Changing of Seasons (Part 2 of 2)

Hello again and happy autumn! Today is the first day of the fall season and to commemorate the occasion, I thought there would be no better way to celebrate than by making a blog post! This post is extra special as it is the much anticipated second part to my previous Quarantine Jams post (see below). Originally, I had the idea of making a playlist that touched on the highs and lows of higher education (see Campus – Vampire Weekend) as I have recently decided to get educated myself. However, this proved both difficult and boring so I scrapped that idea. My apologies if you were one of the few who read this and could not function until you saw that playlist. In the process of coming up with an alternate post, it struck me that I should try something besides a playlist! So to put this thinking into action and celebrate the changing of the seasons, I have somewhat cornily assembled a small, elite ranking of the artists that are guaranteed to get you in the mood. The mood for trudging your way through seas of orange and red leaves and visiting your nearest pumpkin patch only to get your appropriately colored tan cashmere sweater dirty with mud. As always, enjoy!

Honorable Mention:

The Head and the Heart

Subpop may just be a theme in this post

Gregory Alan Isakov

Ray LaMontagne

Kishi Bashi

Death Cab for Cutie

Wild Child

This video is not what I expected

Bahamas

The Shins

Caamp

Artist to watch

Rainbow Kitten Suprise

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3. Bon Iver

We kick off our rankings with the one and only Bon Iver, fronted by singer-songwriter Justin Vernon. I am gonna assume that almost everyone reading this knows who Bon Iver is so I will spare you from all the details of his past. However I do think it is important to point out the background for his first album, For Emma, Forever Ago as it is pretty legendary. Prior to the recording of this album, Justin was having a rough time at things. He was diseased and sick, possibly due to complications from excessive drinking, recently broke up with girlfriend at the time (Emma? No, Christie.), and did not have any future plans to make music. Feeling discouraged, it is said Justin packed up everything he owned and drove through the night strait to his hometown of Eu Claire, Wisconsin. He then traveled even further, eventually settling at his father’s hunting cabin isolated in the Wisconsin woods. Arriving at the dawn of winter in November, Justin has said that he spent the first three weeks just drinking and watching tv. During his time at the cabin, which lasted until February, Justin hunted his own food, and went into the local town to trade venison for money. After a couple weeks, he began to feel some sort of motivation and started off on crafting the tracks that would eventually make up his first album. I think this background is pretty essential to keep in mind when listening to the album. It is a lonely dark album, but it is also a genuine work of art.

Like I said, there are some incredible tracks in this album, the highlight of which is probably Bon Iver’s most famous song, Skinny Love. I can only imagine there is a bunch of anger and sadness in that song directed at his breakup. The other two aren’t bad either. This remains, for me, the best of Bon Iver so it is worth your time to stick around here for awhile. Nothing really does compare to For Emma, Forever Ago.

Here we see a glimpse of Bon Iver’s future, ditching the low fi sound of For Emma, Forever Ago in favor of grand multi-layered productions. Indeed, after the release of his first album, Justin began getting attention from artists across the musical spectrum. Most notable of those was Kanye West who invited Justin to collaborate and aid in the production of his universally acclaimed album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This thrust Justin’s name even more into the spotlight and he continues to work as a producer for various other artists including future Kayne collaborations.

Bon Iver’s second album, Bon Iver, is the album that really cemented the band as a name in the music industry. The album produced a total of four nominations at the 2012 Grammys, with the lead single, Holocene, being nominated for both Record and Song of the Year, and the album as a whole being nominated for and winning Best Alternative album. The band also picked up the Best New Artist award. Not bad at all for the second go at things.

Unfortunately, our time with Bon Iver ends at their third album. As hinted before, both Justin and the band, decided to change the sound of the band after the 3 year hiatus they took following the second album. What emerged from that was a vastly different Iron and Wine, favoring a more electronic and experimental sound. This can be seen in the one track I enjoy from this album, 22 (OVER Soon). From my brief personal experience, (I saw Bon Iver once at a music festival), I think the band favors their new music more than their more famous and well received earlier work so more power to them. I will say however that even if the sound changed, the emotional underpinnings that made the band famous in the first place still remain. So maybe the later albums are worth a listen if that is what you’re looking for.

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2. Iron and Wine

The man himself, Samuel Beam. Surprised he is not number one? Me too. Iron and Wine has been adorning our lives with his music since the release of his first studio album, The Creek Drank the Cradle, in 2002 through Subpop records (hint, hint: this Seattle based record label also gave the number one ranked group on this list their start). My first experience with Iron and Wine I am ashamed to say was the inclusion of their hit song “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” in the original Twilight movie during Bella and Edward’s first dance at prom. Watch below if you dare.

This is peak cringe.

Actually, I take that back, in reality I love those movies and I live for ABC’s Twilight weekends, the perfect fall activity. Back to the music. Iron and Wine has, to date, released a total of six studio albums, all very well received, as well as a handful of EPs and singles. He has done numerous collaborations with other artists and has been a staple in the indie folk scene for some time now. He got his start in music later than normal, completing an undergraduate degree and getting a job as a filmography professor before recording his first album. A native of small town South Carolina and currently residing in the foothills of North Carolina, Iron and Wine often draws inspiration from his Appalachian roots in his music, the banjo and harmonica appearing throughout his discography. You probably have come across Iron and Wine tracks before and/or know who this guy is so enough of that, let’s hear some music. As his discography is huge, I won’t go through each album, instead handpicking tracks which I think are essential listening or are hidden gems. To start:

The triple threat trio right from the start.

All three of these tracks come from Iron and Wine’s first studio album, The Creek Drank the Cradle. As none of these appear on Iron and Wine’s top 10 tracks on Spotify, I have designated them as hidden gems/essential listening. These are the tracks that got me into Iron and Wine originally and they perfectly demonstrate what makes his sound so appealing. Starting with Faded from the Winter, the plucked (I’m gonna say) banjo riff that ends the song is magical. Promising Light is none the lesser, again showing off Sam’s relaxing vocals. Upward Over the Mountain, which touches on the relationship between mothers and their son, will make you cry depending on your current emotional state. It really hammers home the sound of early Iron and Wine releases.

Another track which highlights the sound of early Iron and Wine, I’ve classified this as essential listening. Interestingly, the opening guitar sounds extremely similar to the guitar in the more popular track, Naked as We Came. There is probably a relation there, seems like the Each Coming Night guitar is just slowed down, but I do not know enough music theory to say anything substantial. Carry on.

To kick off his rocking third studio album, Iron and Wine goes for a slightly different sound from his previous two releases and it’s awesome. The added percussion and bass are an appreciated touch which drives this track forward and give it some substance. Overall, this entire album is worth a listen through as it highlights the versatility of Iron and Wine’s sound.

Cover time

Although not his own songs and not released on any official studio album, I do love Iron and Wine’s various covers he has recorded through the years. These three are my favorites, with his cover of the Postal Service’s Such Great Heights coming close. Coincidently, all three cover acts from the 80s, Love Vigilantes-New Order, This Must Be The Place-The Talking Heads, and Time After Time-Cyndi Lauper. He must really like the 80s. Theses tracks are easy listening at it’s best and are a nice return to the simplicity of Iron and Wine’s earlier work.

I wanted to end with these tracks as I think it really is a nice homage to the evolution of Iron and Wine’s sound through the year. I am not particularly fond of his fourth and fifth albums, and I think this sixth album really returns to what makes Iron and Wine great but with a slight twist. He brings back the pleasant guitar strumming and mellow vocals we all know and love but has gotten rid of the stripped down, lo-fi production from his earlier work resulting in a matured sound. And we are all the better for it.

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Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the post so far and are eager to continue on. If not, that’s okay, you’ve already clicked on the post so that’s enough for me. So without further ado, I give you the number one ranked artist:

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1. Fleet Foxes

For me, the quintessential autumn band. Come every October, my Spotify is filled with wonderful tunes from this Pacific Northwest based band. Personal memories of runs through dense fall foliage have the folky sound of Fleet Foxes playing in the background. The band name Fleet Foxes just sounds like something fall related. In actuality, lead singer and band founder Robin Pecknold chose the name as it was “evocative of some weird English activity like fox hunting”. It works for me.

Inspiration for the name Fleet Foxes

The band’s two earliest members, Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset, met while attending high school in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland. They quickly became friends over their shared taste in music and began playing music together. As time went on, the two added three other members to the band and began officially going by Fleet Foxes in early 2006. To date, actually as of literally today, they have released four studio albums, each one to universal acclaim. Their second studio album, Helplessness Blues, went on to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album at the 2012 Grammy’s, ultimately losing out to the Civil Wars first studio album Barton Hollow. Let’s take a look at the numerous highlights from their illustrious discography.

Fleet Foxes, June 2008

After two EPs which garnered the band both local and international recognition, the Fleet Foxes came onto the indie folk music scene with the release of their self titled debut album in the summer of 2008. I’ve always enjoyed the album art for this album as at first glance it seems like a normal painting depicting your very typical medieval village. Take a closer look, and the scene is senseless. The real life painting from which the album art is derived is supposed to be an expression of various Dutch proverbs and idioms from the 15th century so there appears to be actual meaning behind the madness. Nonetheless, the music is what we are here for. If I could link every single track from this album, I would, but that would make for a very long blog post so I’ll do my best to pick and choose. I strongly recommend giving the album a full listen through, especially on a lazy rainy day, you won’t be the same!

