Clever Girls’ “Stonewall” is not literally about the Stonewall riots. The lyrics are pretty explicitly about a romantic partner stonewalling you. It’s “stonewall” as a verb, not a proper noun. But the title’s resonance with an important moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is presumably no accident. The band’s entire upcoming album Constellations was partly inspired by frontperson Diane Jean’s coming out as queer and gender-nonconforming.
For a minute there, the band Julia Caesar was hotly tipped to be Vermont’s next nationally-known musical export. But it wasn’t to be. After one terrific EP (and a recorded-but-never-released album), the group disbanded and frontperson Katy Hellman moved to Philadelphia.
Well, now Hellman is back in Vermont, and her new band Ruby picks up where Julia Caesar left off. When touring resumes, maybe they’ll be the group to break through on the national stage. Ruby describes themselves as “apocalypse folk rock,” but from the early evidence the sound leans more dream-pop with shades of Mazzy Star and Cocteau Twins (some live stuff is folkier).
I’m a sucker for a concept album. From Ziggy Stardust to Tommy, they began primarily the realm of classic rock (back before it was “classic”), but exist in pretty much every genre now, from electronic music to hip-hop. Hell, my favorite record of last year was a doom-metal concept album.
One genre that could use more concept albums, though, is new wave. Prolific Vermont-based artist Madaila obliges with the new Good Lord Nancy, which also dips into more traditionally concept album-friendly genres like rock and Americana. It’s only eight tracks – pretty short for a concept album – but it packs a lot into a quick runtime.
A2VT – I’m a Soul Survivor
A2VT’s new single blends the group’s trademark sounds of Afropop, R&B, and hip-hop with a surprising twist: ’80s metal. After three extremely catchy minutes of singing and rapping, an epic guitar solo bursts forth by an actual ’80s-metal vet, Andre Maquera of 8084. It reminds of that time Kirk Hammett guested on a K’naan song, in the best way possible.
Kyle Woolard does not live in Iceland. He is not from Iceland. But I’m a huge fan of Icelandic music and everything about Woolard’s sound (intricate, angelic, slightly off-kilter folk-pop) and presentation (everything about that press photo) to me screams “Iceland.”
Adam Rabin – Winter Song
Prog-rock veteran Adam Rabin’s “Winter Song” sounds pure Jethro Tull. All that’s missing is a flute solo. Oh, wait – there it is.
Vermont is a state that *double checks map* is not on any ocean. Yet the state has an inexplicably thriving surf-rock scene despite the total lack of any waves to catch. And why not? I mean, John Fogerty wasn’t born anywhere near the bayou either.
It’s hard to write a pop chorus with the word “emigrate,” but Jesse Taylor has managed just that on her song “Blue,” one of the highlights of her new ’90s-rock-indebted EP Ever-changing. It’s the best five-dollar word in an alt-rock song since “copacetic.”
The song “Blue” details a ocean-spanning romance headed for the rocks, and with specific details like thinking through emigration options and fretting over five-hour time differences, no surprise it comes from personal experience.
Vermont singer-songwriter Marcie Hernandez is sick of answering questions about what winters are like where she lives, and she vents about it on her new song titled, appropriately enough, “Winter.” The chorus goes, “Glassy smiles crack under pressure / Someone shoot me if they ask me / ‘Bout the fucking weather one more time.”
In the endless year-end debate about to rank or not-to-rank, I generally fall on the to-rank side. Putting some albums on and not others is already subjective, so why not go full bore? But I do find that things get increasingly arbitrary the further down the list you go. There is a difference in my mind between #2 and #3. But between #22 and #23? No, not really.
So this year I’m wimping out and doing a compromise: 30 albums, #11-30 unranked, and then the ranked Top Ten at the bottom. A method sure to satisfy no one! Seems appropriate for 2020.