It was just last year, during the dark days of winter in a city nearly 3,000 miles from my home, that I discovered the album that would get me through the bitter cold. This fall, as I walk along the campus trails listening to “Growing Sideways” and “All My Love” from Noah Kahan’s 2022 album Stick Season, I’m reminded that the leaves are changing and so am I.
Stick Season opens with “Northern Attitude,” a folk tune that introduces the Vermont singer-songwriter’s northern roots, creating the perfect acoustic ambiance for walking alone in the woods amid winter. But the song is so much more than an ode to Kahan’s small, northern hometown of Strafford, Vermont. Lyrics like “Forgive my northern attitude / Oh, I was raised on little light” highlight how Kahan has become a mere reflection of the place he grew up in, which becomes a present theme throughout the entirety of the album.
It goes without saying that the title track “Stick Season” is the song of the album. It became Kahan’s breakthrough hit, and all for good reason. “Stick Season” refers to that time of the year between fall and winter when the leaves have fallen but it has yet to snow. The lyrics reflect this transitional period between seasons and relationships: “And I’ll dream each night of some version of you / That I might not have, but I did not lose.” An early snippet of the song went viral on TikTok in 2020 with the lyrics “Doc told me to travel, but there’s COVID on the planes,” a reference to the pandemic measures that kept us all stuck at home.
The sixth song on the album, “New Perspective,” outlines the emotions associated with moving on—from a place, or maybe even a person—and the distance it creates with that which was left behind. I remember coming home for the first time after a semester at university and being shocked at how different everything felt; how different I felt. This wasn’t the case for Kahan. He stayed. And she left. And this song is the product of feeling stuck somewhere in time and place: “Paper bags drift wherever the wind blows / And mine’s full of receipts.” Kahan’s paper bag full of receipts is symbolic of the baggage he carries with him and the memories that he can’t quite let go of.
A popular fall holiday gets a title track on the album, but not for the festive reasons you might think. “Halloween,” while slow in tempo, is quick to add a deeper level of lyricism to the album. The song is about leaving a past relationship behind and moving on from the pain associated with it: “And the ash of the home that I started the fire in / It starts to return to the Earth.” Using haunting metaphors and imagery, Kahan depicts how you can be haunted by a place and the people who inhabit it, even after much time has passed. “It’s not Halloween, but the ghost you’re dressed up as / Sure knows how to haunt, yeah, she knows how to haunt.” Kahan introduces the desire to escape the ghosts that haunt him: “I’m leavin’ this town and I’m changin’ my address,” but also the fear of walking away for good.
One of my personal favorites comes from the 12th song, “Homesick.” It contrasts the ghostly track before it with an upbeat melody. Kahan uses the word homesick to describe the feelings of being sick of home and homesick for home. It’s hard to walk away from what we know but it’s the fear of staying in the same place forever that ultimately forces us to leave: “Spend the rest of my life with what could have been / And I will die in the house that I grew up in.” This song marks that uncomfortable transition period when you know it’s time to go, but you’re just not quite ready to.
The final song on Stick Season is “The View Between Villages,” a song which encapsulates every emotion explored in the ones that preceded it. It’s the perfect song for that drive, you know the one, when you’ve left the place that was holding you back and you’ve returned, anew. “A minute from home but I feel so far from it.” Kahan is back in his hometown, but he’s so far from the person he was when he left. This song introduces a new season: spring. There’s air in his lungs and the last of the bugs have left their homes again. Stick season is over and he’s “back between villages and everything’s still.”
This album came to me in a time when I needed it most, and it returns a year later when I’m a completely different person. Though I’m not the same as I was, I’ll always find a piece of myself in the songs on Stick Season. I’ll always return to it when I need clarity in my life or when I’m feeling homesick or haunted by the ghosts of my past.