What Makes for a Great Autumn Album?

My favorite season has officially arrived. On a crisp Sunday morning, I’ve found myself cooking pumpkin pancakes in the kitchen, sipping my coffee as cool air comes in through the open window. Yes, I’m “that” guy. But perhaps my favorite part of the morning is listening to the sounds of one of my favorite fall albums: Copeland’s In Motion spins on the turntable as I cook.

But what does In Motion have to do with autumn? This is the question I’ve been seeking to answer ever since someone put me on the spot a few weeks ago, asking me what I mean when I talk about my favorite fall albums. I realized that I didn’t have a good, succinct answer. Maybe there wasn’t one.

Listen to our podcast: The Best Music of Autumn

I’m convinced that this idea is extremely subjective and differs from person to person, but nevertheless, in order to at least answer for myself, I’ve been able to define four variables that impact my tendency to listen to an album when the leaves turn and the temperature drops. Take a look below and feel free to share your thoughts in the replies!

When it Was Released

This one is obvious. I’m drawn to dates and anniversaries, so if an album came out a certain time of year, I’m inclined to revisit it during that timeframe. A great example is Mayday Parade’s self-titled release, which dropped in October of 2011. The album really doesn’t meet any of the other criteria outlined below, but every fall, it’s one of the first albums I reach for.

When I listen to Mayday Parade, it takes me back to the early dating days with my wife and how often I played the album on the hour-long car ride to her home in Bloomington, Indiana, during our first fall together.

Other times, release dates align perfectly with the sound of an album. My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade arrived a week before Halloween in 2006 and is almost custom-made for the season with its themes of death and imagery of hellish characters. It’s now my go-to album to spin during our annual pumpkin carving.

How it Sounds

We now move to a much more arbitrary point, but I would argue that some songs and albums just “sound” like the season. Here, I think of cool, sometimes dark, music that reminds me of shorter days and how I feel when I see my breath in the air early in the morning.

A few albums that come to mind here are Armor For Sleep’s Dream to Make Believe and Chiodos’ Bone Palace Ballet. Armor For Sleep is a summer band for many, and their second album, What to Do When You Are Dead, is a warm-weather staple of mine, but Dream to Make Believe has a raw, harsh quality that sets it apart. A track like “Frost and Front Steps” is nearly impossible not to associate with the season.

Likewise, Bone Palace Ballet, with its crunching guitars and theatrics reminds me of the looming darkness of the season, checking the boxes of both sound and lyrics, with its eerie and spooky themes.

What it Has to Say

Speaking of lyrics, perhaps the most obvious delineator of an autumn album is what it has to say. Here, I think of albums or songs that call attention to the most visual and visceral aspects of the season. While many equate Cartel’s Chroma to summer, it’s a distinctly transition-to-fall album for me, especially with a track like “Luckie St.” serving as an autumn anthem.

With Halloween being my favorite holiday, many albums qualify simply for their creepy subject matter. Think My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge or The Devil Wears Prada’s Zombie EP, along with several tracks from Showbread’s first two albums (“Dead By Dawn” from their debut is a Halloween staple of mine).

Not to be outdone, He is Legend has their own history of horror-filled tales. Suck out the Poison is a go-to for me this time of year, due both to its release date nostalgia (released October, 2006), and because of its subject matter, with songs like “Attack of the Dungeon Witch” leading the way.

How it Looks

Anyone who knows me knows of my insistence that the visual presentation of an album matters. My vinyl collection started years ago as a way to still admire the artwork of my favorite albums, even as our transition to streaming made full art and liner notes less accessible and robust. Thus, albums that incorporate autumn colors and visuals can’t be forgotten when determining their seasonal placement.

All of this brings us back to Copeland, whose album In Motion features yellow/brown leaves on its cover and captures the colors of fall throughout the album artwork. Likewise, Anberlin’s debut Blueprints for the Black Market, with its reddish brown tones, harkens of late autumn, capped off with cool-sounding guitars and references to cold.

So there you have it. It’s not a science, but there are certainly real factors that determine my own interest in an album by season, particularly when autumn rolls around. Here’s to another season of late nights by the campfire, horror movie sofa sessions, and pumpkin pancake cooking with the sounds of fall.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Reflecting On: Cartel – Chroma

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During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

For me, Chroma always served as a bridge album between the pop punk golden years of the early 2000’s and the rise of harder rock and blended genres in the later part of the decade. The album has become a pop punk staple over the years, but it’s hard to say exactly why. As good as the songs are, there is little on the record that actually pushes the boundaries of the genre; Chroma just does it better.

Cartel are also part of the last wave of the musicians to find mainstream success with the genre. Over the last decade, the band has released several incredibly strong records, but have been forced to stand up to Chroma by fans and critics alike. The album is as much of a roadblock as it is a landmark.

On paper, Chroma is a more or less a standard rock record. It’s a pop rock album that focuses on the angst of teens/young adults and the ideas of chasing love, living free and the usual fare for these types of things. But being titled Chroma, it follows an arch of passion through every ‘color on the spectrum’; starting brightly tongue-in-cheek with crisp rock and follows a spiral into darker pop that reflects on the earlier lyrics in a much more somber light.

