September Music: A bittersweet playlist for the changing of the seasons

by Joseph Green / Beacon Correspondent • September 28, 2017

I was walking to the grocery store a week ago on the first chilly night of the fall. It wasn’t far, just a few blocks, but I plugged in my headphones anyway and hit shuffle on my summer of 2017 playlist. I had spent the last few months perfecting it, but I found myself skipping song after song.

The music didn’t bring me back to warm days and long nights with good friends; it only reminded me of what I left behind. It sounded out of place, vapid. I tried listening to some “winter” music—songs stark and emotional enough to match the weather outside and my seasonal depressed moods—but that didn’t sound right either.

There has to be something between those two extremes, music that is neither the gleeful bounce of Aminé’s “Wedding Crashers” nor the haunting dirge of David Bowie’s “Lazarus.” Give me a happy medium, damn it: music bright enough for the last few pleasant days of the year, but dark enough for the long winter nights to come. Give me September music.

When searching for this elusive sound, a few releases from the past month and a half jump to mind. Mourn, the debut studio album by Minnesota singer Corbin, is a bleak record, an intimate collection of emotional anti-love songs. Over sparse electronic instrumentals, Corbin’s vocals range between howling and sobbing. These songs aren’t always a fun listen, but the emotional honesty that Corbin brings to them is undeniably powerful.

The raw ache of Corbin’s voice on songs like “Giving Up” and “ICE BOY” syncs with his confessional, torn-out-diary-page lyrics. Mourn is anguished, almost to a fault, but Corbin does not fall completely into despair. Through these songs he seems to be reaching out, trying to make a genuine connection with someone he cares about. “I’m all out of excuses for being alone,” he sings on album standout “All Out,” “I’m done being anywhere but by your side.”

Roll your eyes at the sad boy cliches, but it’s been a long time since I’ve felt a songwriter’s pain like I feel Corbin’s. When he pleads to the object of his affection, “Let’s just see how long this memory lasts,” I don’t just feel his longing, I genuinely hope he finds a way out of the dark. The combination of emotional vulnerability and atmospheric production on Mourn marks the transition from summer to fall.

we think we alone, the new EP by Queens rapper Deem Spencer from the end of August, is another project that balances the bright and frosty tones of September. In a time when rap music has never been more diverse, we think we alone still sounds unlike anything else out there. The production is elastic, incorporating everything from eerie, squelching basslines and syncopated drums to smooth keys and light as a feather hi-hats. What remains consistent is a sense of subtlety and precision. A lot may be going on in Spencer’s instrumentals, but every element is perfectly balanced. The resulting medley of tones is quiet and warm, the kind of unobtrusive world of sound that reveals a little more on each listen.

Spencer’s lyrics and delivery are intimate and nuanced. The EP was recorded after his grandfather’s death, and there is a tangible feeling of grief in the abstract poeticism of songs like “Moonflower,” which begins with him pondering: “Our loved one left last friday but he still get mail to the crib/ How do I forward his checks to his new foreign address?”

With its opaque metaphors and ambitious, experimental sound, we think we alone can certainly be a challenging listen. But for a listener willing to put in the time, it is stirring and beautiful; a brief musical portrait of a young artist who is unafraid to let his voice be heard.

Perhaps the best example of recently released September music is Antisocialites, the new album by Toronto indie-pop band Alvvays. While the band’s previous output stuck to laid-back dream pop, Antisocialites explores more melancholy territory to great effect. Melodic guitar lines are washed out by dense, synth-driven production, and Molly Rankin’s soaring, ethereal voice fights its way through layers of distortion. Earbuds could easily be replaced by seashells when listening to this album.

The lyrics of Antisocialites also evoke the end of summer more than its beginning. Alvvays has a gift for writing catchy, well-constructed pop songs, but the subject matter is far from carefree. The album’s lead single, “In Undertow,” is a heartbreaking ballad about facing an uncertain future after the end of a relationship. “What’s left for you and me?” Rankin sings during the chorus, “I ask that question rhetorically.” Even the album’s more straightforward love songs like “Forget About Life” are tinged with compromise and dissatisfaction. When Rankin croons, “Do you want to forget about life with me tonight?” it sounds more desperate than romantic.

If summer music is made for a sunny day at the beach, these albums are for when the water gets a touch too cold. This is music made to be listened to in bed, headphones turned all the way up, riding the line between happy and sad. It may not fill me with intangible, nostalgic bliss, but who cares? It’s the music that I want to listen to right now, the music that feels right. It’s September music.