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Six Quick-Hit Reviews of Local Albums

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Published October 12, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


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Seven Days' music desk has snapped in half from the collective weight of new albums submitted for review by Vermont musicians. Somewhere beneath the broken wood and piles of records, music editor Chris Farnsworth is doing his best to catalog all the new sounds out of the Green Mountains. Here are six records he rescued from the rubble.

Thorny, Mostly Gray

(Witherwillow Sounds, digital)

Just in time for autumn, Plainfield's Thorny — aka synthesist and bassist JD Ryan — has released an album that is essentially a tribute to all the gradients of the color gray. To be fair, the record was released at the tail end of the summer, but it's an especially fitting listen as the leaves change color and fog rolls across the hills.

Over six tracks of moody ambience and gentle synthesizer swells, Mostly Gray serves as a sonic extrapolation of what Ryan describes in the album liner notes as "a 5-year journey where I finally tapped into how to get what's inside of me out there." The result is a collection of soundscapes and drones that paint impressionistic, shadowy portraits of a sylvan, mist-enshrouded world.

Key Track: "The End of Before"

Why: Channeling late '70s ambient classics like Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports, Ryan creates synth structures that sound like glass shattering softly.

Where: witherwillow.bandcamp.com

Marxist Jargon, [anti] space opera

(Self-released, digital)

It is the year 2050, and the national parks are being drained of fossil fuels, the cops are beating the kids, and robots are starting to feel existential despair. Shit is going all kinds of wrong on the new concept record from Burlington's Marxist Jargon, a self-named "unamericana" band. The seven-piece outfit, complete with cajón, resonator, fiddles, cello, trombone and even a mini glockenspiel, has crafted a joyous, tongue-in-cheek record, [anti] space opera, full of songs that double as social commentary and raucous sing-alongs.

Between tracks such as "Capitalist motherfuckers" and "Salvage accumulation," narration from co-vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Meg Egler explains how dire the situation on future Earth is, with billionaires jetting off to space to flee a rapidly depreciating planet. (Kind of sounds like 2022, to be honest.) Juxtaposing a dystopian, sci-fi concept record with pastoral folk music is an intriguing paradox and one Marxist Jargon handle expertly.

Key Track: "Space Robot Commuter Rail/F.A.L.C."

Why: Vocalist and mandolin player Ben Dube drops lines such as "The robots took all of our jobs, and at first we thought it was a bad thing."

Where: marxistjargon.bandcamp.com

Ali McGuirk, Til It's Gone

(Signature Sounds, CD, digital, vinyl)

When Ali McGuirk moved from Boston to Burlington in 2021, the neo-soul and R&B singer-songwriter became a full-time musician. She had already built quite a reputation in the New England scene — Boston Globe critic Steve Morse had included her album Slow Burn in his list of top 10 albums of 2017. But McGuirk has taken a notable step up with Til It's Gone.

She coproduced the record with celebrated songwriter and producer Jonah Tolchin and recruited a backing band of A-list session musicians, including Little Feat guitarist/mandolinist Fred Tackett. The songs on Til It's Gone run the gamut from Americana to jazz to country to rock, but all retain a little of the darkened-blues-bar vibe that gives McGuirk's sound just the hint of an edge.

Key Track: "All Back"

Why: McGuirk and her band establish a classic R&B groove on a song brimming with longing.

Where: alimcguirk.bandcamp.com

Nate Reit, Collage

(Self-released, CD, digital)

Trombonist Nate Reit has been a mainstay in the Burlington jazz scene in recent years. With Collage, he makes his recording debut as a bandleader and composer. Featuring some of Vermont's best jazz talent, including Connor Young on trumpet and flügelhorn, Pat Markley on bass, and Dan Ryan on the drums, Reit's album lives up to its name: Written and arranged over the course of 15 years, Collage is a thesis of sorts by the composer.

The songs traverse various forms of jazz, moving into more modern sounds at times before harkening back to Reit's various influences. He dedicates Collage to the memory of his grandmother Betsy in the liner notes and, indeed, there is affection in the tracks, particularly in Reit's uplifting trombone work, through which he paints in vibrant sonic colors. It's a joyous and moving debut from a talented composer.

Key track: "Balance"

Why: A laid-back, late-night-at-the-jazz-bar number, the song all but hands you a cocktail and a cigarette.

Where: natereit.bandcamp.com

Ventifacts, Chronic Town

(self-released, digital)

What do you get when a bicoastal songwriting duo decides to pay tribute to a favorite album? If you didn't guess it would be a strange, microtonal tribute to R.E.M.'s classic debut, Chronic Town, you're not alone! File under "I didn't see that coming": Ben Spees of Portland, Ore., prog rockers the Mercury Tree and Damon Waitkus of Brattleboro's Jack O' the Clock re-created the five-song EP using microtonal tuning, a scale of notes with intervals unheard of in traditional Western tuning.

"It seemed like an absurd undertaking, which is probably part of why it fascinated us," the band wrote on the album's Bandcamp page. There is a level of absurdity to hearing these classic, college rock radio-era R.E.M. songs filtered through a lens that seems to push the songs just out of phase. It's like an artificial intelligence or machine deep learning take on the Athens, Ga., band's signature sound.

Key Track: "1,000,000"

Why: No tune on the album makes a deeper microtonal metamorphosis than "1,000,000," which goes from a four-minute song of jangly guitars to an eight-minute-plus, industrial-leaning freak-out.

Where: ventifacts.bandcamp.com

Drowningman, Later Day Saints

(Self-released, cassette, digital)

Drowningman have been part of the Burlington hardcore scene since debuting in 1995. The ferociously heavy band signed with Hydra Head Records, home to iconic acts such as Converge, in the late 1990s. It also released a split EP in 1999 with Dillinger Escape Plan, who were frequent tour mates in Drowningman's heyday.

Drowningman broke up and reformed several times over the years, juggling members as they did. But with a settled lineup once more, the band has dropped a new, two-song release titled Later Day Saints. Totaling just under seven minutes of music, Later Day Saints nonetheless showcases all the traits that made the band so revered: the gravelly power of Simon Brody's vocals, the punishing guitar riffs and forays into math-rock, the volcanic rhythm section — it's all still here. It's both fascinating and inspiring to see a band with as much history as Drowningman continue to push their sound forward and display new traits, all while maintaining their distinctive sound.

Key Track: "It Will End in Cops"

Why: A song of pure rage, it features lyrical gems such as "I know where you live, laugh, love, and I'm coming over"

Where: drowningman.bandcamp.com