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1.September, When It Comes - Johnny & Rosanne Cash Buy Rules Of Travel.
Hushed, brooding, alternately sweet and haggard, this duet between an elderly Johnny Cash and his daughter Rosanne is everything that it should be. The specters of death and aging hang heavily over the song as two generations mourn the passing of summer while also eagerly awaiting the beginning of what comes next.
2. The Dog In Me - Chisel Buy 8 A.M. All Day.
Autumn is theme throughout Chisel's firecracker of a first album 8 A.M. All Day but Ted takes it to another level on "The Dog In Me". Leo sings about being "a Virgo, don't you know" and how every fall he's a year older. I always smile when I hear a younger Leo admonishing himself that "every September I've got to remember / how to get it together when I'm older". The ramshackle recording process for the album is felt keenly here with the thin-sounding drums and cymbals seemingly struggling to catch up to Leo's lyrics and blurry guitar playing. Perhaps the only true fall anthem I can think of, no autumn mix is complete without this song.
3. September - Martin Davaney Buy September.
A quick google search shows me that Martin Devaney is still kickin' in Twin Cities and has even gotten himself a band. I'm glad, because I've loved his album September ever since buying it on a whim during a college visit to Macalester. Its soft palate of dry acoustic guitar, lively mandolin and Gaullic accordion cradle the song perfectly as Daveney sings the eternal song of losing then longing to recapture love. If you close your eyes you can practically see yourself in a smokey, gas-lit cafe, drowning yourself in red wine while he plays in the background. A song that makes you feel warm as you turn up your collar.
4. TV Trays - Death Cab For Cutie Buy You Can Play These Songs With Chords.
"Summer's gone / I overslept / and woke up to the chill of fall" thus marks the first recorded instance of Ben Gibbard's end-of-summer-as-metaphor fetish. "TV Trays" shows a less mopey, slightly more rocking version of Death Cab For Cutie than we think of today. The lyrics here are more obviously straightforward (but also fun) than so much of their later work but no less effective. A kiss-off to summer rather than a love letter to autumn, it's got the melancholy of later Death Cab as well as an anger rarely seen since.
5. Love You In The Fall - Paul Westerberg Buy Besterberg: The Best Of Paul Westerberg.
"Love You In The Fall" is paint-by-numbers Paul Westerberg, made to order for animated revenue generator Open Season. You know what? That makes it even better. Westerberg just let himself go and out came a pop-rock gem about nothing more than loving a girl and it being fall. It's got simple rhymes, an acoustic rhythm guitar and a crunchy lead and the famous "slightly distorted melodic solo". If you're not singing along and humming the tune after three listens, you have no one to blame but yourself.
6. October Is Eternal - Of Montreal Buy The Sunlandic Twins.
OK, I admit that this was perhaps a dubious inclusion. The Sunlandic Twins was my entry point to Of Montreal and I saw them do an incredible live version of this song which makes me include it on mixes such as this even if it is a slightly wanky instrumental. But its darkly foreboding mood and blurpy electro psychedelia always seem well suited to the beginning of the antepenultimate month (plus, I like how it makes the songs flow), so here it is.
7. Autumn Beds - Modest Mouse Buy No One's First And You're Next [EP].
I guess it's time to just come clean about this - I prefer the latter-day, poppier, sell-outier Modest Mouse to their earlier incarnation. I see why the early stuff is beloved, but I came to the party late and for me their screamy, demented folk/funk hybrids go down easier with just a little sheen. No One's First And You're Next was a collection of non-album tracks that I've played far more often than their last album. "Autumn Beds" is an easy pop song with a friendly banjo, pretty melody and just a little hidden dissonance. It's the perfect song to end that last bonfire of the year with, you're welcome.
8. Autumn - Surf City Buy Kudos.
Taken from last year's debut album by some Kiwis that you'll probably be hearing more about here, Surf City's "Autumn" is a mysterious and intriguing fall soundscape. The band uses tape loops and feedback to create a "Tomorrow Never Knows"-like effect before the band comes in. You quickly are sucked into the ping-ponging feedback and hazy lyrics and spit out the other side of the song smiling. A perfect mix of Yo La Tengo and The Jesus & Mary Chain with an autumnal bent to the lyrics I eat this stuff up like candy.
9. October - Rachel Ries Buy For You Only.
Remember that woman who opened for Ted Leo at Millenium Park? Yeah, like I said before, she's pretty good. "October" is a simply picked folk song about a city girl pining after a prairie boy. She imagines a perfect night together (I mean, October is perfect sleeping weather) "so that I don't even notice that it's morning". She let's a melancholy fiddle take the last instrumental lap before letting the song sigh to an end quietly enough for you to pull the covers up and drift off to sleep to.
