One of my favorite albums of 2019 was titled I Am A Mountain. Despite it being an entirely instrumental album, Tom Pearo’s ambient guitar-driven odyssey came with a rich storyline, a mythical quest of light and darkness. Pearo’s first release since that Tolkien-esque epic is a three-and-a-half-minute single, “Love Wave.” Despite its more modest size, though, “Love Wave” is no less ambitious; he went from from a Mountain high above sea level to recording literally underwater.
Abby Sherman – I’ll Be There
Abby Sherman’s “I’ll Be There” is not a Jackson 5 cover, but the sentiment is much the same. It rocks a lot harder though, with some punchy swagger in the instrumentation and a killer guitar solo. The sound underpins Sherman’s bluesy belt in the Susan Tedeschi vein, which she really unleashes near the end. [Update: I must be prescient – a few days after I drafted this blurb, Susan actually sat in with Abby on this exact song!]
Adam Rabin – Maiden Voyage of the Acrolite
The slide guitar on “Maiden Voyage of the Acrolite” at first sounds like early Fleetwood Mac, but over the course of the two minutes the song morphs entirely, to a electro-prog-funk mash. It’s weird, but all those genres packed into such a small package works far better than you’d expect.
Babehoven – Bad Week
No, indie-pop duo Babehoven “Bad Week” isn’t a play on R.E.M.’s “Bad Day.” “Bad Week” is a moving electro-shoegaze dirge about fighting through depression. As singer Maya Bon sings, “It’s hard to talk about it being a bad week / When it’s been a bad week / For so many weeks now.” She elaborated:
Black Fly – Sign 2
Over a propulsive synth hook that recalls M83’s “Midnight City,” Black Fly’s Joseph Rittling delivers a catchy electro-post-punk song that grows and grows into something epic.
boys cruise – The Owls
On “The Owls,” punk trio boys cruise deliver an homage to Twin Peaks twice as loud as anything David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti put on the soundtrack. Read the lyrics at Bandcamp if you can’t make ’em out through the distortion to see how many Peaks references you can catch (with a side of Edgar Allen Poe thrown in for good measure).
Clever Girls’ “Stonewall” is not literally about the Stonewall riots. The lyrics are pretty explicitly about a romantic partner stonewalling you. It’s “stonewall” as a verb, not a proper noun. But the title’s resonance with an important moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is presumably no accident. The band’s entire upcoming album Constellations was partly inspired by frontperson Diane Jean’s coming out as queer and gender-nonconforming.
For a minute there, the band Julia Caesar was hotly tipped to be Vermont’s next nationally-known musical export. But it wasn’t to be. After one terrific EP (and a recorded-but-never-released album), the group disbanded and frontperson Katy Hellman moved to Philadelphia.
Well, now Hellman is back in Vermont, and her new band Ruby picks up where Julia Caesar left off. When touring resumes, maybe they’ll be the group to break through on the national stage. Ruby describes themselves as “apocalypse folk rock,” but from the early evidence the sound leans more dream-pop with shades of Mazzy Star and Cocteau Twins (some live stuff is folkier).
I’m a sucker for a concept album. From Ziggy Stardust to Tommy, they began primarily the realm of classic rock (back before it was “classic”), but exist in pretty much every genre now, from electronic music to hip-hop. Hell, my favorite record of last year was a doom-metal concept album.
One genre that could use more concept albums, though, is new wave. Prolific Vermont-based artist Madaila obliges with the new Good Lord Nancy, which also dips into more traditionally concept album-friendly genres like rock and Americana. It’s only eight tracks – pretty short for a concept album – but it packs a lot into a quick runtime.
A2VT – I’m a Soul Survivor
A2VT’s new single blends the group’s trademark sounds of Afropop, R&B, and hip-hop with a surprising twist: ’80s metal. After three extremely catchy minutes of singing and rapping, an epic guitar solo bursts forth by an actual ’80s-metal vet, Andre Maquera of 8084. It reminds of that time Kirk Hammett guested on a K’naan song, in the best way possible.
Kyle Woolard does not live in Iceland. He is not from Iceland. But I’m a huge fan of Icelandic music and everything about Woolard’s sound (intricate, angelic, slightly off-kilter folk-pop) and presentation (everything about that press photo) to me screams “Iceland.”
Adam Rabin – Winter Song
Prog-rock veteran Adam Rabin’s “Winter Song” sounds pure Jethro Tull. All that’s missing is a flute solo. Oh, wait – there it is.