Ten Albums to Set Your Autumn To
It’s been so long since we’ve had a fall here in New York—Mother Nature preferring these days to skip from the 100 degrees of summer straight to the 30 degrees of winter—that I’ve almost forgotten what an enchanting, magical time of year it is. I have my rituals, followed regardless of whether or not the temperatures match my activities. Apple cider donuts, a drive through the Hudson Valley, prepping my Samhain pre-game, long walks late at night, and of course the assembly of a suitably moody soundtrack that captures the strange spirit of this transitional season. Summer still lingers, but nights start to get longer, and maybe the temperatures start to dip, just a little.
Unless you happen to be in the southern hemisphere, in which case…see you in six months!
As we creep closer to the Equinox, or as we steel ourselves in preparation for the density of an autumn moon cake, my mood becomes…contentedly melancholy? Thoughts turn to bonfires and folk horror and music that captures that sense of the in-between and the weird sense of joy that can come from a pensive state of mind. Here’s the ten albums that are going to be in heaviest rotation as we light our lanterns at dusk and follow this winding old road toward winter.
Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
If you’ve ever seen footage of a sporty convertible zipping along a winding Amalfi Coast road, driven by a man in Persol sunglasses or a woman in Wayfarers with a silk scarf wrapped around her head, well “Mais que nada” is the musical embodiment of that scene. Light, breezy, elegant, and sophisticated. Chances are you’ve heard it many times in many places. There’s a certain sound associated with cool, jet setting glamor, something to do with samba and jazz and a touch of light, groovy sunshine pop. Brasil ’66 is pretty much exactly that. The group’s debut album, Herb Alpert Presents..., is more of that vibe, and while it’s perfect for summer, I find the contemplative ennui that infuses some of the songs also makes it perfect for the transitional time of year as summer becomes fall. If “Mais que nada” doesn’t get you up and on your motoring tour, then “Day Tripper” certainly will. And if you can’t set the mood on a crisp September evening with “Slow Hot Wind,” then I don’t know what to tell you, friend.
The Gone Away
Belbury Poly’s The Belbury Tales was my entry into the past-as-present “is it a genre?” of hauntology. After exploring some poppier realms on recent releases, Belbury Poly returns to the misty green hinterlands on The Gone Away. Inspired by faerie tales and modern(ish) accounts of brushes with the Wee Folk, and drawing musical influence from creepy British kids’ shows, old public safety announcements, and analog synth music, The Gone Away is suitably otherworldly and eerie, like a musical interpretation of Arthur Machen’s bibliography. It’s perfect for that fade from hot weather to cool, and from sunlight to longer, darker nights. Just make sure you respect the Good People. I made a mild joke about them once whilst at the Drombeg Stone Circle in Ireland and, shortly thereafter, slipped on a patch of wet grass and skidded down a hill.
THE COMPLETE ELLINGTON INDIGOS
This album is heartbreakingly, almost overwhelmingly, beautiful, a moody, lush, contemplative journey through a forever nighttime cityscape of neon sign, midnight liaisons and slow close dances in small, mysterious nightclubs. It is a the most bewitching person person you’ve ever seen, glimpsed only fleetingly as they gracefully climb into a taxi or from the window of a passing subway car, and then gone forever, a single, perfect memory. Many of the orchestra leaders of the Harlem Renaissance transitioned away from the big band sound and into the smaller, more intimate jazz sounds of the ’40s and ’50s, but few did it with as much style and creative innovation as Duke Ellington. Indigos finds the Duke in”cool jazz” territory but with a bit of that old orchestra flair, and he’s as at home there as he is anywhere. For this liminal time of year, nothing could be better than the atmospheric, mournful perfection of “Autumn Leaves,” with vocals in French and English by Ozzie Bailey and the haunting violin of Ray Nance.
THE FALLEN BY WATCH BIRD
Esoteric musician Jane Weaver described this album as “…a floating storyline based around missing seamen, telekinesis, avian messengers, white witchkraft and death & re-birth…” She was inspired by many of the same things that inspire Belbury Poly, albeit with less of a concentration on Old Albion: Eastern European children’s cinema, German fairy tales, ’70s television music, and ’80s synthpop. She calls the resulting concept album “cosmic aquatic folklore,” and that about captures the spirit of this thing that flirts with the edge of familiar while remaining just out of reach, like a memory only half-formed. Weaver is joined by a collective of like-minded women, including psy-folk and experimental luminaries such as Wendy Flower and Susan Christie. The Fallen By Watch Bird drifts from dark, Gothic ambient to bubbly psy-folk and cosmic prog rock, and then on to grooving electro-experimentation, with a mix of spoken and sung lyrics. Like the best fairy tales, it’s as disquieting as it is soothing. There is always something spooky and very, very Pagan lurking in the shadows surrounding even the sunniest patches.
There’s really no going wrong with Julie London, the icy cool queen of torch singers. As summer becomes fall, and we find ourselves with more night on our hands, few albums set the candlelit mood quite as effectively as Around Midnight. London is simultaneously sensual and remote, intimate and unobtainable. Many of us may still be unable to congregate in public houses, but tracks like “’round Midnight” will transform any room into dark bar at 3am, where you stare into your whiskey and soda, reflecting on life and love and loss. Ms. Julie’s versions of “Lush Life” and Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” conjure a smoky cloud of knowing aloofness shrouding the sadness. Julie always knows what’s going to happen, and happiness and depression come and go. But hey, for night people such as us, the lengthening twilight hours are a thing to be celebrated, so there’s always “You and the Night and the Music.”
