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'Stick Season (Forever)' Solidifies Noah Kahan as the King of Indie Folk, by Abby Adamson

Two weeks ago, Noah Kahan released his long-awaited record, Stick Season (Forever). The 30-track album is an amalgamation of his previously released songs from the wildly successful Stick Season album and a series of new collaborations with legendary artists in today’s music scene. Together, they create what I think is Noah Kahan’s mark on the music industry, bringing the indie folk genre into the mainstream in an unprecedented way.

Kahan is known for his catchy folk guitar lines and vulnerable lyrics, which address his love-hate relationship with his hometown of Strafford, Vermont, as well as his struggles with mental health. Though he’s been releasing music on Spotify since 2017, his name only began circulating in mainstream music around the time of the Stick Season album release in 2022. Since then, his popularity has grown exponentially.

Eight months after the successful release of Stick Season, Kahan returned to the scene with Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever), a re-release that included seven new tracks. The record featured a mix of upbeat, danceable country tunes along with several heartbreakingly sad folk tearjerkers. That summer, the album launched him even further into the spotlight as songs like Dial Drunk,” “You’re Gonna Go Far and The View Between Villages – Extended began to accumulate millions of streams. 

Even after his success, Kahan had nowhere to go but up. In July, just a month after the release of Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever), he released a collaboration on his song Dial Drunk with Post Malone, starting a trail of collaborations that would become the final upgrade to the Stick Season album: Stick Season (Forever).

This may be controversial, but I’ve never been a Post Malone fan. I don’t enjoy his rapping, and I like his singing voice even less. Despite my personal opinion toward the artist, his duet with Kahan featuring a new verse became a radio hit overnight, so I’ve heard it more than any other collab on the album. 

Malone’s voice on the track is surprisingly tolerable, and I chalk it up to the genre of the song. “Dial Drunk” is the closest Kahan gets to country on his album, and Malone’s voice fits the genre shockingly well. I don’t think his verse is particularly strong lyrically, but overall, he brought a vibe to the track that was fresh and unexpected.

A few months later, in September, Kahan released a collaboration on his song Call Your Mom with up-and-coming indie artist and “Ceilings” singer Lizzy McAlpine. I’m a massive fan of Lizzy McAlpine (and I coincidentally broke up with my boyfriend the same day the collab was released), so saying I cried like a baby when I heard Kahan and McAlpine’s voices is an understatement. 

“Call Your Mom” is a beautiful yet shattering piece about trying to save the life of a close friend struggling in a battle with depression. Where Kahan offers an air of vulnerability to the track, McAlpine brings her signature gentle tone that complements the sensitive subject matter and Kahan’s vocals. This collab wasn’t everyone’s favorite when it hit Spotify — which is fair to a degree since her track didn’t offer new lyrics or melodies — but it’s become one of my favorites from the new album.

In October, another collab hit listeners’ ears: She Calls Me Back with Kacey Musgraves. While not one of the strongest collabs on the album, I still really enjoyed Musgraves’ addition to the song in the second verse — she mirrors some of Kahan’s original lyrics from the perspective of Kahan’s ex, adding a playful yet meaningful revision to the song and providing another viewpoint. Her verse confirms that while he’s still devoted to her and waiting by the phone for her to call, she has moved away and moved on, which I find both sad and lyrically clever. 

Everyone eagerly awaited November’s collaboration with Noah Kahan after the pattern of duets had become clear, and it didn’t disappoint. Kahan released a collaboration with Hozier on one of his more popular songs, Northern Attitude.” The song tackles hesitation, fear and the impact an isolating environment can have on new relationships. 

The “Northern Attitude” collab is my second favorite duo on the album, though as someone who’s had Hozier as her top artist on Spotify for multiple years, I may be a bit biased. My love for Hozier aside, “Northern Attitude” is popular for good reason — the lyrics are vulnerable and the folky hook is insanely catchy. The addition of Hozier’s voice, even without a verse of his own, adds something angsty and raw to the track that I don’t get almost anywhere else on the album. His reverbed belting in the back provides an almost ethereal element to an already strong single. No notes.

