Jan 162018
 

why nona

When I first wrote about songwriter Sam Wiehe last year, I compared his music under the acoustic solo moniker Concrete Jumpers to Dashboard Confessional and asked how he felt about his music being labeled (and not just by me) as emo. He was fine with it. “I know it has a certain stigma and can be attached to ‘sad boys’,” he said at the time, “but to me, emo music just means music that is emotional.”

The 21-year old’s new project, the four-piece band Why Nona, is still emo. But it’s less Dashboard Confessional and more Jimmy Eat World, loud and rocking and insanely, outrageously catchy. Or, for the generation who weren’t yet born when Bleed American came out, Modern Baseball might be the more relevant comparison. He says his new bandmates – Julian Cunningham (guitar), Mason Robertson (bass), and Rajit Sachdeva (drums) – bring in influences he wouldn’t have otherwise, from atmospheric indie to heavy metal. Continue reading »

Jan 122018
 

Plastique Mammals

The song titles on Plastique Mammals’ debut album are fantastic. “The Whirring Keeps Me Up At Night.” “There Are Bigger Men Than Me.” And, maybe my favorite, the vaguely sinister “Twice As Many Bees.”

Here’s the thing though: all these songs are instrumentals. Plastique Mammals is Remi Russin on bass guitar and synth loops and Evan Raine on drums. No vocals. The ingenious titles in no way reflect the lyrics, because there aren’t any. Which got me wondering: how do you title a song with no words? 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 »

Nov 292017
 

j benjoy reprise

We said J Bengoy’s last single should be the song of the summer. Their latest probably shouldn’t. It’s about almost drowning. Kind of a bummer subject for any season.

Not that you’d guess it from the lyrics to this power-pop jam. The opening line “Waiting for the weekend” anticipates an aquatic experience more Jimmy Buffett than Jeff Buckley. But the song’s optimism grew from a traumatic moment lead singer Justin Barton had on a Costa Rican vacation several years ago. While body surfing, a rip tide pulled him under. “I remember one minute ducking under a wave, weltering, and then being what felt like a football field from shore,” he says. “I only remember being focused on how to get back. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. My brain just went ‘Shit, this is a dangerous situation.'” Continue reading »

Nov 272017
 

near north most every night

An immediate standout on Americana trio Near North’s full-length debut Most Every Night is the holler-along brawler “Good About You.” The song channels the best of classic rock, bringing to mind bands like Thin Lizzy. But the artist that actually inspired the song couldn’t be more different: Adult-Contemporary pop singer Anna Nalick.

The song’s story begins a decade ago in frontman John Nicholls’ music class. His teacher assigned the students the task of writing a new song based on a current pop hit’s chord structure. Nicholls selected Nalick’s “Breathe (2 AM),” on constant radio rotation at the time. “I banged out a verse, pre chorus and chorus, just enough to satisfy the assignment and never thought about it [again],” Nicholls says. Continue reading »

Nov 032017
 

As anyone who read last week’s Best Vermont Cover Songs posts knows, I held an event in Burlington this week to promote my new book Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time (locals who missed it: I left a bunch of signed copies at Phoenix Books!). And rather than give a dry book talk, I recruited some of Vermont’s finest musicians to cover songs from the book alongside conversation with expert moderator Brent Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free-Press.

I wrote about the event at length over at Cover Me, so here I will just say that both Swale and Madaila frontman Mark Daly delivered some truly amazing covers. Swale kicked off the event with a beautiful acoustic version of “Unchained Melody,” followed by Daly nailing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and a “Gin and Juice” both hilarious and haunting. Watch videos of all three below. [Update November 8: Plus a long video of the full thing, including my conversations with Brent] Continue reading »

Nov 022017
 

emma cook questionable company

Taking the bus doesn’t usually feel like a particular inspiring experience. Not enough to inspire a song, anyway. But the Beatles, Hollies, and Who all had 1960s hits about buses, and Billy Joel turned a Greyhound ride into “New York State of Mind.” Some bus rides are so good, they’re worth remembering.

Or so bad, in the case of Emma Cook. On her new album Take It Home with backing band Questionable Company, “Nashville” details a road trip gone wrong. “Slept through the night heading north / Tossing and turning, sweating and burning it out of me,” she sings. It sounds even worse than the typical bus ride, a low bar indeed. And for good reason. Continue reading »

Nov 012017
 

eastern mountain time

When I first saw the Eastern Mountain Time song title “Berlin After the War,” I wondered if it was a reference to Randy Newman’s “In Germany Before the War.” It isn’t. It doesn’t even refer to the same war. The clue comes right in the first line: “Berlin after the war / Street speed and Zeppelin IV.” You don’t have to be a music-history major to realize they probably weren’t rocking “Black Dog” at the Potsdam Conference. Continue reading »

Oct 272017
 

michael roberts wooden dinosaur

If you hear the phrase “a song about animals,” you probably think of Raffi. But I’d wager Raffi never wrote about an essay exploring how humankind’s transition from agricultural life to capitalism centuries affected our relationship to the animal kingdom (unless I am seriously misreading “Baby Beluga”).

On his new song “Something Free,” Vermont singer-songwriter Michael Roberts picks up Raffi’s slack. Roberts usually records great country-rock music under the band name Wooden Dinosaur (including one of my favorite albums and songs of 2016), but for this new single he took a $20 tape recorder and did it all himself. Which isn’t to say this is tossed off – not even close. Over what he ably terms a “laid-back lo-fi country choogler” of a tune, he sings dense lines like “I want something free I can call my own / Domesticated animals brought to my home” and “The smell of the hunt, the patience, the scenery / A blood Jackson Pollock sprayed on the leaves.” Intriguing to say the last, and I wanted more information. Continue reading »

Oct 242017
 

vermont covers

Yesterday we began our list of the best-ever cover songs performed by Vermont bands and singers. The occasion: To promote, ahem, my book party at Phoenix Books in Burlington on November 1st for Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time. Singers from Swale and Madaila will be there on hand covering songs from the book live!

Speaking of Madaila, let’s continue our list with… Continue reading »