Nov 292017
 

j benjoy reprise

We said J Bengoy’s last single should be the song of the summer. Their latest probably shouldn’t. It’s about almost drowning. Kind of a bummer subject for any season.

Not that you’d guess it from the lyrics to this power-pop jam. The opening line “Waiting for the weekend” anticipates an aquatic experience more Jimmy Buffett than Jeff Buckley. But the song’s optimism grew from a traumatic moment lead singer Justin Barton had on a Costa Rican vacation several years ago. While body surfing, a rip tide pulled him under. “I remember one minute ducking under a wave, weltering, and then being what felt like a football field from shore,” he says. “I only remember being focused on how to get back. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. My brain just went ‘Shit, this is a dangerous situation.'” Continue reading »

Nov 272017
 

near north most every night

An immediate standout on Americana trio Near North’s full-length debut Most Every Night is the holler-along brawler “Good About You.” The song channels the best of classic rock, bringing to mind bands like Thin Lizzy. But the artist that actually inspired the song couldn’t be more different: Adult-Contemporary pop singer Anna Nalick.

The song’s story begins a decade ago in frontman John Nicholls’ music class. His teacher assigned the students the task of writing a new song based on a current pop hit’s chord structure. Nicholls selected Nalick’s “Breathe (2 AM),” on constant radio rotation at the time. “I banged out a verse, pre chorus and chorus, just enough to satisfy the assignment and never thought about it [again],” Nicholls says. Continue reading »

Nov 032017
 

As anyone who read last week’s Best Vermont Cover Songs posts knows, I held an event in Burlington this week to promote my new book Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time (locals who missed it: I left a bunch of signed copies at Phoenix Books!). And rather than give a dry book talk, I recruited some of Vermont’s finest musicians to cover songs from the book alongside conversation with expert moderator Brent Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free-Press.

I wrote about the event at length over at Cover Me, so here I will just say that both Swale and Madaila frontman Mark Daly delivered some truly amazing covers. Swale kicked off the event with a beautiful acoustic version of “Unchained Melody,” followed by Daly nailing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and a “Gin and Juice” both hilarious and haunting. Watch videos of all three below. [Update November 8: Plus a long video of the full thing, including my conversations with Brent] Continue reading »

Jul 282017
 

swale there's no one here

Back in 2005, guitarist Eric Olsen termed Swale “Vermont’s premiere slo-core band.” Twelve years later, this label has proven ludicrously inadequate. But it’s hard to come up with an equally pithy tagline to replace it. The quartet’s journey has taken them from their origins as a burlesque show house band recording EPs of ambient slow-burns to the sort of rock-soul-funk-pop-country hydra that can credibly cover both Sonic Youth and Tom Jones.

Not only will Swale’s third full-length record There’s No One Here easily be one of the best Vermont-made albums of the year; it’s sure to be one of the best albums period. A sprawling double-LP calls for an equally in-depth look behind the scenes, so we reached out to the band members to talk about every track. Continue reading »

Jul 272017
 

Skalna

Ever since Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath first read Lord of the Rings, the road to Mordor has been paved with metal. The latest Tolkien-loving metal band comes from a Puerto Rican musician now based in Vermont, Etienne Tel’uial. His new droning symphonic metal project Skalnâ takes its name from a primitive form of Elvish that appears in Tolkien’s twelve-volume The History of Middle-earth. Safe to say, Tel’uial is not some Peter Jackson-come-lately Tolkien fan.

“The name ‘Skalnâ’ comes from primitive Elvish (Quendian), which means ‘veiled, hidden, shadowed, etc,'” Tel’uial tells us. “I chose a Tolkien name simply because they sound beautiful. I grew up with the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so bringing up Tolkien is always like returning back in time. I wanted an ‘elvish’ tone to the name, because I am obsessed with the notion of Elves. They were the first conscious creations of the Valar (the forces of nature) under Eru (the one). While the whole idea of Elves may be seen as just a mythological notion, I still think they are symbols for something real in this earth. They are the good within us. They are remnants of a time when we lived free and within nature, and not separate from it.”

Like we said, Tel’uial knows his Tolkien. But you can enjoy Skalnâ’s debut album Returning to the Flame even if you’ve never cracked The Hobbit. A heavy and beautiful combination of black metal, post-rock, and symphonic chant, it recalls avant-garde artists like Scott Walker or Xiu Xiu. Tel’uial himself calls it “romantic raw post-metal” – as good a label as any for these shifting sounds. 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 272017
 

bison band

It feel like a million years ago now, but try if you can to remember back to the halcyon days of the 2015 Democratic primary. At one point, due to a DNC security glitch, a Bernie Sanders campaign staffer downloaded some of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s proprietary data. This scandal seems quaint compared to everything that happened after, but at the time this was a big deal.

For a week or so, that is. Then the news cycle moved on. But some people didn’t get to move on with it.

Singer-songwriter Charlie Hill was not one of those people. But at the time, he was roommates with a Bernie campaign staffer. And while most of America was indulging in schadenfreude, he saw how the episode impacted real people on the inside. With the media and Clinton’s people out for blood, the staffer’s entire team got summarily fired by the Sanders campaign. Many of them were blameless, but heads had to roll.

The incident inspired Hill’s band Bison’s rocking new post-punk song “Everything You Say and Do.” Lines like “All a sudden they’re all laid off, everything becomes undone” and “Everything you say and do has got to be locked down” directly come out of this political drama. 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 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 »