Fall albums follow a pretty straightforward formula. Some acoustic guitar. Some feathery vocals. If you can record it in a cabin, Justin Vernon-style, that’s a huge plus. And, hey, we’re fans of all this stuff. Coffeehouse vibes make for great autumn listening.
But there’s no reason to stick to one aesthetic for your whole entire fall. Autumn is all about change, and the outside transition can be soundtracked by a whole lot of different genres. Assuming you’ve already got plenty of The National, Fleet Foxes and Sufjan Stevens on your fall mix, here are some other albums worth getting on rotation.
Leon Bridges: Good Thing
Leon Bridges’ soothing voice is perfect all year round, but Good Thing is best when the air outside is crisp and you’re looking to get cozy. The Texas-born soulful singer combines classic R&B sounds with his melodic songwriting. Whether you’re swaying along to “Beyond” or blasting “Bad Bad News” as loud as you want, Good Thing will set you in the best mood for fall.
Julien Baker: Little Oblivions
Julien Baker makes music for people who are going through it. Her own battles with toxic relationships, addiction, depression and self doubt are bled out in her music with astonishing candor, and few artists are more capable of knocking you over with a single line. “I swear off all the things I thought that got me here. In the evening, I’ll come back again,” she sings on “Crying Wolf,” an ode to the horrible cycle of self destructive patterns that can tie us up. Baker’s journey to free herself from her own demons isn’t always pleasant listening, but it’s an unforgettable experience.
Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend built their brand on summery bops but age brought a mellow and melancholy nowhere better expressed than here, Modern Vampires of the City. Ezra Koenig is fully in his feels, wondering about death, God and the point of it all with a handful of the most beautiful melodies the band ever wrote.
Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman
You know “Fast Car” and, sure, it’s the best song on the album, but don’t discount the rest of Chapman’s wonderful debut. From a gutting meditation on domestic violence in “Behind the Wall” to the sharply observed (and surprisingly optimistic) societal reflection “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution,” Chapman’s canny ear for folk is matched by a mind on fire with curiosity and moral purpose.
Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
A remarkable achievement from one of our best songwriters, Fiona Apple plumbed the depths of grief and fury, yes, but also gratitude, affection and friendship to create one of the best albums of the decade. The album’s perfection is bolstered by its imperfection — her dogs barking in the background, the makeshift percussion instruments — which lend it the sort of intimacy and immediacy that could only come from something this homespun.
Big Red Machine: How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
You may already have the National and Bon Iver on your fall mix, but do you have the album from their joint band, Big Red Machine? Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon teamed up and, with a little help from famous friends like Taylor Swift and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, created an album that’s a little jammier than their usual work — more Grateful Dead than Paul Simon.
Mitski: Be the Cowboy
Mitski is a psychologically astute lyricist who is bracingly fearless when it comes to exploring her own interior life and writing about what she finds, no matter how unflattering. She is aware of the ways our relationships to the world around us and even to ourselves can be functional and still damaging. But this level of vulnerability seems to breed strength. It appears that in songwriting, as in life, vulnerability is the truth path to confidence.
Big Thief: Two Hands
Adrianne Lenker’s voice is potent, primal, a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes, it’s so fragile its splintering at its most emotive moments, other times its bowling you over like a physical force. Her songs are about intimacy — the way we can’t draw close to each other without offering both hurt and comfort.
Taylor Swift: Red (Taylor’s Version)
Fall is often a major time for transition in life, as one season of sunshine ends and a colder one settles in. But in the in between, something beautiful always happens — reflection and change. No where is that transition more understood than on Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version). From the autumn colors to the leaves falling, Swift paints a picture-perfect fall while also detailing the highs and lows of a relationship throughout her new(ish) album, Red (Taylor’s Version). Swift reminds us that in this cooling-off season, it’s important to look back on what we’ve gone through as we prepare for the next season of life.
WILLOW: The 1st
WILLOW’s music career has lived a thousand lifetimes, or so it seems. She’s gone pop, R&B, electric — and back in 2017, she went full fall vibes to create a raw and organic album called The 1st. Even though it was her second album, The 1st truly shows off WILLOW’s creativity with reflective songs about adolescence, growing up with immense pressure, the desire to discover oneself — you know, the usual. From the soft music to the insightful lyrics, this album will show you how to use this season to slow down and reflect in this changing season.
Florence + the Machine: Lungs
If you look up fall vibes in the dictionary, you’ll likely find a picture of Florence + the Machine. The band’s debut album — full of essential autumn songs, like “Dog Days Are Over,” “You’ve Got the Love” and “Kiss with a Fist” — was released over a decade ago, but few albums capture the crispness of fall like Lungs does. The free spirit prevalent throughout the album feels like the cool air of autumn, making your skin tingle with excitement for what’s happening all around you.
War on Drugs: I Don’t Live Here Anymore
War on Drugs makes “dad rock” like he never heard that was supposed to be a bad thing and, when it’s coming from this band, it’s emphatically not. The band’s fastidious style of production serves them well: nailing simple chord progressions and then slowly layering them on top each other, dropping a few guitar solos in and letting lead vocalist Adam Granduciel lay his lyrics on top and, when that doesn’t work, yelp them out. It’s thrilling and soothing in equal measure.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.