Monday, November 02, 2009

Songs for November

(***BONUS NOTE! Now just click here to hear the whole playlist. Thanks, Michael!)

About the same number of Americans are born every month. It's true, I read it somewhere. The exceptions to the rule are August and September, which have slightly higher birth-rates than the other months. There's not a spike in the chart, but there is a bump.

Why are (a few) more Americans born in August in September than the other months? Why do we have more Leo's than any other sign? And why, dear God, am I telling you any of this?

Because if you're born in August-September, you were probably conceived in November-December (assuming you're human). More specifically, if you were conceived November 15, your due date was approximately August 15. What I'm about to say might make some of you uncomfortable, but you'll have to deal with it: November-December, evidently, is baby-making season. And if you were born in August-September, your parents fell victim to its snuggly charms. In a big, big way. Think about that.

There is something in the air in November. It's not fall's best month (September), and it's not fall's prettiest month (October), and it's not The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (December). The weather's worse than you remember (way more rain), and the leaves don't fall at the rate you expect (usually all-to-nothing, which can be jarring). It features a major holiday, but that holiday has no gifts and showcases food-you-don't-eat-any-other-time. November's lacking some typical fallish delights, but it's got something else:

Mojo. I noticed it first in college, long after my brother had warned me: November (and into December) is the time when stuff goes down. Relationships start, relationships get serious, relationships get turbulent, relationships end. These things can start, or finish, or become anything in between--one way or another, It Happens in November. And if It doesn't, the scene is set for a truly frightening and heady December. Don't believe me?

Think about all your past relationships. Think about their chronology. Now, think about how often you consider your exes. How often you wonder what they're doing. How often you think about calling them just to see. I will bet you $9 and a cardigan that number rises in November. I know mine does.

What is it? Is it the first rush of cold weather? The fear of winter and the anxiety of spending five months indoors by yourself? The fact that people look good in sweaters? The holiday season, and heart-warming activities therein? Does the cider go to our heads? All of the above?

Some months are great on paper, but November's great because of its intangibles. It's a strange and magical time of year, and it works in mysterious ways. It's a time when people get together, or think about getting together, or drive circles at midnight obsessing about getting together. It's a time when all experience seems amplified, all feelings heightened. The emotional stakes are raised. It's the beginning of the end of the year, and it's fall's tipping point.

Now, thirty songs that typify its mysterious mojo...

30 Songs for November!

(Oh, and as always, there's the iTunes' Randomly Selected Pick.)

Counting Crows, "Hard Candy"
A lyrical layup ("On certain Sundays in November..."), but concrete proof that the Counting Crows can enact the sound of a season as well as anyone. This song is quintessential fall.

Ryan Adams, "Gimme a Sign"
As much fun as fall is, there's an end-game to the festivities. This song marks the turning point from October (inconsequential fun) to November (needing more).

Magpies, "Cobblestone Road"
An Americana outfit I discovered a while back, the Magpies have a catalog full of rootsy, Band-inspired, harmony-laden, rollicking songs. "Cobblestone Road" is my favorite--all some songs need is a wide open space, and breathing room.

Monsters of Folk, "Say Please"
Desire. Supplication. Acoustic guitars.

Josh Ritter, "Good Man"
One ongoing theme of this list--and every November relationship--is the conflict between what you should do and what you are doing. Josh Ritter sets the right example.

Teenage Fanclub, "Falling Leaves"

My Morning Jacket, "Just Because I Do"
The flip side of "Good Man's" coin. It's not My Morning Jacket's best song, but it might be their most fun, and one of those wonderful times Jim James says exactly what he's thinking. This song makes sense, even when it doesn't make sense.

Wallflowers, "Sleepwalker"
"Educated virgin" is one of my favorite lyrical moments from the 90's. The song's minor-major battle plays out the way November usually does: a constant push and pull with a bittersweet ending.

REM, "Half a World Away"
Who hasn't been here? REM take the singularly painful experience of feeling detached, alone, and heartbroken, and make that feeling universal. By singing about loneliness, Michael Stipe shows us that nobody's truly alone.

Pearl Jam, "Just Breathe"
Eddie Vedder, via Faith Hill.

Big Star, "I'm In Love With a Girl"
That thrilling, silent, terrifying realization that she's gotten to you. Again. And you never stood a chance.

Black Keys, "All You Ever Wanted"
The next realization, and a haunting reminder to to "be careful what you wish for."

White Stripes, "You've Got Her In Your Pocket"
By November, we've replaced the harmless dalliances with something more consequential, and more troubling. Even when a relationship involves less, it means more. Suddenly, everything matters.

Uncle Tupelo, "Atomic Power"
In 2004, I made a fall mix to commemorate that semester at school. The mix was split into two halves, with "You've Got Her In Your Pocket" ending the first half, and "Atomic Power" starting the second. Something about that pairing always stuck with me, the way Uncle Tupelo's instrumental wordlessly communicates everything the rest of the mix wants to say. It's a departure, a turning point, the moment when everything that came before suddenly isn't enough. There's something in that repeated acoustic phrase, something about the bent notes and the steady pace beneath it. It's the sound of needing more, and searching for it.

Loretta Lynn and Jack White, "Portland, Oregon"
And sometimes that search includes Oregon, sloe gin fizz, Loretta Lynn, and a corner booth.

Kings of Leon, "Fans"
This song is a wide open, acoustic-driven, backbeat-fueled, soaring, sustained, Petty-infused pop rock tune that should be titled "The Highway, And Why You Love It," or "Cruise Control" or "Roll Down Your Window and Roll Up the Rock" or something equally ridiculous and appropriate. I don't have a clue what this song has to do with "Fans"; that's for a better linguist to decipher. I put the song here because of what it is, not what it says it is.

