Sometimes your friendly neighborhood music publisher needs more than two points to review the latest album submissions. Sometimes he’s just listened to so much local music that he needs to tell someone about it, or he’ll start writing about himself in third person. (Wait. Did he just do that? Shit.)
Bob Devins, Wood’s Mountain Blues
One genre no one talks about is DIY shack folk. Why is that? Oh, that’s right – I just made it up. Still, I’m absolutely certain that shack folk exists, because that’s what Bob Devins of Burlington plays. You know those old dilapidated cabins that you sometimes see in the woods, the ones that have almost become part of the landscape? Imagine hearing someone inside one of these lichen-covered ruins playing sparse folk music. It’s the sound of Wood’s Mountain Blues.
Devins’ fourth album has a more skeletal feel to it than his previous work, which the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has often elaborately arranged. Partly because he made the new record during quarantine in 2020, Devins streamlined his production, recording his acoustic guitar and vocal takes to a one-take click track for each song. The result is a raw but intriguing album.
Key track: “Golden River” Why: Devins sings a trembling melody on a haunting banjo sound. Or: robertjdevins.bandcamp.com
Provisions, Know thyself
Provisions isn’t really a band. It’s a label/recording project that Garrett Heaney has been working on for years, in which he picks some of his favorite beats from underground producers and combines them with the verses of an assortment of rappers. From Chicago MC Defcee and Kool AD of the late Brooklyn hip-hop great Das Racist to homegrown talent like Subtext, Heaney is amassing a huge collection (21 tracks!) of talent on Know thyself.
Full of vibrant and beautiful songs, Know thyself is something of an experiment, a financial outlier of Heaney. The former publisher of the online newspaper Wishtank, Heaney has gone for quality with his investment, paying producers for their beats and rappers for their verses – a rarity in the music business. He also brought in Zach Crawford, aka SkySplitterInk, to produce the album. What is Heaney does not have do put his record on one of the major streaming services, instead making it available only on his own site.
Key track: “Hard Boiled” Why: West Coast rapper AFRO spits to the beats of producer 8-bza in the best couple on the record. Or: supplyshiphop.com
peasant farm, Always rebuild
(Black Ring Rituals Records, cassette, digital)
Vermont experimental artist Peasant Farm, aka Ian Tyler, is out Always rebuild in January. Winter was an appropriate season to release a record of violently harsh noise and grim moods. The album is full of uncomfortable atmospheres and strange, often disturbing sounds.
Tyler wrote about the themes that inspired the record on Peasant Farm’s Bandcamp page, calling the album “a retrospective look at the practices used to indoctrinate children into the Jehovah’s Witness organization.” The listener will have to infer much of the meaning, as the record is entirely instrumental and leans towards power electronics and dissonance. It’s not easy to listen to, but it feels like it’s exactly what Tyler wanted Always rebuild.
Key track: “Apprehensive Confirmation” Why: The track manages to outperform other tracks, a notable feat. Or: blackringrituals.com
We should have been plumbers, We should have been plumbers
Jillian Comeau and Kim Carson used to star together in Canadian queer punk rockers Like a Motorcycle. After Comeau left the group in 2016, she moved to Burlington, but Carson remained in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The pandemic put their other projects on hold, so the two old friends collaborated on a long-distance record.
Enter We should have been plumbers. The band’s sound is closer to Sleater-Kinney than the frantic punk of Like a Motorcycle. Slowing down a bit allows a different kind of heaviness to creep into the duo’s songs. The record has a powerful weight, particularly in the juxtaposition of Comeau’s growling guitars and the vocal harmonies she layers over Carson’s melodies. The physical distance between the two songwriters makes their chemistry on the album even more impressive.
Key track: “Red Lights” Why: The band sings a hymn to perseverance: “They couldn’t keep me stuck if they wanted to,” Carson sings defiantly. Or: weshouldvebeenplumbers.bandcamp.com
Nathan Byrne, Highways revisited
Waterbury singer-songwriter Nathan Byrne has been making serious, straightforward folk rock since releasing a demo in 2013 for family and friends titled highway of life. Nine years later, Byrne returns to those early songs, reinterpreting and augmenting his older songs. In an email to Seven dayshe wrote that adding tracks to his old mixes was like “playing music with a younger version of myself”.
Byrne’s musical journey through time yields a record full of roots-to-heart songs on the fretboard, with undertones of ’90s alt-rock sprinkled throughout. There’s no trace of a demo feel to Highways revisited, while Byrne does double duty, engineering and production. The sound is full and much smoother than most albums made in home studios. Maybe Byrne should check his catalog more often.
Key track: “Peace of mind” Why: Byrne’s soulful vocals are almost as searing as the guitar solo. Or: reelbyrnemedia.com
Copilots, Vesica Pisces
For those of you, like me, who sucked at geometry, the vesica piscis is a mathematical shape formed at the intersection of two disks of the same radius. Although the figure also has ancient roots in early Christian traditions, it is the geometric aspect of the term that matches the Burlington jazz fusion band Copilots and their nine-song debut album, Vesica Pisces.
Duo Damian Roy (Shane Murley Band) on drums and Naomi Galimidi (Gneiss) on keyboards and vocals, Copilots combined compositions and improvisational jams to write their album, not allowing themselves any overdubs. It’s basically a live album, something Galimidi said she and Roy were striving for. “At a time when most music and art is highly produced, refined and commercialized,” Galimidi wrote to Seven days, “We want to create a community that values process over polish, authenticity over perfection, and vulnerability over studio magic.” For effort without warts, Vesica Pisces is an incredibly close start.
Key track: “Keep It Loose” Why: Galimidi sings of resistant conformity over a funky synth groove. Or: Spotify, Tide and YouTube Music