Noah Kahan’s new album, Stick Season, is an homage to hometowns. Released on Oct. 14, Stick Season is Kahan’s third studio album. Its title track gained massive traction on TikTok in 2020, when it was first released as a teaser. The enthusiasm was well-deserved. Fast-paced and brutal, “Stick Season,” which has amassed over 57 million streams on Spotify, is an unflinching account of a good relationship gone bad.
The thirteen songs that accompany the title track are equally deserving of praise, each meditating over absences and distances in turn. Kahan examines his childhood in Vermont and the defamiliarization accompanying his return to the state as an adult. The singer’s stripped-back folk acoustics allow his vivid lyricism to shine through, lending Stick Season both rawness and intimacy.
Storytelling is Kahan’s true strength on this album. “Orange Juice” welcomes home a newly sober loved one. “Growing Sideways” recounts the vicious, cyclic process of recovering from mental illness. “New Perspectives” recounts the slow growth of a small town.
A particular melancholy permeates many of Kahan’s songs, but not all of them are sad. “She Calls Me Back” is upbeat, brilliant, and sweet. On “All My Love,” Kahan captures the strange, masochistic geniality of a breakup devoid of anger.
Kahan’s simplest lyrics are his most effective. “If I could lose you, I would,” he admits in “Strawberry Wine.” “Why’d you go?” he asks in “Orange Juice.” In “Come Over,” he confesses quietly, “Someday I’m gonna be / somebody people want.”
The word nostalgic would be an obvious qualifier for the album—Stick Season is all about leaving and returning home. But there is something thorny about Kahan’s music. Rather than being sweet or lilting, the chorus of “Homesick” has Kahan belting, “I would leave if only I could find a reason / I’m mean because I grew up in New England.”
In the album’s final track, “The View Between Villages,” the singer drives through his hometown and realizes, “I’m angry again.” For Kahan—as for many of us—the sentiments surrounding home are antithetical; we are constantly in flux between being homesick and being sick of home.
Stick season refers to the brief, bleak time of year after the leaves have fallen and before the first snow. The title is fitting. Listening to Kahan’s music, we get the sense of a landscape stripped to its bare essentials, of a hometown that has been hollowed out. Most impressive, perhaps, are the feelings Kahan gives you in the moments after the album is finished: lurching, somber, and yearning. It is a brutal silence, the type that only comes with the sudden, terrible knowledge of a thing irrevocably lost.