“Stick Season” is a popular song for the transition from summer into the semester of falling leaves and shortening days. As the leaves hint at changing colors on campus, these lyrics form an accessible metaphor about the end of fall when trees are bare, but the song carries summer memories, as it was first released July 8, and reinforces Kahan’s fan base here in the middle of Maine.
It sounds like a happy song, composed to set the scene for a hike or a picnic. It’s categorically pop with a distinct folk feel, emanating cheerful music and rushed rhythms of a ballad.
The most well-known line that generated the title comes right before a banjo jam, and the music stops to emphasize the conflicted message: “And I love Vermont, but it’s the season of the sticks and I saw your mom, she forgot that I existed and it’s half my fault, but I just like to play the victim,” and it rambles on about sad outcomes and making do.
That complacent idea leads into the next line, which is almost about looking back with a little regret. “And I’ll dream each night of some version of you that I might not have, but I did not lose,” is about a breakup, but more resonant is a reluctant resolution, “Now you’re tire tracks and one pair of shoes, and I’m split in half, but that’ll have to do.” The story is about something the songwriter or narrator loved, that turned out to be less vibrant and full than he thought.
Another love song for the northeast by Noah Kahan that was wildly popular when regular campus life halted in early spring of 2020 is “Maine,” a song full of nostalgia for anyone who hears it. Considering an overall adventurous student body in the middle of this state, it geographically makes sense that this song was and is a favorite, even though it reminds me of missing school in the early days of the pandemic. Two years later, “Stick Season” is one of the only songs I really listen to that directly references COVID-19.
“Northern Attitude” should be a favorite too, and it’s not as popular as “Stick Season” yet. It’s slower, heartfelt, and hopeful. It’s also sort of whimsical, or maybe made up – what is a northern attitude? It’s an original line and could easily be a common phrase.
With the line, “If the sun don’t shine ‘til the summertime, forgive my northern attitude oh, I was raised on little light,” it’s a message of grit and getting through major wins and losses over the course of a long life. This hopeful quality is something the College embodies even more than his wistful songs about winter in Vermont or going to Maine.
Thoughtful and reflective and all about the culture that comes from living up north, the lyrics make me wonder if “Life in a Northern Town,” a 1985 classic by The Dream Academy, might have influenced Kahan’s latest song in subject matter, if not in musical style.
Integral guitar lines sound at first like the introduction to Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave,” which also tells a lifelong story with connections to land, “the harvest left no fruit for you to eat.” It is its own unique track, released Sept. 16, on an EP along with “Stick Season” again, rekindling a nearly unanimous love for the song (if you don’t like it, we can’t hear you because we’re playing it again but louder).
It also reminds me slightly of The Lumineers’ line, “and if the sun don’t shine on me today,” that goes on to a bleaker storyline in “Sleep on the Floor.” I love that song, but if the music we listen to flavors the mood of our experiences, I prefer uplifting and meaningful stories in songs, and Kahan writes a range of reflective lyrics.
If there was a “dare northward” soundtrack, it could include each of these Kahan songs, each better than the last. Some other songs worth listening to for a similar vibe, include John Vincent III sings “Next to You” and several other ballad-like songs; Yoke Lore’s “Seeds” and “Beige” have live recordings that are moving renditions; Rayland Baxter’s “Yellow Eyes” is another example of a terrific solo act with a few hits, and more expected.
If I made a playlist based on these songs, there would be of course Caamp, Mt. Joy, Hippo Campus, Wilderado, Lord Huron. While this is not the school-sponsored fall concert, Colby students will make up a significant portion of the audience of his upcoming concert in Portland at State Theatre, Oct. 25.
~ Molly George `23