Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever)
Reviewed by Meredith Whitaker
American singer-songwriter Noah Kahan released an extended version of his 2022 album Stick Season on Friday, June 7th. The new album, featuring the same name with an added parenthetical, Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) includes the original 14 tracks from the 2022 album plus 6 new songs and an extended version of “The View Between Villages.” The highly-anticipated new edition sees Kahan reflecting on the 9 months between the albums. Suffice to say, a lot can happen in that time.
It’s been a few weeks since the album’s release. Fans and critics alike have had time to sit with the album and share their thoughts.
If you’re just now hearing of Kahan, his music is reminiscent of 2010s indie-folk, arguably the genre’s golden era. Yet there is something fresh and original about Kahan’s sound and lyricism that makes his music distinctly current. The modern era has ushered in a new openness about neurodivergence and mental illnesses and Kahan has been forthcoming with fans about his lifelong struggles with depression and anxiety. Music, for Kahan is both an outlet and a way to make sense of his experiences.
Fans of Noah Kahan prior to this release will likely be familiar with some of the tracks from the original Stick Season. The 2022 album’s title track, “Stick Season” rose to viral internet fame last year as Kahan promoted it on TikTok, where he also built close relationships with fans. Kahan himself runs all his social media accounts and he’s known for being authentic and often memey. If you search Noah Kahan slideshows on TikTok you’ll likely find a compilation of his tweets. One of my personal favorites reads: “Fun fact about me is I have a detailed and exhaustive ranking of our nations gas stations and their respective snacks” which precipitated him to tweet his top 10 gas stations list, with Mobil, Wawa, and MapleFields earning gold, silver, and bronze respectively.
Although I was briefly introduced to Kahan by a friend, I’ll admit that my enthusiasm for Kahan was accelerated through his shameless self-promotion on TikTok (whose algorithm likely noticed my taste for indie folk and continued pushing me his videos). Kahan used similar guerilla social media marketing to promote Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) by releasing short 15-second clips of tracks like “Dial Drunk” to build anticipation for the album’s release. Commenters begged Kahan to put the song on streaming platforms and provide a release date. Kahan was elusive in his responses and finally announced the release date on May 19th, just three weeks before the June 7th release. The announcement came just days before he embarked on his lengthy 2023 tour.
Contrary to some artists who have garnered attention through TikTok, Kahan doesn’t produce music with the intention of making viral TikTok songs. His work shouldn’t be relegated to a marketing gimmick. The success of “Stick Season” is well-deserved because it is (to borrow internet vernacular) a banger. The song has been at the top of my Spotify “most played” playlist for several months now.
The anticipation for Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) turned out to be similarly well-deserved. Within the first few listens it’s clear how much intentional thought goes into a Noah Kahan album. His ability to weave emotional storytelling into each song’s lyrics while masterfully arranging the music has solidified both his artistic prowess and place on the charts. The original Stick Season charted at No. 100 on Billboard, while the new, amended version is Kahan’s first album to crack into the top 10 on the all-genre charts, hitting No. 3. The album has also made it to No.1 on the top Rock, Alternative, and Americana/Folk album charts.
My initial belief was that the title “Stick Season,” (and particularly the line “season of the sticks“) was a nod to Donovan’s “Season of the Witch.” I have since learned the meaning behind the term, yet I still feel certain that Donovan may have been an influence for Kahan. “Stick season” is a colloquial term in Kahan’s native Vermont, used to describe the liminal period of late fall/early winter where the region’s trees lose their colorful leaves, and the landscape becomes cold and gray as it fades into dormancy. The season represents a time of transition, a theme woven throughout the original Stick Season and expanded upon with the amended version. Kahan uses the new album as a means to continue processing the ideas of transition and change in the seasons, phases of life, relationships, and within the self. As such, it makes perfect sense that the 2023 album required a parenthetical name change rather than a new name entirely.
The first 14 tracks of We’ll All Be Here Forever are in the same order as the original Stick Season, but the original album concludes with “The View Between Villages,” ending on a resonant, fifty-second organ solo that fades to an empty nothingness. We’ll All Be Here Forever sees the same conclusion. Yet instead of fading into nothingness, the first new song on We’ll All Be Here Forever, “Your Needs My Needs” enters with a soft acoustic guitar riff and Kahan’s opening rhetorical question almost whispered, “Oh, well, who was I?//Who was I to watch you wilt?”
