I’m one of those walking clichés who “loves fall the most, actually.” But in the age of the delta variant, it’s pretty hard to be basic. While I’m relishing the tell-tale elements of autumn – cool breezes at night, curated horror movie collections on all the streaming services, the way-too-busy ice cream store at the end of my street finally shutting down for the season – it also means we’re headed back indoors, aka COVID’s home turf.
But let’s not dwell on that. Instead, let me remind you that fall is the time to close your windows – which means you can crank this playlist as loud as you want. Everything might feel more complicated these days, but that volume knob still works just the same.
1. Payday (feat. Danny Brown) – “Vampire”
Massive drums, weird operatic vocal loops, and chest-beating vampiric rap verses = an instant Halloween classic.
2. Courtney Barnett – “Write A List of Things To Look Forward To”
I don’t know too many artists who could earnestly sing, “Sit beside me / Watch the world burn,” without sucking every positive vibe out of the room. But cool matter-of-factness is Courtney Barnett’s stock in trade. So she extends that invitation over sweetly jangling guitar chords, and makes our shared human destiny feel full of reasons to smile, ever-so slyly.
3. Lil Nas X – “That’s What I Want”
As an acoustic guitar strums with an irresistible “Hey Ya” pulse, 2021’s savviest, most fully realized pop star lays his vulnerabilities out there in a way that brings all of us into the fold: “I want someone to love me / I need someone to need me.”
4. Unto Others – “Instinct”
On its second album, these goth-metal masters scrap the satanic rituals and throw a 47-minute sullen-teen tantrum – which would be somewhat silly if it weren’t so damn catchy.
5. Little Simz – “Little Q, Pt. 2”
“Real criminals live in the suit!” raps this London MC over a honey-glazed old-Kanye gospel arrangement, shining light into painful corners of her past, encouraging those who’ve caused her harm to step back and focus on the real enemy.
6. Aimee Mann – “Burn It Out”
Over a gorgeous folk waltz arrangement that she should be able to trademark by now, Aimee Mann sets her empathetic sights on a person who just set themselves on fire: “All of the shame that was yours to bear / Will it ignite like a signal flare? / Can you just burn it out?”
7. Bartees Strange – “Weights”
An indie rock song so gleefully and relentlessly buzzy, your hair just might stand up on end.
8. Native Soul – “The Beginning”
This hypnotic, mid-tempo dance groove was my first exposure to amapiano, a type of meditative South African house music that builds but never quite peaks. Its disinterest in grabbing our attention has the opposite effect; I could burrow deep into Native Soul’s world of unshifting shakers and synthesizers and feel eerily fulfilled.
9. Latto – “Big Energy”
Tom Tom Club begat Mariah. Mariah begat Latto. Amen.
10. Parquet Courts – “Black Widow Spider”
A loose, short, weird single about trying to outrun pain and inevitably getting squashed.
11. Open Mike Eagle (feat. Armand Hammer) – “Burner Account”
“Making sure the bass slap, Ndegeocello!”
12. Iron Maiden – “Hell On Earth”
Iron Maiden released its 17th studio album in September, and it smartly focuses on what the band does best these days – long, slowly unfurling epics that wrestle with big questions, and only provide answers in the form of exquisite guitar playing. “Hell On Earth” is the best, and most resolutely hopeless, of the lot. “Lost in anger! / Life in danger!” bemoans Bruce Dickinson in the song’s eighth minute, the musicians behind him affirming his righteous outrage by playing slowly and determinedly. Iron Maiden is no longer urging anyone to run for the hills. Because there’s no escape from what humanity has wrought. If this ends up being their final song laid to tape, I can’t think of a more honest – and thoroughly metal – farewell.