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‘I’m mean because I grew up in New England’: Noah Kahan’s newest album rings with nostalgia

Noah Kahan's third studio album, "Stick Season," transports listeners to a small New England town on a crisp autumn day.
Noah Kahan's third studio album, "Stick Season," transports listeners to a small New England town on a crisp autumn day.

When I listen to Noah Kahan’s recently released album, “Stick Season,” I am transported to a rundown paved road in a small Vermont town.

The air feels crisp but not chilling, and even though I may have never entered this town before, a sense of warmth and nostalgia fills my heart. As I drive, I pass little red barns and steep wooded mountains that seem to paint the sky in the distance. 

Kahan, a Stafford, Vermont native, evokes the emotions I’ve felt when I drive from my hometown in New Jersey up to the small, quiet towns of New England, woven between steep mountains and flowing streams.

Kahan’s latest songs sound like they were perfectly crafted for a coming of age film. The light sprinkling of the airy banjo mixed with the depth and strength of the guitar sounds reminiscent of deep colored evergreens mixed with tall oaks enveloping a New England road on a cloudy autumn day. The combination of dark green foliage contrasted by the warm, glowing yellows makes the surroundings feel balanced and calm.

I was surprised when I saw that Kahan’s album didn’t begin with his single, “Stick Season,” which gained popularity on TikTok.

But as I listened to the first track on the album, “Northern Attitude,” I completely understood the choice. As Kahan introduces the chorus, the tempo and volume of the instruments start to incline, just like the winding roads of Vermont. 

The build to Kahan’s cathartic confession paints the memory of driving through New Hampshire or Maine on an early morning. The blaring sun peaks through the trees and blinds your eyes with a golden hue that complements the changing leaves. As the car goes faster, climbing higher and higher, the trees start to blur, but a feeling of excitement remains constant. 

“If I get too close, and I’m not how you hoped,” he sings. “Forgive my northern attitude / Oh, I was raised out in the cold / If the sun don’t rise, ‘til the summertime / Forgive my northern attitude / Oh, I was raised on little light.”

Kahan expresses his inner conflict with confronting his honest feelings and coming to terms with love, loss and his struggle to face his ambition.

His words are rooted in the New England mentality of independence, and I’m not using “independence” to sound boastful or to make the argument that people on the East Coast are the best. In New England, this sense of independence sometimes feels isolating rather than empowering.

Maybe it’s because we grow up in a hurry searching to move on to one of the bigger surrounding cities that makes us think we don’t have time to express our feelings to others and make ourselves vulnerable.

In “Homesick,” one of his grittier songs on the album, he sings, “I would leave if only I could find a reason / I’m mean because I grew up in New England.”

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Embedded in his songs there’s youthfulness yet nostalgia, bitterness but also a sense of hopefulness that wraps around you like a personal, warm and supportive hug from Kahan.

Even though I go to school far away from New England and my home, Ohio — and especially Miami — still provides glimpses of this album. Maybe it’s because I have also created a home at Miami, and I’m a sucker for Oxford in the fall, with the changing leaves accented by the iconic red brick, but I hope other listeners find comfort in Kahan’s words.

Because it is true, the people here make “Ohio feel just like Central Park.”