Seasonal Shifts

That time of year is creeping up again. The leaves are starting to change, the wasps are buzzing by windows, and the temperature has yet to drop. Indian summer lays heavy upon us. Like a veil, it keeps our minds on the summer, even as preparations for fall are made. As the days become shorter and the nights become longer, I change my attitude towards music. Often a complete genre shift is necessary. I begin listening to fall records, which tend to be not so different from my rainy day ones -- the tempos slow, the lyrics tend to be more poetic, if not more suggestive. They recall going back to school, good cups of hot cocoa in darkened kitchens, stretching out in the cool grass, bonfires ablaze; these images help us transition to Winter, when we are so often stuck in the house. Whereas Winter, especially January through March, finds me listening to heavier music, fall is perfect for slow and brooding jams. Literate lyrics and story-tellers mark the change of seasons.

Autumnal records probably take different forms for everyone. Some might not feel the shift at all, preferring to listen to their favorite bands over and over again, despite the season. But for those who feel the seasonal shift, different artists and albums cannot be denied. I always listen to the Weakerthans in September. John K. Samson's impressionistic lyrics and rural settings remind me of growing up in Wisconsin, where snowfall is just a blink away. He perfectly captures the minutiae and loneliness of small town existence, bringing new life to the drab palette of a country often gone fallow. Like Seth, the cartoonist, Samson's grey tone landscapes capture fall perfectly, while allowing for hope beyond the coming winter.

Canadian singer-songwriters capture the autumnal tone perfectly, and I find myself gravitating towards their work. Kathleen Edwards -- her record Voyageur should be on everyone's playlist this year -- and Hayden always drift seamlessly on to my turntable. They capture the vagaries of life's uncertainties, while exploring the hope that seems buried within their character's unsure lives. Marking the small moments of life on Voyageur, Edwards brings an urgency to her folky music. The opening salvo, "An Empty Threat," contains the lines "The hottest days in the Summer / Brought us here together / You know it's true / But this cold it's getting warmer / Maybe come September I will feel brand new." While Edwards struggles with inevitable change, she remains optimistic. Hayden covers similar ground, yet he is more concrete and definite. Whereas Edwards is open-ended in her proclamations, Hayden is more fatalistic; his songs capture smaller moments. His songs also recognize inevitable change, but the characters have less autonomy in the face of such inevitability. In "When the Night Came and Took Us," he sings "And in a week maybe less / you were packing your bags to leave / while you still knew the reasons you needed to /on the way to the train / you seemed to be brand new." While Edwards' characters narrate their own first-person stories, Hayden often tells his stories from the point of view of the lost and defeated.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention The Mountain Goats, Get Lonely, an album that captures hope, loss, and renewal against an autumnal backdrop like few others. I might even label it a perfect fall album. John Darnielle's lyrics are heartfelt without being cloying, as they have been on their newer releases. The album is rife with autumnal imagery: "shadows on the broad lawn, canopy of trees /sometime after midnight, the ground is gonna freeze (New Monster Avenue)," "Stole out to the back yard late last night /Pine trees frozen in the silvery moonlight / Rising like giants from the cold earth /What are the years we gave each other ever gonna be worth?," "Heard the screams from the high school /It's football season," to name just a few. Darnielle's images are so real that the album pulses with life from behind the scenes of regret and loss. On many Mountain Goats records, he tells wordy, literate stories about specific characters. For example, the married couple who have battled their way across numerous albums before meeting their ultimate dissolution on Tallahassee. Here Darnielle is less specific -- these songs could be about one character, an unnamed narrator at the end of a relationship. Yet most likely they are about different characters as they struggle through life; they could be about us.

Thus, they are perfect songs for fall. We each  face the coming seasons and the coming changes -- our very world is ordered around these changes. If we change our playlists with each changing season, we acknowledge the impermanence of time, but we also acknowledge our connections to our world. Yet a playlist does not have to lead to heady introspection. We listen to what we like when we want to. I don't make a complete shift to fall records, but there are records I dig out every fall. I wonder if different types of albums are more commonly released in different seasons. Do we get more metal in winter, more emo in spring, more country in summer? These questions are perhaps unanswerable. I just know the fall brings with it certain songs and albums. I sit by my window drinking hot cocoa listening to them, as the leaves fall and it grows cold.


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