By Drew DeBerry
Well, folks, it’s officially fall (also known as the best time of the year). It’s time to bust out the flannel, and the cardigans while sipping apple cider and pumpkin spice lattes. This time of year always has a special place in my heart, whether it be the chilly, but still temperate weather, the beautiful changing of the leaves up in the Shenandoah Valley, or my annual excuse to make everyone close to me watch Fantastic Mr. Fox and Over the Garden Wall. Probably my favorite thing to do in the fall is to either walk or drive around in the mountains while listening to music that perfectly captures the essence of autumn. And today I have condensed a list of 12 albums that I think are perfect for fall, spanning goth, rap, jazz, and (of course) folk music. This list isn’t in any particular order (except maybe the top 3).
12. After the Gold Rush - Neil Young
As the biggest Neil Young fan under the age of 30, I feel the need to say that he is one of the most overlooked influential singer-songwriters of the 70’s. His music seamlessly combines folk, rock, and country in a unique and interesting way that I adore. He is also a wizard on the guitar, the crazy jam sessions he would do with his on and off again backing band, Crazy Horse, are some of his finest moments, even leading him to earn the nickname “Godfather of Grunge”. That being said After the Gold Rush is probably his most stripped-back album. Mainly featuring acoustic guitar and his unconventional vocal stylings. While the instrumentation may be sparse, these songs are some of his most atmospheric and hauntingly beautiful to this day. “Tell Me Why” is probably my favorite song on the album, as it’s a great example of how much Neil Young can do with so little. Songs such as the title track, “Birds” and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” also have this warm and inviting vibe that is very reminiscent of fall for me. I would be remised if I didn’t mention the most electric and energetic song on the album “Southern Man” a song addressing the civil rights issues present in the South at the time, which led to a response song by a little Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd (Sweet Home Alabama ring a bell?). In summation, this is a great album for walking around and just appreciating the world around you and I adore it for that reason.
11. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
When I started making this list I knew Vampire Weekend would make an appearance, in fact, I almost put Modern Vampires of the City in this spot instead. While I honestly prefer Modern Vampires to their self-titled debut, I feel as if this album fits the vibe of fall a lot better. This is the quintessential back-to-school album in my opinion. This is no surprise given the bands' beginnings as college students at Columbia University. This whole album just has a preppy New England liberal arts college flair to it that I’ve always found quirky and fun and it just hits different with that crisp fall air.. Songs like “Oxford Comma”, “Campus” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” directly reference these themes as well. This album does a lot to distinguish itself from the other indie-pop coming out in the late 2000s. “M-79” has these fancy baroque touches, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” has some noticeable Afro-pop influences, and “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” shows off the bands' songwriting chops. Whenever I’m feeling delusional and want to pretend that I’m at a small liberal arts college in New England and not a large public university in Appalachia, this album is almost always my go-to.
10. Townes van Zandt - Townes Van Zandt
Anyone who says “I listen to everything except country” needs to listen to this album. Country has really gotten a bad rep in the past few years due to how manufactured and vapid a lot of current mainstream country music can feel. In contrast, this album is one of the most genuine and authentic albums I’ve ever heard. Van Zandt has one of my favorite voices not just in country music, but music in general. Every lyric that comes out of his mouth is delivered with such an emotional, yet melodic timbre that cuts straight to your soul. Unlike the last album I talked about, this is not a happy album. With the exception of some optimistic bright spots like the sweet love song “I’ll Be Here in the Morning” and “Colorado Girl”, this album focuses on some dark material. The song “Waiting Around to Die” chronicles the story of a wayward soul who spirals into alcoholism and drug addiction (which eerily reflects the life of Van Zandt himself). It’s one of the hardest-hitting songs I’ve ever heard. The line
“ I got me a friend at last. He don't steal or cheat or drink or lie. His name is Codeine and he's the nicest thing I've seen and together we're gonna wait around to die.” hits like a ton of bricks and still sends chills up my spine. Other songs on the album, such as “Lungs” and “Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel” detail Van Zandt’s troubles with women, mental health, and alcoholism, while also sounding absolutely divine. Being a stressed college student, there are times when I just need to get away from all of the commotion of college life and this album is perfect for introspection. One of my go-to things to do when I’m feeling overwhelmed in the autumn months is to drive around Harrisonburg and some of the surrounding areas and admire the beautiful leaves with this album playing.
9. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
Channel Orange is a bit more of an unconventional pick for this list. It’s not the first album that many people seem to think about as a ‘fall album’. This pick is a little bit more from my personal experience. 2018-2019 was the peak of my Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean, Brockhampton obsession, and also 2 of the years I did marching band in high school (shoutout to the Grafton Clipper Band). This album always evokes memories of riding the bus to go to high school football games on Friday nights and raiding the local WaWa for snacks before the game. It’s a nostalgic album that takes me back to a simpler time. “Sweet Life”, “Crack Rock” and “Lost” are all fun, mid-tempo R&B songs on this album that just feel very comfortable and cozy to me. “Super Rich Kids” is my personal favorite on the album, being very tongue-in-cheek and also a complete banger with that Elton John sample. In summation, this album has a very “Friday night lights” feel that brings me back to the last few years before the pandemic when my biggest worry was when Brockhampton was gonna release a follow-up to Saturation 3.
8. Undercurrent - Bill Evans and Jim Hall
I had to get some jazz appreciation on this list. This is the only fully instrumental album that will be making an appearance on this list and it is here for a good reason. This album is extremely intimate and stripped back, with Bill Evans and Jim Hall being the only musicians on the entire album, yet this album still feels so full. Bill Evans’ vibrant pianos blend so immaculately with Jim Hall’s impeccable yet warm guitar playing. “Skating in Central Park” is a very delicate and beautiful track that just makes you want to stop and appreciate life and the world around you. This album also delivers excellent and creative covers of some jazz standards such as “My Funny Valentine”, “I Hear a Rhapsody” and “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”. The historical context of this album (on top of the sound of course) is the reason this album so strongly resembles autumn to me. This was Bill Evans’ first album that he recorded following the death of one of his bandmates/collaborators, Scott LaFaro. This death left Evans “numb with grief” and this album was his way of processing said grief and moving forward. The way that is expressed with no words and just two instruments is masterful and gives this album a ‘changing with the seasons’ vibe that makes me associate it with autumn.
7. Windswept Adan - Ichiki Aoba
If I had to pick a word to describe this album it would be fantastical. It just has an ethereal and magical quality to it that makes it sound like music from a fantasy movie. This album for whatever reason has become closely associated with the movie Coraline in my mind. This album just reminds me a lot of the soundtrack for that movie and Coraline is a must-watch for me around Halloween. This album is folk at its core but also has beautiful vocals that almost feel like an instrumental in and of themselves. This album also incorporates other elements not typically associated with folk, such as the harp, the flute, and a wonderful string quartet. “Dawn of the Adan” is a great example of these elements all coming together to create a mystical and magical track. “Pilgrimage” feels like a mix between a track from the Minecraft soundtrack and the Coraline soundtrack, and as a Gen Z kid, I am all here for it. This album also has a lot of ambiance to it, with the track “Parfum d’etoiles” having noise from a park early in the morning in the background to complement the raw, beautiful piano that sounds so authentic and unedited that you can basically hear the keys getting pressed down. This is a wonderful and ethereal album to get lost in during this autumn season.
6. Rubber Soul - The Beatles
I know I am not reinventing the wheel by saying that The Beatles were a great band but I did want to highlight one of their most underrated albums. I feel like this album is the happy medium between the bands' more traditional pop-rock material and the more experimental and out-there work that they would make in the following years. I will always have a soft spot for Abbey Road, but I honestly think that besides that, this might be my favorite Beatles album and it is the OG fall-core album. I mean just look at the album cover, the orange (and extremely dated) lettering just screams fall and the Fab Four are all in their sweaters and jackets. Highlights like “Nowhere Man”, “Drive My Car” and “I’m Looking Through You” take The Beatles' bread and butter and combine it with some new instrumentation. The resulting sound is very comforting, and fun and just hits differently when it’s 55 degrees out with a chai latte in hand. “Michelle” has an iconic melody and bassline and gets stuck in my head about 4 times a week. “Norweigan Wood” introduces the sitar to The Beatles repertoire and for that, I couldn’t be more thankful. It is such a fantastic track and would feel empty without that little bit of flair and Eastern influence. “In My Life” is my favorite song on the album lyrically and shows a lot of maturity from the band's earlier days and alludes to the direction the band's lyrical material would go on future records. Anyways this album solos Sgt. Peppers but I don’t think the world is ready for that conversation yet.
