscapes, the merciful end to the summer heat, the bounty of harvest… and of course there’s Pumpkin Spice [insert almost any noun here]. But there’s more going on with Autumn than its golden glowing surface sheen might suggest.
That’s what makes Autumn music really captivating: It tugs me in all directions at once.
So here’s 3 Autumnal-y albums to put in your ears this season… and GO!
1. Field Report – Marigolden (2014)
“We are marigolden, dropping orange and umber… just barely hangin’ on…” – “Home (Leave the Lights On)”
Marigolden. A beautiful made-up word that grabs many of my Autumn feelings and crams them perfectly into 10 letters. And daggum… does this aptly-titled album do a bang-up job of capturing the aforementioned pull inherent in this season.
Simply put – this album is gorgeous through-and-through, especially in the lyric department. I have a very slack-jawed awe for songwriters who can consistently rearrange the human experience into previously unthought and unheard phrases. Field Report’s Christopher Porterfield is one of those rare songwriters. I mean, listen to some of his lines:
“Jane caught me roll my eyes and we made up constellations – of unicorns with Roman candle horn approximations.”
“Chasing sundogs to believe – I miss you more than tongues miss pulled teeth.”
Every one of his lyrics has a sort of hazy glow that reminds me of the sun rising on a dewy October Saturday morning. Everything is “gilded ’round the edges” (if I can borrow yet another of Porterfield’s lyrics).
Fair warning ya’ll: this one will pinball you through all the feels, but it’s a trip worth taking. Just as things start to seem bleak towards the middle of the album the title track lifts off over the russet landscape. As Porterfield repeats the mantra-turned-chorus: “I started to believe it”… all will be right in your leaf-carpeted world.
(Very Autumnal Tracks: “Decision Day,” “Home (Leave the Lights On),” “Marigolden”).
2. Lee DeWyze – Oil & Water (2016)
“So for awhile… just awhile… let me feel at home again.” – “Again”
Lee DeWyze had never crossed my radar prior to me happening upon this amazing humanoid-landscape album cover. That’s probably because I gave up on voice driven talent shows around the time Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken were battling it out. (Fact check: that was circa 2003). So, I missed out on a decent singer/songwriter who ended up winning American Idol during the 9th season back in 2010.
I’m part of a somewhat dying breed who still have a soft spot for great album artwork. I will give completely unknown albums a spin based on a great cover image. When I stumbled upon this one on our Hoopla app I was instantly intrigued. As an Autumn Enthusiast, my seasonal spidey senses were a-tingling.
At first glance it might not look like this pic is set in the Fall, but don’t be deceived… this cover is very Autumn. Note:
The leaves are all still somewhat greenish, but it’s a tired-barely-holding-on kind of green. It’s the last week of September green. The kind of color seen right before the yellows, oranges, and reds go gangbusters. Those leaves are losing the fight of their lives.
The birds in the background are headed south. How do I know they are headed south? Science! Look at Lee’s moss goatee. (Mosstee?). Moss tends to grow on the cooler north-facing side of things. If the mosstee is pointing north and the birds appear to be headed the other way, then we can assume it’s Autumn!
Okay, okay… maybe as an Autumn Enthusiast I’m reading too much into the cover. But I was happy to officially know that my assumptions were correct when I put on the album and 10 Autumn-tinged tracks came tumbling into my ears.
One theme really dominates this album: home. Both homecoming and home-leaving. Two somewhat contradictory themes that somehow live together in my mind during the Autumn (huh, imagine that!). It’s probably tied up in memories of leaving for college in the Fall and Homecoming pep rallies, bonfires and football games. Both concepts can stir up anxiety and excitement in equal measure. Which is just another one of those Autumnal paradoxes at work. Leave it to a road weary singer-songwriter to weave those paradoxes into words and music.
Put on Oil & Water and think about going home to see your family or setting out on an unknown adventure. Either direction you’re headed will be lined with fantastical flashy foliage.
(Very Autumnal Tracks: “Again,” “Stone,” “Learn to Fall,” “West”).
3. Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days (2004)
“There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made.” – “Passing Afternoon”
Finger-plucked strings and hushed whisper-sung vocals make Iron & Wine’s highly acclaimed breakout album the perfect companion to this season. It doesn’t hurt that Autumnal subject matter keeps dotting the countryside landscape of these 12 sparse but beautiful tracks.
Imagine a golden leaf saying farewell to its summer perch high up amongst the colorful canopy. Slowly it meanders in loop-de-loops and swinging arches down to its final winter resting place on the ground. Now press play on track one and let the plucky guitar strings and Sam Beam’s warm cautious voice provide the perfect soundtrack to your leaf’s final hoorah. It’s a match made for this time of year.
Autumn lives in the bones of this album. So much so that it is explicitly mentioned numerous times through the course of the album. Furthermore, the fall imagery and many themes I connect to this season crop up in nearly every song:
Birth and death.
The quick and slow passing of time (this album’s title phrase is another apt Autumnal phrase).
“Ravens in the corn,” “Birds are leaving,” and the smell of “cinder and smoke” are just a few of the harvest-time sights and senses that Beam weaves into the lyrics.
For longtime Iron & Wine fans: dust off this indie-classic album as the perfect compliment to your season. If it’s new to you: please treat yourself to the the gentle autumnal magic that is Sam Beam.
(Very Autumnal Tracks: “Naked As We Come,” “Cinder and Smoke,” “Love and Some Verses,” “Passing Afternoon”).
P.S. – As a collector of Autumn tunes I’d love to hear what music you’re listening to during this fairest of the seasons. Chat me up below, yo!