- Courtesy Photos
- Ty-Alex, Let's Do This; Django Soulo, Django Soulo; Jean-Jacques Psaute and Friends, Personal Notes: Paris to New York; Xander Naylor,Arc
Vermont is lucky to have such an expansive, prolific music scene. While we might wish every local singer-songwriter would stay here forever, that's hardly the reality. Musicians often have a touch of wanderlust, and frequently succumb to the siren song of faraway lands. But even after musicians leave us, we suspect they keep a special place in their hearts for the Green Mountains. Why else would Seven Days get so many album submissions from people who haven't lived here for years?
Presented for your consideration are four new albums from Vermont expats. They range in style and form — which is what we expect from the eclectic scene in the 802. Get to know your former neighbors.
Ty-Alex, Let's Do This
(Self-released, digital download)
Ty-Alex is a newly minted project from Tommy Alexander. The former Burlingtonian made waves here a few years ago as a songwriter, as well as with his DIY record label Jenke Records and sister nonprofit arts organization Jenke Arts. He now resides in Portland, Ore., but he's hardly been a stranger. To wit, he opened for Michael McDonald at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts last year. And Ty-Alex opened the sold-out Mac DeMarco show at Higher Ground in May. Let's Do This is the band's debut EP.
The somewhat grotesque album art is impossible to ignore. Could the sprawled-out, butt-crack-baring degenerate depicted on it be Alexander or his surrogate? The term "slacker" has been attached to his name in the past — as in "slacker rock," likely because of the '90s-inspired sounds for which he's known. The art of not giving a fuck was all the rage 25 years ago and has been resurgent in recent years. The man on the cover is the embodiment of a dude who's not trying that hard.
The EP's opener, "Shot Down," is a hearty blend of artsy indie rock and roadhouse blues. It's lyrically ambiguous but with dour implications: "Shot down / The strangers won / Shot down / I have no time / This town is suicide."
"Baby, You're Blue" treads into alt-country territory with its train shuffle beat and twangy flirtations.
Ty-Alex continues his bluesy streak on "Holy Roller," a jangly stomper with loose hi-hats and blaring guitar licks. Again, the meaning behind his poetry is somewhat indecipherable — but that's OK. The song favors form over function. Tonally, there's trepidation and maybe a bit of foreboding, especially in the song's creepy outro. Distorted bells echo and shift around vocals pitch-bent into the depths of the low end.
Let's Do This by Ty-Alex is available at tyalex.bandcamp.com.
Django Soulo, Django Soulo
(Self-released, digital download)
Before moving to Oregon in 2015 to work on a "medicinal farm," drummer and Plainfield native Django Koenig once pounded skins with the folksy local Americana outfit TallGrass GetDown. Currently, he keeps time in Ty-Alex (see left), though he and Tommy Alexander were not musically connected — or even friends, really — during their stints in the 802.
Under a brand-new moniker, Django Soulo, Koenig presents a self-titled collection of bluesy soft-rock and folk-tinged originals and covers. His punny name not only denotes the fact that he is a solo artist but also his belief that "each and every soul rides alone."
Koenig's affinity for whimsy and wordplay is obvious on the opening cut, "Change Your Ways." A muted trumpet imparts an "aw, shucks" vibe to the darkly comic acoustic ditty about his ongoing sobriety. He sings, "I used to drive cross country with speed / Roll around town in ecstasy / Watch the sunrise with my old girl Lucy / But she's no good for me."
A gurgling organ and brushed drums provide the foundation for the laid-back "Fox & Dove," while "Meditation" goes full chamber pop. East Montpelier instrumentalist and producer Colin McCaffrey ratchets up the intensity on the latter with upright bass and violin.
Django Soulo by Django Soulo is available at djangosoulo.bandcamp.com.
Jean-Jacques Psaute and Friends, Personal Notes: Paris to New York
(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Burlington is less than an hour's drive from the Canadian province of Québec, but francophone music is a fairly rare genre in the Queen City. Other than Vermont chanteuse Francesca Blanchard, there isn't exactly a bevy of area artists who serenade their listeners en français.
Enter French singer-songwriter Jean-Jacques Psaute, who lived in Colchester and St. Albans for more than a decade and fronted the jazzy project Deja-Nous. In 2016, Psaute exited the Champlain Valley and landed in Champaign, Ill. His 2013 album, Songs From France & Vermont, included both originals and classic tunes. On his latest effort, Personal Notes: Paris to New York, Psaute is largely the sole composer — though he coauthored a few tunes with pianist Kat Downs and poet Anne Avery.
Jazzy, up-tempo numbers with simple pop structures populate the new album. But it offers some somber ballads, as well, including "Tiger Lillies in June," which was co-penned with Avery.
"Les Conges Payes," which translates roughly to "Paid Vacation," is a rollicking, piano-driven romp with an explosive drum solo.
Psaute sings in English on the leisurely acoustic strummer, "Diamond in the Rough." He whistles sweetly between his romantic lament: "Diamond in the rough / Not being with you is tough / Thinking of you every day / And longing to meet again."
Even those who've never learned a lick of French will likely find the record an engaging listen, especially those who long for the golden era of vocal pop jazz. Écoutez, s'il-vous-plaît!
To obtain a copy of Personal Notes: Paris to New York by Jean-Jacques Psaute and Friends, visit theromanceofparis.com for ordering info.
Xander Naylor, Arc
(Self-released, digital download)
Born and raised in Charlotte, Xander Naylor is now a Brooklyn-based guitarist. The composer's previous works have been categorized as free jazz, but he moves solidly into avant-garde territory on his latest album, Arc.
Naylor dropped the record in August. But the material was penned nearly five years ago following the death of his father, Thomas Naylor, founder of secessionist group the Second Vermont Republic. Rubblebucket guitarist Ian Hersey chipped in on mixing duties, which, Naylor says, "reveal[ed] nuances in the music that [he] had yet to find."
Through a mix of nimble guitar picking, manipulated vocal samples, urban field recordings and found objects turned into instruments, Arc is a complex and sometimes abrasive work of unorthodox sound collage and spastic compositions. Certain tracks could make for a soothing addition to your favorite meditation mix. Others could replace your alarm clock.
"Observing Silence" and "How to Ward Off a Werewolf" are the record's polar extremes. The former is an airy soundscape intercut with white noise and what are likely cellphone recordings of New York City subway cars screeching along their ancient tracks. The latter is all undulating, distorted guitar.
Another highlight is "Natural Born Relic," a deep bass banger that turns a spoken-word sample into a chopped phoneme salad. And "Glass House" employs a wine glass for single-toned, resonant rhythms.
Arc by Xander Naylor is available at xandernaylor.bandcamp.com.