Vermont singer-songwriter Marcie Hernandez is sick of answering questions about what winters are like where she lives, and she vents about it on her new song titled, appropriately enough, “Winter.” The chorus goes, “Glassy smiles crack under pressure / Someone shoot me if they ask me / ‘Bout the fucking weather one more time.”
In the endless year-end debate about to rank or not-to-rank, I generally fall on the to-rank side. Putting some albums on and not others is already subjective, so why not go full bore? But I do find that things get increasingly arbitrary the further down the list you go. There is a difference in my mind between #2 and #3. But between #22 and #23? No, not really.
So this year I’m wimping out and doing a compromise: 30 albums, #11-30 unranked, and then the ranked Top Ten at the bottom. A method sure to satisfy no one! Seems appropriate for 2020.
Babehoven – Demonstrating Visible Difference of Height
Babehoven weren’t a Vermont band for very long. Singer Maya Bon and partner/bandmate Ryan Albert moved to the tiny town of Arlington, where he’s from, to record this EP, then promptly decamped for Philadelphia. They’ve also logged time in Los Angeles and Portland. But, even if they weren’t in the state for very long, Vermont would do well to embrace the wonderful dream-pop EP they recorded while here.
You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 was a crummy year, for musicians especially. That certainly didn’t stop the flow of great songs though. Artists channelled collective fear and frustrations in a variety of ways. One song on this list is literally titled “2020.” Another complains about masks fogging up your glasses. Most, though, are not that literal. Some offer upbeat escapism; others complain about more personal problems than those in the news. They really only have one thing in common: I can’t wait until I can see them performed live.
Vermont trio The Leatherbound Books describe their sound as “pop-tinged indie rock with crushing low self-esteem,” but in their new music video, they aim for something more empowering. The clip for “I Doubt It,” off their recently-released debut album These Were the Days, shows women getting dolled up to stay in (while frontwoman Jackie Buttolph plays bass in her bathtub).
Ben Patton – Just Gotta Be Mine
Anyone who played computer games in the ’80s will recognize the look of Ben Patton’s new music video. For accuracy, he even used the precise (and extremely limited) color palette of the old EGA graphics card. It seems retro, but Ben’s been spending much of quarantine covering old Cole Porter songs, so for him the ’80s is relatively modern!
You can’t go far exploring the folk music tradition without stumbling upon your first murder ballad. The genre goes back hundreds of years and still plays a major role in blues, country, and Americana music today. Nirvana famously covered Leadbelly’s murder ballad “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” for MTV Unplugged. Johnny Cash sang murder ballads his entire career. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds recorded an album literally titled Murder Ballads, adding Cave’s own compositions to the canon.
Ariel Zevon – Witness
Before YouTube will let you play “Witness,” it flashes an ominous black warning about how the video may be inappropriate for some users. Its a misleading label that makes it seem like it’s got nudity or something offensive. To be sure, the content in the video is offensive – in the sense of it should offend anyone to see police acting this way. But knowing it is happening is a civic duty. Zevon has accompanied the upsetting footage with a moving new protest song, doing her bit to fight the power.
Few genres get as ridiculed as rap-rock, and for good reason (two words: Limp. Bizkit.). But, in their new single “Sleeping On My Own,” three Vermont musicians recombine rock and rap in a much more palatable way.
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.