The opening lines of “Your Needs, My Needs” establish the major motifs of the next seven tracks on the extended version: mental health, addiction, loss, relationships, contemplation, and recovery; heavy topics for an album in the popular music charts. In “Your Needs, My Needs” Kahan continues, addressing the inherent complexity that arises in a relationship where two people are struggling with their own internal battles- the difficulty of taking care of yourself and taking care of your loved one, trying to balance each other’s needs, and the inevitable resentment that surfaces. Eventually, the heady content blooms into some of my favorite lyrics on the album as Kahan’s voice breaks out into a strained wail backed by a much grungier, minor-chorded guitar in the bridge:
To spiral out, to try and float
To see a friend, to see a ghost
Bitter-brained, always drunk
Subtle change, shorter days
Dead-eyеd, dead weight
Your life, your dreams
Your mind, your needs.
“Your Needs, My Needs” absolutely has the potential to be a dark horse on the album. It’s unexpected and the bridge conjures up images of screaming along with Kahan in a mosh pit at one of his already sold-out concerts. Kahan encourages us to tap into our raw emotions while promising catharsis, another undercurrent on the album.
“Dial Drunk” follows “Your Needs, My Needs” and zooms into a particularly difficult moment: Kahan getting thrown in jail for public intoxication. In “Dial Drunk” the speaker (likely Kahan himself given his past struggles with alcohol addiction) becomes something of an anti-hero, as he chooses to use his one phone call in jail to call a lover, who doesn’t pick up. His anger swells as he laments the lover’s decision not to answer his call, singing: “I gave your name as my emergency phone call//Honey, it rang and rang, even the cops thought you were wrong for hangin’ up.”
Some fans argue that the inclusion of the aforementioned line makes Kahan a villain rather than an anti-hero because the line comes across as manipulative. Kahan who is typically self-aware in his lyricism does not exhibit the same trait on “Dial Drunk,” possibly implying he is an unreliable narrator in this song in particular. However, “Dial Drunk” is not just a retelling of the story as a one-sided diss track. Where certain lines lack self-awareness, others explore Kahan’s shame in the aftermath. In the chorus, he reflects: “I ain’t proud of the punches that I’ve thrown//In the name of someone I no longer know//For the shame of being young, drunk, and alone.” Kahan’s choice of powerful words like shame and pride forces listeners to confront their own anger and shame around past mistakes alongside Kahan as he guides us toward some form of acceptance.
While it’s unclear whether the partner in “Dial Drunk” is the same person on “Your Needs, My Needs,” the second track’s specifics help us to understand more about Kahan, the demons he has dealt with, and the ways they intermingle in his interpersonal relationships.
The three songs that follow the emotionally intense “Dial Drunk” and “Your Needs, My Needs” show a much more tender side of Kahan as he attempts to stitch his listeners back together after emotionally tearing them apart in the preceding tracks. In “Paul Revere,” Kahan struggles between the desire to leave his hometown and the desire to stay, while also trying to reconcile the way the hometown changes. The lyrics of “Paul Revere” are a refreshing change to the clichéd trope of wanting to leave a rural community for the bright lights of a big city. “No Complaints” sees Kahan reflect on the good moments in his life, especially in the 9 months between Stick Season and We’ll All Be Here Forever. It’s nice to see these types of songs included on the album. They serve to chart Kahan’s growth as both an artist and a person, giving his listeners room to breathe.
“Call Your Mom” presents a healthier, more mature Kahan who has stepped into a caretaker role instead of needing to be cared for himself. It represents another transitional cycle: stability and having the capacity to support others through their own struggles after your recovery. “Call Your Mom” may be the emotional crux of Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever). The Noah Kahan of this track has the maturity and self-awareness that the Noah Kahan of “Dial Drunk” lacked. He’s less angry and more controlled. It seems as though he recognizes the places where he may have inflicted pain as he comforts the subject of the song who is beginning to spiral into mental illness again, gently offering to call their mom. The tenderness and care that Kahan’s lyrics display in “Call Your Mom” feel like a hug, as he acknowledges the pain in suffering. It’s comforting to know that someone else has been there and felt the darkness brains can inflict. He lets us know he sees us, he’s been there and he offers us hope as he croons in the chorus:
Don’t let this darkness fool you
All lights turned off can be turned on
I’ll drive, I’ll drive all night
I’ll call your mom
Oh, dear, don’t be discouraged
I’ve been exactly where you are.
