Jun 182018
 

the smittens cats for cats

“You can’t write a good song about cats,” Max Andrucki says. “It’s not possible.”

This might be a surprise to hear after you first listen to his indiepop band the Smittens’ new single “Cats for Cats.” Because it is a good song. But it’s not really about cats.

Andrucki actually built the song around a similar-sounding phrase: “Masc for Masc,” a controversial dating term in the gay/queer community (Medium has an explainer). “That phrase is everywhere in the gay dating app world and in fact it’s almost cliche to talk about it critically,” Andrucki says. “I agonized over the lyrics in a way I rarely do, because I didn’t want to make it seem as if the song was about critiquing gay body image or gender presentation culture or anything like that. It’s not anything with a ‘social message’ as explicit as that. But the phrase stuck, so I felt like I had to rhyme it with other silly things to make it clear that I wasn’t really serious about it as a social critique.” Continue reading »

Jun 042018
 

xenia dunford

The pictures say it all. Xenia Dunford’s press photos for her last album featured all manner of her posing with a jaunty fedora, leaning on brick walls, sitting on train tracks. Five years later, she’s done joking around. In her new press photo, she stares straight into the lens, unsmiling in black and white.

It’s a more serious, mature look befitting a more serious, mature sound. A lot has changed in the five years since one of Vermont’s most promising young songwriters disappeared just as her career was getting going. The ensuing period, she writes, was “marked by depression, self loathing and the destruction of people and ideas I held very dear yet were completely out of my control.” Continue reading »

Jun 012018
 

the rear defrosters gentleman farmer

The Rear Defrosters’ “Gentleman Farmer” sounds like an old-time country hoedown, the sort of thing that Hank Williams might have written, or that Levon Helm might have goofed around with in the Woodstock barn. It’s not, but the similarity is no accident. The Rear Defrosters is a country covers band that plays Jimmie Rodgers and Dwight Yoakam tunes for beer-drinkers. It features an array of acclaimed southern Vermont players and associates honkytonking it up, including a ringer on guitar: the great songwriter and finger-picker Sam Moss, who I’ve written about before.

But leader Michael Roberts is primarily a songwriter, and a good one – I’ve written both about his band Wooden Dinosaur and his solo work before – so he challenged himself to write a few original songs they could slip into live sets so seamlessly the crowds wouldn’t notice. “It seemed like a good challenge to try and write songs that could fit alongside the canon of classic country music covers we usually play,” Roberts says. Continue reading »

May 312018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best new songs may

Addy Sechler – Make Home to Me


One of the best albums of 2017 was Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked at Me. It was also one of the toughest to actually listen to, being a songwriter frankly grappling with his wife’s sudden death. When you want that same quiet, hushed vibe, but don’t have the emotional bandwidth to sink into that weighty subject matter, Addy Sechler’s new album will suit just fine. Continue reading »

May 242018
 

emma back little world

Many prominent artists are recording “political” albums these days. But almost inevitably, the lyrics tend to paint a blurry picture. Musicians have over-learned the lessons of 1960s protest singers, who wrote songs so timely that they became dated within days. Is anyone’s favorite Dylan song really “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”? Today’s overcorrection leads to broad generalities about “the fight” and “resistance,” without speaking to the times in any direct way.

Emma Back’s fantastic new album Little World is a political album too, but Back has something specific to say. No, she’s not chronicling the Iran deal’s dissolution. There’s no “Talkin’ Bob Mueller Blues,” and the word “Trump” does not come up once. Little World succeeds where others have failed because, rather than attempting a sweeping statement about “our times,” Back drills into one specific subject: war in the Middle East. Continue reading »

May 142018
 

bison arkansas

The Vermont trio Bison’s first release Get Out was my favorite EP of last year. Now they’re back with their second. That’s the good news. The bad: It’s also their last. Two of the three band members are moving away, and Bison will soon be no more. Judging from the first single “Arkansas,” at least they’re going out on top. Continue reading »

Apr 302018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best songs april

Chazzy Lake – The Next Day


I’ve raved about Bison and J Bengoy, two of Vermont’s best rock bands, a lot on here (in fact, scroll down for a little more J Bengoy raving). And as if playing in both those bands wasn’t keeping him busy enough, singer Charlie Hill debuted a new solo project called Chazzy Lake. Debut EP Goodbye V​.​D. Baby kicks off with him playfully arguing with his backing singers on “A Stranger Time” (“Hey Charlie, you’ve got to get yourself a job!”) and builds to “The Next Day,” the album’s catchiest track, a beach song as filtered through college rock radio. Continue reading »

Apr 232018
 

Certain connotations arrive with the phrase “bedroom recording.” Such albums are typical lo-fi affairs, sparse and simple and stripped-down, a voice and a laptop plus one instrument (if that) and maybe some reverb.

The Giant Peach’s debut album Pulling Teeth is technically a bedroom recording – frontman Harrison Wood Hsiang recorded every song but one in his college dorm room. But it is anything but stripped-down. What other bedroom recording features trumpet, sax, violin, and slide guitar? There are three credited drummers here, and eight vocalists. It’s a long way from Bruce Springsteen hollering Nebraska into a four-track or Justin Vernon holed up alone in a remote cabin crooning “Skinny Love.” Continue reading »

Apr 092018
 

kelly ravin pretend

“Keep calm,” read the letters tattooed on Vermont singer-songwriter Kelly Ravin’s knuckles. In a sense, that’s the advice delivered on his new song “Pretend.” It’s advice aimed at a specific audience: soldiers overseas. And it’s not always easy to follow. Continue reading »

Mar 302018
 

best songs march

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

Aviation – Invisible Boy


In 1980, Queen delivered one of the great superhero themes of all time with “Flash.” If the Invisible Boy were a real superhero, Aviation gave him an equally bombastic theme song, a six-minute epic complete with piano crescendoes, scorching guitar solos, and canned applause. He’s not real, though. In fact, as you discover over the course of the song, he’s not exactly a superhero after all, just a lonely kid who sits by himself at lunch. Well, now he’s a lonely kid with an epic piano-prog theme song. Continue reading »