I just moved from California to Colorado, this is my first time experiencing a real autumn. I often catch myself just staring at all the trees — the bright yellows, the vivid oranges, the rich reds. I’ll stare forever.
The vibrant foliage awakens the nostalgic side of me. Looking at the leaves, I feel the gravity of life and yet, I feel a deep hope at the same time. Fall this year, especially, feels like a true autumn — the passing of an old way of life and the evergreen hope that new life will return.
I’m admittedly buying into the whole pumpkin craze. It’s my first authentic autumn so I feel like I have to. The other night, I had pumpkin pasta smothered in pumpkin sauce with pumpkin cinnamon rolls for dessert. I’m an embarrassment.
I’m not as ashamed to admit that I’m also buying into all the autumn-feels music. You know the genre — the slower, more rugged tunes that are somehow both happy and sad at the same time. As I step out into Colorado’s increasingly cooler mornings, these four new tunes encapsulate the autumnal vibe.
Trevor Hall — “the old story”
Trevor Hall is esteemed for his poetic writing and acoustic-reggae roots. With “the old story,” he introduces some traditionally Western instruments into his typically Eastern sound. The banjo, organ, and steel guitar all play over a subtly running stream while he beautifully explores our need for healing. The combined sounds stir a sentimentality that manages to remain equal parts yearning and steadfast.
Hall’s afflicting lyrics fit perfectly with the instrumentation. As he bellows, “Gotta let it go its own way / Who will you be if you let it stay / I’m afraid / I’m afraid,” Hall exposes our ultimate human trap: fearing both the painful past and the unsteady future. The wounds we carry and the anxieties we hold only make us afraid to fully embrace the present moment.
But how do we “let it go?” It’s a tall task we each have to face, but Hall suggests moving on might not be as tough as we make it out to be. His chorus offers some insight: “You just gotta let that old story go / You just gotta let that good river flow into your heart / It’s a start.”
Hall, as he often does, stumbles upon a deep spiritual truth. The way to recovery — at least, the way to initiating the process — is through both your own work and inviting God’s grace into your life. It’s one of the more complex “both/ands” that we mistakenly try to simplify. It takes both our own efforts to rewrite our stories and God’s efforts to work in us. What a timely message for this unique season in our country.
Fleet Foxes — “I’m Not My Season”
Fresh off their new album, Fleet Foxes’ “I’m Not My Season” pleas for us to remember the impermanence of our current stage of life. Whereas Trevor Hall was bogged down by the past and future, Fleet Foxes seem wearied by the present.
“Though I liked summer light on you / If we ride a winter-long wind / Well time’s not what I belong to / And I’m not the season I’m in.” Just like Hall, Fleet Foxes call us to hope. Despite our current troubles, the here and now isn’t a victim of the past, and our present moment doesn’t hold our futures hostage.
In a relatively simple song that evokes a medieval-esque ambience, frontman Robin Pecknold softly croons, “I see the pall coming off of our cheeks / We’re weak but a leaf is turning.” Amid death and darkness, hope can remain. (Also, shout out to the leaves turning!)
Though the pains of life are inevitable, it’s important to recognize that we’re not married to our feelings. One season — no matter how long it drags on — doesn’t have the power to define us. Pecknold unites us by changing the subject pronoun in the second chorus: “You are not the season you’re in.” I’m not defined by this moment in time, and neither are you. We’re in this wild year together.
Ruston Kelly — “Rubber”
COVID-19 has slowed the pace of our lives tremendously. Many of us still struggle with feeling pulled in too many directions, however — perhaps even moreso now. We’re still overcommitting and over-stretching ourselves with too many things. In an effort to expand ourselves we can actually lose ourselves. The Ohio native, Ruston Kelly, paints this all-too-common pitfall with “Rubber.”
Kelly’s chorus echoes a profound worry that being too malleable leads to a permanent loss of self. “Oh / Can I bounce back? / Oh / Or just lay flat.” When rubber continuously stretches, it loses its original shape and strength. Kelly fears that continuously stretching himself will likewise lead him to losing the very things he holds dear about himself.
Autumn gives us a great chance to sit with this. If we never rest, if we never slow down, can we really know ourselves?
We can appear like we have it all together but still be falling apart interiorly. “I’m the stretchy man / So jacked and tan / Made of rubber / Only rubber.” What some people consider our strengths might only cover up our deep suffering. Kelly offers no real solutions for this, but underneath his question — “Can I bounce back?” — we can’t help but sense a sliver of hope. However torn and withered it may be, the human heart can always bounce back.
Matt Berninger — “Serpentine Prison”
The National’s frontman, Matt Berninger, recently released his debut solo album. The title track, “Serpentine Prison,” feels like it could slide right into an album with his usual playmates. In classic Berninger-style, the lyrics flow like a tide of words that continue to seamlessly build off one another until they flood the listener with emotion.
Berninger coined the phrase “serpentine prison” after a sewer pipe not far from my old home in Venice, California. For reference, this sewer pipe has a cage right where it meets the sea. Listening to the words, one can’t help but feel imprisoned and longing for an escape that seems so close yet is still so far away. The song’s escalating war drum only feeds this growing hostility.
The opening lyrics immediately elicit loneliness: “I see the starlight through the clouds / Why won’t anybody listen to me?” A few lyrics later, Berninger points to common coping methods for such isolation: “You’re gonna have a pretty hard time / Without drugs, without love.” It’s tempting to run to things that can offer relief — even if only temporarily — when we don’t feel seen or heard. In a time when we increasingly feel more divided and alone, over-stretching ourselves can be our “drug” or our attempt for love.
“Serpentine Prison” is bleak, but it points to the universal struggle of feeling stuck. It also warns what seclusion can lead to if left untamed. “Whatever it is / I try not to listen / Cold cynicism / And blind nihilism / I need a vacation / From intoxication.” With so much suffering right now, Berninger’s words are a welcome reminder to turn toward the things that feed us in a healthy way.
Now is the time, especially when it doesn’t feel like it, to let old things die — to just let it go — and turn to silence as we wait out the cold. We are not this season, though it sure is a colorful one.