Critics of ranked lists like this see it as a bug that they’re entirely subjective and somewhat arbitrary. I see it as a feature. There’s not really any difference between #12 and #13. Frankly, there’s not all that much difference between #1 and #25. But my feeling has always been, everyone gets that. No one actually thinks you can mathematically rank works of art. But the trying offers a wonderful opportunity for music nerds to look back at the best of the year, and for the sort of vigorous debate on which such nerddom rests.
Fifteen is a pretty stupid number for a list like this. I tried to get it down to a nice round ten, but some of the cuts to get to fifteen had been so painful that the idea of losing five more almost physically hurt (I realize I may take these lists too seriously). So fifteen it is. “A baker’s dozen,” as people who don’t know what a baker’s dozen is might say.
Abby Sherman – Hand with the Devil
If the only Satan-themed violin song you’ve heard is “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Abby Sherman’s “Hand with the Devil” might throw you for a loop. Rather than rollickin’ fiddlin’, Abby Sherman and violinist Katie Trautz create something truly spooky, like the sort of Gillian Welch track you don’t play in the dark.
Adam Rabin – The Other Room
You’re going to want to sing along to “The Other Room” after a listen or two – but I wouldn’t. The sketches of plot offered sound like a sci-fi family dystopia, a Black Mirror episode for children.
The Cheyenne Brando – Samsonite
So thoroughly does Endtime Hymns evoke certain bands that one begins looking for echoes everywhere. Is the title “My Jean Sebring” a nod to David Bowie’s “Jean Genie”? Does “Poisonhead” reference ABC’s “Poison Arrow”? Was “Privacy of Lucy” inspired by The Cure’s “Pictures of You”? Each connection a greater stretch than the last, and likely none intentional. Christian Hahn does explicitly cite the heyday of post-punk and new-wave in his bio though, and, sonically, the comparisons are everywhere. His next song might as well be titled “Bizarre Love Triangle Will Tear Us Apart.”
The new compilation album Live from Robot Dog Volume Two serves as an excellent introduction to the best of Vermont’s independent musicians. But it also chronicles a deeper story, one of grief and healing for the man behind it.
Local Vermont music superfan Tim Lewis hosts a weekly show on WBKM, bringing a band into Robot Dog studios every week to record a short live set. The detailed notes he posts online tend to be as good as the music, and for this batch of shows (a song from almost every session he recorded in 2018), his notes revealed a story listeners wouldn’t hear on air.
“2018 was a tough year for me,” he begins the liner notes. His mother had gotten sick in the fall of 2017. Her health quickly declined. She moved into hospice care by February, and passed away two months later.
Barika ft. Erica T Bryan – Change Your Mind
Barika typically operates in the world-music space (leader Craig Myers plays West African string instrument the n’goni), but “Change Your Mind” points to an intriguing new direction for them. The funk and soul points more towards New Orleans than New Guinea, and the electronic production makes it sound modern, avoiding the relics-of-history feel of so much that gets marketed as “world music” these days.
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?
We normally don’t do concert previews here. My goal with this young blog is to spread the gospel of Vermont music to an audience beyond the state’s sometimes-confining borders. And writing about regionally-specific events generally goes against that mandate.
This weekend’s Waking Windows festival is an exception.
Waking Windows is the Vermont music scene in microcosm. In some respects the Burlington equivalent of SXSW, Waking Windows surrounds a few bigger names (Real Estate and Dan Deacon this year) with dozens of the state’s best local bands. Naming the best Vermont artists playing the festival almost doubles as naming the best Vermont artists period. And that is exactly our mandate.
In the era of so-called “peak TV,” no show has been peek-ier than Game of Thrones. So it’s no surprise that the show has inspired its own musical tributes, from zany covers of the theme song to YouTube to artists like Sigur Rós and Mastodon cameoing in the show itself.
Now, a Vermont rock band called The Mountain Says No has recorded their own Game of Thrones song titled, appropriately enough, “Game of Thrones.” But to make it even more meta, it’s really a tribute to the fandom surrounding shows like Game of Thrones and how a share love of a show can bring people together in real life (Breaking Bad gets a shoutout too).
Tyler Daniel Bean describes his first music video’s concept succinctly: “When you try to make a video about what happens when depression takes over the house and you decide the best way to show it is by dancing around in your underwear for 9 hours and then cutting it down to the length of a song.”
Like certain David Lynch films, the video for “Willow II” gives a series of everyday scenes – a man making coffee, eating breakfast, aforementioned underwear dancing – an ominous tone once you notice the protagonist’s empty stare. He appears to be living in a picturesque forest-cabin setting without noticing or engaging. As the images progressively get less mundane – his bandmates begin rocking out around him, most notably – his blank gaze remains the same.
Like the record it comes from, On Days Soon To Pass (one of our favorite albums of 2016), the “Willow II” video explores Bean’s struggles with depression. In this case, the video concept came from a metaphor he learned in therapy: