With September upon us, the wonder of golden leaves, apple picking, and pumpkin carving are teasingly close. As such, you may find that the upbeat summer dance vibes that’ have been on repeat for the past few months no longer match the cooling days. The essence of crisp autumn air and warm apple cider is more likely to lend itself to soothing instrumentals and soft, atmospheric sounds. These are songs that, instead of prompting you to bump along with the beat, make you want to curl up with a blanket and listen to the story they tell. I’ve included five below from women who use their incredible voices to deliver some equally incredible words. So, get your cup of tea, a fuzzy sweater, and welcome the sounds of autumn.
‘Hunger‘ – Florence + The Machine
If I ever had to choose a human being as the embodiment of autumn, it would be Florence Welch. Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr, you’ll likely come across a post from Welch’s fans likening her to a mystical woodland fairy with the power to heal a forest. Frankly, I can’t say that they’re wrong. The opening notes of ‘Hunger’ feature Welch’s echoing and ethereal ‘oohs’ before she breaks into the first lines: ‘At seventeen, I started to starve myself / I thought that love was a kind of emptiness.’ This song marked the first time Welch had ever opened up about her eating disorder. While the song embraces the struggle of being young and hurt in your search for love, Welch told Story of Song that ‘Hunger’ is also ‘a celebration of how much I see young people changing things…I was really lost when I was a teenager, I was really confused and sad, so I feel really inspired by the young women I see today.’
the story behind ‘hunger’ | via @florence on instagram
‘breathe again‘ – Joy Oladokun
This soft ballad comes to life through Oladokun’s melodic vocals, a beautiful collection of strings, and a simple tune on the piano. Lyrics like ‘If my intentions are good, why can’t I come clean?’ and ‘When the world’s so heavy I can’t stand / I close my eyes and start again’ speak to the difficulty of living under crushing expectations. It can become so heavy that you forget to breathe. In an interview with American Songwriter, Oladokun told Kira Grunberg that ‘breathe again’ ‘is about letting go of perfectionism and embracing the warm flickering thing between light and dark that is our humanity…This song is important to me because it is a reminder in those moments to let go, return to the present moment, and start again.’ It offers the same reminder for us all.
‘fallingwater‘ – maggie rogers
The smooth, swirling sound of Rogers’ voice is like water babbling down a creek on a cool October morning. At the same time, the song itself, with its changes in volume and emotion and underlying beat, mirrors the ebb and flow of spilling water. This flow couldn’t better represent the give and take that’s inherent and often unpredictable with love. Rogers said ‘Fallingwater’ is a song ‘that celebrates rapid change and how simultaneously scary and electric it can feel. It’s about giving everything and not knowing if it’s enough.’ As the lines ‘I never loved you fully in the way I could / I fought the current running just the way you would’ hit you in the chorus, you’re brought back to all those moments that put you in your own creek.
Maggie rogers on set for the ‘fallingwater’ music video | via @maggierogers on twitter
‘betty‘ – taylor swift
My personal favorite track off of the quarantine-inspired and woodland-centric folklore, ‘betty’ is the final installment of the teenage love triangle Swift created for her new album. She named the characters (Betty, James, and Inez) after her friends’ kids. In ‘cardigan,’ we’re introduced to Betty’s perspective as she sifts through the pain of her love, James, cheating on her and wanting to win her back. ‘august’ offers the viewpoint of the woman James cheated with, and ‘betty’ brings the triangle to a close with James. In an interview with Vulture, Swift said ‘James has lost the love of his life basically and doesn’t understand how to get it back. I think we all have these situations in our lives where we learn to really, really give a heartfelt apology for the first time.’ With lyrics like ‘I’m only seventeen, I don’t know anything / But I know I miss you,’ Swift reminds us of what’s like to be young and naïvely believe we’re invincible. She reminds us of the first time we might’ve hurt someone, or gotten hurt ourselves, and how disorienting it is to confront something that goes beyond the year of seventeen.
‘joanne (where do you think you’re goin’‘ – lady gaga
When I think of Lady Gaga, I think of a woman who’ll stop at nothing to bring love and kindness into the world. She does so through her platform, in addition to the stories she shares through her music. ‘Joanne’ is the title track for Gaga’s 2016 album, but she released ‘Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’)’ two years later. The video opens with a black screen containing these words: ‘Joanne was my father’s sister who died at the age of 19 from the auto-immune disease Lupus.’ Those words fade into the next sentence: ‘My father was only 15 when she passed away.’ This beautifully stripped back version features only Gaga’s vocals accompanied by the piano, which allows every raw ounce of emotion to shine through as she belts lines like ‘if you could I know that you’d stay / We both know things don’t work that way.’ It sends chills down your spine and puts an ache in your heart. Gaga’s voice delivers both the pain her family has endured with this horrific loss and the love they still cherish for Joanne.