Vermont is a state that *double checks map* is not on any ocean. Yet the state has an inexplicably thriving surf-rock scene despite the total lack of any waves to catch. And why not? I mean, John Fogerty wasn’t born anywhere near the bayou either.
It’s hard to write a pop chorus with the word “emigrate,” but Jesse Taylor has managed just that on her song “Blue,” one of the highlights of her new ’90s-rock-indebted EP Ever-changing. It’s the best five-dollar word in an alt-rock song since “copacetic.”
The song “Blue” details a ocean-spanning romance headed for the rocks, and with specific details like thinking through emigration options and fretting over five-hour time differences, no surprise it comes from personal experience.
In the endless year-end debate about to rank or not-to-rank, I generally fall on the to-rank side. Putting some albums on and not others is already subjective, so why not go full bore? But I do find that things get increasingly arbitrary the further down the list you go. There is a difference in my mind between #2 and #3. But between #22 and #23? No, not really.
So this year I’m wimping out and doing a compromise: 30 albums, #11-30 unranked, and then the ranked Top Ten at the bottom. A method sure to satisfy no one! Seems appropriate for 2020.
Babehoven – Demonstrating Visible Difference of Height
Babehoven weren’t a Vermont band for very long. Singer Maya Bon and partner/bandmate Ryan Albert moved to the tiny town of Arlington, where he’s from, to record this EP, then promptly decamped for Philadelphia. They’ve also logged time in Los Angeles and Portland. But, even if they weren’t in the state for very long, Vermont would do well to embrace the wonderful dream-pop EP they recorded while here.
You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 was a crummy year, for musicians especially. That certainly didn’t stop the flow of great songs though. Artists channelled collective fear and frustrations in a variety of ways. One song on this list is literally titled “2020.” Another complains about masks fogging up your glasses. Most, though, are not that literal. Some offer upbeat escapism; others complain about more personal problems than those in the news. They really only have one thing in common: I can’t wait until I can see them performed live.
Ben Patton – Just Gotta Be Mine
Anyone who played computer games in the ’80s will recognize the look of Ben Patton’s new music video. For accuracy, he even used the precise (and extremely limited) color palette of the old EGA graphics card. It seems retro, but Ben’s been spending much of quarantine covering old Cole Porter songs, so for him the ’80s is relatively modern!
Ariel Zevon – Witness
Before YouTube will let you play “Witness,” it flashes an ominous black warning about how the video may be inappropriate for some users. Its a misleading label that makes it seem like it’s got nudity or something offensive. To be sure, the content in the video is offensive – in the sense of it should offend anyone to see police acting this way. But knowing it is happening is a civic duty. Zevon has accompanied the upsetting footage with a moving new protest song, doing her bit to fight the power.
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.
Music festivals have been cancelled this summer – barring, of course, your occasional Smash Mouth-headlined superspreader event. In lieu of putting on new shows, established festivals have tried a variety of “virtual” events. Some have gotten a series of artists to perform from their homes; some have been re-airing a bunch of old performances. All are trying to make it feel like an event, with varying degrees of success.
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.