Mar 142018

paper castles

Many of Paddy Reagan’s musical influences are about what you’d expect for a thirty-something indie-rock songwriter: Pavement, Smog, Sharon Van Etten, and, most recently, Deerhunter. One that’s less obvious? The Grateful Dead.

On “First Blush,” Reagan’s new single with band Paper Castles, one line in particular channels his Deadhead past: “Is this just a dream you had to dream / To understand” (it echoes the “Box of Rain” lyric “This is all a dream we dreamed / one afternoon long ago”). And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at that connection. After all, the Grateful Dead are finally cool, subject to the likes of Pitchfork appreciations and National-curated tribute albums featuring dozens of today’s coolest indie bands (including, incidentally, three of the four artists Reagan cited up top). Continue reading »

Mar 052018

dave richardson

Dave Richardson’s new album Carry Me Along includes songs about love and loss and life and death. And they’re all wonderful.

But we gotta start with the squid.

The album opens with an acoustic guitar strumming what sounds like your standard plaintive Americana ballad. Then Richardson begins crooning:

Squid, giant squid
Hanging like a hanged man
In this building right downtown
An impressive specimen

It goes on like that, talking about sperm whales and Iceland and 5,000 gallon tanks of water. Not exactly your typical folk-song subject matter. Is this the first squid song ever? I had to learn more. Continue reading »

Mar 022018

miku daza

Like “emo,” “ska” is one of those dated descriptors that many musicians run from. Not Miku Daza; it’s right there in her band’s Facebook description. As Daza points out though, ska is one of a number of apt genre tags; the page also cites punk, rumba, cabaret, and glam rock. And unlike many overwrought band bios, you can actually pick out each of those genres in a single song. Like, for instance, the band’s vibrant debut single “Frosty Pink Skies”:

You hear the trademark on-the-upbeat guitars and horn blasts of ska, sure. But what ska band features the accordion and violin so prominently? She pulls those sounds from her world-music background. Miku Daza the person played and sang in the cumbia band Mal Maiz (who we just wrote about), studied Afro-Cuban percussion in Cuba, and currently sings Bulgarian harmonies in an Eastern European a cappella group. Miku Daza the band features a rotating cast of instrumentalists who shift the sound as they come and go. Continue reading »

Feb 282018

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best songs february

February’s a short month, but you wouldn’t know it from the amount of music that came out. The second installment in our monthly-except-when-it’s-not series spans everything from synth dance-pop to choral composition, indie rock to acoustic funk, Godspeed You! Black Emperor noise to Parquet Courts pastiche. There’s a song inspired by hitting the road and one inspired by hitting the sheets. Let’s start there. Continue reading »

Feb 232018

mal maiz

Maiz Vargas Sandoval began life in Costa Rica. He lived there through college, studying sociology and anthropology at the Universidad Nacional, before immigrating to the states in his twenties. After traveling around for a year, he landed in Burlington, Vermont in 2014 – geographically, culturally, and, not least, meteorologically, a long way from home.

He landed in Burlington through a friendship with local soul musician Kat Wright and her husband Lee Anderson. He quickly integrated himself into the Burlington music scene, playing and sometimes bartending at the local clubs Anderson runs. And he founded Mal Maiz, a band that plays Latin and Afro-Caribbean music in all its many forms, from well-known-to-Americans genres like reggae to lesser-known traditions like cumbia. Continue reading »

Feb 132018

full walrus

The first review quoted on Tusk‘s Wikipedia page calls it “the most disgusting and pointless movie I’ve seen.” Another reads: “Kevin Smith has lost his mind.” Even the supposedly positive reviews include quotes like “I’m recommending Kevin Smith’s uniquely twisted Tusk, but there’s a part of me that wishes I could un-see it.”

So learning that a band named themselves after Tusk might not inspire much confidence. If they channeled the movie’s tone, they might sound obnoxious, unpleasant, or divisive at the very least. So consider it a shock that the artist known as Full Walrus sounds like an adjective used exactly nowhere to describe their namesake movie: beautiful. Continue reading »

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 232018

James Kochalka is by trade a cartoonist. This will surprise you not one iota once you hear his songs. Even reading the titles will give you the idea. “Miniature Stairway to Heaven.” “A Donut Named Maria.” “Queen Latifah’s Teeth.” “I’m So Woke.”

Like a great stand-up comic, on his new James Kochalka Superstar album How to Tie a Tie on the Internet, he hits the punchline and goes out on the laugh. Most of the songs run under two minutes. Some don’t even top one. The bulk of “Queen Latifah’s Teeth” is just him repeating the title line over and over. And here are the lyrics to “A Donut Named Maria,” in their entirety:

I’m in a love with a donut, a donut named Maria
But she’s in love with a hot dog named Oscar Gonorrhea
Oh don’t you know, the powdered sugar falls like snow
And I feel very cold and lonely without my donut
Continue reading »