Mar 142018

paper castles

Many of Paddy Reagan’s musical influences are about what you’d expect for a thirty-something indie-rock songwriter: Pavement, Smog, Sharon Van Etten, and, most recently, Deerhunter. One that’s less obvious? The Grateful Dead.

On “First Blush,” Reagan’s new single with band Paper Castles, one line in particular channels his Deadhead past: “Is this just a dream you had to dream / To understand” (it echoes the “Box of Rain” lyric “This is all a dream we dreamed / one afternoon long ago”). And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at that connection. After all, the Grateful Dead are finally cool, subject to the likes of Pitchfork appreciations and National-curated tribute albums featuring dozens of today’s coolest indie bands (including, incidentally, three of the four artists Reagan cited up top). Continue reading »

Mar 022018

miku daza

Like “emo,” “ska” is one of those dated descriptors that many musicians run from. Not Miku Daza; it’s right there in her band’s Facebook description. As Daza points out though, ska is one of a number of apt genre tags; the page also cites punk, rumba, cabaret, and glam rock. And unlike many overwrought band bios, you can actually pick out each of those genres in a single song. Like, for instance, the band’s vibrant debut single “Frosty Pink Skies”:

You hear the trademark on-the-upbeat guitars and horn blasts of ska, sure. But what ska band features the accordion and violin so prominently? She pulls those sounds from her world-music background. Miku Daza the person played and sang in the cumbia band Mal Maiz (who we just wrote about), studied Afro-Cuban percussion in Cuba, and currently sings Bulgarian harmonies in an Eastern European a cappella group. Miku Daza the band features a rotating cast of instrumentalists who shift the sound as they come and go. 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 232018

James Kochalka is by trade a cartoonist. This will surprise you not one iota once you hear his songs. Even reading the titles will give you the idea. “Miniature Stairway to Heaven.” “A Donut Named Maria.” “Queen Latifah’s Teeth.” “I’m So Woke.”

Like a great stand-up comic, on his new James Kochalka Superstar album How to Tie a Tie on the Internet, he hits the punchline and goes out on the laugh. Most of the songs run under two minutes. Some don’t even top one. The bulk of “Queen Latifah’s Teeth” is just him repeating the title line over and over. And here are the lyrics to “A Donut Named Maria,” in their entirety:

I’m in a love with a donut, a donut named Maria
But she’s in love with a hot dog named Oscar Gonorrhea
Oh don’t you know, the powdered sugar falls like snow
And I feel very cold and lonely without my donut
Continue reading »

Jan 162018

why nona

When I first wrote about songwriter Sam Wiehe last year, I compared his music under the acoustic solo moniker Concrete Jumpers to Dashboard Confessional and asked how he felt about his music being labeled (and not just by me) as emo. He was fine with it. “I know it has a certain stigma and can be attached to ‘sad boys’,” he said at the time, “but to me, emo music just means music that is emotional.”

The 21-year old’s new project, the four-piece band Why Nona, is still emo. But it’s less Dashboard Confessional and more Jimmy Eat World, loud and rocking and insanely, outrageously catchy. Or, for the generation who weren’t yet born when Bleed American came out, Modern Baseball might be the more relevant comparison. He says his new bandmates – Julian Cunningham (guitar), Mason Robertson (bass), and Rajit Sachdeva (drums) – bring in influences he wouldn’t have otherwise, from atmospheric indie to heavy metal. Continue reading »

Jan 122018

Plastique Mammals

The song titles on Plastique Mammals’ debut album are fantastic. “The Whirring Keeps Me Up At Night.” “There Are Bigger Men Than Me.” And, maybe my favorite, the vaguely sinister “Twice As Many Bees.”

Here’s the thing though: all these songs are instrumentals. Plastique Mammals is Remi Russin on bass guitar and synth loops and Evan Raine on drums. No vocals. The ingenious titles in no way reflect the lyrics, because there aren’t any. Which got me wondering: how do you title a song with no words? Continue reading »

Jan 032018

zeus springsteen

Zeus Springsteen doesn’t sound much like their namesake. A more apt mythological moniker might be Death Cab for Zeusy, or perhaps R.E.M.ortal (pronounce it like “immortal”). On their self-titled debut, the band piles hook upon hook, harkening back to the jangliest days of college rock. It’s full of funny lyrics like “I’m double-fisting antidotes for the common cold / and for growing old and bitter,” but the goofiest title of the bunch addresses a more serious topic – sort of. It’s a song about a robot avenging sexual assault. They christened him Joey, but I’ve taken to calling him R2MeToo. Continue reading »

Dec 192017

best vermont albums

After counting down the Best Songs and Best EPs last week, our year-end look back comes to a close with the Best Vermont Albums. This list could easily have been twice or three times as long, but for the sake of concision – and offering a brief scene intro for outsiders – I limited it to ten. The cream of the crop, the albums with not an ounce of flab or filler.

Genre-wise, they run the gamut, from instrumental bass funk to snappy power-pop, from horn-flecked Americana to roaring slacker-punk. Some tackle current events with wit and insight. Some focus more on chilling, eating sweets, or doing laundry. The only unifying characteristic here is quality. Continue reading »

Dec 122017

best vermont music 2017

What is an EP?

I don’t mean that as a philosophical question, but a practical one.

Back in the vinyl era, the EP had a clear reason for existing as a stand-alone format from the album. If you had enough songs to fill a 12-inch, 33RPM record, you made an album. If not, you put what you had on a 10-inch, 45RPM record and called it an EP. They looked different; they felt different; they cost different amounts.

In the digital era, free of physical limitations, the distinction has blurred. An artist’s latest collection of music can be two songs or two hundred. The idea that a 60-minute collection of music constitutes an “album” and a 15-minute one constitutes an “EP” is purely artificial.

Yet the EP hangs on, because musicians like the format. Nowhere more so than in Vermont, where the EP offers new bands a way to test the waters and experienced bands a way to toss out a few songs between “proper” albums. In a musical climate where local musicians rotate constantly around new bands and monikers, the EP offers a low-stakes way to try out a new sound or collaboration.

As a result, this list is no ugly stepchild to the Best Albums list we’ve got coming next week. There may be no more practical reason to keep the EP designation, but these ten EPs justify their own reasons for existing. Continue reading »