Jan 312018
 

best songs january

I try to write about as much great music as I can here, but I inevitably fail to get to everything deserving. So I’m inaugurating a monthly-ish series rounding up Vermont’s best new songs. It’s not ranked and I’m not aiming for any firm number; it’s just some songs that were still rattling around my head as the month came to a close.

A few of these I wrote about already, but most I didn’t get to. Either way, whether you follow the site or just stumbled upon this, whether you’re a Vermonter yourself or have zero local connection, this collects some of the best music the state’s been producing recently.

Also, full disclosure: This series is starting with a lie. A few of these actually came out in December, after I’d finished my Best Songs of 2017 post. Close enough. Continue reading »

Jan 302018
 

peter burton

In 2008, as many people were suddenly finding themselves unemployed, a dream job landed in Peter Burton’s lap: Director Of Animation Development at the Fox television network. He would be charged with finding the next Family Guy or The Simpsons.

A daunting task for anyone, and Burton, by his own admission, wasn’t really qualified. An old friend had pulled some strings, and Burton found himself quitting his law firm clerical job in Philadelphia and moving to Los Angeles with his girlfriend. “I was in way over my head,” he says now. “Some days, I felt great about my job. Other days, I felt nauseous and my palms dripped sweat, my heart pounding through my chest at every meeting.”

As if he didn’t have enough cause for anxiety already, his boss would tell people Burton had worked on South Park for three years before coming to Fox. “Everyone who met me – agents, actors, writers, producers, animators, co-workers – asked ‘How was it working on Southpark?'” Burton recalls. (He spells “Southpark” as one word, underlining the fact that, yeah, he never worked on South Park.) He says he felt “like a complete fraud” trying to back up his boss’s lie. Continue reading »

Jan 252018
 

henry birdsey

If you’re a churchgoer, your first association with the organ might be someone guiding tone-deaf congregants through “How Great Thou Art.” If you’re a soul-music fan, you probably jump to Booker T. backing the Stax greats. Either way, I can almost guarantee you won’t predict the organ sounds that composer Henry Birdsey produces on new album CONCERTINA – WIRE.

Rather than channeling gospel or soul, Birdsey’s organ playing is ambient music at its ambient-ist. Brian Eno’s Music for Airports sounds like dance music compared to this. If you’ve ever seen that video of Justin Bieber slowed down 800%, it sounds kind of like that.

I mean all of that as a compliment, by the way. Birdsey’s beautiful, haunting, molasses-moves-fast-compared-to-this album echoes artists like Tim Hecker or Julianna Barwick. Ambient music often gets derided as “boring” and, sure, there aren’t lyrics or melodies you could sing along with here. But it takes you on a journey nevertheless. Continue reading »

Jan 032018
 

zeus springsteen

Zeus Springsteen doesn’t sound much like their namesake. A more apt mythological moniker might be Death Cab for Zeusy, or perhaps R.E.M.ortal (pronounce it like “immortal”). On their self-titled debut, the band piles hook upon hook, harkening back to the jangliest days of college rock. It’s full of funny lyrics like “I’m double-fisting antidotes for the common cold / and for growing old and bitter,” but the goofiest title of the bunch addresses a more serious topic – sort of. It’s a song about a robot avenging sexual assault. They christened him Joey, but I’ve taken to calling him R2MeToo. Continue reading »

Dec 152017
 

best vermont songs

Holy moly, Vermont artists released a lot of songs this year. I’m just talking sheer quantity: a lot of songs.

This may seem a blindingly obvious observation, but here’s why it struck me. When this site launched this past January, we posted Best Songs and Best Albums of 2016 lists to kick things off. The twenty selections on each were just things I’d come across in the preceding twelve months. This year, though, I made a more concerted effort to be thorough. All year I was trolling Bandcamp and Soundcloud and YouTube and Facebook, which drove the point home for me. I already knew Vermont musicians were prolific, but dear god. One songwriter alone released 36 double-sided singles!

The point being, narrowing this list down to twenty songs was brutal. That’s a testament to the bounty of great music coming out of Vermont. Some of my selections come from bands known to any Vermont music fans; others are by musicians not really plugged into “the scene,” off on their own somewhere releasing amazing stuff. There’s no overarching theme, and in a different week, this list would probably change. But these are my favorite local songs of the year – today at least. Continue reading »

Dec 122017
 

best vermont music 2017

What is an EP?

