Music festivals have been cancelled this summer – barring, of course, your occasional Smash Mouth-headlined superspreader event. In lieu of putting on new shows, established festivals have tried a variety of “virtual” events. Some have gotten a series of artists to perform from their homes; some have been re-airing a bunch of old performances. All are trying to make it feel like an event, with varying degrees of success.
On March 26, two days after Vermont governor Phil Scott issued a Stay-at-Home order, a video appeared on local blues guitarist Seth Yacovone’s dormant YouTube page. Titled “Seth Yacovone’s Quarantine Video Single #1: ‘Welcome’,” it featured his own song of that name and what he called a “surprise B-side.” The surprise was – spoiler alert – a cover of the timely Pink Floyd song “Nobody Home.”
Francesca Blanchard’s whimsical new music video was filmed in New York City well before the coronavirus crisis. But watching her wander through mobs of people now in the clip for her single “Did It To Myself,” I couldn’t help thinking, “Six feet apart, guys!”
But if you’re walking the streets in a wedding dress singing to yourself, people might steer clear regardless.
The lyric sheet for art-punk band The Bubs’ debut album Cause a Fuss looks at first like most lyric sheets. There’s a lot of talk about pre-choruses and “repeat 4x.” But then you look a little closer at the notations. “Intro with pirate vocals” is one. “Weird oohs section” is another. There are “bah bah bah bah”s and “ooh-wa-hooooo”s and “ahhh”s, with varying numbers of “h”s to indicate how long everyone should ahhh.
Even when there are real words, they sometimes get notated like this:
Bad Rat? – Transitional Forest
“Transitional Forest” is billed as the lead single of Bad Rat’s upcoming album This Time Around The Sun, but it’s almost two singles in one. The first half is a bit of a feint, a meditative meander that doesn’t predict the drop to come. With little warning, Marc Kamil’s mellow ballad becomes thudding post-punk, little more than a shared guitar line connecting the two halves.
At first, the music video for Vermont-via-Portland-via-LA band Babehoven’s “Maybe I’m Bitter” evokes that old computer game The Sims, all empty-room templates rendered with rudimentary software. But watch closely for the early signs of the simulation breaking down. A lamp on a chair. The chair on a dresser. Soon giant disembodied hands invade – think Thing from The Addams Family – and the simulation collapses completely.
The genre tag “quiet storm” refers to emotive R&B ballads across eras. Named after a Smokey Robinson song, quiet storm emerged as a popular radio format in the ’70s and later grew to encapsulate the neo-soul boom of the ’90s. A playlist that segued from Luther Vandross into Sade would be peak quiet storm.
Clever Girls’ music sounds nothing like quiet storm.
Ali T – Electric Haze
Alison Turner is an artist out of time. She’s a singer-songwriter, but not with the folky connotations the phrase often takes on. Rather, something like “Electric Haze” sounds made for radio. Late-’90s radio, that is, when artist like Jewel and Meredith Brooks were racking up top-ten hits. It wouldn’t have a chance today, but “Electric Haze” ably walks to tricky line of engaging with nostalgia while creating something new.
Adam Rabin – The Other Room
You’re going to want to sing along to “The Other Room” after a listen or two – but I wouldn’t. The sketches of plot offered sound like a sci-fi family dystopia, a Black Mirror episode for children.
The Cheyenne Brando – Samsonite
So thoroughly does Endtime Hymns evoke certain bands that one begins looking for echoes everywhere. Is the title “My Jean Sebring” a nod to David Bowie’s “Jean Genie”? Does “Poisonhead” reference ABC’s “Poison Arrow”? Was “Privacy of Lucy” inspired by The Cure’s “Pictures of You”? Each connection a greater stretch than the last, and likely none intentional. Christian Hahn does explicitly cite the heyday of post-punk and new-wave in his bio though, and, sonically, the comparisons are everywhere. His next song might as well be titled “Bizarre Love Triangle Will Tear Us Apart.”
“Baby” is not a song title that implies much backstory. For instance, here’s how Justin Bieber explained what inspired his hit of the same name: “I’m basically saying I really like this girl and would do anything to make her my girlfriend.”
A lot of thought and a lot of living went into Vermont singer-songwriter Francesca Blanchard’s new song “Baby” though. The simple name masks some complicated feelings. She says she wrote it after returning from five months in Ecuador hiking and teaching guitar. A relationship that started shortly before she left had fizzled in the meantime, and her return precipitated a “quarter-life crisis.”