Monday, October 27, 2014

Seasonal Genres: Autumn

My favorite thing about living in the midwest is the dichotomy between seasons.  Hoot and holler all you want about year-round 70s and sunshine, SoCal; I like my winters frigid and my summers so hot and humid you feel like you're walking through soup.  I love the first crisp autumn day, when the initial hints of winter arrive on the wind, and the first warm day of spring, when the shorts and skirts announce that we've survived another winter (and we want people to see our pasty, pale legs).  Each season offers its own unique features and activities as well: ballgames in the spring, beach days in the summer, Oktoberfests and haunted houses in the fall, and counting your digits to make sure you didn't lose any to frostbite when you took the dog outside for two minutes in the winter.  I LIKE the differences, and most importantly, I like the different soundtracking options that present themselves for each season.  Obviously, you can never go wrong listening to any genre of music at any point in the year, but we all know there's a musical sweet spot that exists, that time when your music lines up with your moment PERFECTLY, creating a near-orgasmic sensation of elation and serenity deep inside your cold, dark heart that didn't even know it could feel anymore.  Over the next few days, I'll be looking at the songs, genres, and bands that hit that sweet spot for each particular season.


I may as well start with the season we're in now.  Autumn is all about introspection, getting lost deep in thought as you walk down a street on a grey day with the leaves swirling about you, contemplating how everything ends without admitting that you are included in that "everything."  More than any other season, autumn encourages a feeling of intended isolation in which to ponder the ever-closer creeping darkness of winter.  In these situations, I find post-metal and doom metal to be the most reliable genres for listening.  Longer songs that give you time to get lost within your thoughts are a must, and obviously you want those longer songs to be the right mix of heavy and slower-tempo.  My personal favorite autumn band is Neurosis; I have a tradition where I walk to Lake Michigan, and sit and look at the lake while listening to The Eye of Every Storm and/or Times of Grace (Honor Found in Decay will likely make its debut this year).  "Burn," the first track on The Eye of Every Storm, is a perfect example; the vocals aren't present in the whole song, and when they are, they range from bellowed roars to muted near-whispers.  The swirling riffs and sounds of thunder give the song a dark texture, and the middle three minutes of quiet, ambient soundscapes allow you to slip into your subconcious before Scott Kelly's throaty howl rips you back to the moment.  Putting this in your ears while sitting on a rock and watching a large body of water is a magnificent experience.

Two more recent favorites of mine are the doom stylings of Pallbearer and Bell Witch.  Pallbearer needs little introduction around these parts, but both their debut album Sorrow and Extinction and this year's follow up Foundations of Burden are tremendous autumn records, moving between mournfully melodic passages and tear your heart out catharsis.  Their debut opens with sparse acoustic guitar chords, and closes with distorted riffs fading out; in between is a sonic journey of sorrow and feelings of loss.  Album closer "Given to the Grave" nails that sweet spot of limited vocals and intense, acute musical passages; there are fewer than ten lines of lyrics in the 10+ minute song, but the build up and denouement from the lyrical segment make the song incredibly powerful.

Bell Witch's full-length debut Longing is a bit shorter on the cathartic moments than Pallbearer, but that only adds to their impact when they do arrive.  Longing is over an hour of pitch black bleakness, punctuated by terrifying darkness and Vincent Price vocal samples ("Beneath the Mask," in which a scene from Price's The Masque of the Red Death is used to absolute unnerving perfection).  "Rows (Of Endless Flesh)" spends its first eight minutes in a dirge-like melancholy before opening up into a segment so vocally impassioned that it almost seems like a different band.  The end of "Rows" is the most up-tempo moment on Longing, and Bell Witch uses it to sterling effect.

The albums I've mentioned are absolutely worth listening to completely in one long listening session; I highly recommend taking a walk at dusk with any of these in your headphones.  The chill of autumn will be magnified, and the music will be heightened.  I know that autumn also has pumpkin patches and cider mills and all sorts of other fun daytime activities, but to me, autumn is signified by dusk; the days are getting shorter, the nights longer, and winter is coming.  So enjoy the increasing darkness, and ponder.

What are some of your favorite songs/bands/genres for Autumn?  Let us know in the comments.


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