Smile Politely

Sounds of Fall

The SP editors were a bit behind on our next installment of our seasonal tracks article, but we’re getting this one in before people start to believe fall is fading. We had sounds of winter, spring and summer, which brings us to where we are now. We’re at the end of November, the time when football is going full steam (well, for teams not located in Champaign) and basketball is finally starting up (at the collegiate level, that’s where our focus is at least), and it’s beginning to get colder and colder by the day. Luckily, music, unlike specific sports, is a year-round hobby for us. We’ve put together a collection of some tracks that reference the season we’re currently in, or at least feels autumnal to us in specific ways. Feel free to tell us some songs that remind you of fall in the comments.

“Two-Headed Boy, Part 2” by Neutral Milk Hotel

Most everything about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea just comes straight from a cold heart, recalling a story about death. There’s something about a line that reads “In my dreams you’re alive and your crying” that just sends chills up my spine whenever I hear it. A dream that has the ability to be so magical and real, turning itself into something filled with depression and sadness. This track is my favorite one off of a record that is lauded as perfect in many ways by many people, though it is haunting and often upsetting. Not to say the season of fall is as crushing as the story recalled by Mangum throughout this record; it just has its place as something that makes me think of this particular season and the beginning of the end for the life of the summer season. — Patrick Singer

Sea of Teeth” by Sparklehorse

This record didn’t make a lot of sense to me until around the time of last fall, when something clicked. It’s a Wonderful Life just has a feel to it unlike any other Sparklhorse records, and “Sea of Teeth” is one of those standouts that just would not go away. Maybe it’s the quiet, subtle vocals from the late great Mark Linkous, or his hollowness of the acoustic guitar he plays on the track, but everything just feels so empy and desolate while sounding flush and vibrant all at the same time. That’s how I feel about fall sometimes — everything might feel very crisp and fresh, but in reality, everything around you is leaving for a few months. — PS

“Oh Sweet Nothin'” by The Velvet Underground

It’s hard to single out one particular song from The Velvet Underground for something like this, but I felt inclined to. Released in the fall of 1970, Loaded is full of some of the classic VU tracks, but not many of them can come close to the punch that this closer packs. It’s a downright jam once you get about halfway through, and I mean that in the sense of how VU jams, which is fairly containted but still a little rough around the edges. That’s especially true in this version, as well as other live versions you might stumble upon. This is one of those tracks that there’s no real excuse for not throwing it on at some point during the fall months. — PS

“The Fireside” by Yo La Tengo

Sometimes all you need is one riff for a song to be outstanding. Yo La Tengo isn’t typically known for those types of tunes either, and I don’t think they were intending to with this one. What sounds like simple noodling on a reverbish guitar sounds so much bigger through “The Fireside,” and honestly, it’s all it needs. Definitely not something most would pick out of Popular Songs, but damn, this song is amazing for doing close to nothing. The creeping bass just acts as a steady pulse throughout, eerily similar to something that could have been on Ágætis Byrjun. You might think of this as a song signifying winter and a warm fire, but to me, this one is all fall. — PS

“Municipality” by Real Estate

I’m not sure what the exact reason is, but out of all things for a Real Estate song to remind me of, it’s fall. Typically anything having to do with Real Estate involves being lazy on a beach, relaxing and living an easy lifestyle. “Municipality” is an exception. Days is definitely an album that took over basically every month of the last year since it came out, highlighted with tons of glistening and simplistic tracks from head to toe. Maybe I’m crazy, but this is a definite Real Estate highlight for me, and hell, maybe it’s even this video that made the song remind me of autumn. Whatever it is, it makes me feel like I should be outside in a jacket like these guys, taking everything in, even though I might be getting cold for the first time since the winter months went away. — PS

“Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I’m getting older too

“Landslide” is about Stevie Nicks’ relationship with Lindsey Buckingham and her decision whether or not to continue with music. But for me, the song has always been about a woman who is coming to accept that she’s in the autumn of her life. I didn’t begin paying attention to Fleetwood Mac until much later in my life, and didn’t hear this song until I was already an old lady who barely recognizes herself in the mirror anymore.

