Image Courtesy of ABC News
By Katherine Plunkett
Noah Kahan’s new album, Stick Season, is a folksy letter to New England, filled with all the complexities of growing up and growing older in a small town. The album was released Friday, October 14, making it perfect timing for the 14-track ode to fall now that the weather is growing colder.
Stick Season is Kahan’s third album, an American roots departure from his previous pop energy. Written during the pandemic after moving from Brooklyn back to his family home in Strafford, Vermont, Kahan found new inspiration in the New England of his childhood. In an interview with People magazine, he describes his choice to not make pop music after feeling like he had lost a sense of the music industry by trying simply to make music that sells.
“A lot of the work I’ve done in the past felt like I was kind of just trying to stay in the music industry and trying to make an album and continue to have output. I think I was getting really bored and I was running out of ideas and inspiration,” Kahan said.
The album was preceded by the titular single, Stick Season, named after the local Vermont term for the time of year when autumn turns into winter. Filled with longing for someone gone from his life, Kahan sings “I love Vermont but it’s the season of the sticks,” encapsulating the feeling of both a connection to your hometown and a sense of dissatisfaction.
After its release in July, the single blew up online, gaining a lot of anticipation for the album’s later release. Kahan also commented on its huge success to his pleasant surprise.
“Writing a song that really meant so much to me, and having it mean a lot to other people, it’s been the most reaffirming and incredible experience I’ve ever had,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve ever felt comfortable in my skin as a musician, and I’m really happy about that.”
The album opens with Northern Attitude, the second single that was released in September. The perfect opener to an album that is intrinsically northern at heart, the song sets the mood for the rest of the tracks, stating, “Forgive my northern attitude/ Oh, I was raised out in the cold.”
While the whole album has a generally melancholic yet peaceful fall feel, Northern Attitude is one of the faster-paced songs, building as it goes. It’s transportive – the final chorus ends, and you are surprised to not find yourself in a Vermont wood under a gray sky.
Each song on the album is beautifully unique, highlighting another aspect of the specific experiences of Kahan that feel universal at the same time. From the more upbeat She Calls Me Back, which is reminiscent of his previous pop sound, to the gentler Strawberry Wine, Orange Juice, and Halloween, Kahan builds a story with each song, supported by a new sound for each.
In addition to standing on the border between fall and winter, Kahan teeters between youth and adulthood, writing songs about “bodies riddled with scars from our pre-teens” in Everything, Everywhere, as well as feeling like he’s fallen behind in Growing Sideways, singing, “‘Cause everyone’s growing/ And everyone’s healthy/ And I’m terrified that I might never have met me.”
This theme concludes with the final song The View Between Two Villages, a slow-build of a song that is like a sigh at the end of the album, coming to terms with aging and home and the past couple of years of the pandemic. The song begins with Kahan stating “I am seventeen again/ I am not scared of death/ I have dreams again.” As the intensity of the accompaniment builds, he ends the album with: “A minute from home but I am so far from it… I’m back between villages and everything’s still.”
Stick Season by Noah Kahan is an acknowledgment of the people and places that, because of their presence in your childhood, are inseparable from who you are now. With songs dedicated to past lovers, old friends who also got a little lost, family, and the place that raised you, this album captures the haunted feeling of a hometown returned to, all expressed through the experience of autumn turning to winter in New England.