Well, it happened: the autumn equinox hit this morning at 6:30 a.m., permanently relegating the strange summer of 2020 to the past. To commemorate the seasonal shift, Fleet Foxes—our neighbors to the north—put out a surprise new LP called Shore. That got us thinking: as we slowly phase out our summer playlists, who will we turn to for cozy fall comforts?
Enter a brand-new project. Starting today, Portland Monthly will curate seasonal playlists featuring songs by Portlanders old and new (with an emphasis on the “new”). The fall lineup is packed with the sorts of crooners and rappers and finger-pickers who make this city great: pop acts like Alexandra Savior, rising hip-hop stars like Karma Rivera, golden-voiced powerhouses like Edna Vazquez.
In total, the Portland Monthly Essential Fall Playlist sports 22 songs, to honor the equinox’s place on the 22nd day of the month and also because we’re bad at killing our darlings.
Check out the playlist below, and keep scrolling for a track-by-track breakdown. While you’re at it, give our Spotify a follow and stay tuned for upcoming mixes.
“Smoldering Fire,” Ural Thomas & the Pain
This cut, from the legendary 81-year-old soul singer’s 2018 album The Right Time, absolutely screams autumn: lush piano, yearning vocals, some irresistible “shoo-wops” down there in the mix. Play it, close your eyes, imagine you are in love at a pumpkin patch, and reach for the whiskey.
“Fall of ’82,” The Shins
Do all those bleeps, endemic to the Shins’ divisive 2012 LP Port of Morrow (I like it), remind me of fall? Not necessarily. But this song is tight and the word “fall” is in the title. Next!
“Crying All the Time,” Alexandra Savior
Portland-born, LA-based Savior’s excellent, fuzzy album The Archer dropped one million years ago AKA in January, and it’s still one of my go-to 2020 releases: sort of a Carpenters-meets-Lana Del Rey situation, with a desert rock sheen. This song’s big, languid, mascara-streaked, and I love it.
“Hazy Morning,” Blitzen Trapper
I was going to go with the indie-folk group’s hit “Furr,” a song about a guy who turns into a wolf and then is like “damn, I’m a wolf,” but that felt too easy. So I turned to their just-released single “Hazy Morning” (off upcoming LP Holy Smokes Future Jokes) for some driving folk rock goodness.
“Untitled God Song,” Haley Heynderickx
Heynderickx’s debut I Need to Start a Garden is bursting with loveliness, and “Untitled God Song” might be its loveliest moment. An ode to imagined lovers, it swoons and sways and makes for optimum scarf-clad park-walk listening.
“Can’t Decide,” Aminé
One of the moodiest moments on Limbo, which is pretty cleanly divided between moodiness and buoyancy, “Can’t Decide” sneaks a flamenco guitar into its pop-trap beat and highlights the indecision that fuels some of Limbo’s finest tracks.
Rising star Wynne—a mainstay at Portland hip-hop show The Thesis—goes hard on her fast, lean 2019 album If I May…, but on “Playa,” she slows down a bit, riding a hazy beat and spitting delightful, rock-solid boasts.
“Bésame mucho,” Edna Vazequez with Pink Martini
Big-voiced crooner Vazquez tackles the Consuelo Velázquez classic with a little help from her friends. The result? An impossibly sensual, cider-on-the-stove, flickering-candle-in-the-living-room good time.
“Japanese Waitress,” Maita
Maria Maita-Keppeler’s songs swing between smoky whispers and crunchy riffs. This cut, which floated around as a single for a few years before appearing on her band’s full-length May debut Best Wishes, gives us the best of both worlds. (Nothing can prepare you for hearing the word “Beaverton” in a song this good and serious.)
“PDX ’97,” Lone Kodiak
This big, cheesy, Killers-sized slab of anthemic indie rock might make you laugh if it wasn’t so goddamn committed. The constant refrain—“I want to hear my favorite songs sung by you”—begs to be scribbled in chemistry notebook margins, and the whole thing drips with the kind of shaggy, unfocused nostalgia that will make you miss karaoke bars. Ideal fall road trip music.
“Fallout,” Karma Rivera
Rivera calls herself “the town’s finest” on this irresistible little banger, released in August, and she also says “fall” a bunch, which is the season that it is now. Bonus: the pretty, apocalyptic-Tumblr-collage cover art sticks in the craw.
“Kobe,” Dame D.O.L.L.A. feat. Snoop Dogg & Derrick Milano
This track shares a title and a subject—the tragic death of Kobe Bryant—with an interlude on Aminé’s Limbo. That interlude, though, does not feature Snoop Dogg or a Trail Blazer. Dropped earlier this month, “Kobe” continues Damian Lillard’s prolific hip-hop output as Dame D.O.L.L.A. with skill and bombast.
“No One Remembers Your Name,” The Lavender Flu
A rare moment of quiet on the Portland band’s Iceage-adjacent Barbarian Dust, whose cover art, released in February, features a gas-mask clad hero running in an empty street and now feels…prescient. Sloppy saloon rock to warm your insides.
“He Was Too Good to Me,” Jimmie Herrod with Pink Martini
Vocal acrobat Jimmie Herrod, a sometime Pink Martini collaborator, tears into the Rodgers and Hart standard with breathtaking aplomb. Tinkling keys and misty eyes—somebody stoke the fire.
“Alameda,” Elliott Smith
This anxious track from Smith’s 1997 classic Either/Or—the last album he conceived and cut almost entirely in Portland—takes us on a spooky and lacerating walk through NE PDX. Very “Happy Halloween, the ghosts were us all along.” Eat your heart out, Scooby Doo.
“Go Missing,” Lost Lander
A hooky, melodic cut from Lost Lander’s 2019 concept album Aberdeen, it’s pleasantly spacey until it finds tempo, finally resting in a sweet spot between uplift and uncertainty. Another road trip must.
“Scorpio Moon,” Black Belt Eagle Scout
Katherine Paul’s lush, tender At the Party with My Brown Friends was one of our favorite releases of 2019. “Scorpio Moon,” from the record, is a gauzy dream, warm as a sweater and so brisk you could swear it makes you see your breath.
The three-piece “cumbia/Latin/world/R&B” band, known for their flamboyant live shows, seems to transmit molten calm into your ears. This track from their self-titled debut certainly does, and it should whet your appetite for their new EP, coming soon.
“The Greatest Own in Legal History,” Stephen Malkmus
The former face of Pavement and current Jicks frontman released his third solo album a week before lockdown hit—it’s typically sharp, funny, and listenable. “Greatest Own” is a stinging story song, told from the perspective of a pompous lawyer trying to convince his client he’ll get him out of prison.
“Baddest,” Frankie Simone feat. Maarquii
A blast of energy to bring us home. Simone released their debut Sensitive Creature this month, and this is one of its strongest cuts: a maximal pop moment with assistance from Maarquii, who’s an inarguable bright spot in contemporary Portland hip-hop.
“Roll On,” Felix Hatfield
This is nothing but folk singer-songwriter Hatfield and his leisurely plucked guitar, singing about the sort of forward momentum we’re all gunning for right now.
“On the Bus Mall,” The Decemberists
Closing us out with a personal favorite. This song, a tale of two young sex workers ambling about Old Portland, doesn’t necessarily scream “fall,” but it does scream My Own Private Idaho, and is that not enough?