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Songs That Swoop Like Vampires, Feast Like Vultures? It Must Be Autumn

Songs That Swoop Like Vampires, Feast Like Vultures? It Must Be Autumn

November 17, 2009

in Musical Musings

Autumn in the middle Atlantic — in the month of November, especially — it’s one of the most sensuous times of the year to live in this area. The leaves have shed their monochromatic green sheen, revealing their true colors in a palette that always captures my attention when it begins to appear, everything from the pale gold of the ginkgo trees, to the bright red and rouge on the maples, to the copper, rust, and deep russet of the oaks and sycamores. I never tire of gazing at such grandstanders.

By now, too, the humidity has relaxed its grip on the atmosphere, allowing the revitalizing breezes to circulate freely again, while still maintaining moisture enough in the air to draw out the pungent aromas of damp, loamy soil, moldering leaves, and other earthy confections. And the days and nights are still pleasant and inviting — no longer too hot and not yet too cold — so we leave the windows open whenever and for as long as we can, to take it all in.

Autumn also is a time when nostalgia is in full bloom. Maybe it has to do with the realization that the days are growing shorter, the nights longer, and the end (literally and figuratively speaking) is slouching toward us, along the horizon. Or maybe it’s because, no matter how well you cover your eyes and ears, you can’t blot out the announcements about “the most wonderful time of the year” (oh, good grief!) that have begun arriving, like flocks of riotous, trumpeting migratory birds. For whatever reason, there’s something about the fall that makes me think of (and even pine for) other times, and other places.

What’s the right medicament, then, for my predicament of natural wonder and neurotic wistfulness? A soundtrack, of course; specifically, a mixtape comprised of new tunes that I’ve picked up and listened to over the past 30 days or more. These are songs that in one way or another make me think of days gone by, old haunts, or cherished friendships, whether recent or reaching deep into the past. They’re songs that are perfect for a moment of quiet contemplation — call it “leaf-peeping pop music” — or that should be turned up while riding around with the top down, while you’re still able.

Be sure to click on each of the links below to sample the songs (open each as a new tab or window), and then follow the threads to find out where you can download them. Or you can listen to the playlist in its entirety, though in random order, at the Scribbleskiff page on the 8tracks Web site. Just click here, open as a new tab or window, and let the music play as you read along. Enjoy!

“Roslyn,” Bon Iver & St. Vincent, The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Ominous, dreamy, and foreboding — what better way to describe a song accompanying a movie about lovestruck teen vampires. And yet this wispy, waltzy little number, penned by two artists with pen names, is hardly dark or ghoulish. In fact, in the way Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Annie Clark (St. Vincent) meld their disparate talents into a singular, lilting, stripped-down ballad awash in lush, layered harmonies and muddy bass lines, this song could easily serve as music for a glittering, foggy fall morning.

“Blood,” The Middle East, The Recordings of The Middle East (EP). It’s hard to pinpoint an antecedent for this plucky little song by these Aussie newcomers. It begins in a folky, fey “Sounds of Silence” way — fluttery guitar picking, echoey, falsetto vocals, brushed snare. But then it gathers sound and momentum, adding more singers and instruments (an Autoharp, a xylophone, some percussion), building toward an Arcade Firey crescendo, only to pull its punches at the last second, dissolving back to near-silent sounds, the way Sufjan Stevens expertly does. Not sure what I mean? Hear it with your own eyes here.

“Too Young to Burn,” Sonny & The Sunsets, Tomorrow is Alright. What if The Rolling Stones hadn’t recorded Beggars Banquet and instead had collaborated on a record with The Supremes? It might have sounded a lot like this song, where a groovy, Motown-like backbeat supports bluesy, bare-bones guitar licks, peppered with lots of “Baby Love” handclaps, subtle girly doo-wops, and more. Beggars can’t be choosers, I know, but we can be dreamers.

“Raindrops (Matsuri),” Grand Hallway, Promenade. The opening moments of this song remind me of The Carpenters records my parents used to play, on rainy days, no doubt. It’s comforting to hear those familiar soft, male-female harmonies and jaunty piano chord-play again. But the tempo here soon quickens, and the instrumentation and melody structure take on a world-pop sophistication (think early Poi Dog Pondering) that Karen and Richard never would have attempted (or were allowed to achieve), a tribute to the collective power of this group, which includes members of several Seattle bands. Grand, indeed.

“Home,” Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Up From Below. Do you like homespun, folk-inspired, group-singing songs? If so, here’s a dew-ragful, at its liveliest, most affecting, and twee. Oozing bumpkin sentimentality, from the aw-shucks subject to the group’s “Hee-Haw” sensibility and sappy banter — you can almost hear the dopey Johnny-and-June dueters smiling at each other — it’s nonetheless infectious and comfy. In fact, each time I’ve played this playful ditty, churned out by a group of 10-plus musicians, it’s no less welcoming than the first. Y’all come back now!

