All those artists supposedly “saving” country music often do so by bringing in non-country elements, from Sturgill Simpson’s psychedelia to Kacey Musgraves’ disco flair. But on new single “Different Tomorrow Night,” Eastern Mountain Time saves country music by playing the genre right down the middle. Songwriter Sean Hood describes Eastern Mountain Time as only a “sorta-country band,” but on this track (and on my favorite song from his last album), he leaps all the way in.
Vermont quintet Fever Dolls’ debut single “Gennifer Flowers” ranked second on our Best Songs of 2018, and now they’re back with a follow-up: “Adeline.” Never short on ideas, the band packs a lot into under three minutes. In this case, an entire piece of musical theatre written in miniature, plotted around a husband and wife both in love with the same woman.
“[Singer Renn Mulloy] and I spent years playing in different bands with people that wanted to make Radiohead’s Kid A,” says songwriter Evan Allis, “while we were trying to make Disney’s The Kid.“
I tried to discern some overarching theme with this year’s Best Songs list. One has to write something in these intros, after all. I never came up with one (other than that the songs are all, you know, good). But maybe that diversity itself offers a narrative thread.
The only thing many outsiders seem to associate with Vermont music is jam bands. Mostly one jam band, really. Now, I’m sure learning that Vermont has other genres wouldn’t surprise any outsider. But learning that the music being created in those genres is equally vibrant – and equally supported by the local music scene – might.
This summer, Nine Inch Nails released Bad Witch, originally billed as the final EP in a three-EP trilogy. Only Trent Reznor said upon release that, even though it only contains six songs, it wasn’t an EP after all. “Want to know why it’s being labelled an LP instead of an EP?” he wrote in response to a fan questioning the change. “EPs show up with singles in Spotify and other streaming services = they get lost easier. EPs feel less important in today’s music-isn’t-as-important-as-it-once-was world. Why make it easier to ignore?”
In the digital-music era, the boundaries between an LP and an EP are porous at best. Bands can mostly decide for themselves what to label a release. Some artists have begun calling their EPs “mini-albums” (which is not a thing). Kanye West produced a series of seven-song projects this summer, few topping 25 minutes. None were labeled EPs. In the physical media era, there were concrete differences between an album, EP, and single: size, price, etc. Now it’s a free-for-all.
Adam Rabin – Trains That Never Come
Is progressive rock due for a comeback? The Washington Post‘s David Weigel released a well-reviewed book on the subject last year (I still gotta read that thing), which seems like it might auger a renaissance. But other than that… let’s just say Pitchfork hasn’t started reviewing Rush reissues. Adam Rabin, of proggers Elephants of Scotland, makes his own argument for the genre on new album The Badger Flies at Dawn. He brings in pop and orchestral melodies in sweeping arrangements that nod toward Genesis and… I suppose I’m part of the problem, as I have few other points of reference. If, like me, you need a genre introduction, “Trains That Never Come” offers an easily accessible place to start. No 7/5 time signatures required.
When I first wrote about Vermont folk singer Dave Richardson’s new album Carry Me Along, I highlighted his wonderful song about squids. His latest single, just in time for Halloween, tackles a darker subject. Richardson covers “The Unquiet Grave,” an English folk song hundreds of years old narrated by a woman in her grave. It’s kind of a murder ballad for someone already dead, a man metaphorically killing a ghost by mourning so relentlessly her soul can’t finding peace.
“The first version I heard of this song was a recording by Jean Ritchie,” Richardson says. “The ghostly imagery of the woman speaking from within her grave, her ‘earthly strong’ breath, hooked me. It is an achingly beautiful and sad depiction of grief and loss. That combination of graphic imagery and devastating grief got into me and stayed with me. But both of those things are big in my life. I love scary stories, horror, and spooky ballads. And I really, really love sad songs that penetrate down to the deepest fibers of your being. I relate to the idea of being so deep in depression that it becomes consuming and habitual and really needing someone to say ‘hey, you have a life to live, get to it while you can.'”
Singer-songwriter-composer Ben Patton crams a lot into the 32 minutes of new album Meaning What. After starting with the vocal doo-wop of “Maybe I Live to Make You Happy,” it quickly careens into garage-rock, Tin Pan Alley, jazz, showtunes, and beyond. Throughout the frequent genre swerves, though, one apparent inspiration kept jumping out at me: The Beatles.
It’s clichéd to note that the Beatles’ music influenced pretty much every popular music act of the past 60 years. That may well be true in a broad sense – what they did has seeped into every genre – but little current music actually sounds all that much like the Beatles. Meaning What does, though and from all the band’s phases too. On different songs, Patton channels the Broadway covers of their first albums (“New Love New Love”), the increased studio experimentations of Sgt. Pepper’s (“For All I Know”), the White Album’s crunchy drug puns (“Do the Math”), even the ambitious Abbey Road medley (“The Jebidiah Mustache Suite”).
A Box of Stars – Cornfields
Never before have I Googled a mixing engineer’s name, but Josh Druckman’s work feels as vital to building such a pristine, delicate beauty of a record as the actual musicians (who, for the record, are Macaulay Lerman on guitar and vocals; Claire Londagin on vocals; Jens Hybertson on violin; Eben Schumacher on bass, piano, and guitar; and Tim Halteman on drums). Take “Cornfields.” Enigmatic lyrics swirl around minimalist instrumentation, subtle percussion delicately balancing with windy violin. It’s not flashy music, and folky slowcore of this sort often lands in the background-music category. But the band’s just-so playing, presented perfectly, demands attention.
“Maybe I don’t want to be famous,” goes the opening line of Ballroom Sofa’s song “Famous.” That’s an understatement!
I first stumbled upon Ballroom Sofa’s Bandcamp page in March. The four songs posted there immediately hooked me. They blended Britpop and dream-pop, earworm hooks with clever lyrics. This didn’t sound like some DIY bedroom demo either; the production was immaculate. This band had it all – everything except an identity.
For the past year, the most talked-about new band in Vermont has been Julia Caesar. They built their reputation solely on fiery local shows, without a single song out there for the wider world to hear. (When I finally dug up a live video to post in May, I couldn’t even uncover the song titles.) In January, the music editor of alt-weekly Seven Days named his top hope for 2018 as getting any proper recording from the band.
Well, would that all of our new-year’s goals were wrapped up by mid-July! Julia Caesar drops their long-awaited debut EP today. Hopefully it will begin transmitting the deafening noise surrounding them in Vermont to a national audience.