Courtesy of Patrick McCormack.

November 14, 2022

It’s the Season of the Sticks

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On Oct. 14, Noah Kahan released his third studio album Stick Season, a 14-track ballad to New England Novembers and a man’s yearning. The album arrived in perfect time for stick season, the time of year after the leaves fall but before it begins to snow. Stick season is known in Vermont as a time of transition, a feeling that underlies the album throughout changing relationships, towns and seasons.

Although I’m a fake New Englander, I can pretend my small Hudson Valley hometown is Vermont when fall hits. I’m most grateful to have experienced seasons growing up: the magic of the October pumpkin patch, the thrill of spooky season, the iced coffee order turning to hot. For me, October happens to be birthday season, which adds another element to my hyper-awareness of the passage of time during fall.

Anyone living in Ithaca is about to get used to the subject matter of “Stick Season.” We’re entering the gray period when the bright leaves are gone, and we have to hide our cute fall fits under real jackets. The album is “about feeling left behind and feeling trapped,” Kahan said, which is a feeling many college students know all too well as the sun disappears and seasonal depression creeps in. Stick Season expertly expresses bittersweet emotions which many negotiate with as they grow up.

The album’s sound is grasping and passionate, like trying to hold onto the perfect October day. The first track, “Northern Attitude,” sets the tone and subject of the album: “Forgive my northern attitude / Oh, I was raised out in the cold.” Stick Season captures the anticipation of winter, waiting for the nights to get shorter and the days to get colder. The folksy rhythm and energetic strumming continue into the third track, “All My Love,” which drips with yearning and captures a perfectly simple young love. 

Some of the lines feel clunky and contrived, and they date Kahan’s music. I don’t need to hear the phrase “the Dow Jones is falling” or “there’s COVID on the planes” in otherwise timeless songs. These lines distract me from what Kahan is able to capture about a universal human experience of autumn.

However, other lines reveal Kahan’s expertise with words, as he carefully layers his songs with image-rich and moving lyrics like “Liberal rednecks get drunk on a dirt road / Attention deficit kids in their gym clothes / Paper bags drift wherever the wind blows / And mine’s full of receipts” in the sixth track “New Perspective.” This is where Kahan shines: with specific details and images that transport every listener into a youth spent in Vermont. He bottles up the urgency and desperation of fall, setting love and heartbreak against the backdrop of feeling the passage of time.

Kahan strings together a simple wondering of what could be in “Come Over,” and “Orange Juice” is reminiscent of The Lumineers’ “Leader of the Landslide,” another folk song driven by powerful strumming and a loved one struggling with alcoholism. Kahan vacillates between specific details and big, moving statements: “No thing definеs a man like love that makes him soft.” This is what makes the album so refreshing — the man behind the album is soft, and he lets us into his heart and world. The album is about love, but also a feeling so intense that only Kahan’s autumn crisp project can put it into words. The album’s sound starts to feel repetitive if you’re not listening with the lyrics open on your computer like I am, but the music is only made better by its poetry. Stick Season feels like driving away from your ex’s house for the last time, or driving down your childhood road for the first time after moving out — quiet moments of transition that you’ll never capture in a picture, but you’ll also never forget. This is the fall album of the season, and the perfect addition to the Fleetwood Mac, Bon Iver and Lumineers on your November playlists.

Kiki Plowe is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].