A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Ah, September 22… the Autumn is finally upon us. The leaves will soon be changing, lazy drifting on languid breezes shortly to be crunched underfoot, while the scent of woodsmokes accumulates in the deepening chill of the air.
Here at Forestpunk, we are obsessed with the Autumn and all the things that come with it, as it’s the beginning of the “Dark Side” of the year, when nights get longer and days get spookier. We’ve got big plans and high hopes for this year’s spooky season, so we’re kicking things off with a list of 15 essential albums of autumn music to populate your playlists and set your imaginations ablaze like leafy bonfires.
What happens when the summer ends…
In the United States, Autumn means football. The smell of burning leaves, moist air, and freshly clipped lawn automatically conjures images of slanting Friday night lights, the sound of gridlock, metal connecting with bone, the sharp pistol crack of marching snares – no matter how you might feel about sports.
The name is just the first reason why the short-lived American Football brings to mind the third season, however. First of all, the intricate math rock/post-rock arrangements have a reminiscent quality, all chiming harmonics and orchestral flourishes, which are driven by Steve Lamos’ intricate polyrhythmic drumming like a V8, giving the sensation of driving towards the horizon while, simultaneously, dreaming about yr past.
American Football deserve a shout-out for the tragically short period where emo was actually good and interesting, from the school of what has come to be known as “midwest emo.” Members of American Football are masters of Midwest Emo, also playing in similar bands like Joan of Arc. It brings to mind a time when precision, mellowness, and slack were not mutually exclusive.
Like our call for a return of indietronica further downstream, with Four Tet’s Rounds, can we have a Midwest Emo/post-rock resurgence while we’re at it?
Epic autumnal ambient rock from the City Of Angels.
Los Angeles is an unlikely source of anything autumnal, unless it had been carefully constructed on some soundstage. Otherwise, it stays hot and dry and clear and sunny no matter what. It’s an unlikely place for a band called The Autumns to hail from.
Maybe they want it more. Maybe they have to create a special October Country of the imagination. Whatever the cause, this short-lived band from L.A. live up to the spirit of autumn in more than name only. They also offer a unique take on it, playing a kind of ambient art rock a la Coldplay – full of soaring guitar leads and frosty romantic vocals. It’s a uniquely early-2000s sound that you don’t hear a lot anymore, slightly more muscular and solid than the misty ethereality of many of the entries on this list.
Don’t let the slightly lofty title fool you, this is post-Projekt/Cocteau Twins ethereal wave at its finest.
Can you really make a list of autumn music and leave off a band called Autumn’s Grey Solace? And yet, even though the name’s entirely on the nose there’s still no telling if:
Luckily for us – and for anybody who appreciates autumnal music – Within The Depths Of A Darkened Forest is both. In leagues and droves.
Autumn’s Grey Solace is that all-too-rare of birds – a Cocteau Twins-esque dream pop/ethereal wave band that is actually good. If you were a goth kid in the 90s you may’ve had the experience of blindly buying Projekt Records, crossing yr fingers and hoping for the best. The success rate was probably lower than 50%, all too tragically. It’s hard to say what’s so hard to capture about high, sweet female vocals over moody, mystial synths and Cure-like post-punk. Whatever that magical pumpkin spice may be, Autumn’s Grey Solace has it in volumes.
Within The Depths Of A Darkened Forest is a suitable name for this autumnal splendour, sounding less like the honeyed sunshine and golden leaves of September and more like some crepuscular forest clearing, populated with marble satyr statues and corinthian columns, stained and rusted by rotting leaves and choked with ivy.
Belle and Sebastian’s second album sums up the many contradictions of autumn.
Autumn is full of contradictions – reminiscent/anticipatory; innocent/sordid; cozy/malevolent. Somehow Belle and Sebastian’s second full-length manages to check all these boxes over the span of its duration – while still sounding delightfully mellow, warm, and inviting as a snug fireplace.
