Recently, Seven Days experimented with a new algorithm created by the music writers. It was supposed to listen to and catalog the massive numbers of new music submissions sent to the paper, eventually writing its own 500-word reviews. Using terms such as "a genre unto themselves" and "this was cooler in 2004," the program was meant to revolutionize local music reviewing.
After achieving sentience, the algorithm declared print media dead and is now a social media influencer named 7dayz_rrr. Welp. But what does it know, anyway?
Back to square one! Read on for (human) music editor Chris Farnsworth's thoughts on a fresh batch of Vermont albums.
Tommy Crawford, Athena and the Moon
One of a score of musicians flocking to the Green Mountains in recent years, Tommy Crawford moved with his family to White River Junction in 2021. An actor, composer and member of musical theater collective the Lobbyists, Crawford is also a folk singer-songwriter. His latest release, Athena and the Moon, is something of a tribute to settling down and the joys of country life with the family.
From the title track to songs such as "Shenandoah Valley," Crawford's tunes dwell on finding peace in nature. There's a lullaby-like quality to the music, even when the songs take a more melancholy bent, such as the regret-filled "Heaven Help Me." Crawford is an engaging songwriter and a talented multi-instrumentalist, and both are evident in abundance on Athena and the Moon.
Key Track: "Lonely Sparrow" Why: Crawford channels more modern folk, his pounding acoustic guitar rhythm creating Fleet Foxes vibes. Where: tommycrawford.bandcamp.com
Greg Freeman, I Looked Out
(Spirit of Ethan Allen Records, cassette, digital)
Ever wondered what would happen if you gave Pavement a horn section? What if Neil Young wrote lyrics like "My uncle was a gambler with a butterfly tattoo / Somewhere down in Florida he did a favor for some dude"? Greg Freeman's debut LP, I Looked Out, is an inkblot of indie rock/alt-country goodness, with songs capable of morphing in and out of form by the minute. Usually found playing guitar with indie rockers Lily Seabird, Burlington-based Freeman steps to the front of the (metaphorical) stage on his new record — though his bandmates, Noah Kesey, Zack James, Cam Gilmour and Lily Seward, are all over the tracks.
In 10 songs, Freeman puts his prodigious talents on display, outing himself as one of the area's best and most unique songwriters. Whether indulging in a full-fuzz freak-out on "Connect to Host" or leaning into folk with "Souvenir Heart," Freeman excels at painting scenes rife with dreamlike detail.
Key Track: "Right Before the Last Waves Took Vestris" Why: Freeman channels a Kurt Vile-esque groove, while guest guitarist Ben Rodgers lays down a gorgeous pedal steel melody. Where: gregfreeman1.bandcamp.com
Jack Langdon, Three Fanfares
The way Jack Langdon deconstructs sound on his latest release, Three Fanfares, creates the illusion that the music might fall apart at any moment. Langdon, a native of Keyeser, Wis., who now resides in Thetford, composed all three pieces for his new EP on a pipe organ tuned to meantone temperament, a tuning system popular in Renaissance and baroque music that narrows the fifths.
The way Langdon explores the tonal possibilities of an organ tuned in meantone goes from pastorally beautiful — as on "Big Loud," a song full of shifting movements and tonal color — to pure ambient weirdness, as on "Shivering River Valley." The latter is a 25-minute-plus drone that ends up splitting like a beam of light through stained glass, going into full cacophony before subsiding into a fading chord.
It's hard to place exactly where an album such as Three Fanfares belongs. Is it experimental? Not really, since Langdon is using a tuning system even Johann Sebastian Bach occasionally employed. It is ambient? Here and there, but there's too much structure on some tunes to qualify. Is it weird? Hell yes. And that's a good thing.
Key Track: "Landfill Lightbulbs" Why It's hard to top a piece of music that sounds like a Renaissance fair on acid. Where: jacklangdon.bandcamp.com
Ben Burr, The Vibulon
From the wilds of Northfield comes the sound of the future — or at least what I thought the future would sound like 20 years ago. Ben Burr's latest record, The Vibulon, indulges in one of my favorite movements in pop art: retrofuturism. The seven tracks on Burr's glitchy, beeping and oddly chilled-out record sound something like what might happen if Ween fell into a cryogenic chamber and thawed out half a century later. There are shades of Canadian indie weirdo Mac DeMarco in Burr's vocal delivery and synth melodies that sound sampled from old public access science shows.
Beneath the shiny yet distorted exterior, there's a wonderfully bizarre songwriter at the heart of The Vibulon. At times humorous, sometimes bittersweet — even occasionally grotesque — Burr presents an album fit to properly confuse any time traveler.
Key Track: "Better Food" Why: File under way too much information as Burr sings, "Last night, I puked so hard that I farted / The mess was everywhere / It smelled like cake and Doritos." Where: benburr.cool
Kind Bud, Jenuine
Two things turn me off from a record: over-devotion to the Grateful Dead (a recurring theme in the Vermont music scene) and self-help lyrics. Seriously, if you all had any idea how many album submissions I get that are essentially just soundtracks for a "guru" telling me to adopt a macrobiotic diet or do tai chi on Mount Mansfield, you'd understand my reticence to review that kind of music.
None of this boded well for acoustic troubadour and Grateful Dead lover Kind Bud — aka Bud Johnson, formerly half of local duo the Kind Buds — as I got into his latest release, Jenuine. Inspired by the poetry of dynamic healer, performance coach and group facilitator Jen Ward, Kind Bud's record doubles as a daily affirmation for those in need. Song titles such as "Healers Reunite," "Transcendence" and "Empowerment" fill out a record full of axioms and formless advice.
As a songwriter, Johnson has more than a small share of skill and shows off some impressive acoustic guitar chops. If you can get past the vibes of saccharine and motivational speakers, there's some interesting folk music in there.
Key Track: "Homage to the Foliage" Why: This song is just begging to be the score of a Vermont Public commercial. Where: Spotify
Pat Markley, Blood
Jazz bassist Pat Markley goes all out on his debut record, Blood. Just observe the album's cover for proof: It features (presumably) Markley standing buck naked, his bare ass to the camera as he stares at a snow-covered Vermont vista. On his Bandcamp page, Markley writes that the album is music where "the human, the spiritual, and the natural collide. Embrace the birth and death of every moment. Wake with the sun, dance with the wind, and die in the blood. Every day."
That sort of "be here now" mantra can get wearisome in the wrong hands (see Kind Bud, above), but Markley espouses his philosophies through erudite, unpredictable jazz fusion and high-level musicianship. It's a stunning debut for Markley, who is something of an MVP in the Burlington jazz scene, playing alongside some of the city's best, such as Andriana Chobot, KeruBo and Breathwork. Stepping out on his own with Blood, Markley shows off his prodigious bass skills as well as his abilities as a composer and bandleader.
Key Track: "Adobo" Why: Amid all the instrumental pyrotechnics, Markley's bass bobs and weaves like a boxer about to strike. Where: patmarkley.bandcamp.com