Arts and Entertainment

The Season of the Sticks

A review of Noah Kahan’s new album, Stick Season, and the Northeastern influence within it.

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Twenty-five-year-old Noah Kahan was born in Strafford, Vermont, a tiny town of 1000. Kahan has been writing music since he was just eight years old, drawing influence from artists such as Paul Simon, Hozier, and The Lumineers, coining himself the “Jewish Ed Sheeran” along the way. When he was 17, Kahan began working with music producers at his school and uploaded some of his music on Soundcloud, catching the attention of his current manager, Drew Simmons, as well as notable songwriters such as Dan Wilson. Kahan deferred his acceptance to Tulane University to sign a record deal with Republic Records in 2016, where he would begin his professional music career.

In the past, Kahan has been more than open about his mental health and the significance of songwriting in his life as a kind of therapy. With this, Kahan’s artistry emphasizes the importance of honesty and growth, hoping to evoke the same emotions in his audience. However, despite this emphasis on growth, Kahan remains close to his small town roots, authentically highlighting the nuance of change and the idea of “home.”

On his most recent album “Stick Season,” Kahan draws heavy influence from his home state of Vermont, metaphorizing its seasonal imagery to tell his own story. The album’s lead single, “Stick Season,” sets a scene of Vermont’s autumn foliage that turns into a yearly barron winter. “At its core, ‘Stick Season’ is a song about feeling left behind and feeling trapped. It’s about seeing the other side of a place you thought was only beautiful,” Kahan said in a press release interview with UMusic. However, the melancholy lyricism of the song is masked by its lively instrumental, which adds to it a sense of optimism. “I like to look at the song as hopeful; winter will come, the snow will fall, melt, and eventually summer will be back in all its beauty. You will suffer, move on, and survive again,” said Kahan.

Some of Kahan’s other songs, such as “Homesick” and “Northern Attitude,” touch on the influence that growing up in Vermont has had on his personality. In “Northern Attitude,” the chorus ends with, “Forgive my northern attitude / Oh, I was raised out in the cold.” “Homesick” makes its listener question Kahan’s intended meaning of the term, as it criticizes his hometown for sequestering the ambitions of those who live there. The chorus of the song begins with “I would leave if only I could find a reason / I’m mean because I grew up in New England.” Similar to “Northern Attitude,” Kahan blames the Northeast for his disheartened spirit. He follows this with “I got dreams but I can't make myself believe them / Spend the rest of my life with what could have been / And I will die in the house that I grew up in / I’m homesick.” With the end of the chorus, the meaning of homesick changes to express a longing to escape rather than a longing to return.

The album ends with “The View Between Villages,” a song about escaping and the complexities of the challenges, freedoms, and joys that come with it. Kahan’s vocals crescendo to the climax of the song, in which he returns to his home town full of resent, saying “It’s all washin’ over me / I’m angry again.” After releasing his anger in the climax, Kahan’s instrumentals and vocals masterfully decrescendo to express his conflicting emotions as he sits between his home and the world that he escaped his home to: “The cars in reverse / I’m grippin’ the wheel / I’m back between villages and everything’s still.”

“Stick Season” explores what it means to be simultaneously homesick and sick of home, painting both the anguish and the beauty of nostalgia with his reminiscent lyricism. Across the album, a brilliant balance of energetic and tender guitar instrumentals fills the gaps that Kahan’s stories do not.

Kahan prides himself in writing honest music. In an interview with Atwood Magazine, Kahan said, “My ability to write songs from the heart is my greatest asset.” Through his songwriting, Kahan expresses his hopes and fears as a way of being cognizant of both change and growth. “I get really scared of changing, and of losing a part of myself,” he said. From “Northern Attitude” to “The View Between Villages,” Kahan conveys this idea. “Stick Season”’s take on homesickness exquisitely depicts the inevitable dilemma of change and the nostalgia that comes with it.