Songs like “Stars and Track and Field” manage to bring to mind the fresh-faced excitement of a brand-new school year while, simultaneously, owning up to how fucked up young adults can be. Others track the often head-scratching complexity of young relationships, like “Seeing Other People.”
Belle and Sebastian seem to be aware, and even play with, these contradictions. Like the adage to “don’t look back/like Dylan in the movies,” while If You’re Feeling Sinister – and much of B&S’ entire career – has done nothing but.
Mostly, If You’re Feeling Sinister is music for dreamers. For people who live through novels and records, dreaming of lives unlived, kisses unkissed, romances unhad. It’s also the perfect soundtrack for kicking through piles of leaves, with or without company.
Essential indie folk for steamed windows and hot drinks and handholding.
Maybe it’s due to the genre’s popularity in cafes, but indie folk just seems to scream fogged windows and foamy highly caffeinated drinks, of wearing cute sweaters and staying out after dark reading novels and philosophies. It hints at intimacy, at the promise of love born in long, leaf-strewn walks and late nights under pinprick stars.
While there are hundreds of indie folk albums that belong on this list of the best autumn music – the whole genre, arguably – perhaps none are so iconic as Bon Iver’s first record For Emma, Forever Ago. Perhaps we might be mixing in a bit of autobiography here, as For Emma was absolutely everywhere in 2007 when it was first released, although still more underground than Justin Vernon would go on to become.
Even apart from its popularity, and its associations, For Emma, Forever Ago sounds like the autumn, like low-hanging mist over the floor of some Norwegian forest, like woodsmoke hanging on still breeze. Haunting and bewitched, but with a human heart beating in the fog.
Like watching the plays of light on Monet’s Haystacks, Andrew Chalk’s Time Of Hayfield is music for the early autumn – for harvest times and the shifting kaleidoscope of the changing leaves.
It’s also some of the most gorgeous autumn ambient/drone you’re likely to hear, full of starry synths and glowing drones, like the mesmerizing bed of a dying campfire. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to turn yr world into a Keats poem; every ride into a hayride, every walk into a magical, mystical walk in the 100 Acre Woods, give Time Of Hayfield a listen.
From the Arcimboldo-esque album art to October-referencing lyrics, Bonfires On The Heath just SCREAMS “autumn music,” – so much so that it’ll make you feel as if it’s the middle of October even in the height of summer. So autumnal is Bonfires that it seems almost like a collection of short stories, illustrating different aspects of the season – the ghostly workers of “Harvest Time,”; the fire-jumping youths of the title track.
Like several other members of this list, most of The Clientele’s nostalgic indie rock could be described as “autumn music” or would sound at home from September to November. Don’t take this to mean precocious or twee, though, Bonfires on the Heath is surprisingly funky, with a tendency towards jazz/funk upstrokes courtesy of Alasdair Maclean’s guitar, especially when paired Mark Keen’s breakbeat-worthy funky drumming.
Way too blue…
Nick Drake’s entire, and entirely too short, discography deserve to be listed among the best autumn music of all time, but if we have to pick just one, we’re going with Nick Drake’s first album Five Leaves Left, largely due to the foliage-related album title. It’s also a great place to start with Drake’s material, for any who are not yet familiar, as it finds the sweet spot between the sometimes overblown production of Joe Boyd’s sweetening and Nick Drake’s often stark, nearly skeletal beauty.
The arrangements on Five Leaves Left make the album especially pertinent for autumn listening. Like the cello on “The Cello Song”, drifting, swaying, and following with a descending motif like a dry leaf on the breeze. Or the high, clear flute of “The Thoughts Of Mary Jane,” which is about as pastoral as it gets, this side of a Grieg or Vivaldi symphony.
Perhaps consider Five Leaves Left autumn music for the beginning of Fall, when life is still full of hope and magic and wonder. Pink Moon, on the other hand, might be the soundtrack for late autumn, when no leaves are left, when the day is done in earnest.