“Feeling the Pull,” The Swell Season, Strict Joy. As a follow-up to their hugely successful soundtrack to (and starring roles in) the movie “Once,” Glen Hansard (The Frames) and Marketa Irglova are once again pouring out draughts of their swell, up-tempo, Irish-folk-inspired melodies. There’s no film to accompany the couple this time, but you don’t need visuals to see how his hard-strumming, rousing heartache is so effectively and affectionately soothed by her plaintive piano fingering and whispery harmonies. I’d bet that, given enough seasons, these two could make every break-up song sound like feel-good music.

“Heartbeat Radio,” Sondre Lerche. Heartbeat Radio. I’d guess this young Norwegian phenom listened to a lot of Barry Manilow and George Harrison records growing up. I have no way of proving my theory, but those ’70s stalwarts are the two main musical strains I hear flowing in and around this song — call it “Can’t Smile Without and Got My Mind Set on You.” Other influences peek out, too, from Elvis Costello to ELO, making this clever diatribe against the banality of FM radio even more heartfelt.

“When Did the Lights Go Out,” Pixie Carnation, Fresh Poems (EP). From the get-go, with its pounding drums and ringing guitar chords, this song gets in line with the great tradition of American roots-rock anthems that filled the airways in the 1980s. Except of course the band’s Scandinavian, which likely explains why, though a Tom Petty wannabe, it’s got better harmonies. There’s also just enough postpunk edginess (the kind perfected by the group name-checked in their moniker) to make it interesting and keep your head nodding along, in agreement.

“Last Dance,” The Raveonettes, In & Out of Control. Their name alone — Rave-on-ettes — should be a tip-off that this band (a duo, really) is a throwback to another era. But it’s their unique mix of ’60s girl-group charm and shoe-gazer values that makes them standouts to me. Take this incredibly catchy single as example: with its droning, spaced-out grooves and sunny chorus, it’s the happiest-sounding “choose-your-drug-habit-or-me” kiss-off songs I’ve ever heard.

“Cloudbusting,” Wild Nothing, Capture Tracks. I was a big fan of Kate Bush in college and have wondered lately where she’s gone, especially now, a time when her fantastically lyrical, dream-like songs would be in demand. This cut, the second single from her 1985 album Hounds of Love, and lovingly covered here in hazy, synth-pop layers by a young Virgina-based singer-songwriter, was one of my faves. Compare the new version with the original on this video, directed by Python trouper Terry Gilliam.

“Ashamed of the Story I Told,” The National, Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy. Does it matter whether you know who Mulcahy is or that this cover version of a song he recorded with his band Polaris can be found on a tribute album created as a fundraiser following a family tragedy? Does it affect your enjoyment of this haunting song, rendered here a little lovelier and less dirge-like than the original (hear that one here)? Not in the least. I’ve also heard and like Michael Stipe’s contribution, “Everything’s Coming Undone,” which reveals why Around the Sun may have sounded a bit like a solo project rather than REM’s 13th studio album.

“So Slowly,” Early Day Miners, The Treatment. Who are these guys? I don’t know or care, really. One thing I’m certain: despite (or maybe because of) the fact that their song offers an odd admixture of goofy ’70s glam and ’90s noisiness, I can’t stop playing it. It’s as if ABBA reunited to cover The Jesus and Mary Chain, or (more likely) the other way round, then added some Nuclear Daydream-era Joseph Arthur fuzzy-groovies and asked the ghost of Jimi Hendrix to light up the guitar-rowdy outro, and Shazam! Disco meets distortion. (That would require treatment for sure.)

“Good Ol’ Boredom,” Built to Spill, There Is No Enemy. It’s a rare band these days that puts the guitar out front. Too often that instrument, which until fairly recently had worked its way up from rhythm section to bandleader, now gets buried in the overall mix of melody and melodrama. Think about fogies like Mark Knopfler or Bonnie Raitt and you’ll get my meaning. But that’s never been an issue for these guys, who always deliver distinct, memorable guitar lines that — in the case of this wailer — make me think of high-wire acts like The Eagles at their soaring best.

“Mind Eraser, No Chaser,” Them Crooked Vultures, Mind Eraser, No Chaser. Remember when “rock and roll” meant loud music your parents told you to turn down, not soft songs you have to turn up to hear? For examples of the latter, look no farther than the opening tracks on this playlist (guilty). For the former, feast your eyes on these old buzzards — Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin). Their rock-god reputations precede them, for sure, but it’s nice to know they can still make old-fashioned, balls-to-the-walls, heavy-metal music that will make your ears bleed. Straight up!

So, there you have it, 15 new songs for the season of the senses. I encourage you (nay, implore you) to share these with your friends and family members — as a sign of thanksgiving, perhaps. It’s what the Indians did, remember?

And, as always, tell us what you think. Is there a new band that you’d like others to know more about? What’s your favorite song of November? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

And be sure to visit (and join) the Scribbleskiff page on Facebook (find it here), where you can partake in wall-to-wall conversations, find additional information and suggestions from readers, and more.

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