Thursday, February 21, 2019

Autumn Dirge

One of my favorite all-time bands is the dearly departed indie darling, The Autumns. Their dream pop stargazing style took all the best elements of the Cocteau Twins and Slowdive and successfully created something of its own, meshing dreamy instrumental montages with heavy doses of viscerally-doting lyrics. The band boasts a canon of four full-length albums and three EPs, all varying in theme and overall style. The band was a niche act, fronted by singer/songwriter/guitarist Matthew Kelly, who owns one of the most unique voices I've heard in indie music. The small, quiet legacy of The Autumns couldn't contain him, as he went on to with and contribute his talents to acts such as The Sounds of Animals Fighting and Pyramids.

In 1996, The Autumns emerged on the scene with their four-song EP, Suicide at Strell Park. Opening track "Pale Trembles a Pale" ranks as one of my favorite songs of all-time, heartbreaking and optimistic within the same stiffled breath. There's something I feel when I hear this song that I can't quite explain, something ethereal, something eternal, but the same can probably be said for any other Autumns fans walking the planet when they listen to this one. We don't listen to it. We feel it. There isn't a weak spot on the EP, with Cure-like tunes "Apple" and "Rose Catcher," and the slow, somber finale, "Suicide at Strell Park." One of the best EPs ever recorded in my humble opinion, Suicide was a debut wonder that gave a brimming glimpse of things ahead.

Two years later, The Autumns released their first full-length, The Angel Pool. The album still ranks in my top ten of all-time. It's one of those rare records that you can just let play, not a weak song on the entire recording. The albums opens on the ethereal chime of "The Garden Ends," a slow, somber, shoegaze anthem for the hopeless romantic, promoting an eternal sadness through lead guitar licks drowning in a tranquil sea of reverb and delay. Much of the album sticks to the same glue, though my personal favorite, "Eskimo Swin," is a more upbeat number, heavy on the intricate guitar work and simplistic enough on the mellow bass line. One of my favorite lyrics comes from the tracks - "trip wild-eyed through my heart's poison ides." Another favorite is "Embracing Winter." The song is good, but once the end draws near, the band creates a soundscape of ethereal bliss, beautiful chords and melodies hanging over one another like layers of kudzu.

My other favorite on the record is the last track, "Glass in Lullabies." It owns such a great chord progression, a track that doles out a fifties vibes before diving into complete solitude, giving away notions of a pair of tragic Route 66 lovers caught between the thread of life and death. The end of the song is absolutely heartbreaking, an uber somber tune carried away into absolute desolation. I was never able to see the band live, but I would be willing to bet that "Glass in Lullabies" was the show closer just as it is on the timeless album, one that far too few people know exist. "Glass in Lullabies" is a sad tune, a lamentation of epic proportions, sure to leave its lasting embrace on the listener.

In 2000, the band drifted away from their dreamy origins, sliding into a cleaner sound altogether. While it was not The Autumns I was used to, I bought up their new LP, the ultra-poetic In the Russet Gold of This Vain Hour. Track one, "The Boy With the Aluminum Stilts," is undoubtedly the best on the record, one brimming to life with a Cure-like bass progression before a clean guitar melody joins in to complement it. Fans could better appreciate Matthew Kelly's voice, his belted out chords and his delicate falsetto on In the Russet Gold, as we could better hear it without the assistance of reverb. He showcases his range well on second track, "Unfolding and Fading" and third song, "Siren Wine," is one laced in guitar harmonics and intricate plucks.

Track number seven, "Bicycle," sounds, well, like a bicycle. How is that possible? Ask Matthew Kelly. Through harmonics, he he climbs up and down the length of his guitar as he croons the falsetto-heavy ballad, one I saw him perform at a recorded live show. Other highlights on the record include the optimistic charmer "June in Her Frost and Fur," the minor chord-heavy "Minstral Chimes at Night," and the piano and strings closer, "In the Russet Gold of This Vain Hour," which sounds like a complicated romance from the Regency period of England. The album is a massive departure from the dream pop sounds that built the band's fan base, but we stuck with them regardless as they spread their wings into newer territories. A kindred spirit in Cocteau Twins bassists Simon Raymonde produced the album.

In 2001, the band released two EPs, both very different in flavor. The first, Le Carillon, was an ode to fifties doowop, casting images of the band standing and smiling and delivering chirpy pop ballads straight from American Bandstand. The EP was nice to own as an Autumns fan, but was the least Autumns recording up to that point. It was almost like a subtle experiment, a film that a touted director tries outside his regular comfort genre. The band did a really nice job of capturing the sounds of the decade, so Matthew Kelly knew exactly what he was doing on the effort. I mention Kelly the most because he was backbone of the Autumns, the only member to play on every single release the band made.