Don’t let the band name fool you, much of Richard Adams’ solo slowcore is just as fitting for falling leaves as for snow crunching under foot, if not more so. The autumn lends itself to remembering, for reminiscing and taking stock of yr life. Home For Lost Souls sounds something like visiting yr hometown and discovering how much you’ve changed AND how little some things ever do.
Wistful and melancholic in turns, several albums in The Declining Winter’s catalog make for good autumn music but we went with Home For Lost Souls for its bruised, brooding album art of skeletal trees.
Blazing black metal for the blaze of colours in the trees.
Much of the autumn music we’ve discussed so far has erred towards the sweet and cute, the nostalgic and the reminiscent. The Autumn isn’t just about cuteness and being cozy, though. The season does contain Halloween/Samhain/All Hallow’s Eve. It’s a dark, sinister time of year, when the nights start to get longer, deeper, colder. The wind sighs with dead leaves like the whisper of mad spectres. Loneliness, isolation, regret, burning anger… these are all parts of the Autumn.
Black metal is almost as omnipresent in autumn music as indie folk. One could easily fill 100 pages just writing about autumnal black metal.
For the sake of this list of best albums for autumn, though, we’re going with Autumn Aurora by Ukraine’s Drudkh for a number of reasons:
Autumn Aurora splits the difference between Empyrium-style dark folk/folk metal, and burning, transcendent atmospheric black metal. It sounds like autumnal trees burning not just with changing leaves but with towering flames. This is music for witchcraft, for woodland rituals, for dark deeds in the dead of night.
Autumnal dark folk from black metal wizards Empyrium.
We’re great fans of dark folk here at Forestpunk – in fact, that’s one of the reasons this blog exists in the first place. Too often, folk music is branded as something all-too-clean, polite, bright, and sunshiny. Folk music as lifestyle accessory, which totally overlooks the magick and mystery and menace and malevolence so common in folk music and folklore.
Where At Night The Wood Grouse Plays is the third album from German black metalheads Empyrium. Here, they hang up the blastbeats and distortion pedals in favour of acoustic guitars and flutes. Although the mask may look for different, the spirit is still the same, with a penchant for nature worship and worshipping the wheel of the year. It’s hauntingly beautiful stuff and a reminder you don’t need a bunch of expensive equipment or tricky production to create something beautiful, imaginative, and evocative.
Gorgeous pastoral folktronica, perfect for reminiscing, studying, or extended cuddle sessions.
Ah, folktronica – that brief-lived genre, gone too soon, reaped before it could truly ripen on the vine. The mixture of imagination and innocence, whimsy and wonder and weirdness common to many of the folktronica/IDM albums of the early 2000s make for a glorious autumnal soundtrack, however, so if you’ve been looking for an opportunity to experience a folktronica/IDM revival, now’s yr chance.
Rounds from Four Tet remains a highpoint of both folktronica and 21st-Century IDM as a whole. Kieran Hebden’s penchant for harps and glockenspiels give much of rounds a madcap Fisher Price animated by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice fairytale innocence while the ever-shifting, shuffling beats constantly churn underfoot like dry leaves on an October breeze. It remains one of Four Tet’s most striking moments and it’s not hard to imagine why it captured so many hearts and imaginations.
And, if the Gods happen to be taking supplications today, might it be time to consider a folktronica/IDM/freak folk/New Weird America revival?
The Queen of Neo-Noir gets the pastoral treatment with Talk Talk’s Paul Webb on Out Of Season
Albums with “season” in the title are always an easy pick for seasonal lists – see: Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons for example. Beth Gibbons’ unfortunately sole solo album sounds especially autumnal, however, thanks to the orchestral arrangements from Talk Talk’s Paul Webb, who shows up here as Rustin Mann. Webb’s strings and flutes and oboes overfloweth like a cornucopia, making a chillingly compelling setting for Gibbons’ trademarked jazzy vocals. Whereas Gibbons’ work with Portishead sounds like she’s slinking through foggy alleys and beneath lonesome nightlights, Out Of Season sounds like walking ‘cross rolling hillsides, beneath grape arbours, and into hushed, emerald forests. It’s more Alice In Wonderland than Nightmare Alley and, to be blunt, it’s goddam lovely.
