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 »

Mar 292018
 

a2vt

It has been a decade now since Said Bulle and George Mnyonge moved to Vermont as refugees from Somalia and Tanzania, respectively, but they are working to keep their traditions – and language – alive. Under the names Jilib and MG Man, the pair perform in the Burlington-based group A2VT. And on their new single “Faas Waa,” they blend English lyrics with verses both Swahili and in Jilib’s native Maay Maay, a variation on Somali.

“We Bantus are trying to keep our language alive, since it has only been a spoken language up until recently,” Jilib says in a press release. The language has only 1.75 million native speakers as of 2015 according to Ethnologue, a fraction even of Somalia’s 14 million people. Continue reading »

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 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 »

Dec 192017
 

best vermont albums

After counting down the Best Songs and Best EPs last week, our year-end look back comes to a close with the Best Vermont Albums. This list could easily have been twice or three times as long, but for the sake of concision – and offering a brief scene intro for outsiders – I limited it to ten. The cream of the crop, the albums with not an ounce of flab or filler.

Genre-wise, they run the gamut, from instrumental bass funk to snappy power-pop, from horn-flecked Americana to roaring slacker-punk. Some tackle current events with wit and insight. Some focus more on chilling, eating sweets, or doing laundry. The only unifying characteristic here is quality. Continue reading »

Dec 152017
 

best vermont songs

Holy moly, Vermont artists released a lot of songs this year. I’m just talking sheer quantity: a lot of songs.

This may seem a blindingly obvious observation, but here’s why it struck me. When this site launched this past January, we posted Best Songs and Best Albums of 2016 lists to kick things off. The twenty selections on each were just things I’d come across in the preceding twelve months. This year, though, I made a more concerted effort to be thorough. All year I was trolling Bandcamp and Soundcloud and YouTube and Facebook, which drove the point home for me. I already knew Vermont musicians were prolific, but dear god. One songwriter alone released 36 double-sided singles!

The point being, narrowing this list down to twenty songs was brutal. That’s a testament to the bounty of great music coming out of Vermont. Some of my selections come from bands known to any Vermont music fans; others are by musicians not really plugged into “the scene,” off on their own somewhere releasing amazing stuff. There’s no overarching theme, and in a different week, this list would probably change. But these are my favorite local songs of the year – today at least. Continue reading »

Dec 122017
 

best vermont music 2017

What is an EP?

I don’t mean that as a philosophical question, but a practical one.

Back in the vinyl era, the EP had a clear reason for existing as a stand-alone format from the album. If you had enough songs to fill a 12-inch, 33RPM record, you made an album. If not, you put what you had on a 10-inch, 45RPM record and called it an EP. They looked different; they felt different; they cost different amounts.

In the digital era, free of physical limitations, the distinction has blurred. An artist’s latest collection of music can be two songs or two hundred. The idea that a 60-minute collection of music constitutes an “album” and a 15-minute one constitutes an “EP” is purely artificial.

Yet the EP hangs on, because musicians like the format. Nowhere more so than in Vermont, where the EP offers new bands a way to test the waters and experienced bands a way to toss out a few songs between “proper” albums. In a musical climate where local musicians rotate constantly around new bands and monikers, the EP offers a low-stakes way to try out a new sound or collaboration.

As a result, this list is no ugly stepchild to the Best Albums list we’ve got coming next week. There may be no more practical reason to keep the EP designation, but these ten EPs justify their own reasons for existing. Continue reading »