At the height of Autumn, whilst wistfully day dreaming and listening to music in my room, I considered what sounds and music best represented the leafy season. In my curiosity, I typed the words ‘Autumn sounds music’ into the search engine in the hope of finding perhaps a list of possible suggestions. Instead, what came up was a link to the recently established Autumn Tone Records, which was instantly intriguing. I set about exploring the site, and checking out the varied list of artists, until I was satisfied that it was exactly what I was looking for. I felt like a child who discovers a den whilst playing in the woods; an image quite fitting when considering the alternative and natural character to the music offered on Autumn Tone Recordings.
Following it’s creation in 2005 by the music blog Aquarium Drunkard , Autumn Tone Records, based in Los Angeles, has been host to a number of acoustic, indie, folk, harmonic, and rock outfits who have all been driven out of obscurity and into the public eye. Currently, at least ten artists are represented on the label’s main website and are all definitely worth a listen.
Straight out of Georgia, Futurebirds bring a shimmering East Coast feel to the West Coast label, adding layered harmonies over a distorted folk backdrop. Having played the iconic SXSW Festival earlier this year, and having built a growing fan base over the last couple of years, the dream soaked collective are set to burst into the wider consciousness soon. The release of their debut album Hampton’s Lullaby in July has cemented Futurebirds’ position as a definitive band for Autumn Tone Records, not just in sound, but in spirit. With the likes of fellow hazy folkers, Fleet Foxes rising to popularity, the stage is set for Futurebirds, and the dreamy nature they bring with them.
This LA trio act as a home grown talent for Autumn Tone, and have sky rocketed in popularity in the last two years. Following her move to Los Angeles in 2006, charismatic frontwoman and lead guitarist Sarah Negahdari met with bassist Charlie Mahoney and drummer Chris Hernandez, and the Happy Hollows were formed. So far, the band have had a string of EP’s, and their debut album Spells, which was released in late 2009, and are already set up for an extensive American tour. It would be very easy to compare the band’s sound with that of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, yet the Happy Hollows seem to hold their own character of contemporary grunge rock due to their diverse lyrics, and exciting style of song writing without the labelling.
After gigging around the LA area, supporting Bright Eyes whilst still a teenager, and releasing an EP and debut album, Brooklyn based Blair appears to already be at ease with the scene around her. 2010’s Die Young showcases Blair’s sound perfectly; a myriad of 90’s influences, from Beck to Bjork, via PJ Harvey, with a splattering of Velvet Underground and Kate Bush, gelled together in a wistful swoon of guitars and gentle rhythms. With this musicality, coupled with warming lyrics such as Hearts’, “My heart yearns and my heart aches, my heart hides in a cassette tape”, it would be a shock if Blair did not become a significant presence on everybody’s Ipod’s in the coming years, in any season.
Micheal Orendy, aka Frankel, is another homegrown Autumn Tone talent, mainly gigging and touring around the Los Angeles area. This singer-songwriter appears to remain rather elusive, having limited Internet presence, yet still building a decent fan following. Perhaps this reclusive nature is in direct reference to Frankel’s latest release Anonymity Is The New Fame; a gentle waft of piano based melodic pop, ran through with darker mentality. Many have said Frankel’s sound is not far removed from a Lenon/ Mccartney style of songwriting, but some may also pick out traces of Elliot Smith in this work.
Offering a more traditional sound to the Autumn Tone Records group, Roadside Graves, a collective of six musicians, generate a fusion of rustic folk, Irish style ballads, blues, and harrowing melodic rock. Think of a cross between The National and Gomez, via the obvious influence of Bob Dylan, and you have the now well established sound of this band. With vast critical acclaim, and a string of American tour dates lined up for the new year, Roadside Graves are growing in popularity and will no doubt soon be significant amidst the British ‘new-folk’ scene also.
The lull of playing as a party band gave birth to the punk driven mentality of The Henry Clay People. When brothers Andy and Joey Siara threw the towel in on the party scene, the focus on songwriting and individuality took precedent, forming the post-punk rock sound that flows right threw to their current release Somewhere On The Golden Coast. The band are already tour veterans, having released a live E.P. in 2008, and continue to tour with the likes of Silversun Pickups, Drive-By Truckers and Against Me!. For the LA based The Henry Clay People, the party is only just getting started.
Le Switch, another LA based group, are living proof that blogger buzz and live hype work in a band’s favour. After playing local Eastside Angelos venues, such as The Echo and the Viper Room, and having been given grand accolades by popular blogs such as Aquarium Drunkard itself, Amateur Chemist and Rock Insider, the band eventually put out their debut EP Hello Today in 2007. Le Switch’s sound is one of twinkling, pounding melodic rock covered in lyrics delivered with raspy desperation; all the makings of an instantly ear catching, and free spirited band. Le Switch express a charm similar to the glimmer of optimism in a heartbreak, like sunlight through a thick forest; definitely a signature Autumn Tone Records band!
Representing the true folk essence to the label is J Tillman, who with just a guitar has been making and releasing music since 2004. With the help of his brother, Tillman has had a number of harrowingly bleak blues-folk tinged EP’s, including Cancer And Delirium, and 2006’s Minor Works. The lyrics over the delicate guitar work depict pain and dark experiences, with the odd glimpse at hope, sang in a style not a million miles away from that of the late Mark Linkos of Sparklehorse. If the Autumn Tone forest were to have a deepest spot, this would be it.
Travel By Sea are a truly unique band in the sense that they have produced a string of records via the Internet; a quality that has caught the attention of critiques worldwide. 2006’s Shadows Rise was conceived and built through the sharing of sounds and files across the Internet between band members Kyle Kersten (based in California) and Brian Kraft (based in Colorado) and emulates the feeling of separation and distance in its ironically intimate, yet sparse sound. This electronic-folk, the sound of which breaths out of the speakers and hypnotises the listener, enhances the feeling of being carried on your very own journey. Travel By Sea are definitely a band to pay attention to, if not for the uniqueness of their musicality, but for the majesty of the music created.
Autumn Tone Records’ most prolific and popular artist is arguably Daniel Hutchens, with his 16 year long recording history, and string of influential musician friends and colleagues. Having worked and played with the likes of the Velvet Underground, Allen Gainsberg, Mike Mills and Lou Reed, Hutchens has his fingers in many pies, and continues to develop on this. His sound could be described as a Neil Youngesque blues, laden with rock sensibility and the occasional disturbing lyric to keep the listeners on their toes. The man’s abundance of work speaks for itself, and provides Autumn Tone with the power to exert itself around the world, as it should.
As the flurry of talent and character that exists within Autumn Tone Records spreads globally, and entices more listeners, the true spirit of indie and underground music is kept alive, simply through the sound and mentality of the music. The myriad of music also holds a unique natural essence, notable across the artists, which not only personifies the leafy scenes that provide most of the inspiration for the bands, but also omits a warmth to the sound. When originally searching for my ideal Autumn sound, I couldn’t have found a more fitting example; an entire record label devoted to creating the image of a long, dark, but yet charmingly comforting forest, which I immediately want to get lost in.