It is a dark and stormy night … and the needle creeps down onto the ridges of a Nick Drake or Jenny Hval record, setting the haunting ambiance for the long autumn hours ahead.
The temperature is cool but the warmth of the ceramic mug pressing against your palm makes shivering unlikely, except from the lonely and introspective notes and words that echo out of adjacent speakers. Everything seems to have fallen into place.
In times like these, music requires a certain amount of thanks. Not only do musicians reflect the emotions and trials of the human condition but also the surrounding world. Depending on taste, different weather and different seasons bring to mind songs that inexplicably fit, whether in a wrathful darkness like tonight or the cheerful sunlight of tomorrow.
Each of the four seasons and its distinct weather patterns call to mind the sonic equivalent left by artists who channel the lusciousness of summer to the bleakness of winter, the slow fade of autumn to the gentle rise of spring. Rain, wind, thunderstorms, cloudiness and sunshine have all found places in music’s atmosphere, and not always in unintentional ways.
Kurt Vile, one the present’s most creative rockers, described his first studio album Childish Prodigy as having “a fall kind of feel” in a 2009 interview with Tiny Mix Tapes. It’s hard to put a finger on what that means but at the same time the feeling seems almost obvious. My Morning Jacket, The Microphones and some Pacific Northwest bands embody this description, as well.
Likewise, a number of jazz standards evoke the impression of seasons not only in sound but also in title. “Spring Is Here,” “Summertime” and “Autumn Leaves” stand among the most popular standards with musicians from John Coltrane to Roger Williams to Frank Sinatra all taking advantage of the songs’ relatable reach. No one alive has not enjoyed the awakening of the springtime or the crunch of November footsteps.
However, other works are less intentional and seem to adopt a place on the calendar or the weatherman’s forecast by themselves.
Neutral Milk Hotel’s now-classic LP In the Aeroplane Over the Sea holds the most power in the dead cold of winter when its fiery melodies melts the ice that keeps the mind snowbound. Likewise, the swirling, spacey guitars of Explosions in the Sky and other post-rock also feels appropriate like colorful lights shining across the tundra. And for the darkest days of winter, a certain type of music from Norway might be fitting.
But when the weather breaks and thaws, the rain-filled afternoons of spring and the heat of summer call for another aura.
How many times have you heard the phrase “song of the summer”? Pop music is practically built around a season with a slew of hooks about summertime sadness, meeting someone in the summer, walking around in summertime clothes or having the summertime blues. Summer is undoubtedly the most commercialized season probably because it holds the greatest chance of love and happiness. Spring, on the other hand, builds up to the days of the June solstice, signifying awakening and rebirth.
And I suppose I cannot write about weather and seasonal music without mentioning Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” (Le quattro stagioni). Published in 1725, the composition illustrates length of time that his idea reaches into the past, revealing that the world around us is something we all share and experience.
The four seasons and their accompanying weather inspires art and music created to replicate their intangible, indescribable aspects. And when these works strike eardrums, it rings an internal chord that causes the mind to perceive an undercurrent of harmony, even in the heaviest rain.