Dec 172018
 
best vermont 2018

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.

Continue reading »

Jul 312018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best songs july 2018

The Aztext ft. Xenia Dunford – Everyday Sun


Last month I wrote about Xenia Dunford’s dual comeback EPs. They split along genre lines: the first singer-songwriter Americana, the second a little jazzier. Now she’s dabbling in a third genre: hip-hop. On rap duo The Aztext’s new single “Everyday Sun,” Dunford proves herself a perfect hook singer. The blend producer Rico James creates with her voice and an infectious horn line sounds like a ’70s Stevie Wonder jam. Continue reading »

Feb 132018
 

full walrus

The first review quoted on Tusk‘s Wikipedia page calls it “the most disgusting and pointless movie I’ve seen.” Another reads: “Kevin Smith has lost his mind.” Even the supposedly positive reviews include quotes like “I’m recommending Kevin Smith’s uniquely twisted Tusk, but there’s a part of me that wishes I could un-see it.”

So learning that a band named themselves after Tusk might not inspire much confidence. If they channeled the movie’s tone, they might sound obnoxious, unpleasant, or divisive at the very least. So consider it a shock that the artist known as Full Walrus sounds like an adjective used exactly nowhere to describe their namesake movie: beautiful. Continue reading »

Jan 312018
 

best songs january

I try to write about as much great music as I can here, but I inevitably fail to get to everything deserving. So I’m inaugurating a monthly-ish series rounding up Vermont’s best new songs. It’s not ranked and I’m not aiming for any firm number; it’s just some songs that were still rattling around my head as the month came to a close.

A few of these I wrote about already, but most I didn’t get to. Either way, whether you follow the site or just stumbled upon this, whether you’re a Vermonter yourself or have zero local connection, this collects some of the best music the state’s been producing recently.

Also, full disclosure: This series is starting with a lie. A few of these actually came out in December, after I’d finished my Best Songs of 2017 post. Close enough. Continue reading »

Jan 252018
 

henry birdsey

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. Continue reading »

Sep 012017
 

guthrie galileo

The electronically-influenced soul and R&B on Vermont singer and producer Guthrie Galileo’s majestic new album Modern Day Ripples generally sounds timeless. One track, however, is more of-the-moment: “Labor Day.” The album came out a few weeks ago, but this song offers a lot to think about this weekend in particular.

Over a bed of piano, synthesizers, and field recordings (more on those in a minute) that echoes James Blake or Frank Ocean, Galileo explores the ironies of a holiday meant to celebrate workers. “”Labor Day” was written on and in the days following the workers holiday [last year], a time when I was coming to understand the world with a class-based perspective,” Guthrie explains. “I was remarking to myself, as I went about the motions of my day job, about the fact that all the people I know worked during the holiday. The bosses and the management at work, however, were nowhere to be seen!” Continue reading »

Jul 192017
 

jinxbox

A few months back, Vermont songwriter Tyler Daniel Bean released a music video that uses haunting imagery to show what it feels like when depression takes over. The heavy music matched the mood, loud and unrelenting like it was closing in on all sides.

New Middlebury dreampop trio Jinxbox tackles similar themes on their new album Relief, but through a very different genre. The sun-drenched melodies deliver earworm after earworm, but the lyrics stem from a much darker place. Nine Inch Nails could easily have written the opening lines of the song “Static”: Continue reading »

Jun 162017
 

amelia devoid

“Amelia Devoid” is a great handle for an electronic musician. In Devoid’s case, though, the name is no pseudonym. And discovering the history behind her unusual last name started Amelia Devoid down the path towards her magnetic new album.

Devoid’s heritage is a Native American tribe called the Abenaki. Based in New England and northeast Canada, the tribe came together during the continent’s colonization out of the splintered remains of other groups. Like so many Native tribes, their history over the past several centuries can be a painful one. Devoid even learned that her home state’s University of Vermont practiced eugenics on the tribe all the way up to the 1930s. “Researching this history has informed a large part of my identity, and has helped me in part make sense of my unusual last name,” she says.

The recent pipeline protests at Standing Rock drew Devoid back to her heritage and inspired her wonderful new electronic album, Hypogeum. Songs like “My Ancestors Died Here” and “Hopeless Call for Peace” tie directly into the recent conflict. Continue reading »

May 152017
 

wren kitz

NNA Tapes is probably Vermont’s best-known record label, an über-hip curator that has helped spearhead the recent cassette revival. Their catalog of experimentally-minded musicians extends from the out-there to the way-out-there. And their latest signing, fellow Vermonter Wren Kitz, can operate in both modes.

His first release with the label, Dancing on Soda Lake (out June 2), counts as relatively conventional – for him. Unlike some of his more experimental releases of ambient rumbles or Eraserhead nightmares, Dancing on Soda Lake is reasonably song-based. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t weird. Continue reading »

May 012017
 

Back in 2011, the soundtrack to the Ryan Gosling movie Drive updated 1980s synth-pop for the 21st century and became a big hit doing so. Songs like “Nightcall” and “A Real Hero” brought a film-noir darkness to the genre’s supremely catchy melodies and on his new album Pax Romana, Vermont-based producer Ebn Ezra aka Ethan Wells does the same.

Though Wells calls the Drive soundtrack “iconic,” he draws from further back in the history of synthesized music. He cites as his album’s biggest influence a Japanese artist named Chinatsu Kuzuu, who recorded medieval folk songs backed by MIDI compositions (similar in a way to a recent album of electronic Gregorian chants). But Kuzuu recorded back in the early 1990s, when MIDI – a primitive form of electronic music – was a new frontier. “It sounds like the most bizarre thing,” Wells says, “English folk by way of a Japanese woman in the ’90s using no more than a computer. So I thought, if she can do it, so can I.” Continue reading »