Vermont musicians are throwing albums our way like that scene in Shaun of the Dead when Simon Pegg and Nick Frost fling records directly into zombie skulls. To keep up, here are six quick-hit reviews of local albums from across the style spectrum. Dig in.
Bim Tyler, Basic Ritual
In the past year, Seven Days has received so many album submissions with the qualifier “recorded at home during lockdown” that the phrase has become a trigger for me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the resolve of musicians to keep working and producing art during a pandemic. It’s just that many of those quarantine recordings have been, well, poorly produced.
Not so with Bim Tyler’s Basic Ritual. A lush and pleasant folk record, Basic Ritual has that great looking-out-your-window-during-a-rainstorm feel. The project is an outlet for 25-year-old Tyler Griffin and occasionally includes other musicians. But Griffin’s guitars and vocals drive things. His songwriting has an easygoing feel but possesses just enough melancholy to add a dash of darkness.
Key Track: “Little Bird.” Why: It’s a sad-sack folk song that shouts out to witches. What’s not to love? Where: bimtyler.bandcamp.com
Julian Gerstin, Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena
(Self-released, CD, digital)
I love an album that makes me feel like I’m having a glass of wine on a fire escape overlooking a city at night. It’s my fantasy à la Liz Lemon’s “I can have it all” — and, yes, in that fantasy I listen to fancy jazz and Afrobeat music. Make of that what you will, therapist!
My fantasy music in this case is percussionist and composer Julian Gerstin’s new record, Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena. (It’s easily the best name of an album submitted this year.)
Gerstin has composed and performed music for decades and is also president of the board of the Vermont Jazz Center. With help from engineer Gary Henry, Gerstin recruited almost 20 different musicians to record from their home studios. They created a vibrant, incredibly danceable collection of songs focused on Gerstin’s love for Caribbean and African rhythms.
Key Track: “After the Sleep of Lies.” Why: Sarah LeMieux’s smoky, nightclub-esque vocal performance. Where: juliangerstin.bandcamp.com
Beneath Black Waves, s/t
Beneath Black Waves describe their sound as “beach goth,” and I have to say, that’s right on the mark. Their four-track EP, s/t, exudes equal parts menace and summery shimmer, with the drone of a drum machine paired with glassy guitars and a driving bass. Brothers Nathan and Jesse Meunier created Beneath Black Waves last year after many years apart. Nathan’s Bauhaus-like vocal work and expressive guitars link up with Jesse’s new-wave bass parts to create a moody and angular EP, perfect for wearing black Chuck Taylors to the beach.
Key Track: “Extinction Curse.” Why: Feels like a cross between Interpol and the Stooges. Nuff said! Where: beneathblackwaves.bandcamp.com
What, you thought I’d review a list of Burlington albums without hitting a jam band? Not to get all C-3PO, but do you know the odds of not finding a jam band album in a pile of Vermont music? Fucking minuscule. Contrary to local belief, I actually enjoy more of those acts than one might think. Put Sputoola in that category.
The Burlington five-piece mines all the genres common for jam bands: funk, progressive rock, some vague country and blues stuff. What elevates Sputoola above the typical Cuisinart band playing Phish covers is a combination of deep, philosophical lyrics and musical dynamism. Sputoola earn extra points for the juxtaposition of singer-guitarist Seth Cronin’s jazzy, deft playing and the saxophone work of Dan Matlack.
Key Track: “Soil & Cinders.” Why: The song gives you all of Sputoola’s hallmarks in one track. Where: sputoola.bandcamp.com
Jo Bled, Cleanses the Way Stars Open
(Enforced Existence, CD, digital)
Drone music is older than almost any other form of music. From the didgeridoo to the Japanese gagaku tradition, humanity has been obsessed for millennia with using sine waves to produce sound that emanates power — and, in some cultures, to connect with the divine. On his latest release, Cleanses the Way Stars Open, experimental composer and percussionist Jo Bled, aka JB Ledoux, employs a rubboard — a washboard worn as a vest — to create a bed of pure drone.
Primarily used in zydeco music, the rubboard, or vest frottoir, carries a strongly metallic, tittering tone that sounds industrial at times and oddly organic at others. Listening to half an hour of droning, tinny sounds might not be for everyone, but Jo Bled’s compositions have a meditative quality.
Key Track: “Magicks Unreal.” Why: The drone beneath the drone! Double drone. Where: enforcedexistence.bandcamp.com
Pons, The Pons Estate
(Self-released, digital download)
You might have to put an asterisk next to this one because Pons recently fled Burlington for Brooklyn. But the band’s final act before leaving town was to release The Pons Estate. So I’m going to treat it as their parting gift, damn it! It’s a shame Pons have left Vermont, as so many bands born from the University of Vermont do. The chaos that pulses out of Pons’ sound is unlike anything else in our scene at the moment, half filthy garage rock and half unhinged synth punk.
Production-wise, the songs sound like they’re going to blow out your speakers at any moment, which can either be wildly exciting or start to drive you insane. Either way, I think Pons would be satisfied with the result.
Key Track: “LELAND (CLUB MIX).” Why: It’s the auditory version of eating a few too many mushrooms. Where: ponsbandofficial.bandcamp.com