Written By Chloé Sautereau
On repeat is an understatement, and speechlessness may be the aftermath, as Noah Kahan says it all in his latest and awaited single “Stick Season” out now.
A singer-songwriter who’s collaborated with many, including Julia Michaels (“Hurt Somebody”) and Chelsea Cutler (“Crazy Things”), the American artist and guitarist signed to Republic Records in 2017 and has since put out two albums where he’s continuously infused pop with a folk touch of his own.
This year, in his “Stick Season”, Kahan leaves everything behind with his unmistakable voice and acoustic guitar and a discrete kick drum that sneaks into the second verse enhances the song’s unshakable drive. The versatility in how the guitar’s played, and how it’s used and layered with itself, contributes to the song’s arc and dynamics.
With strums and string pickings that are filled with emotional intricacies in and of themselves, the Vermont native takes his listener by storm in what begins as an innocent ballad, but quickly starts to mirror the ups and downs he reflects upon in the lyrics.
Kahan’s delivery is as refined as it is guttural – because he crafts his words in a way that feels filterless, yet perfectly measured. All the syllables somehow fit and while his phrasing is a little unorthodox, it serves to build the necessary tension that the following words cut through like a knife in a smoothly resolving cadence.
With that, the singer-songwriter doesn’t shy away from a little humor and wit through the lyrics: “You once called me forever, / now you still can’t call me back” and the necessary, slightly self-deprecating after-thought: “It’s half my fault but I like to play the victim.”
Kahan’s self-awareness takes particular proportions as he pairs it with an all-encompassing sensory awareness that is both refreshing and grounding. Between references to the rain and tire tracks and alcohol, the darkness from his dad and not being funny anymore “cause I miss the way you laugh,” he draws comparisons where one wouldn’t think to draw them, making the song an enveloping experience.
“I love Vermont but it’s the season of the sticks and I- /
Saw your mom she forgot that I exist – ed”
Playing the song again from the top is the only way to keep up. It feels random to start with, a thought merely passing, conversational (unspecial until really hearing what he’s saying), but with an amount of truth to it that makes it so very real. Because when the anecdotal turns to a manifestation of something grander, it has that power to raise every hair down one’s forearms. And then Kahan pushes into his higher register as the chorus comes and whatever else was going on suddenly stops; the hair stays up after those first few chorus lines when his slightly eerie voice slides into its falsetto on the word “you”.
It’s almost evocative of yodel, emphasizing the song’s folky nature, and transporting the listener there with him. Suddenly, I’m in Vermont even though I’ve never been. And I see their mom but they forgot that I exist because that’s how good Kahan’s imagery is.
With rhymes that fall a little left of center, it’s so charming, so right, that it stops being depressing and rather becomes healing.
Noah Kahan’s use of that overarching metaphor of the “season of the sticks”, as that period of transition – where, in Vermont, the leaves have left the trees’ branches, but the snow hasn’t yet come to replace them – that post-breakup time, where things feel numb and taste bland… here, is un-parred.