Seven Days reviews two albums per week. By the end of the year, we've reviewed more than 100 and written about scads more in other ways. But even this level of coverage doesn't fully capture the prolific output of Vermont's music community. There's always more to discover.
The following roundup includes four local albums from 2019 that flew under Seven Days' radar. These particular titles came into our field of vision only toward the end of the year. Otherwise, we might have reviewed them sooner.
Demotions, by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Greg Freeman — aka Cavities — came to Seven Days' attention through our year-end music scene survey. Two local musicians picked this low-key, psyched-out slice of rock among their 2019 favorites. And I can see why.
With a strong voice, Freeman alternately beautifies life's little nothings and sketches complex emotional tableaux. In some cases he does both, as on the smoky, sorrowful slow jam "Driving Past Your House I Wonder." Here, Freeman's writing deflects the crushing dread familiar to anyone who's been hopelessly in love: "Driving past your house / I wonder if I'd even know / If you were back in town / Would you let me know?"
The most telling moment of where Freeman is at as a songwriter comes on a track called "Stalls." "I have been a passenger all my life / Too afraid to stop / Too afraid to fight," he sings, his voice breaking as the phrase rises and falls. Subdued and contemplative, the low-blood-pressure acoustic strummer shuffles along at a leaden pace, thickening with sound as it plods.
Two interludes, the Americana-influenced "VT Interlude" and a gauzy, acoustic folk number called "Bells," dampen transitions between some of the EP's heavier moments. They create breathing room at crucial moments on the emotionally heavy collection of tunes.
Demotions is available at cavities1.bandcamp.com.
Leon Ampersand, Leon Ampersand
Leon Ampersand is the moniker of Cold Brewtus cofounder Will Peters. His debut, self-titled EP landed on my desk after a mid-December interview with Jeremy Mendicino of Matthew Mercury and Lane Gibson Recording and Mastering, who engineered the recording. Peters' sharp, synth-heavy pop-rock and dramatic vocalizations come off like a long-lost '90s Britpop artifact. Think Supergrass, except more spaced-out and psychedelic than even that British band's trippy masterpiece, Life on Other Planets.
Peters' tunes are mesmerizing and all-consuming. Soft, ragged vocals, tambourine and thick acoustic guitar chords converge on opener "Lightning Bug," a slow-motion summertime slice of heaven. The song ramps up to a beautifully blown-out psych explosion.
Bright synths and clunky beats introduce "When You Know," a glittering tune that celebrates a perfect love: "I can feel this feeling in my teeth / All this smiling's hurting my cheeks / Let's laugh all night 'til we can't breathe."
"Weekend Sun," fit with nostalgic mellotron strings, is a vitamin D-soaked romp. But even amid its vision of wholesomeness, the song's complex arrangements keep it from careering into cloying territory.
Beginning with soft synth pulses, closer "Baby Trees" is relatively stripped down compared to the resplendent compositions that precede it. It concludes the EP on a somber note with soft beats and a glittery backdrop.
Leon Ampersand is available at leonampersand.bandcamp.com.
Clover Koval, Spatial Awareness
I came across Clover Koval's sophomore EP, Spatial Awareness, while browsing Vermont-tagged albums on Bandcamp. The Boston-bred University of Vermont student plays grungy, psyched-out rock with an emphasis on tight pop construction.
The EP's title is a term that comes up regarding someone who lacks a certain environmental cognizance. The phrase "bull in a china shop" comes to mind. But Koval sings and plays with such strength and clarity that it's hard to imagine the artist lacking spatial awareness herself. Perhaps it's a quality she admires in others, or one she wishes she saw more in her peers. Or maybe she's a total klutz and has a sense of humor about it.
"Yoga Mat (Don't Know Where I'm At)" immediately stands out as a flagship tune. "Kissing lots of strangers gives you acne / And I'm just stretching it out / Don't @ me .... Just want some cuddling at night," she sings on the peppy pop-rock tune. A churning wall of psychedelic sound simmers beneath the upbeat jangle of guitar chords.
"Salt From the Beach" slows things down with a bossa nova rhythm and snare-rim beats. Koval oozes personality on lines such as "I'm an underprepared bitch / I freakin' froze / I guess it's how these things go."
Shifting to a more contained sound, "Quartz Composer" sounds almost claustrophobic compared to the EP's other blazing tracks. A softly ticking beat and psych-guitar swirl circle Koval's lucid longings: "I hope I talk to you soon / I hope I see your face soon."
Spatial Awareness is available at chloekoval.bandcamp.com.
Another record mentioned in the year-end scene survey was a self-titled debut EP from hip-hop ensemble Juicebox. Composed of students from the University of Vermont, the collective launches its career with this five-track assemblage of laid-back, jazz-centered bops.
If DIGGS, a very recently departed Burlington-based hip-hop-funk outfit, were the life of the party, Juicebox would be the life of the after-party. That's not to say the tunes included in their debut don't pack a punch. But their jazz-forward composition of primarily keys, bass and drums makes them better suited for a swanky lounge than a basement house party. A haze of OG Kush lingers over slinky tracks such as "Problems" and "Capri Sun."
The EP's biggest banger, the nearly avant-garde "FSS," pays homage to a pair of songs that demonstrate the breadth of the young band's range. As drummer Julian Lathrop explained via email, the song riffs on trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's classic piece "Red Clay." But it also teases hip-hop comedian Reggie Watts' novelty song "Fuck Shit Stack."
A special shout-out goes to saxophonist/vocalist Thaya Zalewski. Though Vermont boasts an inordinate number of rappers, 99.9 percent of them are male. Zalewski, who is non-binary, spits their verse on "FSS" with something like the dexterity of motor-mouth legend Amanda Blank.
Juicebox is available at juiceboxvt.bandcamp.com.
Correction January 10, 2020: An earlier version of this story used an incorrect pronoun when referring to Juicebox's Thaya Zalewski. They use they/them pronouns.