Songs for Autumn

A roundup of favorite fall tunes from Freeform Portland DJ’s:

DJ Noah Fence

If I were to make for you an Autumn playlist, I have to imagine it would include music from the likes of Davy Graham, Nick Drake, Pentangle, David Axelrod, & Van Morrison, to name a few. 

Autumn is a time of change and fantastic colors. Leaves on trees adopt many different shades of green, orange, red, and yellow as they ready themselves for winter. Sunrises and sunsets verge on dramatic, a palette of reds and oranges thrown up against gathering clouds. 

The lead off track on any playlist has to be a strong one. Something to hook the interest of the listener, something that leads them into a world that the playlist creates. Considering the season, I would choose “Strength of strings” by Gene Clark as my lead track.

The song comes from his album, “No Other,” which was released in 1974. The album is rumored to have cost close to $100,000 to have been recorded, and was a commercial flop. Over the years since the initial release, the album has rightfully become a critical favorite. It is worth noting that the album had an influence on Ivo Russell-Watts, who ran the record label, 4AD. His project, This Mortal Coil, covered the song to great effect.

It’s a powerful song, with psychedelic influences that carries the listener into a world of music itself. A world of beauty and sadness, like Autumn itself.

DJ Eagle Dog

DJ Forest Punk

Billie Holiday – “Autumn In New York” 

When it comes to identifying themes in music, you’ve got three main options. There’s music that overtly references whatever theme or topic you’re researching, in this case autumn or the fall. Then you’ve got music that has a similar feel to the theme you’re investigating. Finally, you’ve got music with autobiographical resonance, which is going to be the most subjective of the three approaches. 

I’ve been reflecting a lot on what is “autumnal music” while working on a feature for Forestpunk, my music blog. I’ve been digging out as many albums with fall vibes as possible, so have had a lot of opportunity to reflect on what’s the most fall-like music. Simply looking for albums adorned with leaves of burned orange, gold, and scarlet will lead you to a lot of garbage New Age samplers and adult contemporary light jazz, probably commissioned for drinking Pinot Noir next to a fireplace in some sterile modern living room. 

Billie Holiday’s take on Irving Berlin’s “Autumn In New York” manages to fit all three of these criteria. First off, the association’s right there in the title. It’s one of the first things that comes up when you type in ‘autumn music.’ The substance matches the style, in this instance. The lyrics are dripping with autumnal splendour, the “gleaming rooftops” and crowds huddling against the increasingly-chill winds, lovers “blessing the dark on the benches of Central Park.” 

Musically, “Autumn In New York” matches its topic well. Billie’s vocals seem to float on the air, like exhaust and cigarette smoke on 5th Avenue. Oscar Peterson’s piano seems to dwell in its own little world, floating in luxurious half-time like a leaf spiralling in slow-motion on northern breezes. Billie Holiday’s vocals also manage to capture all of the wistfulness, the hope that comes with the onset of the cold, dark half of the year. When you have hope you’ll find companionship for the holidays, someone to snuggle next to a fire (even if it’s in a minimalist modern living room.)  

“Autumn In New York” also has personal resonance that makes it stand out when I think of music for the fall. My Mom always talked about wanting to take a vacation to New England in the fall to see the pyrotechnic kaleidoscope of breathtaking autumn foliage, as maple trees explode into a riot of hues and shades, all the colors of the dusk, like a sunset writ in foliage, splayed out in slow motion. I’m not sure if she’s managed to realize that dream or not. I think she may have. Regardless, she supplanted the goal onto the next generation. I still hope to make it, one of these years. In the meantime, I’ll be dropping Lady Day on the hi-fi once the chill hits the air and travel in my imagination. 

DJ Odd Monster

DJ Ricardo Wang

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