When I wrote an introduction to Burlington’s music scene for Vice in fall of 2015 – it was peak Bernie and the country seemed very interested in what the deal was up there – the first band I spotlighted was Madaila. Though barely a year into their career, Madaila seemed poised to be Vermont’s next big breakout, the dance-pop Phish or Grace Potter (though I guess these days the dance-pop Grace Potter is Grace Potter). The band earned millions of Spotify streams and garnered national attention from places like Paste and Relix. It seemed only a matter of time before they got a song placed in the right ad or an opening slot on the right tour and went supernova.
I tried to discern some overarching theme with this year’s Best Songs list. One has to write something in these intros, after all. I never came up with one (other than that the songs are all, you know, good). But maybe that diversity itself offers a narrative thread.
The only thing many outsiders seem to associate with Vermont music is jam bands. Mostly one jam band, really. Now, I’m sure learning that Vermont has other genres wouldn’t surprise any outsider. But learning that the music being created in those genres is equally vibrant – and equally supported by the local music scene – might.
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.
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]
Yesterday we began our list of the best-ever cover songs performed by Vermont bands and singers. The occasion: To promote, ahem, my book party at Phoenix Books in Burlington on November 1st for Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time. Singers from Swale and Madaila will be there on hand covering songs from the book live!
Speaking of Madaila, let’s continue our list with…
We named Madaila’s “Secret” the Second Best Song of 2016. “Realization,” off the same album Traces, is almost as good. Though Traces can get spacey and psyched-out at times, both tracks showcase the new-wave pop songwriting chops of frontman Mark Daly, a man who knows his way around a catchy hook.
The band just released a new music video for the track, taking over Burlington, Vermont costume shop Old Gold for a fashion show. It’s the biggest thing that’s happened to musical thrift shops since Macklemore. And if the video’s intro music sounds appealing, it appears to be a MIDI version of one of Madaila’s other great songs, “Give Me All Your Love”.
When I launched this blog last month, I kicked things off with The Best Vermont Albums of 2016. I said after that I’d move on to what’s next, not just what already happened. Which I will, I swear (and I have a bit, highlighting great new material from Vultures of Cult (R.I.P.), The New Line, and 1881). But first, one final retrospective.
When putting together the Best Albums list, I realized many of my favorite 2016 songs were not on proper albums. They were from EPs, singles, preview tracks from 2017 albums, covers, or other one-offs. So, for one last look back, we’re counting down our favorite Vermont-made songs of the past year. Then onto 2017. Promise.
Welcome to County Tracks, a new blog that aims to explore music new and old from the great state of Vermont. We’ll be kicking off in full in January, but we couldn’t let 2016 pass us by without a look back at all the great music the Green Mountain State produced. From heavy metal to light-as-air folk, Burlington to Brattleboro, Vermont musicians delivered incredible albums across the musical spectrum. Check out our countdown below, and see you back here next year.