Critics of ranked lists like this see it as a bug that they’re entirely subjective and somewhat arbitrary. I see it as a feature. There’s not really any difference between #12 and #13. Frankly, there’s not all that much difference between #1 and #25. But my feeling has always been, everyone gets that. No one actually thinks you can mathematically rank works of art. But the trying offers a wonderful opportunity for music nerds to look back at the best of the year, and for the sort of vigorous debate on which such nerddom rests.
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.
When I saw Vermont-based guitar wizard Tom Pearo deliver a masterful album-release show recently, he made a comment about how I Am A Mountain soundtracked a movie playing in his head. Something in the way he said it made me think he had more in mind than a band’s standard promo line about how cinematic their new album is. Sure enough, Pearo has a very specific story in mind. Think a coming-of-age road journey as told by J.R.R. Tolkien (which I realize basically describes Lord of the Rings, but most of the battles in Pearo’s movie are internal).
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.”
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.
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??
I only stepped foot in Vermont once this year.
That’s the dirty little secret of this blog (well, not that secret; it says it right on the About page): I don’t live there. Haven’t since I started doing this last year.
That’s going to change when I move back in the spring, but the aim of the site won’t. I conceived of County Tracks as helping to expose the best music created in Vermont to non-Vermonters. In the digital era, it’s easy for an expat dedicated enough to follow any local scene from afar. What’s trickier is getting great local music heard by people who have no reason to care about the category of “Vermont music.”
This ties into a broader problem. The glut of choice of streaming, rather than leveling the playing field, has mostly helped the famous get more famous. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a Billboard staffer claiming Drake was “bigger than the Beatles” because all 25 tracks on Drake’s new album appeared on the Hot 100 simultaneously. I won’t even get into the “bigger than the Beatles” nonsense (come on). The more important point is that, overwhelmed by choice, listeners are gravitating towards what they know. No matter how many times a digital music CEO says the word “discovery,” actual music discovery seems harder than ever.
I don’t know if any of the artists below are blowing up Spotify playlists, or whether any computer algorithm is pushing them on users. But they deserve attention. Great music happens beyond the big cities and big labels; it just needs exposure. In my small way, I hope these lists help a little. There’a lot of great music being made in Vermont. More people outside Vermont – people like me – need to hear it.
If you’re a churchgoer, your first association with the organ might be someone guiding tone-deaf congregants through “How Great Thou Art.” If you’re a soul-music fan, you probably jump to Booker T. backing the Stax greats. Either way, I can almost guarantee you won’t predict the organ sounds that composer Henry Birdsey produces on new album CONCERTINA – WIRE.
Rather than channeling gospel or soul, Birdsey’s organ playing is ambient music at its ambient-ist. Brian Eno’s Music for Airports sounds like dance music compared to this. If you’ve ever seen that video of Justin Bieber slowed down 800%, it sounds kind of like that.
I mean all of that as a compliment, by the way. Birdsey’s beautiful, haunting, molasses-moves-fast-compared-to-this album echoes artists like Tim Hecker or Julianna Barwick. Ambient music often gets derided as “boring” and, sure, there aren’t lyrics or melodies you could sing along with here. But it takes you on a journey nevertheless.