It’s finally autumn! Leaves are falling, temps are dropping, and hopefully your Halloween costume went off without a hitch. But more importantly, it’s time for fall playlists — and October saw a bunch of great new songs to add to your autumnal leaf-crunching mixtape. From an unexpected intercontinental collaboration to unreleased tracks from one of 2015’s best albums, this month was full of excellent new releases.
Kurt and Courtney (yes, they’re aware they have famous names)
I never expected that Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett would join forces, but now that their collaboration album Lotta Sea Lice exists, I can’t remember a world before they were a pair. Australian rocker Barnett and Philadelphia guitarist Vile, known for his solo albums and for co-creating the War on Drugs, meld perfectly — their styles are shockingly similar. These long-haired lazy-rock artists balance each other out too. Barnett’s singsong voice lifts the gloomy Vile out of the darkness; Vile’s slower cadence tempers Barnett’s instinct to cram too many syllables into one verse.
The above single, “Continental Breakfast,” is great, but two other standout tracks on Lotta Sea Lice appear when the singers cover each other’s songs: “Outta the Woodwork” is Vile covering Barnett; vice versa with “Peepin’ Tom.”
A Canadian punk-pop boy band breaks through
Little Junior, a pop-punk band from Toronto, barely had any online presence before the release of their October single “Accolades” — an Instagram post here and there and only one other single. That light internet footprint made the high-production video for their new single all the more surprising — and great.
For “Accolades,” the four members of Little Junior flew to Guangzhou, China, to shoot a wacky boy-band-style dance video in white jumpsuits on top of a helipad. (And yes, that’s as ridiculous as it sounds, especially for a punk band.) The track itself is a shredding jam about the upside-down state your mind enters when you’re feeling jealous. Little Junior is touring this fall — keep an eye out for more music from them.
A worthwhile solo effort from Parquet Courts’ Andrew Savage
Andrew Savage is the co-frontman of Parquet Courts, and his sing-talk style of delivering lyrics gives that band its distinctive vocal sound. It’s sort of a given, then, that Thawing Dawn, his first solo album under the name A. Savage, will have a similar vocal sensibility — and that’s not a bad thing.
Savage doesn’t stray too far from Parquet Courts’ sound in total; the 10-track Thawing Dawn is more toned down than the full band, but tricky and probing lyrics remain. In “Eyeballs,” Savage sings about trying to keep a girl in New York before she leaves him for healthier alternatives; “Winter in the South” gallops through different abstract descriptions of Savage; “Phantom Limb” slips into a country twang with a rousing chorus. For fans of the full band, these songs will be a welcome new addition — for newcomers, they’re a gentle introduction to Savage’s melancholy outlook on life.
Sink into an ambient soundscape with Colleen’s new record
Colleen, an ambient music composer from France, is known for her minimalist songs composed mostly on the viola da gamba, an instrument similar to the cello. For A flame my love, a frequency, Colleen set aside the strings to create her first entirely electronic record, but the songs inside retain a natural and earthy sound.
The musician wrote this album in the wake of the Paris terror attacks in 2015; she was in the city during the incident. The songs are complex and wide-sweeping, but not entirely unhappy. “Winter Dawn,” the record’s single, is a trancelike composition with bubbly notes backed up by a low hum, all anchored by Colleen’s light voice.
Just when you thought Sufjan Stevens couldn’t get any sadder
Sufjan Stevens’s 2015 album Carrie & Lowell was breathtaking, examining the singer’s childhood and the death of his mother through 11 heartbreaking tracks both soaring and painfully quiet. If it sounds like an emotional handful, it is — but it’s one of those record’s that’s worth it.
On November 24, Stevens is releasing The Greatest Gift Mixtape — Outtakes, Remixes, & Demos from Carrie & Lowell, and “Wallowa Lake Monster” is one of its first singles. An unreleased track from the 2015 album, the song fits perfectly with Carrie & Lowell’s futuristic and introspective tone. If you, like me, are looking for more from this era of Stevens — an artist whose style can change from album to album — this is a welcome treat.
Melkbelly’s first full-length album is a punk frenzy
Nothing Valley is Melkbelly’s debut album — a noisy rock record from the Chicago band led by singer Miranda Winters. Melkbelly’s songs jump from frenetic, fuzzy rock (“Off the Lot”) to slightly more melodic tracks (“Cawthra”). All the songs are bound by Winters’s strong vocals, reminiscent of Girlpool or Hop Along, and buzzing electric guitar, making this the perfect new record for when you’re in a punk mood.
Tune-Yards finally returns with an electronic new track
Merrill Garbus’s band Tune-Yards hasn’t released an album since 2014’s shiny, cacophonous Nikki Nack, but the band is finally back in action this October with a new single: “Look at Your Hands.” Garbus’s raw voice radiates over muted drumbeats until the song explodes into a resounding chorus. If anything in the song sounds a little canned, it’s intentional. According to Garbus, she’s started sampling her own vocals, leading to a purposely robotic sound.
Tune-Yards’ new album, I can feel you creep into my private life, comes out January 19. (And FYI: I saw the band play a set of almost entirely new songs in September. I can promise that they’re excellent — totally worth the wait.)
The Barr Brothers bring in Lucius for ethereal depth on a new single
The Quebec band the Barr Brothers — made up of Brad and Andrew Barr and classical harpist Sarah Pagé — have been making Appalachian folk music together since 2011. Their new indie-rock album Queens of the Breakers continues in that folk trend, and moves from melodic harmonizations on tracks like “Song That I Heard” to rock and roll reminiscent of the Black Keys on “It Came to Me.”
On “Defibrillation,” the band brings in the vocal powerhouses from Lucius, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig. As the song builds, Wolfe and Laessig add layers of harmonies that float above and behind the melody, filling out the song into a lush and rich standout.
A giant indie compilation for a cause produces unreleased tracks
Music has a way of fighting back against politics — and sometimes instead of a protest song, the fight comes in the form of a fundraiser. 7-inches for Planned Parenthood (yes, the innuendo in the title is intentional) features unreleased and unheard tracks from indie artists and comedians, plus accompanying artwork for each 7-inch record. It’s “made by a group of people who believe that access to health care is a public good that should be fiercely protected,” according to the health care organization.
Bon Iver, Feist, Björk, Tig Notaro, Sarah Silverman, and a whole lot more are featured — it’s a true treasure trove of artists, and you can take a peek at who’s featured on the Spotify playlist. My favorite is an unreleased Sharon Van Etten track called “Passion and Love,” full of twinkling guitar and the singer’s moody, mournful voice. One hundred percent of the $100 price tag goes to Planned Parenthood.
Here’s a Spotify playlist of all the songs featured above.