Chroma is a message of growth and youthful idealism that slowly fades as it ages. Although nearly every song has the attention and detail required to make it a single, the shift in tone and maturity mimics that of the rock community in general at the time, as it lost the innocence of the original pop punk movement.

The real magic to Chroma isn’t the just the sound, style or the crisp production. It’s much more subtle. The guitars are loud, melodic and meticulously poppy. The music itself is so good that it almost sounds robotic, as though meticulously crafted to be perfectly symmetrically layered while maintaining the edge of amateur song writers. It’s one of the pure efforts of a fresh band pouring energy and ideas into a mix that works on a sincere level. However, the themes of the album are what helps it to endure.

Chroma’s legacy is built on a scale of youthful rebellion. What starts as power rock blasting away the standard flare of pop punk ideals and teen passion quickly grows matured; recapped through the eyes of someone who now sees those same ideals in a more balanced tone. Several of the later songs act as near sequels to many of the songs earlier on the album.

“Honestly” and “Settle Down” orbit each other in an odd symbiosis. “Honestly” worships the idea of chasing young love and speaking your mind (“You tell me what you think about being open / About being honest with yourself… I’m spinning while I’m falling down / Now you know why I’m begging you to stay”) while the later dramatically shifts tone.

“Settle Down” shifts perspectives to a failing relationship that has gone through normal trials and finds itself failing. The idealistic love chase has been replaced with knock down arguments that tear these relationships to pieces. “Consider this: he was busy moving on while she was busy trying to pass the time / Between the previous and next nervous breakdown”, and “Just say you left me like you could / Although you said you never would / Just say it’s done and be gone”.

“Burn This City” is the epitome of college angst. It cherishes the idea of adventure and conquering the city amidst “games of lust and love”. While this is nothing new to the world of pop punk, the near immediate retraction and realization that this type of idealism doesn’t work out, is. Just a few songs later on “If I Fail”, Pugh sings, “I could put my trust in giving up the heart / It makes the difference / And how can you afford to settle down / When I would promise to love you now / But I would lovingly let you down”.

The album closer, “A” is the final wrap that brings the album into the new age of music. Pugh sings “You can take this however you want / Just don’t waste your breathe unless you can save us”. Where “Say Anything (Else)” demanded free thought and open, energetic dialogue, “A” finds the band not particularly retracting the ideals of their earlier songs, but sees them now in a new light. Pop punk’s standard war cries are optimistic at best, but can easily be beaten down by life.

Chroma isn’t a sad record. It’s a real record. The maturity in the writing is subtle and granular, the way that the realizations in life are. The only real problem with the album is that after its release, the music scene seemed to change. Pop punk took a back seat to alternative and hardcore for a few years, and bands attempted to adjust in several ways.

Since then, Cartel have put out several amazing albums (the Self-Titled is my personal favorite) that have unfairly been stood side by side to Chroma as a standard rather than just as additions to their discography. However, with the fall of popularity in pop punk in the years after the album’s release, it seems harder for the band to shake the impossibly high expectations of fans based on this album alone.

Chroma is an achievement in pop punk and saw the last glimmer of the genre acting as a mainstream force. But, given the exposure that it had to a shifting audience, fans may give it more credit than it deserves. Cartel’s writing and talent grew exponentially after Chroma, but even ten years later they almost seem to be stalked by the popularity of this album, at least from an outside perspective. The band and the scene itself were growing out of the youthful ideals as the album released. That sense of maturity is a timeless sensation that sticks with you as you age and grow. Maybe that’s why all these years later we still love it.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has seen Will Pugh play live in the same green sweater he wears in the “Luckie St.” music video. Is that a creepy thing to be aware of? Oh golly…

Cartel to Head Out on Chroma Tour

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Cartel will be heading out on a tour celebrating the 10-year anniversary of their acclaimed album, Chroma. In addition to the tour, the band will also be releasing a brand new vinyl pressing of the album, which can be pre-ordered here.

Check out the dates for the tour below. Tickets go on sale this Friday!

Cartel Only:
3/20 – Dallas, TX @ South By So What

With Hit the Lights, TEAM*, Driver Friendly
4/09 – Minneapolis, MN @ Mill City Nights
4/10 – Milwaukee, WI @ The Rave II
4/11 – St. Louis, MO @ Ready Room
4/12 – Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge
4/14 – Detroit, MI @ The Shelter
4/15 – Columbus, OH @ Skully’s Music Diner
4/16 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Rex Theater
4/17 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of the Living Arts
4/18 – Boston, MA @ The Middle East Downstairs
4/19 – New York, NY @ Gramercy Theatre
4/21 – Freehold, NJ @ GameChangerWorld
4/22 – Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Sound Stage
4/24 – Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
4/25 – Orlando, FL @ Beacham Theater

With TEAM*, Driver Friendly
5/06 – San Diego, CA @ Porter’s Pub
5/07 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy Theatre
5/08 – Pomona, CA @ Glasshouse
5/09 – San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s
5/11 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
5/12 – Seattle, WA @ El Corazon
5/14 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Murray Theater
5/15 – Denver, CO @ Marquis Theatre
5/16 – Lawrence, KS @ Granada

Cartel Only:
5/22 – London, UK @ O2 Academy

What’s your favorite memory of Cartel’s Chroma? Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck