Feb 282018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best songs february

February’s a short month, but you wouldn’t know it from the amount of music that came out. The second installment in our monthly-except-when-it’s-not series spans everything from synth dance-pop to choral composition, indie rock to acoustic funk, Godspeed You! Black Emperor noise to Parquet Courts pastiche. There’s a song inspired by hitting the road and one inspired by hitting the sheets. Let’s start there. 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 »

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 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 »

May 262017
 

j bengoy

We’re at that point in the year where music critics start handicapping the Song of the Summer. What will be 2017’s “One Dance,” “Fancy,” or “Blurred Lines”? Well, we’ve got an under-the-radar contender to throw in the ring. It might not be the Song of the Summer, but it could be your Song of the Summer.

It’s “So Good (I Could Die),” the infectious new single from Vermont quintet J Bengoy. The track has all the traits of a perfect summer song: Catchy, poppy, upbeat, and with a feel-good message to boot. Continue reading »

May 092017
 

joey pizza slice

Joey Agresta has recorded under some odd names over the years: Joey Pizza Slice, Son of Salami, Salami Junior (they were all food-related). He gave his songs titles like “My Penis Is a Fortune Teller” and “I Never Wanna Take Acid Again.” But despite the jokey presentation, his weird and off-kilter pop experiments earned him fans in bands like Future Islands and Parquet Courts, with whom he released a split 7″.

Now he’s getting serious.

Sort of.

For the first time, the artist formerly known as Joey Pizza Slice has hung up his dough to record under his own name. Compared to much of his out-there past work, his debut album Let’s Not Talk About Music (out this Friday) is downright pretty, channeling shimmery bedroom pop like Ariel Pink or Washed Out. Unlike his seemingly tossed-off past exploits, he took three years to record this album, mostly on a pair of old cassette machines. As the press writeup says, “Contained here are songs of a hopeful sadness that mirror the darkness of these times and the decaying heart of the songsmith. This is Agresta’s most personal and sincere work thus far” (not exactly a high bar). Continue reading »

Apr 112017
 

Madaila

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”. Continue reading »

Feb 202017
 

francesca blanchard

In 1966, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs had an unlikely hit with “Little Red Riding Hood,” a novelty song about a wolf putting the moves on a forest maiden (though after their previous hit “Wooly Bully,” perhaps nothing that followed can be described as unlikely). That wolf was lascivious, with leering lyrics like “What full lips you have / They’re sure to lure someone bad…” So much for sheep’s clothing!

The tables turn in Francesca Blanchard‘s new video for her terrific single “My Heart.” It stars the Michael Cera of wolves, shy and reticent as he leads her on a slo-mo forest chase. He’s like a more adult version of Hobbes to her Calvin and a whole lot different than Sam the Sham’s wolf – less “Wild Thing,” more Where the Wild Things Are. Continue reading »

Feb 102017
 

henry jamison cover

Phish and Grace Potter. For years those two have stood as the tentpoles of Vermont’s breakout musicians. But in recent years, a number of great local artists have begun nipping at their heels. Artists like Madaila, Kat Wright, and The DuPont Brothers are touring and getting attention on the national scene and show few signs of slowing down.

The latest of these is Henry Jamison, who last year earned plaudits from the likes of Consequence of Sound and Vice for his wonderful EP The Rains (home to our sixth favorite song of 2016). Now, to promote his current tour, he’s released a new song. This one’s a cover of another great songwriter: Gordon Lightfoot and his classic “If You Could Read My Mind.” Continue reading »