Republic Records · October 14, 2022
Noah Kahan is a master of articulating some of the most intimate, uncomfortable thoughts we all have, but he also allows us to feel comforted by our darkness. His third full length album, Stick Season, fully captures this sentiment with a distinct New England folk backdrop.
On September 30, Noah Kahan tweeted how his album would be the “most Autumn shit ever.” In a note talking about his third release, Kahan mentioned his return to writing folk songs after facing burnout from pop-infused “professional songwriting.” In this sense, Stick Season feels like both a homage and homecoming, though Kahan mentions that lately, he hasn’t left his hometown.
Though Kahan’s record nods to New England, he does it without overusing any of the cliches people associate with the region. The album’s titular track, “Stick Season,” was released as a single in July, and is one of Kahan’s standouts. He laments about a relationship which has since slipped away, and the lyrics are filled with contradictions of joys and hurt, detailing how “Once called me forever now you still can’t call me back” and “Saw your mom she forgot that I existed.” The phrase “stick season” refers to the transition from fall to winter in Vermont, where the leaves have fallen but the snow hasn’t touched down yet. In the same way, Kahan wrestles with holding onto this relationship while also facing the reality that it’s over.
Another song that uses New England as the medium for his conflict is “Homesick.” Kahan is proud of his home in a way that most of us are, where the love for a place is inextricably tied up with its faults. He sings about “dirt roads named after high school friends’ grandfathers” and how “motherfuckers here still don’t know they caught the Boston bombers,” emphasizing the small towns that litter the area and the effects of their isolation. Despite this distaste for some elements, Kahan wears his hometown like a badge of honor, embracing the stereotype that “I’m mean because I grew up in New England.” Both “Stick Season” and “Homesick” are songs that sound like they’re meant to be screamed at live shows.
Kahan is a storyteller at heart – creating vivid images with his words and zooming in on small details, from “every song in a minor key” to “attention deficit kids in gym clothes” which bring the listener all the more closer. These lyrics are highlighted by haunting strings and hymnal sounding backing vocals, which also sneak and surge into a track when least expected. Kahan loves a buildup, but makes each one new instead of delivering the same style each time.
One of Kahan’s specialties best exhibited in Stick Season is his ability to deliver gut-wrenching lines in a whisper, making you falter and question what you’ve just heard before you’re able to process it. Kahan dives into the most vulnerable places, whether it’s feeling undesirable (“Come Over”), or not even being familiar with himself (“Growing Sideways”). Though these feelings are human and everyone has experienced them, not many people have the guts to admit it over and over again. Kahan keeps testing the waters with his audience, opening up a little more with each song to see if they are receptive to the same dark feelings that he harbors.
Kahan’s last track, “The View Between Villages,” finishes the album with a flourish, capturing all the mixed emotions of coming home: the good, the bad, and whatever remains of small town New England. Though Kahan’s album directs listeners every which way, this song feels like he ends up right back where he started – and it’s an honest place to be.
Noah Kahan comes to Boston on October 22, 2022, at MGM Music Hall.