But Kahan doesn’t discount how hard the journey to recovery can be. He recognizes the difficulty in the bridge:
Medicate, meditate, swear your soul to Jesus
Throw a punch, fall in love, give yourself a reason
Don’t wanna drive another mile wondering if you’re breathing
So, won’t you stay? Won’t you stay? Won’t you stay with me?
Perhaps what I admire most about Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) and Kahan’s artistry, in general, is how the songs function in conversation with one another, creating a raw, cohesive story about the cycles of mental illness and recovery, especially as we try to love ourselves and others through them. With the release of We’ll All Be Here Forever, Kahan announced the founding of his mental health initiative The Busyhead Project, devoted to “unraveling the taboo of mental health and helping others.” The initiative, which will partner with national and local organizations hopes to increase mental health awareness, amplify discussion, and democratize access to resources. As Kahan embarks on his 2023 tour, he is donating a portion of every ticket sold to The Busyhead Project and local organizations.
While the contents of the album are heavy, in “You’re Gonna Go Far,” Kahan continues his quest to extend hope into difficult situations. This is the song where the extended album receives its name. Instead of a title track, the title is found in the lyrics: “We ain’t angry at you love//We’ll be waiting for you love//We’ll all be here forever.”
I’m always fascinated by how artists choose titles for their larger works, so stumbling upon the name of the extended version nestled into lyrics on the 6th new track was an interesting discovery. I assumed the album’s name may have been discussing the immortality of music, but from the lyrics of “You’re Gonna Go Far,” it’s clear that the title is meant to illumine the point in recovery where you repair relationships with loved ones. It’s a good reminder of how the people that matter will be there for you no matter what.
Then comes the final track, the aforementioned extended version of “The View Between Villages.” In the original version, Kahan reminisces on his hometown of Strafford, Vermont. He reflects on the pain of leaving childhood and all the places and people he knew as he journeyed into adulthood. The original version was enough to leave me in tears, possibly because of my own impending transition into true adulthood and proclivity to drive around my hometown alone late at night.
In the extended version, Kahan kept much of the song the same- with the exception of the ending. Instead of the fifty-second organ solo fade to black, Kahan made a surprising choice by including voice recordings from interviews with two long-time Strafford, VT residents, Hazel Lewis and Melvin Coburn. The crackling audio of the two town elders earnestly discussing their love of the community and its impact on their lives intermingling with swelling instrumentals is a masterclass in building anticipation through musical timing and arrangement, as listeners begin to feel goosebumps forming on their skin. Then Kahan delivers his final, emotional punch in the form of an additional outro not included on the original:
The things that I lost here, the people I knew
They got me surrounded for a mile or two
Left at the graveyard, I’m driving past ghosts
Their arms are extended, my eyes start to close
The car’s in reverse, I’m grippin’ the wheel
I’m back between villages, and everything’s still.
“The View Between Villages- Extended” is absolutely my favorite song on the album, but I recommend listening with caution and in private. Perhaps this is my inner nostalgic sap talking, but it’s even harder to hold back tears while listening to the extended version than it is with the original. “The View Between Villages- Extended” is the perfect conclusion to We’ll All Be Here Forever as Kahan delivers the promised emotional catharsis, completing the arc of grief and moving towards acceptance of life’s constant changes.
It’s no surprise that the second half of Kahan’s U.S. tour is already sold-out across the country. Taken as a whole, it’s easy to see just how much thought and care went into these 7 tracks since Stick Season’s original release. While listeners may not be able to relate to every situation Kahan outlines on the album, I personally found it easy to find pieces of myself in nearly every part of the album regardless of circumstance. Kahan’s music feels not just relevant, but urgent, especially to me as I personally embark on my own transition into adulthood after college and grieve the loss of my childhood home. Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) is simultaneously an album for invigorating, late-summer sunset drives with windows rolled down and an album for releasing pent-up emotions at 2 am. It’s a phenomenally complex album thematically, yet each song has its own merit individually.
Noah Kahan is returning to Columbus for a sold-out show in September. If you can’t get tickets, check out our video of Kahan in the Big Room for a small acoustic performance back in February.
-Meredith Whitaker (email@example.com) is a senior at The Ohio State University studying English and Creative Writing.
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