Nov 292017
 

j benjoy reprise

We said J Bengoy’s last single should be the song of the summer. Their latest probably shouldn’t. It’s about almost drowning. Kind of a bummer subject for any season.

Not that you’d guess it from the lyrics to this power-pop jam. The opening line “Waiting for the weekend” anticipates an aquatic experience more Jimmy Buffett than Jeff Buckley. But the song’s optimism grew from a traumatic moment lead singer Justin Barton had on a Costa Rican vacation several years ago. While body surfing, a rip tide pulled him under. “I remember one minute ducking under a wave, weltering, and then being what felt like a football field from shore,” he says. “I only remember being focused on how to get back. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. My brain just went ‘Shit, this is a dangerous situation.'” Continue reading »

Nov 272017
 

near north most every night

An immediate standout on Americana trio Near North’s full-length debut Most Every Night is the holler-along brawler “Good About You.” The song channels the best of classic rock, bringing to mind bands like Thin Lizzy. But the artist that actually inspired the song couldn’t be more different: Adult-Contemporary pop singer Anna Nalick.

The song’s story begins a decade ago in frontman John Nicholls’ music class. His teacher assigned the students the task of writing a new song based on a current pop hit’s chord structure. Nicholls selected Nalick’s “Breathe (2 AM),” on constant radio rotation at the time. “I banged out a verse, pre chorus and chorus, just enough to satisfy the assignment and never thought about it [again],” Nicholls says. Continue reading »

Nov 032017
 

As anyone who read last week’s Best Vermont Cover Songs posts knows, I held an event in Burlington this week to promote my new book Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time (locals who missed it: I left a bunch of signed copies at Phoenix Books!). And rather than give a dry book talk, I recruited some of Vermont’s finest musicians to cover songs from the book alongside conversation with expert moderator Brent Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free-Press.

I wrote about the event at length over at Cover Me, so here I will just say that both Swale and Madaila frontman Mark Daly delivered some truly amazing covers. Swale kicked off the event with a beautiful acoustic version of “Unchained Melody,” followed by Daly nailing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and a “Gin and Juice” both hilarious and haunting. Watch videos of all three below. [Update November 8: Plus a long video of the full thing, including my conversations with Brent] Continue reading »

Oct 272017
 

michael roberts wooden dinosaur

If you hear the phrase “a song about animals,” you probably think of Raffi. But I’d wager Raffi never wrote about an essay exploring how humankind’s transition from agricultural life to capitalism centuries affected our relationship to the animal kingdom (unless I am seriously misreading “Baby Beluga”).

On his new song “Something Free,” Vermont singer-songwriter Michael Roberts picks up Raffi’s slack. Roberts usually records great country-rock music under the band name Wooden Dinosaur (including one of my favorite albums and songs of 2016), but for this new single he took a $20 tape recorder and did it all himself. Which isn’t to say this is tossed off – not even close. Over what he ably terms a “laid-back lo-fi country choogler” of a tune, he sings dense lines like “I want something free I can call my own / Domesticated animals brought to my home” and “The smell of the hunt, the patience, the scenery / A blood Jackson Pollock sprayed on the leaves.” Intriguing to say the last, and I wanted more information. 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 »

Aug 152017
 

Patrick James Maybe

Reading through Patrick James’ Genius notes to his new album Panosophy feels like trying to identify everyone on the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover. He shouts out Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell, and Morrissey. He references Dostoevsky, Murakami, and Shakespeare. His influences on one song alone include The Cure, Felt, Aztec Camera, Blueboy, Tiger Trap, Oasis, and Nirvana.

All of which may make this music seem dense and unlistenable, like some sort of heady prog nightmare. But James, who records as Maybe (a name inspired by a favorite girl-group song), makes it work. He cites his “Brian Wilson worship” a couple times, and this album indeed reflects Wilson’s ability to place really complex orchestrations in the context of tidy pop songs. Intricate string and piano arrangements reflect James’ classical piano training, landing somewhere between the Zombies and Fairport Convention with a side of Philip Glass. Continue reading »

Jul 282017
 

swale there's no one here

Back in 2005, guitarist Eric Olsen termed Swale “Vermont’s premiere slo-core band.” Twelve years later, this label has proven ludicrously inadequate. But it’s hard to come up with an equally pithy tagline to replace it. The quartet’s journey has taken them from their origins as a burlesque show house band recording EPs of ambient slow-burns to the sort of rock-soul-funk-pop-country hydra that can credibly cover both Sonic Youth and Tom Jones.

Not only will Swale’s third full-length record There’s No One Here easily be one of the best Vermont-made albums of the year; it’s sure to be one of the best albums period. A sprawling double-LP calls for an equally in-depth look behind the scenes, so we reached out to the band members to talk about every track. 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 »

Jul 172017
 

jessica rabbit syndrome

If you’ve ever heard anyone end a sentence sounding like haunted house door creaking open, you’ve heard “vocal fry.” A viral Guardian article in 2015 argued young women employing the verbal tic wouldn’t be taken seriously – the same argument used against other supposedly ditzy tics like “like” and ending every sentence as if it’s a question? Half the titles on YouTube explaining vocal fry include the word “Kardashian,” which gives you some idea of the speech pattern’s reputation.

Inevitably, people criticizing the way young women speak inspired a backlash. Then a backlash to the backlash. Etc. All of which figures into the debut single by Vermont-Massachusetts “gravecore” trio Jessica Rabbit Syndrome titled, appropriately, “Vocal Fry.” Continue reading »

Jul 142017
 

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings aren’t an obvious music-video setting; people talking in a circle hardly screams “dynamic visuals.” But most Alcoholics Anonymous meetings don’t feature an interpretive dancer.

In Vermont rock band Swale’s song “Drug Laws,” off their fantastic new album There’s No One Here, songwriter and singer Eric Olsen looks back on a darker chapter in his life: drugs, theft, jail time. But a whiff of nostalgia colors the regret. “I used to break drug laws, but now I make in-laws,” the song begins. “You wouldn’t know by looking at me that I did time for forgery and larceny. That was an awesome me.”

“I don’t think I initially started writing like a laundry list of my personal drug incidents,” Olsen says. “Where I started was talking about being older and being different. The joke of the song is that back when you were a mudslide of a shitshow, you might have been cooler. It’s nostalgia for a time that fucking sucked. Like the lyric ‘You should have seen me then / Don’t look at me now.’ Now I’m a good citizen. No one wants to write about that. They want to write about a hot mess.”

Translating that idea into a music video proved tricky. Rather than going full Trainspotting with a bunch of druggie-debauchery set pieces, director Nate Beaman conceived of a surreal AA meeting where an interpretive dancer leaps out of the circle. Continue reading »