I don’t mean that as a philosophical question, but a practical one.

Back in the vinyl era, the EP had a clear reason for existing as a stand-alone format from the album. If you had enough songs to fill a 12-inch, 33RPM record, you made an album. If not, you put what you had on a 10-inch, 45RPM record and called it an EP. They looked different; they felt different; they cost different amounts.

In the digital era, free of physical limitations, the distinction has blurred. An artist’s latest collection of music can be two songs or two hundred. The idea that a 60-minute collection of music constitutes an “album” and a 15-minute one constitutes an “EP” is purely artificial.

Yet the EP hangs on, because musicians like the format. Nowhere more so than in Vermont, where the EP offers new bands a way to test the waters and experienced bands a way to toss out a few songs between “proper” albums. In a musical climate where local musicians rotate constantly around new bands and monikers, the EP offers a low-stakes way to try out a new sound or collaboration.

As a result, this list is no ugly stepchild to the Best Albums list we’ve got coming next week. There may be no more practical reason to keep the EP designation, but these ten EPs justify their own reasons for existing. Continue reading »

Oct 232017
 

vermont cover songs

County Tracks has yet to hit its first birthday, but the other blog I run, Cover Me, turns ten this month. And in a nice bit of serendipity, this month I also released a book called Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time and the early response has been fantastic. Variety called it “one of the best multi-subject music books to come down the pike in years” which, you know, who am I to argue?

Why am I awkwardly quoting my own reviews? Because I am holding a Burlington book-release event at Phoenix books on November 1st, with live music from Mark Daly of Madaila and Amanda Gustafson and Eric Olsen of Swale. And while I try to write everything on this site in a way that might interest outsiders who know nothing about Vermont or its artists, I know a decent portion of our readers are locals. If that number includes you, I hope you’ll stop by Phoenix books on November 1st! All details here.

This seemed like a perfect opportunity to blend my two passions, cover songs and Vermont music. So, to selflessly promote Vermont bands while selfishly pimping my own book party (November 1st! Phoenix! Burlington!), I’ve rounded up a couple dozen of the best covers to ever emerge from the Green Mountains. First half below, second coming tomorrow. No doubt I missed plenty, so please let me know what your own favorites are in the comments. Continue reading »

Aug 152017
 

Patrick James Maybe

Reading through Patrick James’ Genius notes to his new album Panosophy feels like trying to identify everyone on the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover. He shouts out Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell, and Morrissey. He references Dostoevsky, Murakami, and Shakespeare. His influences on one song alone include The Cure, Felt, Aztec Camera, Blueboy, Tiger Trap, Oasis, and Nirvana.

All of which may make this music seem dense and unlistenable, like some sort of heady prog nightmare. But James, who records as Maybe (a name inspired by a favorite girl-group song), makes it work. He cites his “Brian Wilson worship” a couple times, and this album indeed reflects Wilson’s ability to place really complex orchestrations in the context of tidy pop songs. Intricate string and piano arrangements reflect James’ classical piano training, landing somewhere between the Zombies and Fairport Convention with a side of Philip Glass. Continue reading »

Jul 192017
 

jinxbox

A few months back, Vermont songwriter Tyler Daniel Bean released a music video that uses haunting imagery to show what it feels like when depression takes over. The heavy music matched the mood, loud and unrelenting like it was closing in on all sides.

New Middlebury dreampop trio Jinxbox tackles similar themes on their new album Relief, but through a very different genre. The sun-drenched melodies deliver earworm after earworm, but the lyrics stem from a much darker place. Nine Inch Nails could easily have written the opening lines of the song “Static”: Continue reading »

Jul 172017
 

jessica rabbit syndrome

If you’ve ever heard anyone end a sentence sounding like haunted house door creaking open, you’ve heard “vocal fry.” A viral Guardian article in 2015 argued young women employing the verbal tic wouldn’t be taken seriously – the same argument used against other supposedly ditzy tics like “like” and ending every sentence as if it’s a question? Half the titles on YouTube explaining vocal fry include the word “Kardashian,” which gives you some idea of the speech pattern’s reputation.

Inevitably, people criticizing the way young women speak inspired a backlash. Then a backlash to the backlash. Etc. All of which figures into the debut single by Vermont-Massachusetts “gravecore” trio Jessica Rabbit Syndrome titled, appropriately, “Vocal Fry.” Continue reading »