Portland Monthly’s Essential Fall 2021 Playlist

Lush, autumnal tracks from Portlanders including Elliott Smith, Esperanza Spalding, The Shivas, and more.

By Conner Reed September 14, 2021

The equinox is upon us. Overbooking yourself to make up for pandemic isolation is out; drinking wine with a handful of your closest friends is in. Here are some Portland-grown tracks to set good autumn ambiance, help sweeten the shortening days, or add some spice to a foliage-focused road trip (scroll down to read a bit about each selection):

“Heavy Rain,” Desolation Horse

Desolation Horse is the stage name of drummer/vocalist Cooper Trail, and this is one of the most immediate cuts from his excellent self-titled debut, which dropped last December. Smoky, sentimental sunset music that flirts intriguingly with twang.

“Range Life,” Pavement

“I want a range life,” croaked not-yet-Portlander Stephen Malkmus on 1994’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. “If I could settle down, then I would settle down.” In a year where every pop star is begging to join a commune? It feels prophetic.

“Everything Is Different (To Me),” quickly, quickly

A groovy, self-deprecating single from the young bedroom pop producer's acclaimed debut The Long and Short of It. "Having trouble sitting steady / A product of my smoking weed." Can we relate? No comment.

“Good Day,” Daniyel

The young, rising rapper makes you believe he invented the concept of having a good day in this breezy, close-miked pep talk. Throw it on in an especially tough morning shower for max effectiveness.

“Lucky Me,” Bridge City Collective ft. Arietta Ward

The new soul collective puts Ward's jaw-dropping voice front and center on this peppy, horn-heavy track.

“Empty Bottles,” Rose City Band

Ripley Johnson's solo project specializes in fuzzed-out country rock, but this gentle swayer slows it down a little, to weepy, wonderful effect.

“Nuestro Amor,” Sávila

A lilting salve straight from the group's latest EP, Mayahuel, that goes well with a rain-soaked window.

“Formwela 4,” Esperanza Spalding ft. Corey King

Spalding keeps it simple on this cut from her latest songwriting project, plucking out a gorgeous melody with her former tour mate and wisely letting it do most of the talking.

“Dry Grass & Shadows,” Alela Diane

Pedal steel? Ghostly harmonies? A weird line comparing a row of teeth to the feet of children stomping through an orchard? Autumn's here, baby!

“Road Song,” MAITA

One of a handful of strong singles the indie outfit has dropped since their first record wowed us last year. Coiled, circular verses open up to a thrilling stream-of-consciousness in the final third that highlights the beauty and banality of life on the road.

“...Better Than Being in Love,” Parisalexa

A hazy, convincing self-love anthem featuring pristine vocals, savage one-liners, and criss-crossing guitars. It's one of our favorite songs right now, from one of the Northwest's most interesting rising stars. Check out the music video here.

“Hung Up,” Number One Popstar

Portland label Italians Do It Better (started by electropop weirdo Johnny Jewel and named after a shirt Madonna wears in the “Papa Don't Preach" video) put out a 20-track Madge tribute album late in the summer. This cover of her 2005 hit, by sometime-punk Kate Hollowell, is an undeniable highlight.

"One Shot," Reva DeVito ft. Midas Hutch

Rubbery, glittering feel-good R&B that actually makes you feel ... good ... ? We are running the numbers on this.

“If I Could Choose,” The Shivas

The Portland psych rockers will release their latest LP Feels So Good // Feels So Bad (aptly titled for 2021, we'd say) at the end of September. This single layers on the fuzz but keeps it dreamy, with an especially sticky guitar riff sure to lodge itself in your brain with minimal effort.

"Can't Make a Sound," Elliott Smith

This cut from Smith's final and (most) polarizing record, Figure 8, starts in his wheelhouse—whispered vocals, faintly plucked guitar—before things hit a thrilling crescendo. No doubt Smith-worshipper Phoebe Bridgers had it in mind when she penned her apocalyptic stunner "I Know the End."

"The Flower Song," Jimmie Herrod

The homegrown America's Got Talent finalist has been laying his angelic voice down on wax for a few years now—"The Flower Song" is the opening track from Herrod's 2018 solo record Falling In Love and Learning to Love Myself. It's sweet and hopeful, and most importantly, a showcase for those golden pipes.

"There Will Come Soft Rains," Karyn Ann

The closing track the from singer-songwriter's spring EP I Am Not Yours lays Ann's deep, earthy voice over ethereal backing vocals and a faint synth drone. The effect? Something playful, mysterious, and altogether intoxicating.

"Affirmations," Mic Capes ft. Farnell Newton & Jaminah

Over Newton's trumpet and a crackly Sunday-morning beat, Capes catalogues his gratitude and then hands the reins over to Jaminah for a virtuosic rags-to-riches verse. 

“Saturday Morning Doze,” Ernest Hood

Something light* to round us out (*a 7.5 minute slice of ambient music from 50 years ago). In the mid-70s, Hood took field recordings from Portland and turned them into Neighborhoods, a self-pressed and distributed auditory love letter to the Rose City. Reissued by Freedom to Spend in 2019, the record has found new life; this enchanting track swells and swells before floating away on the sounds of laughing children and chirping birds.

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