Unfortunately, December’s collab didn’t strike me in the same way. On the first of the month, Kahan released an Everywhere, Everything duet with Gracie Abrams. Before this release, I had only heard her name when she opened for Taylor Swift on her Eras Tour. I had never listened to her music before her partnership with Kahan, and after hearing the track, I can’t say I feel like I’ve been missing out.

While other artists seem to have added something unique to each of Noah Kahan’s tracks, Abrams simply falls short. “Everywhere, Everything” isn’t a quiet song by any means; even with its sweet and sappy lyrics, Abrams’ — for lack of a better word — “cursive” voice sounds disjointed with the atmosphere the song creates. Even when singing together, Kahan and Abrams sound completely separate; he belts through the chorus while Abrams’ voice falls somewhere quietly underneath his. For such a lovable song, this collaboration was a major disappointment for me.

In January, the last of the duetted singles released: Homesick with Sam Fender. Fender was another artist I hadn’t heard of previously, but his rock-leaning voice is a new and refreshing addition to the record. Fender, who grew up in the UK, wrote a second verse that reflects his childhood overseas and his struggles similar to Kahan’s about leaving home. His story melds perfectly with the sentiments in Kahan’s original lyrics.

Fender’s presence on the track adds a grit that wasn’t there before in the best way. I’m partial to rock influences, so the mix of folk and rock on a relatable song about feeling stuck in a small town feels like such a perfect mashup of all my favorite things.

On February 9th, Stick Season (Forever) finally reached our ears, with all six months of collabs and three new tracks: “You’re Gonna Go Far with Brandi Carlile, Paul Reverewith Gregory Alan Isakov and a solo track titled Forever.”

“You’re Gonna Go Far” is one of the most popular songs from Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever), so it makes sense that Kahan worked with a legend like Brandi Carlile on the re-release. Carlile isn’t in my usual playlists, but I think she was a great choice for the style of the song — she adds a familiar, warm tone to it that makes the bittersweetness of the song even more gut-wrenching. It’s even better after finding out that Kahan’s mother is obsessed with Carlile, too.

The final collaboration is hands-down my favorite of the eight. Gregory Alan Isakov is one of the kings in today’s folk scene and one of my favorite artists of all time. Pairing him with my favorite song from the album, “Paul Revere,” was a match made in heaven. Even without a new second verse, his voice is smooth, clear vocals and harmonies match perfectly with the track, and I’ve had it on repeat every day since it was released.

The final song, “Forever,” was teased on TikTok for long enough that I was sufficiently driven crazy. It was the first track I listened to from the new record, and it’s definitely a headphones-in, eyes-closed experience. The song was inspired by Bon Iver, which is especially apparent in the first minute and a half’s falsetto, but the song then turns more toward stomp-and-holler (which I love). 

The song explores themes of love, commitment and nostalgia as he sings, “And, the edges of your soul, I haven’t seen yet / Now I’m glad I get forever to see where you went.” As usual, his lyrics lean on the vulnerable side, allowing listeners to connect to him and his music quite intimately. After several listens, it’s becoming one of my new favorites, and the writing is one of the main reasons why.

So, Noah Kahan released a third iteration of his album with collaborations. What does this mean for his career?

Since Kahan worked with both larger and smaller artists on this project, he has found the ideal way to boost his career while helping up-and-coming artists across multiple genres. On top of that, he now has eight major connections in the industry to reach back out to for future projects (or just a star-studded hangout).

It’s worked, too — Kahan’s monthly listeners on Spotify are at an all-time high (right on the verge of 37.5 million), his album is topping the charts, and he recently was nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys. The versatility of his music has allowed him to solidify his place in the music industry while bringing his indie folk style to the mainstream. 

Noah Kahan is definitely a name that’s here to stay, and the sky is the limit for his career. It’s only a matter of time before he releases new music, so if you haven’t listened to Stick Season (Forever) yet, grab your headphones, settle in under a blanket, and settle in for an emotional rollercoaster.

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