Songs for the Season

We’ve had three long months of winter, and it seems like it will never end. And suddenly, like the leaves on an oak tree, things begin to change. Cue the beautiful songbirds and bushy-tailed critters that got to sleep through that freezing mess. Spring has arrived, and it couldn’t have come sooner.

Now how do you approximate this feeling to an album’s worth of music?

It seems completely arbitrary to assign a piece of music to a particular season, but it’s not hard to see characteristics often identified with a season like spring emulated in an artist’s music. Excluding pieces by composers (sorry, Vivaldi), these six albums, ranging from a number of decades, are all very distinct from one another, yet all six manage to conjure up, through sound alone, the feelings, images and sensations associated with the pristine beauty of springtime. Those with strong seasonal allergies can rejoice, as there’s no pollen to water your eyes here, just blissful, unique music.

1) Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (1968) – How did Van Morrison choose to follow up his sunny hit single “Brown Eyed Girl?” He created the cosmic, groundbreaking wonderland known as Astral Weeks. Though it failed to make the commercial splash that his debut and subsequent albums would make, Astral Weeks is Morrison’s finest moment, an adventurous and challenging experience that blends blues, jazz, folk and pop into Morrison’s own unique swirling concoction.

Each expansive track feels like a fresh awakening, painted in soft, delicate hues that feel truly reminiscent of a calm April morning. “To be born again,” Morrison repeats in the album’s title track, reiterating the feeling of rejuvenation synonymous with springtime.

2) Nick Drake – Bryter Layter (1970) – Nick Drake might be one of the most beloved tragic figures in music history. A brilliant singer/songwriter and guitarist throughout his life, Drake’s three mesmerizing folk albums failed to garner any outside attention until after his tragic death in 1974, with his legacy largely after death. 

Bryter Layter, Drake’s second album, is the brightest and downright prettiest of his often forlorn efforts, featuring an array of varied instrumentation to bring a fresh bouquet to Drake’s folky and jazzy numbers. From the whimsical cellos of “Fly” to the piano-driven shuffle of “One of These Things First,” Drake’s second album is a varied, multicolored affair that’s as beautiful as a sunflower.

3) Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (1991) – Much like Van Morrison before them, Talk Talk weren’t satisfied making the same generic synth pop they’ve made through the 80’s. To solve this, the band drastically overhauled their sound and twisted it into something much more unique and engaging, starting with 1989’s Spirit of Eden and culminating on their revolutionary masterpiece, Laughing Stock.

Featuring lush yet subtle arrangements which blend rock and free-form jazz, the six tracks on Laughing Stock bloom like the dawn of a beautiful spring morning, like the sound of a robin that’s barely able to belt out its first whistle of the season. Laughing Stock is a garden of radiant, distinctive life forms all coming together to create one beautiful, dramatic scene; and impressionist painting for the ears.

4) Panda Bear – Person Pitch (2007) – Known more for his work in the freak-pop oddity group Animal Collective, Noah Lennox’s 2007 solo outing under the Panda Bear guise might be stranger than anything he has created with his band, but that’s simply because there’s nothing else quite like Person Pitch.

Built largely from mutilated samples of 60’s and 70’s pop and Lennox’s Beach Boys-reminiscent vocals, the album creates a living and breathing life form despite its electronic roots. Flowers grow, bloom and wiggle through the trippy bounce of “Take Pills” and the ambient rush of “I’m Not,” and the glowing epic “Bros,” which builds and repeats to near nausea at first, evolves into a transcendent celebration of sunny days and warm hearts.

5) Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008) – I don’t think any other artist on this list would feel more at home wandering lush woodlands on a crisp spring day than the bearded folkies of Fleet Foxes, as their self-titled debut is a collection of ornate-yet-concise folk-pop songs as fresh as a field of lilacs.

From the wide-eyed build of “Sun It Rises,” to the robust howl of “Ragged Wood,” to the dramatic, treacherous canyons of “Blue Ridge Mountains,” Fleet Foxes’ debut works specifically in detailed landscapes of mountain vistas and dense, green forests, with an array of flowery accents and woodland critters spotted throughout. However, the band knows a thing or two about writing great pop songs, and the group is able to apply their nature-bred aesthetic to make infectious songs like “White Winter Hymnal” stick to the listener like fresh tree sap.

6) Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo (2011) – The guy may be something of a newcomer to the folk scene, but I doubt that there’s a guitar player around today that can make an acoustic guitar feel as fresh and organic as Kurt Vile does. “Smoke Ring” was largely considered Vile’s breakthrough effort in that it’s indescribably pristine while sounding completely effortless, like a light spring shower.

The gorgeous production and intricate fingerpicking found on tracks like “Baby’s Arms” and “Peeping Tomboy” could only come from an objectively skilled craftsman, but their laid-back pacing, combined with Vile’s drowsy, gravelly vocals, make each song feel more like a comfortable stroll through the park on a vibrant May afternoon.