Maybe it’s the weather, or the Daylight Savings-induced 4 p.m. sunsets, or the fact that it’s awkwardly situated between two of the most widely beloved holidays, but November is kind of a downer. Whether you’re trying to shamelessly wallow or keep your head held high this month, the Arts & Culture section has the right song for you. Here are some of our favorite fall releases, just in time for Scorpio season.
Matt Berninger, Phoebe Bridgers, “Walking on a String”
Matt Berninger, frontman of the National, and Phoebe Bridgers, indie sensation and member of boygenius, are both at their best here in this upbeat, gentle ballad. Complex instrumentation backs up the beautiful harmony that stems from Berninger’s warm croon and Bridgers’ more ethereal voice.
Guerilla Toss, “Future Doesn’t Know”
Guerilla Toss are a reminder that art-rock doesn’t need to be pompous to push boundaries. The group’s singles from their forthcoming EP, What Would The Odd Do?, show a danceable inventiveness that’s as fun as it is pensive—even when confronting serious topics like addiction and recovery. Their latest track “Future Doesn’t Know” is a pristine glimpse into existential thought that’s propped up by its energetic instrumentation.
Vagabon, “Full Moon in Gemini”
Laetitia Tamko’s sophomore album, Vagabon—the name that she sings under—is a dreamy extension of her first album, Infinite Worlds, in which the self-taught singer, writer multi-instrumentalist and producer made her stunning debut. “Full Moon in Gemini” is a particular stand-out of the album, with Vagabon’s warm, powerful voice creating a sense of melancholy, but with poppy beats still driving the song forward; Vagabon’s extraordinary talent for production is evident throughout the carefully instrumentalized and arranged song. “I wrote this about / So many months before,” she sings, working her process itself into the song. “I’ll lay with you after I’m through.”
Wolf Parade, “Against the Day”
Compared to Wolf Parade’s catalog of music, “Against the Day” marks a shift in the band’s focus to a synthetic, techno-driven approach. The track opens with a deep rhythmic pulse, leading to a catchy synth melody that Dan Boeckner mimics in the verse. He reflects on where his life with a lover stands following an unspecified world-ending event. Boeckner shows that even in the apocalypse, their love can continue, singing, “All is gone now / Seconds fade but our hearts will still remain.”
Big Thief, “Not”
Yes, there’s a lot of overlap in the type of songs that “Big Thief” writes. But it’s still worth it to keep listening to them, largely because their lyrics are always so smart and consistently new, although they have now released four albums in the past few years. Take “Not,” which begins, “It’s not the energy reeling / Nor the lines in your face” and spirals into a long list of things that “it’s not” about (although clearly it kind of is), with each example stranger than the last, and accumulating to create a wholly self-contained narrative and emotional tone.
Great Grandpa, “Bloom”
One of the singles off Seattle indie-punk band Great Grandpa’s most recent record, Four of Arrows (released Oct. 25), reads and sounds like a sonic representation of those motivational posters you see hanging around school classrooms and office spaces. It’s mostly in the chorus that bursts, “Step into whatever you want to and let your spirit bloom”—but it’s all with good intention, because one listen you feel the only kind of immense hope your friends can impart. In their rootsy brand of emo music, and this song especially, this five-piece group of best friends makes you feel part of their embrace.
Catholic Action, “One Of Us”
“One Of Us” is a fuzzy rock toast to the average Joe and a skewering of the ruling class. Has there ever been a critique of late capitalism with so much bouncy guitar joy? Catholic Action’s ebullient, distorted guitar pop is as snappy as ever. Lead vocalist Chris McCrory is both pointed and charming as he proudly describes himself as “the welfare son of a welfare son.” It’s a call to wake up and smell the roses of deliberate inequality and distraction, and Catholic Action manages this merry ode without trivializing the real-life suffering that’s become rampant.
Frances Quinlan, “Rare Thing”
Frances Quinlan has one of the most instantly recognizable voices in indie rock. As the lead singer of Philadelphia band Hop Along, she’s been at the front of two of this decade’s best rock albums, 2014’s Painted Shut and 2018’s Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Hop Along originally began as Quinlan’s solo project, but she announced her first-ever solo album under her own name, Likewise (out Jan. 31, 2020, on Saddle Creek). The first single, “Rare Thing,” is a real stunner and surely a harbinger of things to come. It ropes in a host of new instruments that we maybe haven’t heard previously on a Hop Along release—synths, jammy keyboards, a harp, bouncy electro-beats. The song was written after a dream Quinlan had about her then-infant niece, per a press release, but it could really be about anybody’s journey to letting new love in.
Dani Smotrich-Barr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tara Joy can be reached at email@example.com.