Seven Days is perpetually on the receiving end of a nonstop parade of local album submissions. On one hand, this trove of local artistry is a testament to the boundless, prolific nature of our community. But it also means that we've got our work cut out for us. We try our damnedest to review every record that lands on the music desk, no matter how long it takes. And sometimes, we have to push a few through all in one go.
Here are four local albums that perhaps flew under your radar this year. They come from a variety of locales within the Green Mountain State and stylistically represent the far reaches of what we can expect from local music. Take a moment to expand your sonic horizons.
Vivek Patel, Chakras
(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Jericho-based composer, painter and animator Vivek Patel is fond of high-concept albums. He's also fond of handwritten letters. His last submission, Samsara, arrived at Seven Days with a pen-and-paper breakdown of that record's ideas. He sent us a similar letter detailing concepts for his latest album, Chakras.
"The word 'chakras' in Hinduism means pools of energy within [the] human body," he writes. He goes on to explain that music typically associated with "activating" the chakras is calm, slow and meditative.
"But my mind is chaotic and runs on parallel trains of thought," he continues. "It is like a chariot with seven horses."
Even this explanation may not prepare you for what you'll hear on his latest effort. It's pretty much the exact opposite of spa and yoga music.
Instead of ambient soundscapes, Chakras bangs hard and fast with streamlined techno. Each of its seven tracks, which are named for the body's seven chakras, contains layers of synthesizers, driving bass lines and simplified drums and percussion.
While several of the tracks feel a bit interchangeable, "Anahata" and "Sahasrara" stand out — mainly due to their lower BPMs and stylistic differences. The former recalls Indian folk music, while the latter drifts into chiller synthwave territory.
Patel writes that he listens to the album when cycling. If exercise is how you find your zen, Chakras might be the performance enhancer you've been looking for.
Chakras is available at iTunes.
Corey Ryder, Forever Rooted
(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Country singer Corey Ryder has a burly singing voice, the kind you'd hear on "A Prairie Home Companion" or a classic episode of "Austin City Limits." The Johnson-based crooner, who previously released an album of covers and originals called Rooted in the Country, extends his classic vision of rootsy Americana on Forever Rooted.
The EP consists almost entirely of covers, save for one new original and one track from Ryder's first album. Vermont producer extraordinaire Colin McCaffrey lends the full extent of his musical prowess to this effort: producing, engineering, mixing and mastering, plus additional instrumentation.
Ryder takes a stab at "Burn Your Playhouse Down," a George Jones original that appeared on the late singer-songwriter's 2008 collection of unreleased duets. Jones paired with Keith Richards, but Ryder teams up with the Hillside Rounders' Jeremy Sicely, whom Ryder names as his favorite male country singer from Vermont.
His new original, "That Williams Girl Leona," is a fiddle-heavy love ballad with stellar harmonies from Debbie Yacovone and nimble fiddle and mandolin from McCaffrey.
You can obtain a copy of Forever Rooted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jack Labbe, How to Behave Around Horses
(Self-released, digital download)
Jack Labbe purports himself to be an equine scholar. To wit: The Bennington-based singer-songwriter lists on his Bandcamp page a bunch of handy tips for handling the majestic beasts: "Horses are mirrors. If you are angry, they will be difficult or scared ... Never hold a grudge against a horse ... As long as you are trying to listen to your horse, and your horse is listening to you, it's a start."
So, how do these concepts relate to his latest EP, How to Behave Around Horses? In an email to Seven Days, Labbe tells us that this five-song collection is all about past relationships. This is nothing new in songwriting, and his songs are similarly rote. But when the horse-handling lens is applied, it adds a new perspective to his perfectly lovely material. Perhaps he's now determined to approach human relationships with similar tact and self-assuredness.
After the EP's sleepy, solo acoustic opener, "Nobody's Eyes," it picks up slightly on the piano-driven waltz "No Better Place." He sings of intimacy, both physical and emotional.
Labbe's material is at its strongest when it's fleshed out with additional instrumentation and vocal harmonies. "Plastic Rose" and "Warm" are good examples. Both incorporate limber harmonies and in-depth arrangements. And then there's his engineer, Paris Parks, whose cello work grounds the lamentations of "Like I Should."
How to Behave Around Horses is available at Bandcamp.
Chad Farrell, Dream With Me
Rutland-based singer-songwriter Chad Farrell has released so many albums, not even he can tell you how many. In a handwritten letter to Seven Days, he guesses that Dream With Me is maybe his 28th, 29th or 30th album. And since the enigmatic fellow has little to no internet presence — not even for his "teeny weeny" little record label Dizzy Bear Records — there's truly no way of knowing.
What we do know is that this installment is Farrell's attempt at creating something a little less dour. He writes, "My last couple of albums — especially my most recent, last year's Olga's Ship — were so dark, I needed to turn up the light."
The opening cut, "I Don't Know How to Enjoy Myself," doesn't exactly live up to this intention. It's a simple acoustic strummer mainly about FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out. But it's enjoyable nonetheless. Audiences are perhaps less likely to care if things take a dark turn.
And whether or not Farrell successfully delivers a lighter, brighter vision, the album has its agreeable and satisfying moments. "I'll Go It Alone" is a snail-paced, bluesy confessional in the vein of Tom Waits. The greasy, menacing creeper is made even more raw through its blown-out, overdriven production.
Farrell also includes a couple of covers. "Hybrid Moments," originally a tune by the Misfits, is pleasantly reimagined — and rewritten, in fact. Farrell's version is sickly sweet and essentially parodies the original. He also serves up a much more traditional cover of the Moldy Peaches' twee-pop masterpiece "Anyone Else But You."