Staff Recommendations: Back to School Songs

“Autumn Sweater” by Yo La Tengo

by Maddie Pazzani, Assistant Managing Editor

Yo La Tengo’s “Autumn Sweater” is the perfect back-to-school song. One of the more popular songs from the band’s 1997 album “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One,” “Autumn Sweater” features Ira Kaplan’s smooth, soothing vocals layered with complex rhythms and background. The steady beat is excellent for listening to while marching to class, and because the lyrics aren’t the most prominently featured element of the song — not too showy, not too loud — it makes for easy listening when you’re trying to study. Plus, as you might have guessed, it features the words “autumn sweater,” which might make you even more excited to leave behind these sweltering late summer days.

“The Yabba” by Battles

by Richard Shu, Deputy Opinion Editor

The beginning of autumn means returning to school, dusting off the old brain and once again having a crack at learning something. And no track gets the brain going quite like “The Yabba” by Battles. “The Yabba,” which is the first single to come off their new album, is at once visceral and meticulously engineered. Running for 6 minutes and 49 seconds, this track demonstrates the pure amount of work the band puts into their music. Its beat is laid with synthesizers and frantically calculated drums. Its rhythms manipulate the mind, turning gears and revving pistons you didn’t know you had. Its atmosphere is close and all-encompassing, like being wrapped in a blanket the size of the universe. It crunches like the leaves on the ground. It twirls like helicopter seeds. Its waveform on Soundcloud is perfectly sinusoid. This is a track designed to get your synapses crackling. If there is one legal performance enhancer students need for the coming semester, it is a shot of “The Yabba”.

“Autumn in New York” by Billie Holiday

by E.R. Pulgar, Highlighter Editor

Lady Day’s sweeping reinterpretation of this jazz standard is guaranteed to put you in the mood to marvel at the Empire State Building as you walk up Broadway holding someone’s hand. The piano run that helps flesh out this song also gives it that now-nostalgic, glamorous lounge quality; it is time travel to 1930s Manhattan at its finest. It’s the New York that we all imagined when we applied to NYU, and there’s still so much truth to those daydreams when Holiday sings about “gleaming rooftops at sundown” and lovers “blessing the benches in Central Park.” It’s nice to know that dreams can become a reality, and Holiday’s heartbreaking voice only drives home the sentiment. This is best listened to as you walk through Washington Square Park, your feet crunching on flame colored leaves. Perhaps Holiday sums it up best: “Autumn in New York, it’s good to live it again.”


“Ignition (Remix)” by R. Kelly

by Bobby Wagner, Sports Editor

Despite the fact that this song came out in 2003, it still hits so hard. “Ignition (Remix)” is the perfect song to get all your friends up and moving. I don’t think I’ve ever been a room where this song was playing and at least half of the room wasn’t singing along. Whether you don’t like the music out now or you’re waiting for one of your favorite musicians to drop something new (I’m looking at you, Frank Ocean), throwing it back to the mid-2000s — when the hip-hop genre was churning out bangers weekly — can be the best thing you do in your first few weekends back at school.

“Emmylou” by First Aid Kit

by Allison Stubblebine, Entertainment Editor

“Emmylou” is a love song with the perfect balance of poetry and nostalgia. Suckers for acoustic guitar and female harmonies need to look no further. The chorus provides ample material for those hopeless romantics, with its hook referencing the songwriting partnerships of Emmylou Harris with Gram Nash and June Carter with Johnny Cash. The undeniable amount of cuteness in the first lines of the chorus alone is balanced by bittersweet notions of how some relationships just cannot be. Regardless of whether you can identify with the song’s message, “Emmylou” remains a beautifully arranged, cinematic tune that will fit right into your fall subway-ride playlist.

“Binary Mind” by Ra Ra Riot

by Joseph Myers, Books/Theater Editor

As a result of realizing that I’m somehow already halfway done with my undergraduate experience, I’ve been very nostalgic lately. In that light, my favorite back to school beat is a bit of a throwback. Ra Ra Riot was my first live music show that I saw in New York, so naturally it already puts me in a good mood. “Binary Mind’s” cheery pop beat, paired with its usage of synth, violin and cello are sure to put anyone in a good mood. This song is exactly what is needed to get pumped for a day of lectures, seminars and recitations at NYU.  

“Airplanes” by Local Natives

by Audrey Deng, Arts Editor

The first few seconds of “Airplanes” by Local Native are strange, opening with a few jubilant and incoherent shouts instead of spoken words. Corny and excessively happy, “Airplanes” is the song that might play in the background of a high school’s hopelessly idealistic “welcome back” montage, which makes it perfect for reminiscing while studying in Bobst. Hailing from California, Local Natives is known for layering its harmonies into three parts, which creates a very rich, folksy sound. “Airplanes,” with its lively instrumentals and perfect harmonies, epitomizes the summer’s warm denouement and autumn’s cool premiere. Cheerful melodies paired with wistful lyrics make “Airplanes” a perfect mixed bag for the beginning of the school semester. For those of you who are fans of aviation, beware: airplanes are never actually mentioned in the song.

“Weekend” by Smith Westerns 

by Alex Bazeley, News Editor

With the start of school kicking into full gear, everyone is clinging to the last days before the workload piles on. At the very least, “Weekend” by Smith Westerns will help you relax a bit and cling to those summer memories. This dreamy indie rock jam, released in 2010, has a timeless feel to it – its simple drum rock beat and wailing guitar lick seems reminiscent of the Beatles, while the dream-pop catchiness feels very indie circa early 2000s. Its lyrics aren’t complex (“Weekends are never fun / Unless you’re around here too”) and its song structure is straightforward, but it’s the perfect song to listen to while letting your worries go and pretending you’re driving down the coast with the top down. So before your weeks get filled with last-minute studying and way too much reading than humanly possible, pop this song into your cassette player – or whatever the kids are into these days – and take a deep breath.

Email the Arts Desk at [email protected].