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Honorable Mentions: Unofficial Awards for Vermont's Music Scene

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Clockwise from top left: Clever Girls, Matt the Gnat and the Gators, Be-er and Sabouyouma
  • Clockwise from top left: Clever Girls, Matt the Gnat and the Gators, Be-er and Sabouyouma

This week, Seven Days unveils the winners of the Daysies, our annual readers' poll on everything from ice cream to pet grooming to mortgage brokers. It's all cataloged in a magazine, called All the Best, inserted in this week's issue. Have a look to see if you agree with the consensus.

As per usual, certain winners triumphed for the nth time, while other categories have new champions. Of note in the arts and entertainment section: Longtime best actor winner Rusty DeWees (aka the Logger) wasn't in contention this year. (Nominations come from readers in an earlier voting round.) This year, Lyric Theatre vet Kim Anderson took the prize, a coup for the community theater group.

As with democracy, majority rules with the Daysies. And since the awards are reader-generated, Seven Days staff has no influence on the outcome. You vote, we chronicle. It's that simple.

But isn't it nice that, as a music critic, I can create my own categories and fill them with winners of my own choosing? Yes, it is, and I'm happy to do it — especially because so much about Vermont's music scene doesn't necessarily fit into a Daysies category.

Please note that my awards are honorary titles only, not additional Daysies. If you really want a trophy or plaque, I guess I could cobble something together from materials found around my apartment. I hope you like duct tape.

Best Updates

Rick Norcross of Rick & the All-Star Ramblers

I never have to wonder what's going on with Rick Norcross and his band, the All-Star Ramblers. More than any other Vermont artist that I know of, he keeps his fans in the loop with lengthy email updates — sometimes two or three a month, depending on how much stuff the purveyor of Western swing is getting up to. And these are not one- or two-paragraph emails, mind you. They're long. Occasionally they arrive on my desk as an adorable printed newsletter. Beyond tenacious, Norcross fills his updates with folksy charm as well as all the necessary info about his band's comings and goings.

Best Merch

The Tsunamibots
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By my count, only one Vermont band has its own line of trading cards: the Tsunamibots. Along with the usual fare — T-shirts, stickers, hats, etc. — the cybernetic surf-punks penned original comic books that delve into the group's high-concept mythos. Their level of dedication to providing fans as many collectible pieces as possible is unparalleled.

Biggest Scene Champions

Evan and Alex Raine

This is a category I stole from my predecessor, Dan Bolles, when he rolled out his honorary awards two years ago. I thought it needed to be revived. With a scene as loving and supportive as the one in Vermont, this award could go to any number of people. But this year, I have to give it up to brothers Evan and Alex Raine. Not only are the born-and-raised Vermonters musicians themselves (Plastique Mammals, Entrance to Trains), they seem to be out at every freaking show. For real, I can't remember being at a local indie-rock concert and not seeing at least one of the twins. Maybe Burlington needs a punch-card system: Pay 10 cover charges and get the 11th for free!

Funniest Music Video

Be-er, "Hide"

Hot tip: If you want to make an impression with a music video, fill it with brightly colored singing puppets. That's what Americana-rock band Be-er did with the visuals for their song "Hide." Deep in the woods, a motley crew of scruffy "Sesame Street" rejects convenes alongside the band members in a grand ode to getting away from it all and reconnecting with your roots.

Most Unclassifiable Act

Matt the Gnat and the Gators

The Daysies are designed to fit people/places/things into straightforward categories. But what if your band is anything but straightforward? How can you ever expect to become a finalist if people have no idea in which category you should be nominated? With that in mind, this award goes to "narrative-noir" act Matt the Gnat and the Gators. Originally a solo project of man-of-many-faces Matt Hagen, it now features Caroline O'Connor on sax. Are they a folk band? A rock band? A lounge act from a '90s indie flick? All I know is, their music is devilishly odd and brooding. It makes me want to sit in a dark corner and drink absinthe.

Best Web Presence

Julia Caesar

For a group whose music is super serious, the Julia Caesar gang certainly gets goofy online. Whenever the quartet needs to make an important announcement, it does so with web videos that range from off-the-cuff silly to tripped-out, Adult Swim-esque weirdness. Also, one thing it made crystal clear through several Facebook posts in 2018: Its members are huge fans of American treasure Tom Hanks.

Best Album Art

Clever Girls, Luck

For their debut album, Luck, indie-rock outfit Clever Girls commissioned Brooklyn-based artist Amy Goodman — a University of Vermont alum — to create the album's artwork. Having only heard one single, Goodman concocted the bleakly comical tableau of a broken-down, jacked-up car in a barren stretch of desert. With a parking ticket under the wiper, purple goo spewing from the engine and, inexplicably, a fried egg atop its roof, the car needs all the luck in the world to have any hope of motoring off into the sunset. It's the perfect combination of cartoonish and morose.

Best Album Packaging

Ver Sacrum, Stirrings Still

Cassette-tape packaging is usually quite simple. A plastic case, a J-card — well, that's pretty much it. But for his latest album as Ver Sacrum, furniture artisan Matthew Hastings opted to encase his run of 60 tapes in thick, crinkly, translucent Ziploc baggies. Within lies double-sided album art and a textured, handcrafted sleeve enclosing the tape itself. Does the oddly sized packet fit nicely in a Case Logic? No. But that doesn't matter. It's so damn pretty, I keep it out on display.

Best Breakup Song

Xenia Dunford, "It's Not Too Late"

Breakup songs are nothing new, but singer-songwriter Xenia Dunford adds nuance to the concept in her devastating song "It's Not Too Late." Off her 2018 EP, Flesh and Bone (& Everything Within) Side A, the track is hardly a "woe is me" sob story. Instead, the artist admits to having outwardly moved on ("I got a man who loves me and tells me so"), yet she can't shake the lingering stain of the one who carved her insides out. ("But I can't quite settle into these bones.") It reminds us that people are complex and can simultaneously exist in two distinct places: content with the present but forever haunted by the past. And the bargaining found within the song's essence is heart-wrenching: "It's not too late for you to love me." We've all told ourselves that, even though we knew it probably wasn't true.

Fastest Hands

Ousmane M'Boula Camara

Sabouyouma's Ousmane M'Boula Camara is without a doubt one of the most incredible musicians in Burlington. The Guinean balafonist handles his instrument with utter precision. It boggles the mind how many hours of practice — and the level of concentration — one needs to play a mallet instrument with such speed and grace.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Honorable Mentions"