When I wrote an introduction to Burlington’s music scene for Vice in fall of 2015 – it was peak Bernie and the country seemed very interested in what the deal was up there – the first band I spotlighted was Madaila. Though barely a year into their career, Madaila seemed poised to be Vermont’s next big breakout, the dance-pop Phish or Grace Potter (though I guess these days the dance-pop Grace Potter is Grace Potter). The band earned millions of Spotify streams and garnered national attention from places like Paste and Relix. It seemed only a matter of time before they got a song placed in the right ad or an opening slot on the right tour and went supernova.
Romeo and Juliet has inspired many songs over the years, the Dire Straits hit first among them. The latest addition to the canon, simply titled “Romeo,” comes from Vermont singer-songwriter Sabrina Comellas on her debut EP. Despite Comellas’ serious background in Shakespeare (she graduated from Emerson in 2017 with a theater degree), her Romeo and Juliet song doesn’t actually center on either character. She narrates from the point of view of an invented third party looking to the doomed duo for answers. The unnamed protagonist, a hopeless romantic removed from the Elizabethan trappings, offers a relatable way into the narrative and avoids the song becoming a sonic CliffsNotes.
Bishop LaVey – Romulus
Kane Sweeney’s last single addressed ancient mythology, and his follow-up stays in that old world, this time riffing on the Roman Empire. His thundering wail of a voice suits the subject, as does his “doom-folk” genre styling. If Game of Thrones were still going, he would have fit right in with the wildlings north of The Wall.
Lissa Schneckenburger’s early albums feature song titles like “Lady Walpole’s Reel” and “Fair Maid by the Sea Shore.” As you’d probably guess reading those old-timey titles, these were not her own compositions. This professional fiddler has been studying and performing the traditional music of America’s Northeast ever since she was six. She even got her degree on the subject in 2001 from the New England Conservatory of Music.
On her new album Thunder in My Arms, though, this expert player of centuries-old music tried something new: recording her own songs. And not compositions that sound like old reels and jigs either, but contemporary folk-rock songs. Songs that sound like the 21st century, not the 17th.
Looking at the track list for Vermont folk duo Cricket Blue’s debut album Serotinalia, one song leaps out: “Corn King.” It’s not the title as much as the run time: 11 minutes and 57 seconds. On a folk album, one imagines a song this long must be an epic ballad comprising dozens of verses, their “Desolation Row” perhaps. The reality is much stranger.
Though quiet and acoustic in its presentation, the song’s structure leans more progressive-rock than folk. Add drums and a fretless bass solo and “Corn King” could be a Rush song. Rather than a standard verse-chorus structure, the song breaks down into six distinct parts, with melodies and motifs that interweave, some borrowed from other songs on the same album. The combination of gorgeous, string-laden acoustic music with an odd structure echoes an artist the band claims as a key influence: experimental indie-harpist Joanna Newsom.
Amelia Devoid ft. Bleach Day – Afraid to Touch Her
Clouds dominate the single cover, and it’s hard to think of a more fitting image. This dreamy reverie seems the perfect soundtrack to staring into the sky and getting lost in your own thoughts. The electronic musician’s last album tackled some heavy themes (for one: genocide), but the new single seems light as a breeze.
When I first came across Vermont singer/songwriter/producer Zak Kline’s personal-empowerment single “I Will” in January, his gorgeous falsetto and intricate production immediately grabbed my attention. Like a Bon Iver song, it managed to sound intimate even buttressed by string sections, backing choirs, and huge crescendoing choruses. Compared to the earlier material I found on his Bandcamp, “I Will” leapt out. I assumed it was a bold new direction for a musician who’s been quietly releasing music for a few years.
Game of Thrones is constantly talking about “the old gods and the new.” So, with the final season approaching this weekend, what appropriate timing for a new song about some other old gods. It’s not about House Stark or Lannister belief systems though, but the deities of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythologies, and how – historically-speaking – winter did indeed come for them.
The song is “The Myth Has Broken,” by Vermont singer-songwriter Bishop LaVey (Kane Sweeney to his friends). He describes his music as “doom-folk,” a genre label that’s pretty dead on. Over spare and echoing guitar, he hollers a deep guttural roar, bringing goth-rock undertones even when the instrumentation would otherwise read as Americana. After dropping an excellent album in February, he has already followed it up with this new single.
At first listen, Vermont singer-songwriter Allison Fay Brown’s debut EP Cardinal is a warm and winning collection of folk-rock songs. But the EP boasts depths not immediately apparently skipping over the pleasant sonic surface. Take the title. The word “cardinal” signifies more than the arrival of spring, or the cover’s red lettering. “In astrology, cardinal signs signify the creators, and the beginning of things,” Brown says. “Myself, my mother, and my sister are all cardinal signs of different elemental zodiacs, and I wanted to pay homage to our strong feminine collective.”
Allison Fay Brown – Summit
I’m going to try to write something longer about Allison Fay Brown’s marvelous new EP later this week, so I’ll just leave the lead track here as a teaser. Like a good short-story writer, Brown offers just enough narrative details to intrigue while leaving plenty of gaps to fill in yourself. For instance…what’s in that box on the doorstep??