September marks the end of the summer, the start of the school term, and a definite return to "normality" after the craziness of the summer. For journalists, it often means the return of some real news (as opposed to fluffy August stories such as, er, urban riots).
September is also the name of the opening track on David Sylvian's 1987 album Secrets of the Beehive, a sparse piano lament warmed by Ryuichi Sakamoto's string arrangement. Its laudable brevity underlines the lyric's subject matter: time's passing. The end of summer comes as something of a relief: "We say that we're in love / while secretly wishing for rain."
Johnnie "Philosopher of Soul" Taylor sings about time passing, counting the days until he is reunited with his love in It's September, a 1974 Stax workout. The turning of the seasons, the end of the holidays ... September's a mood. And Septiembre No Está Tan Lejos captures it. Thanks to RR regular Makinavaja for alerting us to Nadadora's "melancholy, dreamy electro-pop from Galicia".
But let's not get too caught up in autumnal wistfulness. Earth, Wind & Fire's September catches Maurice White and the boys in their pomp, piling on the hooks without breaking a sweat while the rest of the world chugs round the discotheque trying to catch up.
The Field Mice are the antithesis of Earth, Wind & Fire. They were lynchpins of Sarah Records, the label that helped turn indie from a description of economic circumstances into a musical genre. Backwards guitars, chiming 12-strings, harmonies, suspended chords: all employed to winsome effect by the Field Mice on 1991's September's Not So Far Away.
Big Star, a key influence on indie, are most often celebrated for their fascinating, disturbing third album. But September Girls attains perfection. The cleanliness of the guitar sound and the suggestion of innocence in Alex Chilton's voice are set against the experience of a love gone wrong, hinted at in the lyrics. It has been described as Beatlesque power-pop – yet Big Star's loose performance could only have been made by a band steeped in southern soul.
Revered jazz pianist Bill Evans's shot at commercial success, the urgent and optimistic Sweet September, didn't hit storm the charts. Was it artistically worthwhile? I think so: his economical style cuts through that early-60s easy-listening pop like a precision tool.
September once meant harvest time to the English. Yet it's easy for modern urbanites to lose touch with the changes of the seasons. And who better to remind us of our roots than Glasgow's Trembling Bells, whose September Is the Month of Death treads a stately procession into autumn, as if imposing order on nature.
But the month of September, and its association with death, has an altogether different connotation in the 21st century. Saul Williams's September 12th is a passionate appeal for peace, justice and sanity. He insists the horror of 9/11 should not excuse a future of war.
September is the month of death for Marianne Faithfull, too. Producer and co-writer Angelo Badalamenti gives Flaming September the Twin Peaks treatment, a sinister cinematic backdrop for Faithfull's elegy to her late lover Howard Tose.
But it's a month of life, too. In Sweet September Morning, from her 1971 album She Used to Wanna be a Ballerina, featuring Ry Cooder, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Buffy Sainte-Marie looks back fondly on September as the month she met a guru-like lover. And I was smitten by My Morning Jacket's Old September Blues as soon as I heard the quotation in the intro from Santo & Johnny's immortal Sleep Walk. The song's a reminder of the pleasures of hunkering down as the weather cools and the nights draw in.
Article originally published at The Guardian