So Stevie’s landslide may take place on a snow-covered mountain (she was in Aspen when she wrote the song), but the landslide that I imagine is a muddy, chilly, rain-drenched mountainside after an October storm. To me, the “seasons” of our lives that she sings about are not the decisions that a kid in her twenties must make, but those that come upon us against our will, before we’re ready. — Tracy Nectoux

“Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield

I won’t pretend that this music doesn’t immediately bring to mind the classic film. But even in The Exorcist, if I recall correctly, when we’re introduced to Ellen Burstyn, she’s walking through the Georgetown streets while dead fall leaves are blowing around her. “Tubular Bells” brings to mind a lot of images, and for me one of them is autumn.

Part One opens with the familiar, lyrical riff, which conjures images of falling leaves scuttling around in the cool autumn breeze. When the low, haunting bass enters the mix, my mind drifts to images of chimney smoke. At 3:45, I can’t help but imagine birds, ducks, and geese filling the trees and sky, flying south for the winter — a favorite fall vision of which I never tire.

And at 5:55, after we’ve been enjoying the peaceful sounds of the bells, xylophone, and flute, the bass and guitar unexpectedly kick in, and the mood of the song changes entirely, and I can’t help but think of those unexpected storms that hit without warning early in the fall season around the time of Indian summer.

So, this music is a lot more than just the chilling opener to a fantastic movie from the ‘70s (though it’s that too). Check out the entire composition. It’s gorgeous. — TN

Jeff Wayne, Gary Osborne, and Paul Vigrass, “Forever Autumn”

Sometimes it’s difficult to listen to lyrics when the singer’s gloriously beautiful voice is so distracting.

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old,
and darker days are drawing near,
the winter winds will be much colder,
now you’re not here.

The most well known version of this song is by The Moody Blue’s Justin Hayward, who recorded it for Wayne’s album Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds.

In “Forever Autumn,” songwriters Wayne, Osborne, and Vigrass use the seasons as a metaphor for the birth and death of a relationship. Every line in the song calls to mind the seasons of the year — mostly summer and autumn. Her love for him shown like the “sun through the trees”; they used to play in the autumn leaves together. Indeed, it’s autumn once again and he dreads the coming winter because without her, the “winds will be much colder.” It’s a really fucking sad song. And I can’t imagine how dreary autumn must feel to someone who’s recently lost a loved one. Wait, yes, I can. All I have to do is listen to “Forever Autumn.” If you love sad, angsty, emo songs (and who doesn’t?), give this one a try. — TN

“N.Y. Avenue Playground” by Grasshopper and the Golden Crickets

For some reason, this song seems to work for me in both early winter and early summer. Despite the references to going to a county fair, or drinking tonics and gin in a dugout, I always get the feeling that Grasshopper is in a moment of reflection, as opposed to speaking about the present.

But for me, sometimes songs just sound good based on when you first heard them, and the temperature it was outside for your own personal experiences. I was turned on to this particular tune at Christmas in 1999. It was a very desperate year for me, and this song just struck a nerve with me.

I was already a massive fan of Mercury Rev since first hearing See You on the Other Side in the mid-90s. After they released Deserter’s Songs, I went into full geek mode. And so this being their guitarist solo project, I listened and loved it just as well.

I think that what I perhaps like the most about this song is its length. Just over two and a half minutes, with very little room to breathe. No bridge. There’s not even much to distinguish the chorus from the verses, except the addition and subtraction of guitars and vocal melody.

But what strikes me the most is what happens at the 1:32 mark, just after the last chorus. On each back beat, Grasshopper throws down a harpischord hit (that or a 12-string that’s been manipulated) that leads up to the fade out. There’s something about it that is chilling. It never gets old.

It’s dreary outside now, and each time I am forced into the outdoors, I have similar moments of retrospection. I miss the goddamned leaves, the t-shirt weather, and the long days. — Seth Fein

“Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” by James Brown

It being past Thanksgiving now, I feel inclined to listen to Christmas music whenever I see fit. I’m a junky for feeling the spirit of the season, and outside of Christmas morning itself, nothing does it for me like music.