Astrud Gilberto is the undisputed goddess of samba, of breezy vocals that transport you far from home. We are spoiled for choices when it comes to her albums, each one being a delight. Talkin’ Verve compiles many of her best-known hits into one convenient collection that is almost too cool for mere humans. But only almost. “Beginnings” is a bouncy, sunny slice of pop that demands you be wearing white capris, a mod orange top, big round sunglasses, and a white silk scarf while sipping a caipirinha at a beach front bar, the smell of sea salt and jungle flowers wafting on the wind. It doesn’t let up, as the collection brings all killer, no filler, from the loungy “Call Me” to the “this girl’s gonna make it in the big city” joy of “Windy,” to say nothing of the languid Brazilian grooves of “So Nice” and “Bossa na Praia.” She even gives us a great, baroque version of the Bee Gees’ minor key haunter, “Holiday.” There’s no more fitting an album for those final touches of the fading summer.
Gather In The Mushrooms: British Acid Folk Underground 1968-1974
Fun fact: it’s actually a point of international law that any collection of British psy-folk must include Magnet’s “Corn Riggs” from The Wicker Man. There’s plenty more to explore beyond that,though, and if you need to meet your beloved in a field for a tryst or a sacrifice or a little of both (who am I to judge), there’s still going to be a song for you. This collection runs the gamut from gentle folk to acid, here sounding very 1960s and there sounding like something that wandered in from 1612. It’s all a bit hippie, sure, but everything has its place, so forget the labels and just enjoy the misty morning, forgotten roads to mysterious places, and hidden green glades. A lot of these artists, even though they may have had their trippy following at the time, have since lapsed into obscurity, which means there’s a lot of great stuff waiting to be rediscovered, including Forest’s “Graveyard” and Comus’ unnerving epic, “The Herald.” For me, no fall is complete without a healthy dose of dreamy, drifting psy-folk, and this is a fantastic collection, especially if you go that extra mile and pair it with its sequel, Early Morning Hush: Notes From The UK Folk Underground 1969-1976.
Here I Stand (THE BEST OF)
I won’t pretend to be cooler than I am; I had never heard of Wade Flemons until the striking track “Devil In Your Soul” popped up in a season one episode of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. That song wasted little time rocketing to the top of my most played list, alongside Chromatics’ “Shadow” (see below), and I figured if I liked “Devil In Your Soul” so passionately, I should check out more. Here I Stand (The Best Of), a collection of 25 tracks, was an excellent opportunity to get better acquainted with Flemons. His sound bridges the doo-wop flavored R&B of the 1950s and the northern soul sound that would rise to prominence in the 1960s. His songs can take your hand and kiss you, or they can break your heart. They can perk up your high school sock hop or pull you in tight at a smoky juke joint. There’s no bad track in this collection, but there’s also nothing else like “Devil In Your Soul.” That song is a sinister slice of brooding, noirish slow grind perfection about temptation you know will destroy you, and destruction that is willingly embraced for the brief, fiery passion of that temptation.
I have, perhaps without fail since about 1990, inevitably reacted to the first hint of chill in the air by taking a deep breath, smiling every slightly, and immediately reaching for Treasure. There is no point in the stormy career of Coocteau Twins that does not send me into a reverie, be it the raw, moody post-punk of Garlands, the ambient experimentation of Victorialand, or the swirling dreampop euphoria of Treasure, but it’s the latter album that I find I listen too most often, especially on grey, chilly days when it evokes in me a blissfully melancholy state of wonder, sadness, and joy—if that’s a contradictory pile of emotions, well, it all makes sense when you’re listening to Cocteau Twins. I can listen to “Ivo” all day, without break, and feel well content with how I’ve spend my time. But if I did that, I wouldn’t get to “Lorelei,” a stunning achievement which more than once has described as the sound of falling in love. A dizzying trip climaxes with the soaring “Domino,” and as the final waves of sound recede, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been more perfect. Cocteau Twins co-founder Robin Guthrie called it, “our worst album by a mile.”
Given the strength of Chromatics’ discography, and the massive amount of space they occupy on my rotation any given day, it might seem odd to pick a single rather than an album. But “Shadow,” which rose to prominence when it was included at the end of the first episode of Twin Peaks: The Return, is one of those songs that is so perfect, so captivating, so luxuriant that I can—and have, more than once—listen to it and nothing but it for the entire day. The single, released by Italians Do It Better (one of two record labels I buy anything and everything from, sound unheard; the other is Ghost Box), contains a few different versions of the song, each one evoking a particular late-night mood, as well as the additional song, “White Light,” which is also quite good. But it’s “Shadow (Radio),” the version that appeared in Twin Peaks, that spends the most time in my head. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t sink into that immersive, neon-soaked, electronic wall of sound and lose myself in Ruth Radelet’s breathy vocals. I’m there right now. Take me down with you.