Whereas Gibbons’ work with Portishead sounds like she’s slinking through foggy alleys and beneath lonesome nightlights, Out Of Season sounds like walking ‘cross rolling hillsides, beneath grape arbours, and into hushed, emerald forests. It’s more Alice In Wonderland than Nightmare Alley and, to be blunt, it’s goddam lovely.
It seems like such a missed opportunity that we’ve not had more music like this from Ms. Gibbons but, let us not be ungrateful, and cherish Out Of Season all the more because of it.
Gorgeous drifting longform drones reflecting an autumnal forest.
Nothing stays the same in the autumn. Every day, the leaves track the fading sun in burning scarlet and pumpkin orange and golden yellows, slowly fading from opulence to dust. And yet – our experience of it is as of something constant, not even noticing the ever-changing kaleidoscope happening around us.
That’s part of what makes Marsen Jules’ The Endless Change Of Colour such an achievement – not to mention simply being one of the most gorgeous, mesmerizing albums of autumn music you’ll ever hear. Jules uses a lexicon of glassy pads and low, murmuring drones to create the sensation of watching a time-lapsed photograph of trees in autumn unfurl before your eyes.
It’s as light and as delicate as morning fog, as dewdrops on the spider’s web, as woodsmoke on the breeze, but you’ll be feeling its impact long after the sun has slipped below the horizon.
Some of the most masterful recordings of Chopin’s Nocturnes ever laid to tape.
Autumn is often associated with adulthood, with thinking back and pondering on things as the nights get longer and the days get colder. The fall is synonymous with remembering and assessing, making the joys of autumn bittersweet, like the cold sweet juice of a harvest apple joined by a razor blade kiss.
What could be more reminiscent than Frederic Chopin’s Nocturnes, which seem to cast a shadow wherever they’re seen, trailing the scent of sandalwood and primrose and lilac.
Chopin’s Nocturnes are always poetic but they really spring to life under Arthur Rubinstein’s fingers. Long, poignant pauses give way to lightning spirals of ascending arpeggios, like rainbow trout flashing under a sweet September sun. Whisper quiet plaintiff melodies, full of regret and imagination, suddenly surrender to thundering battalions of crashing chords. It’s like an encyclopedia of human emotions, inked by one of the great poets of the human experience and rendered by one of the great masters, of any medium.
As thrilling as a Rodin, as moving as Ingmar Bergman film, Arthur Rubinstein’s recordings of Chopin’s Nocturnes simply cannot be missed.
Hushed, intimate baroque folk is the most autumnal thing this side of burning leaves & pumpkin spice.
Much like Nick Drake, mentioned earlier, most of Simon and Garfunkel’s discography qualify to be listed among the greatest autumn albums ever made, so it’s hard to pick just one. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme makes the cut, however, solely for album opened “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” alone. The harpsichords and close harmonies make “Scarborough Fair” seem as if it could’ve been written in the 16th-century than the 1960s, and it would’ve been just as appropriate, and as stunning, in either era.
A number of other songs and themes seem seasonally appropriate as well, though. “Cloudy” is like an overcast day in song format. “Homeward Bound” automatically calls to mind childhood memories and the passage of time, not to mention loneliness and alienation. It’s as much Catcher in the Rye as threshing rye, and either association is appropriate for the Fall.
This list of autumn music isn’t in any way attempting to be definitive. Consider it the beginning of a conversation and the start of a few new exciting things we’ve got here in the works at Forestpunk.
In the meanwhile, what are some of your favourite autumn albums and songs? We’re working on some follow-ups to this that we hope to post throughout the season, so let us know in the comments or get in touch at @for3stpunk on Twitter!