“Such days of autumnal decline hold a strange mystery which adds to the gravity of all our moods.”
― Charles Nodier
“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.”
― Edgar Allan Poe
Autumn evokes a strange mix of moods. Crisp fall air and lengthening shadows can evoke pleasurable associations with apple cider, haunted houses and horror movies, but also trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder and dread of winter. It was enough to drive Edgar Allan Poe to drugs, whereas some of us would be happy with a barrel aged stout, or some autumnal music. I dug deep into what makes certain music autumnal over a decade ago in Grim Reapers & Haunted Melancholy: Music of Autumn, and am always looking for new albums to add to the playlist.
Wovenhand – Laughing Stock (Glitterhouse/Sounds Familyre)
When I first saw David Eugene Edwards’ first band, 16 Horsepower play in a small venue, I realized it was inadequate to compare his brand of Americana to Tom Waits for Nick Cave. Edwards’ hell and brimstone intensity outdid his peers and placed him in the company of Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. Wovenhand began ten years ago as a low-key solo project, but nothing Edwards does can stay low key. While his half dozen albums as Wovenhand leaned more toward folk than garage noir, his religious fervor continued unabated, as did the power of his music. It’s probably why by The Threshing Floor (2010) he had attracted a sizeable metal audience who appreciates someone who can make Americana come across as dark and weighty as any death or black metal. The latest Wovenhand seamlessly adds both industrial and Native American music to the repertoire of folk, country and post-punk, and that’s just in one song (“King O King”). On “Closer” there are gutteral growls in the background so faint that they’re almost subliminal, with menacing drums that would be at home on an early Einstürzende Neubauten album. This is the only way I’ll take my apocalyptic Old Testament dread.
Larman Clamor – Frogs (Small Stone)
Alexander vonWieding is a German illustrator who has done album art for the likes of Wo Fat and Monster Magnet. He’s also recorded a series of albums as Larman Clamor that sound like Tom Waits if he were buried in a swamp and revived with the help of a witchdoctor, Baron Samedi and the spirit of Howlin’ Wolf. Something this disfigured couldn’t have just come from the bayou, no matter how much mud, blood and hoodoo was involved. There’s also some ancient beasts from Germany’s Black Forest and dark fairy tales lurking about. While his self-titled debut and Altars To Turn Blood (2011) are collections of fragmented riffs and roughed-up Z.Z. Top boogie, Frogs shows more development in the songwriting department, resulting in the most satisfying album so far, and almost as fun as a closet of dancing skeletons.
Murder By Death – Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon (Bloodshot)
One minute Murder By Death was a young band still in college with just an album under their belt, then I blinked and suddenly they’re grizzled veterans on their sixth album with lead vocalist Adam Turla sounding like Johnny Cash near the end of his career. They take a page from Handsome Family’s chapbook, a macabre mix of Edward Gorey and The Carter Family. “Lost River” sounds like a sweeping, romantic song bursting with harmonies and swelling strings, but with sinister undertones (“Hush now creature, don’t you cry/I know a place where a body can hide”). The way they can marry melody with boozy melancholy, it’s no small wonder their Kickstart campaign to fund the vinyl release of this album was the third most successful so far at Kickstart. It makes me want to dig more into their back catalog of ambitious concept albums like Good Morning, Magpie (2010), Red Of Tooth And Claw (2008) and In Bocca al Lupo (2006).
Firewater – International Orange! (Bloodshot)
On his sixth album as Firewater (2008’s The Golden Hour), Tod A chronicled his travels in India, Turkey, Pakistan, and Indonesia. His travel bug has not subsided, as International Orange! was recorded in Istanbul and Tel Aviv during the riots last year. The result is music of more global flavor than autumnal Americana, more revolutionary energy than melancholy. But a Firewater album is enough of an event worth mentioning, and it actually worked quite well in a playlist with the rest of the above albums, especially when the defiant jubilance is tempered with “Strange Life” and “The Bonney Anne,” which confirm that darkness still resides deep in A’s heart.
Calexico – Algiers (Anti)
Calexico has also drifted away from their brand of dark, smoky garage noir in recent years. Their desert Tex Mex reached a zenith on their masterpiece Feast Of Wire (2003). Since then they’ve put out plenty of quality, mature music that awards a little patience. Algiers is their homage to New Orleans, named after the neighborhood they set up shop to record. While they have a lighter, jazzier touch, they do revisit some eerie atmosphere on “Maybe On Monday” and “Para.”