By Madeline Richard ’26 (She/Her)
Though Davidson College is far from Noah Kahan’s Vermont hometown, the New England nostalgia he evokes in Stick Season still feels familiar. The album was released on October 14, and it grapples beautifully with the bittersweet complexity of hometown memories and the people who have shaped us.
Liminality grounds the entire album, and it has roots in Kahan’s Vermont upbringing. As he explained in an interview with Insider, New England stick season “is the time between peak foliage and Halloween and the first snow — when all the leaves are off the trees. It’s a time of transition.” However, Kahan avoids romanticizing this period of ambiguity, even calling stick season “super depressing.” The album interweaves similar vulnerability, and in doing so, it sounds incredibly comforting.
“Northern Attitude” is first on the tracklist, and it anchors the rest of Stick Season. By reflecting on how his hometown has shaped him, Kahan hints at the album’s nostalgic feel and raises questions about how our pasts intersect with our present. More specifically, Kahan blames his imperfections on his upbringing and apologizes for his “northern attitude.” Yet he does not attempt to change himself; rather, he recognizes New England’s harshness as an indelible piece of his story.
Other songs incorporate this bittersweet retrospection, including “New Perspective” and “The View Between Villages.” However, the connection feels clearest in “Homesick.” Kahan even sings “I’m mean because I grew up in New England,” directly linking to “Northern Attitude.” He also references his hometown’s insularity, saying that he has grown “tired of dirt roads named after high school friends’ grandfathers.” But despite these imperfections, he plans to “die in the house that [he] grew up in.” Nostalgia pulls him to his hometown, even at the expense of his dreams.
Kahan references mental health throughout the album, but this theme is clearest in “Orange Juice” and “Growing Sideways.” “Orange Juice” tells the story of a recovering alcoholic, creating a beautifully sensitive song. In “Growing Sideways,” Kahan touches on his experience in therapy and even sings about forgetting his medication: “If my engine works perfect on empty, I guess I’ll drive.” These lyrics are both gorgeous and vulnerable, allowing listeners to connect with Kahan’s struggles and process their own experience. They also add meaningful depth to the album by destigmatizing conversations about mental health.
Several songs explore the weight of lost love. One line from “Stick Season,” the album’s first single, is especially painful: “You once called me ‘forever,’ now you still can’t call me back.” This heartbreak was destructive and even split Kahan “in half.” “Halloween” feels similar, suggesting that an old love still “knows how to haunt” him.
“Still” and “Strawberry Wine” also discuss heartbreak, but unlike the prior two songs, they focus on the difficulty of letting go. Kahan puts it simply in “Still”: “I don’t want to say goodbye.” This lyric echoes throughout the chorus and is charged with emotion. “Strawberry Wine” is similarly bittersweet. Kahan reflects on “strawberry wine and all the time we used to have, those things I miss but know are never coming back.” He knows that the relationship is over, yet still struggles to let go.
Though challenge colors much of the album, two songs remain upbeat. Kahan focuses on an old love interest in “All My Love,” singing “I know your name but not who you are” and suggesting distance between the two. Yet despite their separation, he still cares for this person and insists that “there ain’t a drop of bad blood.” Though the relationship has faded, their love never will. “Everywhere, Everything” seems to reference the same relationship, and it sounds equally sweet. These two songs have a different feel than the rest of the album; however, they reflect on our enduring relationship to our past and connect to Stick Season’s larger themes.
“Come Over” and “She Calls Me Back” address love too, but suggest a persistent fear of insufficiency. This theme is particularly evident in “Come Over,” where Kahan apologizes for his “sad house on Balch Street” and his family’s financial instability. He even reminds his love interest that they “don’t have to tell the other kids at school” about their relationship, further emphasizing his shame. Sadly, his efforts are unsuccessful: “I’m in the business of losing your interest and I turn a profit each time we speak.” Though he insists that he will eventually “be somebody people want,” he does not believe that he is deserving just as he is.
“The View Between Villages” is Stick Season’s final track, and it concludes the album beautifully. Kahan juxtaposes our romanticization of our past with its difficult actuality and creates gorgeous liminality. At first, he reflects on seventeen through a rosy lens, singing “there is meaning on earth” and that he has “dreams again.” Yet this happiness falls apart when he remembers “the things that I lost”; everything washes back over him and he becomes “angry again.” This pain ends the album on a bittersweet note and speaks to the complexity of memory.
Stick season might not have arrived in Davidson quite yet, but Noah Kahan’s newest release is still meaningful. By reflecting on challenging themes with intense vulnerability, Kahan reassures listeners that they are not alone in any struggle. This warmth is both comforting and grounding, so Stick Season is a valuable addition to anyone’s fall soundtrack.
Madeline Richard ‘26 (she/her) is an English major from Baltimore, MD. She can be reached for comment at email@example.com.