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The tones of autumn

When the light softens and the leaves begin to fall, we need tunes to match

Charlie McCann | September/October 2012

"Summer makes me drowsy," wrote Dorothy Parker. "Autumn makes me sing." She had a point. After months of the saccharine smells of the boardwalk, autumn comes along and softens the light while sharpening the senses. Its crisp nights and russet leaves inspire more subtlety than summer, with its club bangers and cloying surfer ditties. Autumn is invigorating and melancholy and sophisticated. Best not to follow Parker to the letter, though. Let these guys do the singing.

DIPLO SUMMER'S GONNA HURT YOU
If you don't share Parker's certainty about the seasons, listen to this Philadelphia DJ. His slow punches of bass capture the feel of the sun beating down while a bevy of strings elicits an almost human shriek of lament. Take the hint: stray too close to the sun and, like Icarus, you might come plunging down.

MILES DAVIS AUTUMN LEAVES
Obvious, but essential: if you can't have a chestnut in autumn, when can you? Of all the seasons, autumn is the jazziest, so let Miles trumpet it in. You can hear the leaves rustle in the soft shuffling percussion and the pitterpat of rain in the piano.  

WARPAINT SHADOWS
The lead vocals are the thing with these all-female rockers from Los Angeles: they quaver, take stock and then crescendo in a magnificent expression of apathy and distrust. This, along with some unsettling maracas and an almost jaunty guitar melody, dispels the notion that it's always sunny in the City of Angels. LA noir at its best. 

JENS LEKMAN MAPLE LEAVES
Lekman can't help but be winsome. His slavish devotion to rhyming (aa-bb-cc, ad nauseam), combined with happy-go-lucky samples of children laughing, makes his failure to understand his troubled girlfriend almost comic. Maple leaves? No, make-believe! Perhaps a hearing aid is in order? It wouldn't matter. Jens only has eyes for the foliage.

ALICIA KEYS FALLIN'
Alicia scales octaves, only to slide back down again, saved in the nick of time by a gospel choir and, yes, those keys of hers. She ebbs and flows with the frustration of indecision, running either too hot or too cold for her lover. That's fall(in') for you. 

ANN PEEBLES I CAN'T STAND THE RAIN
Reputedly hailed as "the best song ever" by John Lennon, this is a classic with a big, bouncy sound—cheeky trumpets, chugging drums, trilling piano, a funky bass line—but don't let that fool you. There's a creak of sadness in Peebles' voice. Jump on the soul train and she'll tell you why. 

2PAC KEEP YA HEAD UP
Autumn can sometimes start to feel more like Keats's season of mists than one of mellow fruitfulness. This upbeat West Coast rap provides the perfect antidote; it's G-funk at its most palatable. Refreshingly, not only does 2Pac take it easy on the synths, he also encourages women the world over to stand firm in the face of prejudice.

THE FALL I'M GOING TO SPAIN
One for the road: fuzzy guitars and a galloping beat set the pace. And, for once, Mark E. Smith tries to sing. He's not very good, but it is endearing. "Cousin Norman... said it doesn't rain" in Spain, so if you just can't see yourself reaping the fruits of the season, perhaps it's best to say adios to autumn and call on Cousin Norman. Taking Ann Peebles with you.

All tracks can be downloaded at iTunes

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