The days are drawing in and we’ve done the annual rummage in the cupboard to locate our winter coats, meaning the weirdest summer on record is coming to an end. Now it’s the season of pumpkin spiced everything, snuggling up in oversized cardigans à la Taylor Swift and Halloween (even if everything going on in the world has meant the entirety of 2020 has felt like spooky season).
It also marks a shift in our listening habits. Gone are the shimmery belters perfect for a day on the beach or – in any other year – raving until 5am at a festival, and in their place are cosy, comforting records that’ll soundtrack evenings spent inside and the inevitable argument with your housemates over when to turn the heating on.
On the hunt for the perfect autumn accompaniment? We’ve got you. Here NME writers go deep on the best autumnal albums ever.
‘Astral Weeks’ (1968)
During the wet and windy weeks of October and November, all we really want is a bit of comfort. Step forward, ‘Astral Weeks’. Stuffed with soothing blues-folk ballads and poetic ruminations on the beauty of Belfast (Van Morrison’s hometown), this is the perfect record for lazy days spent on the sofa, tucked up in chunky knitwear with a steaming cup of tea in hand. Recorded by a crack team of jazz specialists in 1968, extended tracks like ‘Cyprus Avenue’ and ‘Madam George’ possess a dreamy quality that makes you feel like you’re floating down a stream on a li-lo. Anxious about work? Bills? A second lockdown? Allow Ireland’s most chilled out troubadour to croon the stress away.
‘The North Star Grassman And The Ravens’ (1971)
From its moody artwork – with esteemed British folkie and sometime Fairport Convention singer Sandy sat thoughtfully in a dimly lit apothecary – to the moody songs within, ‘The North Star Grassman And The Ravens’ couldn’t be more seasonal if it tried. Populated with wooded ravines and wandering streams, opening track ‘Late November’ is an autumn walk in a spooky forest come to life, while ‘Let’s Jump The Broomstick’ – a rocking tribute to pagan marriage – is the perfect prep for your next hillbilly Halloween.
‘The Colour in Anything’ (2016)
Scattered with softly droning synths and moaning melodies as it dances between silence and noise, the deep melancholy that runs through ‘The Colour in Anything’ makes it a perfect companion for nights spent by the fire or strolling through fallen leaves. From the jarring manipulations of ‘Always’ to the comforting sparseness of ‘I Need A Forest Fire’, the only place you want to listen to it is under a blanket, looking out onto a slowly darkening sky.
‘Blood on the Tracks’ (1975)
Autumn is primed to be break-up season. Summer flings cool down and the sun cruelly pisses off – even the leaves get the heebie-jeebies and throw themselves off branches and onto the dirty ground. ‘Blood on the Tracks’, then, is a defining break-up album for those sobering months. It’s bitter (‘Idiot Wind’), contemplative (‘Tangled Up In Blue’), remorseful (‘If You See Her, Say Hello’) but holds onto the idea of reconciliation (‘Buckets of Rain’) and the belief that the sun will shine again, but first, you have to make it through the cold and the mud.
‘Light Upon The Lake’ (2016)
While we all desperately want to squeeze the last drops out of summer, as soon as the calendar flips over to September there’s actually a cosy sense of comfort to be taken from the leaves turning brown, the nights drawing in and rediscovering your “winter coat”. Add “listen to ‘Light Upon The Lake’” to that list: Whitney’s exquisite 2016 indie-folk debut is exactly the kind of autumnal audio accompaniment you want to ease you into the chilly new season. Filled with rousing brass (the horns on ‘No Woman’!), serene song structures and plenty of uplifting, warming sentiment, it’s also an absolute breeze to listen to: 10 tracks, 30 minutes. Lovely stuff.
‘Exile in Guyville’ (1993)
Without a doubt, Autumn is the best time of year – besides hosting Virgo season, tis also the season for chucking crudely-made effigies onto bonfires, hacking up giant pumpkins, and throwing parties for dead spirits. Pretty metal. And when it comes to crunching angstily through a bed of decaying tree matter, I reckon that there’s no better companion than Liz Phair’s cultish ‘Exile in Guyville’ – a spiny beast of a record which undercut male-dominated rock music in the early ’90s, and gleefully basked in raunchiness. It sounds just as horny and deliciously pissed off 27 years later.
The Twilight Sad
‘Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters’ (2014)
A cult classic from Robert Smith’s favourite band, this immaculate debut from the Scottish miserablists is a towering wall of mesmeric shoegaze and pummelling post-punk, matched perfectly by frontman James Graham’s darkly romantic poetry about, well, shit falling apart. Play ‘Cold Days From The Birdhouse’, ‘Walking For Two Hours’ or ‘And She Would Darken The Memory’ and tell me this isn’t the perfect companion for crisp, chilly mornings and longer nights. Pour yourself a whiskey, wrap yourself up warm and get intimate with this perfect, autumnal masterpiece.
‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ (2008)
Leaves have started to turn brown and go crunchy beneath our feet and the weather begun to chill, but listening to ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ will bring a moment of warmth in this very uncertain Autumn. Evoking feelings of loss and love, this haunting album is one of unrivalled beauty. Take tunes like ‘The Wolves (Act I and II)’ and ‘Creature Fear’; they may feel like the loneliest tracks in the universe, yet they somehow provide comfort, with Vernon’s falsetto, echoing guitar rhythms and melancholic tones acting as the ideal companion for the next few months.
Arcade Fire‘s stellar debut ‘Funeral’ is the perfect soundtrack for the next few months. Titled ‘Funeral’ as it was written when several members of the band had lost close family members, it feels like an apt record to guide us through autumn. It’s been a horrendous year, and while we can’t know what’s going to happen next, ‘Funeral’ acts as a beacon of hope to help us through the emotional chill the dropping temperature can bring. Stuffed full of indie-rock belters, and sprinkled with moments of musical euphoria that have never been beaten (try and listen to ‘Wake Up’ and not get goosebumps, we dare you), it’s life-affirming stuff.
Yes, Taylor Swift’s eighth album has only been out for two months at the time of writing. Yes, that means that it hasn’t even ever existed in autumn yet. Despite this, it already feels like the archetypal autumn album. Produced by Aaron Dessner of masters of indie gloom The National, the whole of ‘Folklore’ is coated in a moody, sorrowful shade, mourning the end of summer and replacing euphoria with quiet, soft contemplation. Time to dig out that cardigan and settle in.