As the turntable of gay summer in Chicago drops a few RPMs and the parties come to a close, a man's heart often turns to the softer sounds of autumn. Last year, I waxed semi-poetically on how my ear turns to the sounds of Neil Young, Pink Floyd and k.d. lang as the leaves fall: Music that's retro, familiar and as comfortable as a Snuggie. This year, for some reason, I'm not as much about the look back, as the look forward. So now is as good a time as any to look at the softer, sultry vibes of fall, picked from some great new releases over the past year.
Have you ever had one of those albums or tracks that you just keep hitting repeat on? That's happened twice this year, with the same song and their respective artists' LPs. "Hanging On," written and recorded by Active Child, then recently remade into a hit for the wonderful Ellie Goulding, is an ethereal and excruciatingly heart-wrenching track made even better by the fact that both artists have created collections around them just as gorgeous and mysterious. Both tracks will end up on my year-end best-of list.
Two other great tastes that taste great together are Saint Etienne's Words & Music and Pet Shop Boys' Elysium. These contemporaries have both released CDs more on their softer sides than some of their dancier ones. Pet Shop Boys maybe to a fault, since most fans seem turned off by their new quieter sound that hearkens back to Behavior; but most are welcoming it since the real hardcore fans like that version the best. Saint Etienne's W&C isn't quite so soft, with at least four strong pop hits; but most of the cuts would be more appropriate at a coffee house than at a nightclub.
If your version of mellow leans more gothic than pop, pick up Zola Jesus' stunning Collapse (think Florence Welch singing lead for Dead Can Dance), or actually get Dead Can Dance's Anastasis, their first album in "aions."* While not as great as any of their '80s and '90s output, if you just pick out the Lisa Gerrard haunting ethereal tracks on iTunes, you've got one gorgeous EP.
Finally, what may be my surprise favorite of the year, is also a surprise for ending up on my mellow list. Kylie Minogue's Abbey Road Session, a basic re-record of her key tracks, should have been another throw away by an aging artistlike if Madonna put out a remix albumbut not at all. With Kylie stripped down to vocal and orchestra, you not only see that many of her tracks are fine gems without all the production but also what a fantastic vocalist she really is. While not a "belter" like many divas out there, Kylie is a song stylist in the vein of more subtle singers of the past like Peggy Lee, Dusty Springfield or Dionne Warwick. For a pop star, Kylie may be starting the autumn of her years, but The Abbey Road Session feel like a new blast of spring to me.
*Aion is one of Dead Can Dance's best albums. Go look it up.