Your friendly neighborhood music editor is sinking in album submissions like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, dropping into the lava with a thumbs-up. Long story short, Vermont musicians were busy this year. It's almost like they were forced to stay inside with their instruments or something! To catch up, here is another batch of Vermont records that slipped under the radar in 2021.
Waves of Adrenaline, Come Hell or High Water
(Self-released, vinyl, digital)
The latest record from Burlington folk act Waves of Adrenaline almost triggered me to lie on the floor in a fetal position. The trio of Bridget Ahrens, Alana Shaw and Suzanne Hall plays gentle, pleasant music focused on wry observations and lots of praise for the band's home state. It's just that they lack their namesake adrenaline.
The first track on Come Hell or High Water, ominously titled "2020," was just a case of "too soon" for this writer. Over a blues shuffle, the WOA ladies sing about how much the already legendarily shitty year did indeed suck. They name-check wildfires, leaky pipelines and melting glaciers, promising that "there's a wave coming in with a big undertow." That's sort of like me saying, "I think these ghost-pepper wings I just ate are going to cause some serious digestive problems."
Fortunately, the rest of the album causes fewer flashbacks and merely features the easygoing sounds of gentle political discord.
Key Track: "Beer From Vermont." Why: If there were ever a song that musically matched how I envision Vermont's craft beer scene, this is it. Where: wavesofadrenaline.com.
Fire vs. Coop, Fire vs. Coop
Hard truth time, people. During quarantine, some albums took a few weeks longer to review when I struggled to figure out how to play them. CDs can stack up at the office while I plow through streaming links from the comfort of my home. I've since bought a CD player, but this summer, early on in my tenure, some CDs fell down the list. Fire vs. Coop was one of them, and it's certainly a case of better late than never.
The duo of Mike "Firepower" Bettis on guitars and bass and Jeff Cooper on drums and keyboards is Fire vs. Coop, an intriguing, dub-infused instrumental project. The four-song EP is built around grooves, from the reggae feel of "Blackhole Jungle" to the Talking Heads-like "All Skate." The project is aptly named, as the dynamic between the two musicians drives the EP. The result is a brief but potent mix of hairpin dynamics and powerful interplay.
Key Track: "Gravity Dub." Why: Cooper's space-age drum fill launches into a song that could be a detective show theme song in 2050. Where: CD only; order at [email protected].
Dave Kleh, OK Boomer
When Seven Days reviewed Dave Kleh's last LP, Speaking in Logistics, then-music editor Jordan Adams made a few quips about the "OK Boomer" energy of the record. Kleh, a real estate agent by day, was indeed born in that post-World War II surge of babies. But rather than take any offense at the label, he has leaned into it hard with his latest offering, OK Boomer.
Kleh's eighth full-length record is a weird-as-hell mix of influences, many of which actually sound rather modern. The synth-pop of "Cruzin' Round the City" would seem like an outlier of weirdness on the record, but then you hit a track like "Hey Friend, It's Good to See You Again," a song that resists any sort of categorization. Those looking for fidelity and flow might find OK Boomer a tough listen, but there can be no doubting the idiosyncratic, fierce "I don't give a damn, I'm putting down a track of me talking about football over this song" energy. For an artist not only to be themself but also to celebrate what makes them an individual is refreshing.
Key Track: "Rollin' Down the River." Why: Kleh goes full country, with some tasty guest guitar licks from Barbacoa's Bill Mullins. Where: davekleh.bandcamp.com.
Rockin' Ron the Friendly Pirate, Captains and Sea Monsters
(self-released, CD, digital)
Listening to music for kids is a strange experience for an adult. When faced with simplistic tracks full of counting, mentions of dinosaurs and, frankly, too much harmonica for my comfort, I always struggle not to declare reflexively, "This music is for people whose brains are still developing." Thankfully, there are artists like Rockin' Ron the Friendly Pirate. The Jeffersonville-based singer-songwriter makes clever, fun and, occasionally, rocking music for tykes.
Captains and Sea Monsters is the fifth LP from Rockin' Ron — aka Ron Carter — and features a slew of local artists, including drummer Caleb Bronz and guitarist André Maquera, the latter of whom also produced the record. Though the album is clearly aimed at children, Rockin' Ron keeps things entertaining and inventive. "She Can Be a Captain Too" shuffles along with a country-rock feel as it encourages young girls to aim high. The wholesomeness of the songs never feels fabricated or phoned in by the nautical bard. And when Ron gets a little silly on songs like "Poop Deck Dance," it's easy to see a classroom of kids losing their minds.
Key Track: "Dark and Stormy Night." Why: Maquera's gorgeous nylon-string guitar work on a song about pirate ghosts is just perfect. Where: rockinronthefriendlypirate.com.
John Drew Petersen, Warble
In the right hands, a guitar becomes a machine of endless variation. As much as I love seeing a desperate youth in a darkened club hammering on a beat-up Telecaster, there are times when I just want to hear someone sit down with an acoustic guitar and open it up like a book. On his third record of instrumental modern fingerstyle compositions, folk guitarist John Drew Petersen does just that, crafting a record of elegant grace and masterful playing.
Warble is a thrilling ride of guitar movements, with Petersen painting backdrops and sketching out characters with his notes. On tunes like "Cascade," the multitracked acoustics shimmer and fall over one another, just as they form rhythmic leaps on "Looping the Moon." In Petersen's hands, his guitar becomes its own orchestra. With Warble, he's crafted an instrumental record so well-rounded that the presence of other instruments or even a human voice is entirely needless.
Key Track: "FLIPside." Why: Petersen channels Appalachian energy in his playing, adding just the right hint of bluegrass. Where: johndrewpetersen.bandcamp.com.
Slurp Deluxe, Three
(Enforced Existence, digital)
Slurp Deluxe have been crafting quirky indie rock around Burlington for almost a quarter of a century. Don't question your scene credentials if you don't recognize their name, though. The band has released only three records over that period. 2002's Dog Dog was very belatedly followed by Pull Over and Wait in 2011.
Sticking loosely to putting out a record every decade, in January the trio fittingly released Three. The wait was worth it, with 18 tracks of college rock-loving songs full of jangly guitars, mid-tempo beats and lyrics right out of the heyday of early '90s indie rock. "Kids today just want to dance to a programmed beat / Kids today just want to sing along with an autotune diva," guitarist/vocalist Gerald Strait sings on "Autotune." The record is very much an anthem for Gen X rockers keeping that life going. For fans of Pavement and King Missile, Slurp Deluxe carry that torch with authenticity and some clever songwriting.
Key Track: "Middle Age White Collar Blues." Why: Slurp Deluxe are great at self-deprecation. Where: slurpdeluxe.bandcamp.com.