The first song I ever heard from this band and perhaps their most well known. Melodic vocals and tambourines, it does not get much better.
A stripped down acoustic performance by Robin Pecknold. A song about murder and death (I think ?), I’ve always wondered if the Seattle local chose the name Tiger Mountain Peasant Song in reference to Tiger Mountain in Issaquah, Washington where the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy buried some of his victims. Spooky.
One of the less popular tracks from the album but one of my personal favorites. Humorous observation, Robin did not change jackets from the last performance to the filming of this music video, looks like he is going for the smelly, haven’t showered in weeks look.

Helplessness Blues, May 2011

Just as good as the first one. Yes. Better than the first one? Possibly. After extensive touring to promote the release of their first album, the band eventually settled down in New York to record their sophomore effort. Some changes were made to the lineup between this album and the last, with the addition of a new bass player who doubles as the woodwind instrumentalist. At this time the band’s drummer, John Tillman, better known as Father John Misty, was also beginning to break out and put attention on more solo pursuits, putting strain on the band and the recording process. Despite the internal strife, the band pulled through and produced their highest charting album to date. Some interesting tidbits I found while doing some research, the band wanted a less poppy, more imperfect sound for this album, so supposedly, all the tracks’ vocals were recorded in one take, taking inspiration from the Van Morrison album Astral Weeks. Also to note, the attention that lead singer, Robin Pecknold, had to give to making this album led his then girlfriend to break up with him. However, after hearing the finished product, she decided to get back together with the lead singer! To be a musician…

A live performance from 2011 just after the release of the album, really enjoy the lyrics in this one as well as the images they evoke.
An enjoyable light and whimsical tune. The harmonious vocals are again a major appeal, as well as the rough twangy sounding violin? fiddle? that appears here and there throughout the track.
The title track deals with the transition from childhood to adulthood and trying to find one’s place in this crazy world. The lyrics are especially poignant and contain some of my personal favorite lines from all the work Fleet Floxes has ever done. To list a couple:
“If I know only one thing, it’s that everything that I see
Of the world outside is so inconceivable often I barely can speak”
“If I had an orchard, I’d work ’til I’m sore
And you would wait tables and soon run the store
Gold hair in the sunlight, my light in the dawn
If I had an orchard, I’d work ’til I’m sore”

Crack Up, June 2017

After the release and touring of Helplessness Blues and their drummer, John Tillman, leaving, the band took a three year hiatus. During this time major changes occurred, both to the band and its members. Lead singer, Robin Pecknold, decided to get educated himself and moved to NYC to start his undergraduate degree at Columbia. He states that he was inspired to go to college by meeting interesting people outside his musical bubble that shared their unique perspectives. This experience was very illuminating for him in which he was able to develop an idea of where he wanted to take the Fleet Foxes sound. During this time, the band also changed labels, transitioning to Nonesuch Records. For me, this album definitely drifts away from the medieval and organic sound than the Fleet Foxes from the previous two projects. I believe there is more emphasis on production with the tracks coming off as more well produced I guess. Ever present is the harmonious vocals we’ve grown to love through our time with the band, so do not fret, the old Fleet Foxes are still there.

The longest Fleet Foxes track I’ve come across this double whammy starts off the third album with a rollercoaster of intensity and emotion. As mentioned before, this more put together sound was a nice break from the endless folk tracks in the previous albums. Robin really shows off his vocals on this one, which is always a treat.
One of my personal favorites, this mellow track just sounds nice. I am unsure of the meaning behind the lyrics, but I do know, if you need to, you can keep time on me.
Another personal favorite, this song highlights the production I’ve been mentioning that has become a signature of later Fleet Foxes releases. Specifically, the transition at 2:05 from the stripped down, mellow sound to the grooving and rhythmic later portion.

Shore, September 2020

Which brings us to the current album of interest, Shore. I’ve only done a once through on this album and my consensus is still not made up so I’ve decided that it is now you, the reader, who gets to say something. Give the album a listen and comment at the end of this post your thoughts on the album or any tracks you particularly enjoyed. Go on don’t be shy!

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So that’s it. Hopefully this post has been halfway enjoyable and has inspired you to get into the mood of the season and listen to some of your own favorite autumn artists. Go out there, jump in the leaves, put on your sweaters, harvest that corn, enjoy all this wonderful season has to offer. Bye for now.

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