Few genres get as ridiculed as rap-rock, and for good reason (two words: Limp. Bizkit.). But, in their new single “Sleeping On My Own,” three Vermont musicians recombine rock and rap in a much more palatable way.
We’re back! After a summer away on paternity leave (can a blog take paternity leave? well, we did), County Tracks returns with a supersized roundup of everything that went on while we were away.
This is, as always, “we” in the proverbial sense. It’s really just me, Ray Padgett. And I have my second book out this week! It’s about music, of course. Specifically the history of tribute albums, as told through the fascinating story of one in particular (1991’s I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen – which, even if you don’t realize it, is the reason you know the song “Hallelujah”). It’s in the great 33 1/3 series of small books on specific albums. Hope you’ll check it out! Preorder links and more info over here.
Now, onto the music…
Abby Sherman Band – The Road
“The Road” is the first song on Bandcamp that Vermont singer-songwriter Abby Sherman has billed as being by the “Abby Sherman Band.” A minuscule rebranding, but one that feels significant. Whereas her best song last year was a stripped-down dirge, “The Road” features a muscular alt-country backing group giving her melody some heft. Special props to whoever played the country-Mark-Knopfler guitar solo.
Elder Orange – Stella
Matt Scott, aka Elder Orange, wrote his new EP Stella inspired by his ’71 Stella parlor acoustic guitar. But despite the acoustic guitar-influence, singer-songwriter music this isn’t. Scott’s a producer and composer who builds immersive instrumental soundscapes incorporating that guitar here and there, but not beholden to it. In this case, he says, “Stella is a blend of a lot of my favorite sounds; dusty 60’s funk rock laced with boom-bap alt-latin vibes and gritty electro-fusion.”
Amelia Devoid – Side A
I was just listening to a podcast where the hosts were debating what type of music they needed during this crisis. One wanted peppy, upbeat songs to lift them from their funk. The other wanted downcast, inward-looking songs to match their current mood. No wrong answers. If you want something blissful and ambient to relax to, Amelia Devoid’s got you covered.
As you may have heard, Bandcamp is waving all its fees until midnight tonight to deliver 100% of the money to musicians. In this time of cancelled gigs and an uncertain future, artists need your support more than ever. So go nuts. To start, here are twenty-five great 2020 albums to buy there.
Note: Bandcamp’s site is currently pretty overloaded. So bear with it. And, if none of their embeds show up below, reload this page until they do.
Bad Rat? – Transitional Forest
“Transitional Forest” is billed as the lead single of Bad Rat’s upcoming album This Time Around The Sun, but it’s almost two singles in one. The first half is a bit of a feint, a meditative meander that doesn’t predict the drop to come. With little warning, Marc Kamil’s mellow ballad becomes thudding post-punk, little more than a shared guitar line connecting the two halves.
A2VT – You Ma Numba 1
“African refugees in Vermont” is the elevator pitch, but their music offers so much more than just the human interest story. A duo of singers and rappers who go by Jilib and Pogi, augmented by a rotating cast of friends, they sing in English, Swahili, Maay Maay and a combination they refer to as “Swahenglish.” This infectious love song doesn’t hit as hard as some of the higher-energy songs on their great new album Twenty Infinity, but the joyous and insanely catchy chorus will burrow its way into your brain for days.
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.
This Top 40 looks nothing like the actual Top 40. None of these songs charted, and I don’t think any of them aspired to. That is no knock against them, which probably goes without saying here – anyone reading music blogs knows that much. The adjectives “great” and “popular” occasionally attach themselves to the same track, but not often enough.
So just think of this as an alternate history of 2019 singles. It has no horses, and no town roads. It doesn’t teach love, patience, or pain, and isn’t 100% that anything. It also, as the headline says, only includes artists from one rather small state. But this wildly subjective, somewhat arbitrary survey of the past 12 months should serve as a small introduction to the wealth of talent in one community on the geographic fringe. There was a lot of wonderful music being made this year, much of it far from the big cities, or the Billboard charts. Duh.
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.