Noah Kahan – It’s the Season of the Sticks
October 30, 2022
As someone who couldn’t wait to leave my small hometown for a big city, I would not have expected to relate to the complicated and complex themes of homesickness that are woven throughout the captivating lyrics of Noah Kahan’s newest album, Stick Season.
Kahan released the title track, Stick Season, on July 8, 2022. He first performed this song on Instagram live in October 2020 and continued performing it through his I was/I am tour. But Stick Season did not truly begin to gain traction until this past summer when Kahan turned to Tik Tok as a tool to promote his upcoming album. The response to the short clip Kahan posted was overwhelmingly positive and the clip earned millions of views. Almost overnight, fans began covering the snippet that Kahan teased. Kahan would share the covers and encourage fans to make the song their own by changing up the sound and adding lyrics. This created a huge amount of anticipation for the release of the single and the album. When the song was released, we were able to appreciate Kahan’s ability to describe a changing relationship with words that resonate such as, “Once called me forever now you still can’t call me back.” The chorus that fans knew long before the song had been released, “And I love Vermont but it’s the season of the sticks, and I saw your mom she forgot that I existed, and it’s my fault, but I just like to play the victim, I’ll drink alcohol ‘til my friends come home for Christmas,” describes a time of transition and self reflection that is seemingly depressing. Yet with Kahan’s upbeat guitar playing and utterly relatable lyrics, Stick Season ends up being uplifting, not depressing.
Shortly after the release of Stick Season, Kahan released a teaser for his next single, Northern Attitude, which was released on September 16th. Kahan explained that Northern Attitude was the perfect pre-album single because it “represents everything I tried to say on this next project.” Kahan explains that he drew inspiration for this album from his complicated feelings about growing up in Strafford, Vermont, a small town with a population of just over 1,000 people. In Northern Attitude, Kahan describes heartbreaking isolation: “If I get too close, And I’m not how you hoped, Forgive my northern attitude, Oh, I was raised out in the cold.”
Throughout the 14 track album, Kahan successfully juxtaposes competing themes of nostalgia and homesickness with themes of resentment for his hometown and family in songs such as Homesick and Growing Sideways. In Homesick, Kahan sings that, “I would leave if only I could find a reason, I’m mean because I grew up in New England, I got dreams but I can’t make myself believe them, Spend the rest of my life with what could have been, And I will die in the house that I grew up in, I’m homesick I’m homesick I’m homesick I’m homesick Oh”. Here, Kahan expresses complicated feelings towards his hometown, searching for a reason to leave, all while driving the song forward with his high energy singing and guitar playing. The song is a study in contradiction, a catchy tune with devastating lyrics. In Growing Sideways, Kahan’s raw lyrics begin by describing therapy and addiction, and anger towards his family. But the song becomes more introspective in its chorus: “But I ignore things, and I move sideways, Until I forget what I felt in the first place, At the end of the day I know there are worse ways, To stay alive, ‘Cause everyone’s growing and everyone’s healthy, I’m terrified that I might never have met me, Oh, if my engine works perfect on empty, I guess I’ll drive, I guess I’ll drive.”
The album concludes with the final track, and my personal favorite, The View Between Villages. After exploring a complicated relationship with his hometown and his past, Kahan closes out the album with a song that comes to some sort of recognition that he may actually miss things about the small town he so desperately wanted to leave: “Feel the rush of my blood, I’m seventeen again, I am not scared of death, I’ve got dreams again, It’s just me and the curve of the valley, And there is meaning on Earth, I am happy.” From there the song builds as heartbreaking memories flood Kahan’s mind until the song finally crescendos. The song ends with a sense of calm as Kahan says he is “back between villages and everything is still,” leaving the listener wondering if Kahan actually went home.
I was fortunate to see Noah Kahan live at the Fillmore in Silver Spring on October 16, just 48 hours after Stick Season had been released. In that time, the audience had learned the lyrics to every song. I was struck by how the audience connected with Kahan’s lyrics, which run from vulnerable, to devastating, to self-deprecating, to outright funny. He is truly a great storyteller, advancing a narrative in a way many singer-songwriters do not. That talent has helped launch the album to #14 on the Billboard 200 and Stick Season is currency trending as one of the top songs on Spotify. Kahan is selling out modest size venues and recently announced he will be opening for Dermot Kennedy’s upcoming tour in Europe. This will be an amazing opportunity for Kahan to showcase his uniquely New England perspective.