5. Seventeen Seconds - The Cure
One of the biggest parts of autumn that I’m yet to mention is the spooky season; HALLOWEEN. And for me, there is nothing more “Halloween” than some good old-fashioned goth music. This spot very nearly went for Bauhaus’ In the Flat Field as my designated spooky pick but I ended up opting for the more atmospheric Sixteen Seconds by The Cure instead. A picture can speak a thousand words and nowhere is that shown better than the album cover for this album. The late fall forest draped in fog with plenty of blur and confusion embodies the aesthetic and sound of this album perfectly. The music on this album is drenched in reverb that keeps everything sounding dark, mysterious and (of course) gothic. This album just feels so delightfully eerie and macabre in a way that only The Cure does. This album is The Cure’s first experimentation with synthesizers and it really pays off by adding a fun touch to songs like the slow-building ‘In Your House’ and ‘At Night’. The song ‘Play for Today’ is extremely underrated, it’s probably one of my favorite songs by the band and it has a bassline that is a constant earworm for me. ‘A Forest’ is a song perfect for walking around on a chilly, overcast day and acting dark and mysterious with its guitars and bass drenched in echoes and reverb. ‘M’ is another song that I can never get enough of and has an infectious melody. This album is such a great experience when you’re listening all the way through it as it flows together effortlessly. With that said, Seventeen Seconds is the designated spooky pick of the list.
4. Souvlaki - Slowdive
Keeping in the general vein of post-punk, I have one of the most iconic shoegaze albums of the 90s. Along with Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, this is one of the first albums that comes to people's minds when you say the word ‘shoegaze’ and that’s for very good reason. This album feels very foggy and hazy while also feeling vaguely cozy and nostalgic for me. Unlike Loveless which has lots of droning guitars and is more in your face, Souvlaki has always been the more spacey and atmospheric alternative for me and I think that’s why I correlate it so closely with fall. Songs like ‘Machine Gun’, ‘40 Days’ and ‘Altogether’ are mellow slow burns that have a very inviting and cozy quality to them. The heaviest song ‘Souvlaki Space Station’ still has an otherworldly and hypnotic feel to it with its repetitive percussion and swinging guitars. The most ‘autumn’ songs on this album for me however are the first and the last. ‘Alison’ is one of the more catchy songs on this album and is one of my go-to songs to listen to while walking to class in these autumn months. ‘Dagger’ on the other hand is easily the most reserved and cold song on the album. Slowdive took an acoustic guitar ballad with some light piano backing and made it into one of the most chilling and haunting songs I’ve ever heard and I get goosebumps every time I listen to it. Souvlaki is a shoegaze essential and I highly recommend entering it into your rotation this autumn.
3. Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon and Garfunkel
Let’s be honest, I could put just about any Simon and Garfunkel album here and it would make sense. This folk duo’s music was made to be enjoyed when it's just a bit chilly, just a bit windy and the leaves are changing color. In the end, I went with their final album ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. I was relatively unfamiliar with Simon and Garfunkel before college, I obviously knew Mrs. Robinson and Sound of Silence but that was about it. It wasn’t until one of my college roommates introduced me to this album that I fully understood why they are so beloved. This album takes the edge over their earlier work for me because there’s just enough variation in the tracks here that it keeps the album fresh and interesting. The instrumentation is a lot more diverse with pan flutes appearing on ‘El Condor Pasa’ and the stomp-clap percussion of ‘Cecilia’. ‘The Boxer’ is such a wonderful and atmospheric little track that tells a great story and it is a mainstay in my fall playlist on Spotify because of it. ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ might be one of Paul Simons’ finest moments as far as songwriting goes and it simply sounds angelic thanks to the backing vocals. And of course, I would be insane to not mention the title track ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. I can say with no exaggeration whatsoever that this song is one of my top 5 favorite songs ever. The way the lyrics of this song detail a tribute to the duo's friendship as the band was falling apart and would break up shortly after this album is simply next level. It gives the song so many layers and makes it hit that much harder. The piano intro at the beginning is perfect, the vocals are perfect and the crescendo to that final verse leaves me on the verge of tears almost every time. Perfect song, no notes. This album is high on the list for me, partially because I was obsessed with it last fall semester. I’d found it on vinyl at a record shop for 15 dollars and would listen to it constantly when I studied. Because of that, this album will always be tied to this time of year for me. If you haven’t already listened to this absolute classic this is your sign to change that.
