Album Review: Stick Season by Noah Kahan


    Media by Parker Brandt

    Kahan says his biggest inspirations include Hozier, Mumford & Sons, and The Lumineers.

    Growing up in a small town, Valley Park, I commonly felt lonely and isolated, despite being surrounded by people I had known my entire life. The stereotypical “small town life” is, as it is made out to be, extremely boring, but also comforting and nostalgic.

    After hearing Noah Kahan’s “Homesick” from his newest album, “Stick Season,” I immediately felt connected to his music.

    “Stick Season” is a folk-infused pop album with 14 tracks released on Friday, Oct. 14, written and sung by Vermont/New Hampshire native Noah Kahan. The singer-songwriter perfectly encapsulates the bittersweet feeling of leaving a small-town, as well as all of the feelings and relationships that surround growing up.

    On Friday, Dec. 9, Kahan announced that he would be touring across the country over an almost four-month period.

    In an interview with Insider, Kahan explained that the album received its name from the common term used to describe the transitional period between fall and winter in Vermont: “stick season.”

    “It’s the time between peak foliage and Halloween and the first snow – when all the leaves are off the trees. It’s a time of transition, and it’s super depressing,” Kahan said.

    As a newly obsessed and devoted fan, I’ll be anticipating his performance at The Pageant in February and again at Saint Louis Music Park in September, but until then, here are reviews of some of my favorite tracks from the album.

    “Northern Attitude”
    The album’s first track was released as a single on Friday, Sept. 16, and begins with the lyrics “Breathing in / Breathing out / How you been? You settled down?” and, a few lines later, “You settle into routine / Where are you? / What does it mean?” To me, these lyrics seem to illustrate that, although you may settle into a normal routine, you may begin to question if you truly know yourself.

    Kahan expands on this self doubt with the lyrics “You build a boat, / you build a life / You lose your friends, / you lose your wife.” The potential idea of failure and loss is all-consuming and causes us to live in solitude.

    “If I get too close, and I’m not how you hoped / Forgive my northern attitude, / Oh, I was raised out in the cold.” This lyric explains why Kahan may seem “cold” to others, and why he’s scared to open up to others. “Northern Attitude” serves as a reminder for people who have built strong emotional walls to consider breaking them down – or, in other words, open up again to someone new.

    “Stick Season”
    The album’s self-titled track, released on Friday, July 8, depicts loss of love, being left behind and feeling trapped.

    “As you promised me that I was worth more than all the miles combined / You must have had yourself a change of heart / Like halfway through the drive,” and later, “Now I am stuck between my anger / And the blame that I can’t face.” These lyrics suggest the loss of a relationship Kahan once believed would last, and shows how he now struggles with the memories and anger the absence of this person has left behind.

    “And I’ll dream each night of some version of you / That I might not have, but I did not lose.” Although this lyric suggests that this person is not completely gone from his life, I personally interpreted it as although someone may no longer physically be there, they aren’t completely gone. Parts of them will always be with you. They changed you in some way, and in that sense, you haven’t lost them altogether.

    “All My Love”
    The third track begins simply with the lyric “How have things been?” suggesting a reunion between Kahan and someone from his past.

    This may be an old relationship, as the song progresses with the lines “Now I know your name but not who you are / It’s all okay, there ain’t a drop of bad blood / It’s all my love, you got all my love.” Although this relationship may be over, he assures that there’s no animosity, and that he wishes this person the best. This is built upon with the lyrics “If you need me, dear, I’m the same as I was” and “And at the end of it all, I just hope that your scars heal.”

    For me, this track is extremely bittersweet. It reminds me that we shouldn’t hold hate, but wish the people of our past luck, although we may miss them and wait for them to return.

    “She Calls Me Back”
    In this song, Kahan deals with accepting a relationship that isn’t meant to be, however attached he may be.

    “Everything’s alright when she calls me back / She calls me back / Lost for a long time / Two parallel lines.” Two parallel lines will never intersect, referencing how two people who aren’t meant to be together never will be.

    “The radio is taunting me / Every song a minor key.” Kahan accuses the radio of mocking him — as songs written in a minor key generally sound sadder than music in a major key does — as he expresses his feelings of sadness over this relationship.

    “Everywhere, Everything”
    The seventh track on the album expresses the narrator’s love for someone.

    “Everywhere, everything / I wanna love you ‘til we’re food for the worms to eat / ‘Til our fingers decompose / Keep my hand in yours.” Although the lyrics may come off a little morbid, they hold a rather sweet meaning. Kahan wants to be with this person forever, even long after they’ve passed. This song is one of the more solely happy tracks.

    “Strawberry Wine”
    Contrasting the topic dealt with in the previous track, “Strawberry Wine” explains the story of young love, and how the obsession with the idea of love can lead people to believe they are meant to be with someone they aren’t.

    “I’m in love with every song you’ve ever heard,” Kahan writes. The narrator loves everything their partner loves, and their obsession for this person overwrites their individual opinions. “No thing defines a man like love that makes him soft.”

    The final lines of the song, “If I was an empty space and you were a formless shape, we’d fit” review the pair’s incompatibility. This line repeats, as though he is coming to terms with the fact that the relationship is not meant to be.

    Like the title of the song, this track suggests that an old love of the narrator “knows how to haunt” him, elaborating with the lyrics, “It’s not Halloween / but the ghost you dressed up as / Sure knows how to haunt, yes, it knows how to haunt.” Kahan once again tackles the hatred he feels towards change, suggesting that his old love has changed so much and is now a ghost they have dressed up as.

    “But the wreckage of you I no longer reside in / The bridges have long since been burnt / And the ash of the home that I started the fire in / It starts to return to the Earth.” Kahan has now completely lost the person he once loved, as they’ve seemingly become a victim to irreversible change.

    “What ties this whole [album] together is the shared experience of growing up with a lot of space and isolation. I want people who live in small towns to know I hear them, I see them, and I know what it’s like,” Kahan said in an interview with Billboard. Unlike what the traditional meaning of the phrase “homesick” defines, this track rather implies that Kahan is sick of his home and the insularities of his hometown. The lyrics “I would leave if only I could find a reason” imply that, although he wishes he could drift from his hometown, he can’t find a reason to.

    “The View Between Villages”
    This final track concludes the album beautifully as Kahan reflects on his life and experiences thus far. First, he recalls being seventeen: “Feel the rush of my blood / I’m seventeen again / I am not scared of death / I’ve got dreams again.” He misses the rose-colored lens being youthful and naive. Although the song picks up it’s pace, it begins to fall apart again once he remembers everything he has lost.

    “A minute from home, but I’m so far from it / The death of my dog, the stretch of my skin / It’s all washin’ over me, I’m angry again / The things that I lost here, the people I knew.” It’s within this lyric that we come to realize the true meaning of the songs title. The “view between villages” is the difference between who we used to be and how we used to think, juxtaposed with who we are now.

    Although it is a difficult decision to decide my favorite song from this album, I can’t deny that I feel a strong connection to “Stick Season” and “Halloween.” Change in a person is natural and unpreventable, especially if the subject of change is someone you have grown up with. I struggle with coping with change, especially in a person, and these songs perfectly describe my emotions. When someone changes, for better or worse, these two tracks will remind me that it is okay to grieve the person you once knew so well and to find comfort in the fact that they altered you and your life in some way, and that won’t change.

    After listening to the album, I feel as though his music compliments the work of Phoebe Bridgers, Zach Bryan, and Bon Iver beautifully. Personally, Kahan says his biggest inspirations include Hozier, Mumford & Sons, and The Lumineers. All of these artists know how to write lyrically personal and profound, melancholy music, Kahan included. This album is a perfect example of that, and I highly recommend taking the time to listen.