Simon & Garfunkel, "Leave That Are Green"
Layup! Also, something in that baroque arrangement sounds wintry to me--it makes a smooth transition as we head toward December.

Ryan Adams, "Tears of Gold"
What is November without images of home?

Band of Horses, "Marry Song"

Coldplay, "Trouble"
1) Personal ties to this one.
2) Yeah, you heard me.
3) I think this is a legitimately good song.
4) That gorgeous piano melody, the somber musical imagery, the stark lyricism...this is what Adam Duritz' bothersome November weather (in "Hard Candy") actually sounds like.

Avett Brothers, "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise"
By late November, we're building momentum, and well-past the point of self-delusion. Also, bonus points for any songs with keys--they connote the holiday season to me.

Jimmy Eat World, "Crimson and Clover"
Jam right. I'm bringing out the JEW, and they're singing a round, and everyone on the home stretch will have to deal with it.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Someday Never Comes"
One of my favorite John Fogerty melodies, and lyrically appropriate.

Bob Dylan, "4th Time Around"
Many Dylan songs explore semi-relationships: the thing that happens when two people are holding back and can't make it work. Many Dylan songs have an entirely "wintry" arrangement, from the bright acoustics, to the light keys, to the spare, haunting rhythm section. "4th Time Around" brings both to the table, and tells the story perfectly as we inch toward December.

Scott Miller, "Loving That Girl"
Dylan's "4th Time Around" scene revisited, now a day, or a week, or years later. Sometimes, November's too much.

Ben Nichols, "Toadvine"
You knew Ben Nichols was coming. But wait...

Lucero, "Nights Like These"
...There's more. Remember at the beginning, when I described "driving circles at midnight obsessing about getting together"? That's Lucero's genre: "Music to play in your car at midnight while you obsess about a relationship, with nobody to talk to, and nowhere to go." This is a gorgeous song, and my all-time favorite by Lucero, and it enacts a breaking point.

(Side note: "She had a weakness for writers and I--I was never that good at the words, anyways" is the moment I fell in love with Lucero. This was the first Lucero song I heard. When that line came--at the song's climax, breaking into the instrumental section--I had a new favorite band. Seven years later, it still hits home.)

Wilco, "Someday Soon"
Alt-country arrangements sound like a homecoming to me, which is exactly what late November brings. "Someday Soon" is Tweedy's version of Tom Petty's final sentiment; it's optimistic, but less certain.

Tom Petty, "It'll All Work Out"
Petty tells a story with simultaneous intimacy and distance: you can never fully tell if he's singing about a faraway past or an immediate one. There's wisdom in the detachment, but there's pain in the closeness. When he sings the chorus, he's halfway convincing. And that's really all anyone needs by November's end: an easy, hopeful, pretty refrain they can sing and even believe. After all, the story's not over.

iTunes' Bonus Random Pick!
"Making Believe" - Emmylou Harris.

Alright, iTunes, way to pull out the Emmylou trump card. Now you're not even playing fair...

What about you? Are you an August baby? Is November the start of Something for you? Did you call an ex last night? And, most of all... What are your songs for November? Hit up the comments and let me know!

That's the way it goes,


ross k. said...

I heard one today that speaks to this, "The Best of You" by the Foo Fighters.

"You must confess: is someone getting the best of you?"

Chris Milam said...

Yes! The Foo's got a lot of material for November. I was lukewarm on this single when it came out, and it's grown on me bigtime. Great call.

Michael said...

For whatever reason I can't paste into the comment box - so I've included the rhapsody playlist as my 'personal' url (get to it by clicking on my name).

I've been digging on Anathallo this early winter - i classify them as great lakes indie-pop rock. I included 'All the first pages' in the playlist.

ross k. said...

Yeah, while we're on the subject, there is a certain type of Foos song is good for November but not limited to it. The songs I mean are really just for "at night" and can be appropriate for any month as long as one listens in the right state of mind. "Everlong" is really the classic of the type that I'm talking about. "February Stars" is another favorite, which will actually play in your stereo in other months even though the title expressly forbids it.

Chris Milam said...

Huge! Thanks Michael--this is awesome.

I feel like I've heard Anathallo (or the name) before...I'm glad you put them in there.

Rosser, I actually heard "February Stars" at a bar in East August. One of those moments when you tell the person with you to shut up to make sure you're hearing it right: "are they actually playing some obscure Foo right now?!?" I always assumed that song wouldn't work outside its month (and put it in Songs for February), but it totally does. Great call.

me said...

Stars, Your Ex-Lover Is Dead--"I'm not sorry I met you, I'm not sorry it's over, I'm not sorry there's nothing to say"

Imogen Heap, I Am In Love With You--Run the whole relationship gamut

The Postal Service, Nothing Better--When you get caught in all that reminiscing and need a healthy wake-up call to move on

Pearl Jam, Better Man--When you want to move on but something keeps you there

Ryan Adams, Wish You Were Here--back to that longing.

The Thorns, Runaway Feeling--just to show that I'm not completely bitter.

Travis, Re-Offender--sometimes there really is such a thing as giving someone too many chances.

The Damnwells, You Don't Have To Like Me To Love Me Tonight--Time to stop thinking too much.

ross k. said...

Hey, a little plug for a Louisville band...

...the songs on "Bleeder" by The Fervor have November all over 'em. I don't know if these folks live in any other month. Check 'em out when you're ready to slow it down.

Post a Comment