10. Maple Leaves [EP Version] - Jens Lekman Buy Oh You're So Silent Jens.
I note that this is the EP version because with "Maple Leaves", Jens Lekman struck gold and he knew it. This song was the title track of a 2004 EP and also appeared in two forms on the singles and rarities collection Oh You're So Silent Jens. I'm only just starting to get into this Swedish musician (mea culpa!), which is a shame because as this song shows, he's capable of pop perfection. The swirling strings sample, syncopated drumming and vocal airiness create the aural sensation of being surrounded by falling leaves. This atmosphere takes a song with morose lyrics and turns it into a gorgeous meditation of the changing of seasons.
11. Lost In Autumn - The Sea and Cake Buy The Sea and Cake.
The Sea and Cake have been making cool, pop-jazz records for almost two decades but it all began with a studio session featuring some of Chicago's post-rock luminaries in September 1993. The resulting self-titled debut album would set a template for the band that they've been refining ever since. Closing the album is "Lost In Autumn", which is perhaps its most plodding track but also one of it's most engaging. The beat feels almost literally dragged from drummer John McEntire and the bass and trademark clean electric guitar chomp at the bit. As with most Sea and Cake songs, the lyrics are more for onamonapoetic color than meaning but when Sam Prekop laconically sings that he's "lost... in autumn" the meaning is totally clear. The whole thing feels like an aimless amble through a leafy neighborhood on a crisp fall day and should be listened to while partaking in one.
12. Autumn Sweater - Yo La Tengo Buy I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.
Yo La Tengo doesn't really write "hits", but "Autumn Sweater" seems like perhaps the closest they ever got to one. From their monster 1997 record I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, this song is an essential touchstone for late 90's indie rock. "We can slip away / would that be better?" Ira Kaplan asks, nervously portraying the stock shy indie rock guy. "Me with nothing to say / and you in your autumn sweater." Behind Velvet Underground-style organ and Georgia Hubley's resonant and almost-danceable drums, it's hypnotic, pretty and atmospheric. It's the song that brought sexy back for argyle. You know, before it was cool.
13. November Has Come (feat. MF Doom) - Gorillaz Buy Demon Days.
I've never fully given Damon Albarn's post-Blur Gorillaz project a full try, which is odd because an anonymous hip-hop collective played by cartoons sounds right up my alley. But "November Has Come" came up on shuffle once right as I was enduring a bitterly windy early November walk from class to the library and it's been a favorite ever since. Doom's verses are verbal showcases with imagistic lyrics that somehow manage to convey the feeling of the cold, grey reality that is the beginning of November in the upper midwest while the chorus just serves makes that connection explicit. Beautifully bleak in a way that mirrors what I love about that time of year.
14. Autumn Almanac - The Kinks Buy The Kink Kronikles.
The band after this may be kings of the American suburban character study but they learned all they know from Ray Davies and the Kinks. After their initial garage rock/R&B period, the Kinks were banned from America and shifted to writing nostalgic, almost conservative paens to a mythic old England of yore. "Autumn Almanac" is a portrait of one Davies' Muswell Hill neighbors, an old gardener. It lays out the simple, predictable joys of English fall ("football on Saturday / roast beef on Sunday, all right!") so convincingly that it makes you want to grab a pint of bitter and a Marks and Spencer wool sweater. Davies knows that going to Blackpool for vacation is, objectively, probably not actually the most exciting way to go, but his sympathy for his subjects and love of country make his vision almost irresistible.
15. All Kinds Of Time - Fountains Of Wayne Buy Welcome Interstate Managers.
16. Mr. November - The National Buy Alligator.
Perhaps the most rousing the National will ever get, "Mr. November" is a barn-burner of the first degree. Apparently written in the dark days immediately after the 2004 election, it's depiction of "the new blue blood" and "the great white hope" leave little doubt as to whom Matt Berninger is talking about. However the song's chorus of "I won't fuck us over / I'm Mr. November!" is enough to kindle at least some hope heading into the darkest time of the year. Also, I might own their licensed for the Obama campaign t-shirt... yeah.
17. Here Comes A Regular [Live] - The Replacements Buy Tim.
Given the number of amazing seasonal beers that come out in fall it's perhaps fitting that Paul Westerberg has also given us the ultimate fall/drinking song. He sings as the hometown loser whose given up on doing something better with his life and is left to drink his fall into winter. This version is taken from the Inconcerated Live EP and was recorded live in Madison in the late 1980s. It's thrilling to hear a more lively take on the song with Westerberg playing electric guitar and the full band coming in at the end. Slim Dunlap's faux-country solo is perfectly suited to the song and it's thrilling to hear a full throated audience singing along behind the band. They even help Westerberg as he slurs his way through the lyrics, personifying as well as playing one of his greatest songs.