Jul 022018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best songs june

The Big Sip – Two Hips / One Night


When an album features the credit “Tenor Sax (Track 5),” you know I’m starting with Track 5. And the sax doesn’t disappoint when it finally arrives on this arty-jam-funk journey, but there is so much going on beforehand you forget it’s coming. Crazy keyboard sound effects, off-kilter Phish rhythms, and some insistent melodies that push through the chaos. It’s off the band’s debut EP Sip Responsibly. Continue reading »

Mar 022018
 

miku daza

Like “emo,” “ska” is one of those dated descriptors that many musicians run from. Not Miku Daza; it’s right there in her band’s Facebook description. As Daza points out though, ska is one of a number of apt genre tags; the page also cites punk, rumba, cabaret, and glam rock. And unlike many overwrought band bios, you can actually pick out each of those genres in a single song. Like, for instance, the band’s vibrant debut single “Frosty Pink Skies”:

You hear the trademark on-the-upbeat guitars and horn blasts of ska, sure. But what ska band features the accordion and violin so prominently? She pulls those sounds from her world-music background. Miku Daza the person played and sang in the cumbia band Mal Maiz (who we just wrote about), studied Afro-Cuban percussion in Cuba, and currently sings Bulgarian harmonies in an Eastern European a cappella group. Miku Daza the band features a rotating cast of instrumentalists who shift the sound as they come and go. Continue reading »

Jan 312018
 

best songs january

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. 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 »

Jun 062017
 

belly up

Loss is a heavy thing to title your debut EP. But heavy fits just right for Belly Up, a new trio out of Vermont blending shoegaze and punk in a swirling storm of sound. And “loss” is indeed the watchword on this powerful debut. As the final line of the first song puts it, “No matter what, my mind returns to death, and the grave can’t tear it away.”

“This record addresses loss in the context of death quite a bit,” says singer and drummer Ben Lau. “In January I lost my childhood best friend to suicide. So for me personally, ‘Loss’ has been a large part of the healing process and coping with Tanner’s death. So the title refers both to one specific loss, as well as loss in general as it pertains to death.” Continue reading »

May 032017
 

waking windows vermont

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. Continue reading »

Feb 152017
 

npr tiny desk contest

Last weekend, Fantastic Negrito won his first Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Blues Album.” It’s a safe bet that few Grammy voters would have ever heard of him had he not won another award two years prior: the NPR Tiny Desk Contest. And if the future is just, last year’s winner, the wonderful violinist Gaelynn Lea, will soon be collecting Grammy statues of her own.

Fantastic Negrito hails from California, and Lea from Minnesota. So as this year’s contest continues, we think it’s time for the Northeast to – to quote Lea’s winning song – linger in the sun. To aid in that effort, out of dozens of locally-made videos, we’ve picked our favorite Vermont entries in the 2017 contest.

The only real rules for a Tiny Desk Contest video are that the song has to be an original and a desk should somehow figure in (it doesn’t even need to be tiny). But many of the state’s finest musicians went beyond the bare minimum, one dragging a not-so-tiny desk to a mountain summit, another finding a tiny church to match the desk. The songs span from folk to prog, soul to punk to classical piano. There’s also a song about dinosaurs, and a special celebrity entrant: Officer Clemmons from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood!

So read on to discover our dozen-plus favorite Vermont entries. Then head to the Tiny Desk Contest website to browse other entries from Vermont and beyond. Our favorite non-Vermont find: this bizarre David Lynch fever-dream masked performer. Continue reading »

Feb 022017
 

blowtorch band

Punk duo Blowtorch has been around for thirty years, but never released an album. They’ve just been too busy. First they ended the Cold War, then they took down Bush and his cronies, and most recently they got Obama elected. That’s if you believe them at least. They tell the band’s story in a fantastic poem:

While sipping tea in ancient Thebes Blowtorch was conceived.
Blowtorch came to be during Reagan’s revolution-of-the-rich presidency.
From Nectar’s and Burlington’s 242 MAIN to Gotham’s CBGB’S Blowtorch blazed.
Blowtorch brought an end to the Cold War, called it a day. Continue reading »

Jan 272017
 

Post-punk music has a long history of addressing sorrow – after all, two of the most iconic songs of the genre are titled “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” On his new two-song EP Two Tragedies In The Key of F, Vermont songwriter Gary Peters aka. Ghost Weapons continues the tradition. But rather than addressing the malaise of the human condition broadly, he uses the loud, anthemic music to help deal with personal tragedies far closer to home.

The first song, “Auroras,” addresses his father’s recent death after a battle with multiple sclerosis. He calls it “a song to help the healing, and a remembrance of a good man whom I had a difficult relationship with.” In an email, he elaborates on the song’s most provocative line: “What if science has it wrong?”

“This is sort of my constant struggle with the scientific and the spiritual,” Peters says, “wanting to believe in something, yet not subscribing to any religion and having a strong background in science (I studied geology in college). The line is really me asking, what if there is some sort of afterlife/energy where we all end up? After having regrets about missing out on so many good years with my Dad…just sort of holding onto a flickering hope that our paths will cross again in some way.” Continue reading »