2. Helplessness Blues - Fleet Foxes
Similar to Simon and Garfunkel, Fleet Foxes are a quintessential autumn band and any of their albums could have gone here. I ended up going with my personal favorite by them, Helplessness Blues. This album is where Fleet Foxes really perfected their mix of folk and baroque pop that they were building on their debut album. The opener, ‘Montezuma’ is a perfect introduction to the sound of this album with its beautiful backing vocals and very open and earthy instrumental. The entire album manages to sound both vintage and fresh which is quite a feat to pull off. ‘Bedouin Dress’ is a fun fiddle jig that lightens things up from the opening track, ‘Lorelai’ is a light song with a waltz feel and some really pleasant flutes, ‘The Cascades’ is an instrumental that features the mandolin and is so lush and vibrant that I often forget that it is wordless. This album has such dense instrumentation, I feel like each song has such a variety of sounds collaborating to make a very lush and ornate package. My favorite aspect of this album, however, is undeniably the lyrics. This album deals with a lot of themes of maturing and adulthood and the confusion that comes along with it, and as a 20-year-old college student, I can heavily relate to this content. On ‘Montezuma’ the lead singer envisions himself as older and reflects on his life in a very introspective and beautiful way. The last three tracks show the lead singer realizing a relationship is coming to an end (‘The Shrine / An Argument’), the existentialism and sense of dread he felt (‘Blue Spotted Tail’), and his eventual peace and acceptance that he reaches (‘Grown Ocean’). This three-song suite is truly a marvel but my favorite song on this album is undeniably the title track. This song chronicles how the protagonist grows up thinking he is special, but how as he grows as a man he realizes that maybe he isn’t as special as he thought but that maybe that’s okay. Everyone has experienced the conflict of wanting to conform to society but also wanting to chase their aspirations and dreams and I’ve never seen that sentiment captured so perfectly in a song. The struggle to realize one's identity is something that made me gravitate towards this album during my first semester at college. I’d already been a fan of Fleet Foxes in high school, but it was really that first semester at college that established the importance of this album to me.
1. Punisher - Phoebe Bridgers
I told myself I was going to stray away from predictable picks on this list but I had to make a few exceptions and this is definitely one of them. Punisher is my favorite album of the 2020s so far and it has a special place in my heart that very few albums have. This album came out during a very hard time in my life and it was a comforting presence for me at a very uncomfortable and stressful time in my life. Phoebe is an incredible storyteller, whether it’s her relationship with her father on ‘Kyoto’, giving up herself for someone who doesn’t reciprocate on ‘Moon Song’, or the apocalyptic musings of ‘I Know the End’ she knows how to weave a compelling story in a 4-minute song in a way few others can. ‘Savior Complex’ brilliantly illustrates what it's like to be in a toxic and codependent relationship and has some of my favorite instrumentation on the entire album. The title track ‘Punisher’ will always have a special place in my heart because it is a tribute to one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters, the late Elliott Smith. This is the rare album where almost every song on it has been considered “my favorite” at some point in time but right now I’m gravitating towards ‘Graceland Too’, an acoustic guitar ballad featuring a lovely banjo accompaniment. It’s such an intimate and honest song and I love the heartland vibe present on this track. This album for me very much represents moving on from a painful period of time and coming out a stronger person because of it. Whether it be personal strife or a break-up. In that way, this album is a “changing of the seasons” album for me and that’s part of why I associate it so heavily with fall. The folk influences on this album also give this album a very Appalachian and midwestern feel which also makes this album feel autumnal. In my freshman year of college, I put this album on during my trip back to my hometown after fall break and ever since then, I feel the urge to listen to it any time that I’m up in the mountains when the autumn leaves are falling. The amount of euphoria and nostalgia this album gives me is unmatched and it is both the perfect road trip album and the perfect autumn album in my opinion.
I hope you folks enjoyed this list, I have been working on it throughout the last month or so and I feel like it turned out pretty good. Thanks for reading and be sure to tune into WXJM, 88.7 on your FM dial!!