Feb 082019
 
fever dolls adeline

Vermont quintet Fever Dolls’ debut single “Gennifer Flowers” ranked second on our Best Songs of 2018, and now they’re back with a follow-up: “Adeline.” Never short on ideas, the band packs a lot into under three minutes. In this case, an entire piece of musical theatre written in miniature, plotted around a husband and wife both in love with the same woman.

“[Singer Renn Mulloy] and I spent years playing in different bands with people that wanted to make Radiohead’s Kid A,” says songwriter Evan Allis, “while we were trying to make Disney’s The Kid.

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Dec 202018
 

I only stepped foot in Vermont once this year.

That’s the dirty little secret of this blog (well, not that secret; it says it right on the About page): I don’t live there. Haven’t since I started doing this last year.

That’s going to change when I move back in the spring, but the aim of the site won’t. I conceived of County Tracks as helping to expose the best music created in Vermont to non-Vermonters. In the digital era, it’s easy for an expat dedicated enough to follow any local scene from afar. What’s trickier is getting great local music heard by people who have no reason to care about the category of “Vermont music.”

This ties into a broader problem. The glut of choice of streaming, rather than leveling the playing field, has mostly helped the famous get more famous. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a Billboard staffer claiming Drake was “bigger than the Beatles” because all 25 tracks on Drake’s new album appeared on the Hot 100 simultaneously. I won’t even get into the “bigger than the Beatles” nonsense (come on). The more important point is that, overwhelmed by choice, listeners are gravitating towards what they know. No matter how many times a digital music CEO says the word “discovery,” actual music discovery seems harder than ever.

I don’t know if any of the artists below are blowing up Spotify playlists, or whether any computer algorithm is pushing them on users. But they deserve attention. Great music happens beyond the big cities and big labels; it just needs exposure. In my small way, I hope these lists help a little. There’a lot of great music being made in Vermont. More people outside Vermont – people like me – need to hear it.

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Dec 182018
 
best vermont songs

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. 

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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.

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Dec 142018
 
the giant peach i-89

Rock has a storied history of songs about life on the road, from “Turn the Page” to “We’re an American Band” to half the Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog. But these chronicle the journeys of successful touring artists. You won’t find as many road songs by baby bands nowhere near their first Odyssean mega-tour.

The Giant Peach has stepped in to fill that void. Their new song “I-89” is less life on the road than life on road: Interstate 89, which runs through band leader Harrison Hsiang’s Burlington, Vermont home base. “I-89” chronicles a less-celebrated – but more common – side of live performance: the hustling young musician’s lone drive home late at night after a one-off gig in some remote outpost.

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Nov 162018
 

the onlys

In year where Beach House returned, Low garnered some of the best album reviews of their career, and Slowdive continued their surprising second life, The Onlys picked the perfect time to join the dream-pop renaissance. The Vermont quartet have their second EP, Decay, coming out November 29, and just released the first single “Tell Me.”

“Tell Me” channels Galaxie 500 or the mellower sides of Yo La Tengo with a lot of reverb and light touch of pscyhedelia. As which much of the genre’s best music, the echo-y haze does nothing to obscure the supercatchy pop song within. “The song is based around a feeling of indecision and uncertainty,” the band writes. “It’s about helplessly looking for direction and knowing (but really just thinking) that it could never be found internally.” Continue reading »

Oct 172018
 

ben patton

Singer-songwriter-composer Ben Patton crams a lot into the 32 minutes of new album Meaning What. After starting with the vocal doo-wop of “Maybe I Live to Make You Happy,” it quickly careens into garage-rock, Tin Pan Alley, jazz, showtunes, and beyond. Throughout the frequent genre swerves, though, one apparent inspiration kept jumping out at me: The Beatles.

It’s clichéd to note that the Beatles’ music influenced pretty much every popular music act of the past 60 years. That may well be true in a broad sense – what they did has seeped into every genre – but little current music actually sounds all that much like the Beatles. Meaning What does, though and from all the band’s phases too. On different songs, Patton channels the Broadway covers of their first albums (“New Love New Love”), the increased studio experimentations of Sgt. Pepper’s (“For All I Know”), the White Album’s crunchy drug puns (“Do the Math”), even the ambitious Abbey Road medley (“The Jebidiah Mustache Suite”). Continue reading »

Oct 012018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

A Box of Stars – Cornfields


Never before have I Googled a mixing engineer’s name, but Josh Druckman’s work feels as vital to building such a pristine, delicate beauty of a record as the actual musicians (who, for the record, are Macaulay Lerman on guitar and vocals; Claire Londagin on vocals; Jens Hybertson on violin; Eben Schumacher on bass, piano, and guitar; and Tim Halteman on drums). Take “Cornfields.” Enigmatic lyrics swirl around minimalist instrumentation, subtle percussion delicately balancing with windy violin. It’s not flashy music, and folky slowcore of this sort often lands in the background-music category. But the band’s just-so playing, presented perfectly, demands attention. Continue reading »

Sep 012018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best new songs august

Abby Sherman – Wanting to Run


Great little details abound in the final song off Abby Sherman’s debut album: “The callused fingers fumble over the strings. / Do you only find me beautiful when I sing? / In a dark bar where the lights are kept low. / Nothing better to do and no where better to go.”

Baby Brush – Dinos


I feel I wasted a good Frank Zappa comparison in last month’s list. Vermont expats Baby Brush – Christopher Davis, Peter Housekeeper, Theodore Housekeeper, and Ryan Kochalka (James‘ nephew) – sounds far closer to Zappa than anything I’ve encountered so far, twisting and warping just about every genre in popular music on their debut album. Opening track “A Tribute to Foot” turns doo-wop on its head, with the only lyrics being “foot foot.” Then “Dinos” alternates wild guitar with wonked-out synthesizers over lyrics about nipple tassels, sounding like five song ideas crammed into one. Like Zappa himself, it’s a delicate balance that occasionally falls off the edge of insanity – but succeeds far more often than it should. 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 »