In 2009, Smile Politely had its first truly committed music editor in a fella named Mark Sieckman. He was a real crafty asshole in the best way imaginable, and left an indelible mark on our community when he called DJ music “electronic dickery.” I hope someone writes him an autobiography someday, and uses that for the title.

Anyhow, he left for Louisville with his girlfriend, and in doing so, decided to give us a gift before he left. It was a CD (crazy I know, right?) called the XMIX. It’s filled with eighteen holiday tunes, and while there were a few on there that I knew well (“Christmas in Hollis,” “Frosty the Snowman,” etc., etc.), there were more than a few that I needed to fall in love with.

Enter James Brown. Who, admittedly, I’ve never been a huge fan of, for a variety of reasons. No matter here. On this song, you can hear the heartbreak in his raspy, wobbly vocals. And it’s always a reminder for me: my experiences on Christmas have been so safe, and so unfairly lucky. Even growing up in a lower-middle-class home in SE Urbana meant that my Christmases were easy and filled with love.

There are so many people in need, right here in Champaign-Urbana, let alone China or Belarus or wherever. And during the holidays, when basics like a good meal and a few presents for your children are too much to handle, well, I think that’s where the idea of Santa Claus makes the most sense.

James Brown sings about it. And he even admits that he’s the last person who needs a visit from Kris Kringle. Instead, he’d rather him go see the poorest kids in the neighborhood and give them what they deserve.

“Leave a toy for Johnny, leave a doll for Mary. Leave something pretty for Donnie. And don’t forget about Gary.”

My heart breaks thinking about just how real it all is. As a child, my sadistic and bleeding heart parents forced us to deliver food and toys to poor families in the winter, both as part of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and as part of what I assume had to do with our church’s mission to serve the needy in our community. All I can remember is going to houses that were cold, and sad, and where fridges had little more than a bottle of ketchup and a stick of butter.

And so for this reason, James Brown chokes me up every year, multiple times per year. I thank him for it. — SF

“Then the Leting Go” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy

I absolutely love the delicacy of fall. The change from summer to fall and then fall to winter always seems so abrupt and disjointed when remembered, but has such a graceful stride when lived day-to-day. I think I always have a moment when I look around in wonder as if the trees suddenly, as if they were planning this painstakingly for months, all burst with color overnight. I think it’s the surprise and wonder in something so expected and tired that makes me fit the characature of the overly introspective fall dweller. I put my headphones on and walk around with my hands in my pockets more in fall than any other time. I write more. I brew tea and I watch shows and movies I’ve already seen and fall in love with them all over again.

I’m pretty sure Bonnie “Prince” Billy puts out a new album every other month, which makes appreciating his catalog pretty challenging. I think it’s hard not to love how prolific he is, but I don’t think I have heard friends who love his music ever agree on a favorite song or album. His music is stumbled upon and loved for its relation to your own life. That’s how I love this song. It’s painfully delicate and simple, like I wish to be throughout the fall. There is intimacy here, and loss. Perhaps, although I am not certain, it takes its name and tone from the last line of a rather melancholic Emily Dickinson poem. The operatic female vocals may drive away some, but it’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to this song. This is about change, the way change can be haunting, and that’s why it appeals to my sappy and cloistered self in those quiet and cold fall moments. — Cody Caudill

“Carry Me Ohio” by Sun Kil Moon

Sorry that
I could never love you back
I could never care enough
In these last days

Probably one of my favorite number two tracks of all time, this song has dragging chug that pulls you along and seems neverending (kind of like Ohio, I guess). But what makes this song is the timbre in Mark Kozelek’s voice and the lonesome falsetto he hits in the chorus. This song is cold, bare, and holds nothing back. It has a realism that will always remind me of the first cold day in fall and that moment when you put one hand in the other, bring your hands to your lips, and wonder where the warmth of summer suddenly disappeared to. — CC

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