The second EP was a covers effort, one in which the band paid homage to fellow dream popper Lift to Experience, The Smiths, Nick Drake, and David Lynch. The first three tracks are all equally great, with first tune "With the World Behind" coming off like a tormented poet's dying declaration. "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" is next, a song The Autumns make their own, even slower and more grounded than the original Smiths classic. My favorite on the EP, "Time of No Reply," was originally performed by Nick Drake. It's a slow, vulnerable ballad, one that gives off shades of the dreamier elements that made the band who they were in the beginning clean with somber, swarthy guitar effects.

The Autumns made us wait three years later for a new album, 2004's self-titled effort. The band mixed clean guitars with reverb-heavy ones to create a subtle mix of The Angel Pool and In the Russet Gold, but also something all its own. One of the highlights from the record is "Deathly Little Dreams," a tune closer akin to the dreamy days than anything else they had done since. It gives a slow, delay and reverb-heavy build-up before breaking out into a drum and guitar dream sequence that made fans of The Angel Pool proud. It provides a simple enough melody on the way to its full explosion into the realm of the ethereal and the fully emotive.

 Another highlight on the record is "Cattleya," which ushered in percussion and piano along with cleaner guitar sounds. It sounds more like a song taken from In the Russet Gold with the more earthy elements it offers. Two more highlights on the record instrumentals "The Moon Softly Weeps a Lullaby" and "Flies in the Eyes of the Queen." Despite the beauty of the songs mentioned, the self-title album was probably the weakest LP overall to date. Had they stuck to same sounds that staked their claim on the shoegaze genre, they would have played themselves out. I get it. Kelly and Co. had to expand their tendencies, but I sure missed the older stuff, sounds we would never hear from the band again during their tenure.
In 2007, the band released their final album, "Fake Noise From a Box of Toys." The first single heard from the effort underwhelmed, but the more I gave the rest of the tunes a listen, the more I could appreciate the sounds. "The Midnight Knock" was the best track on the album, and the closest thing I could recognize to the Autumns fervor of old. The band got a little more noisy on the album, breaking into choppy, fragmented segments, which was the biggest departure from the Autumns we previously knew. They had enough of their classic melodies to swoon us into believing again, but broke new ground with their guitar work, which led nicely to Matthew Kelly's next musical project, The Sound of Animals Fighting.

Matthew Kelly wasn't a regular contributor to the new band. Kelly lent his guitar and vocal talents to only a few of the songs under the guise of the "Wolf" in a band dominated by mysterious animal masks. The band created soothing and serine melodies, only to break off into fragmented segments of spastic indie rock. The song, "The Heretic," was Kelly's best and most Autumns-like contribution, taking from the band's 2006 debut album, Lover, the Lord Has Left Us. He plays on and lends his voice to a few other tracks as well, but "Heretic" is certainly the most memorable. The Sound of Animals Fighting was an odd landing spot for Matthew Kelly, but they represented something wholly new for him to dabble his talents in.

In 2015, Kelly next went the black metal route with Pyramids, a far cry from his time spent with The Autumns. Kelly's instantly recognizable falsetto over the waves of metal guitar and rhythmic double bass drums are a strange dream of lush meadows draped in black lace and bubbling, steaming rivers. It's a frantic, relentless experience, but one that Kelly makes his own, bringing to mind acts like Deafheaven and The Body. Kelly takes us down a wild but calculated labyrinth in Pyramids' debut album, A Northern Meadow. Pyramids went on to record another albums and a collaboration with another band Nadja, though those don't seem to have included Kelly.

Matthew Kelly has dabbled with a few others bands after moving on from Pyramids, such as Minus Music and The Soviet League, neither of which I can find samples for. Neither project seems to have been too serious, nothing like the The Autumns, The Sound of Animals Fighting, or even Pyramids. Kelly did record a solo effort in 2007, just one song he recorded on his laptop, a cover of one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite albums - "Hives Hives" by Xui Xui. Kelly, and especially The Autumns, loved a good cover, as evidenced by their Covers EP. This blog post is mostly about them, with Matthew Kelly serving as their version of Billy Corgan. The band was a revolving door for the most part, but Kelly was the only constant, leaving quite a nice legacy behind for an indie band no one has heard of. I would never had heard of them had I not been introduced by a couple of dear friends of mine. I heard "Pale Trembles a Gale" at their behest, and have never looked back.

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