The Forever Season: The Conclusion of Noah Kahan’s Most Unfiltered Era

If you’ve never heard Noah Kahan before, you could probably still recognize his music. With a career spanning almost a decade including an explosion of popularity after the release of his third album, Stick Season, in 2022, Kahan has claimed a special position in the indie-folk industry. There is an undeniably unique and overwhelming sensory experience in his music, perhaps not entirely from the backing track, but more specifically in his lyrics. 

One of the reasons Kahan’s newest album, Stick Season, enjoyed such positive mainstream success is his ability to write so organically, taking raw experiences of living in your small hometown, dealing with mental health challenges and potentially toxic coping mechanisms, processing heartbreak and unrequited love, uncertainty regarding the future and contempt at others for their perceived certainty, familial trauma, and substance abuse, and addressing at face value how unhealthily we often choose to cope with these issues. Kahan’s honesty is his strong point. He voices fears, anxieties, and experiences through his music that, even without an upbringing in a small town in Vermont—the setting of a majority of Kahan’s songs— is still relatable to a growing audience around the world.Another one of Kahan’s strengths as an artist is in his collaborations. On Feb. 9, 2024, Kahan released an extended edition of his album Stick Season titled Forever, featuring an entirely new song “Forever” and seven previously released songs with new features from Post Malone, Brandi Carlile, Hozier and other artists of similar fame in the singer-songwriter community. In an album as personal as Stick Season, the introduction of additional artists adds a fascinating new level to the themes of the individual songs and how they are communicated to the audience.

Dial Drunk
(Featuring Post Malone)

Of all the collaborations on the album, Post Malone’s was the least surprising. Both artists have a similar approach to their music, writing primarily about their struggles with mental health and substance abuse and how it affects their relationships with others. On a more musical level, Post Malone’s more nasally, gruff voice pairs well with Kahan’s, creating a partnership that adds to the very rough-around-the-edges vibe of the song’s story. Although I still prefer the original version of the song because of the way Kahan’s solo singing progresses the story, Post Malone’s additional lyrics, mostly surrounding the main character’s history of substance abuse, adds new layers to the story we may not have seen without them.

Call Your Mom
(Featuring Lizzy McAlpine)

For such a poignant, vulnerable song as “Call Your Mom”, Lizzy McAlpine was a very fitting choice for a feature. As a solo artist, McAlpine boasts a very soft, melodic voice that reflects the heartbreaking and tender tones of her songs. In a song about trying to help someone you love through a mental health crisis, McAlpine’s voice emphasizes the vulnerable undertones of the lyrics. The song truly is a beautiful ode to the selflessness of love, but could have been more powerful if McAlpine, like Post Malone, added new lyrics to the song, perhaps giving listeners a new perspective to the situation or fleshing out the theme of unconditional love for a suffering loved one more. Although McAlpine’s impressive vocal range is not exhibited as much as it could have been in this feature, the collaboration is still an incredibly moving celebration of the two artists’ songwriting abilities. 

She Calls Me Back
(Featuring Kacey Musgraves)

Kacey Musgraves’s feature, although unexpected, is a hidden gem in the album’s extended cut. Out of all the artists on the album, Musgraves’ discography is the most different from Kahan’s, leaving a lot of confusion and uncertainty around the final product of the collab. In the end, Musgraves and Kahan ultimately created one of the best songs on the album. Through both the addition of Musgraves’s southern accent and expansive vocal range, her verse adds a new layer of complexity onto a song about the difficulties of a new relationship, allowing us to see more of the faults in both Kahan and his love interest in the story. The feature serves as more of a traditional duet, as both singers “speak” to each other as the song progresses.

Northern Attitude
(Featuring Hozier)

As a die-hard Hozier fan, I was the most excited for this collab, and for good reason. Hozier and Kahan’s discographies parallel each other, with similar approaches to their lyricism and the ways in which they utilize storytelling in their songs. It was only a matter of time until Hozier and Kahan collaborated, and it couldn’t have been for a better song. Hozier and Kahan bounce off of each other, allowing Hozier’s vocals to, in a nearly literal sense, soar above the backing track. This song also closely resembles songs from Hozier’s own discography, making the feature feel less forced. For me, this is the only song on the extended version I prefer over the original.

Everywhere, Everything
(Featuring Gracie Abrams)

On its own, “Everywhere, Everything” functions as an authentic and genuine proclamation of love. Unlike many modern love songs, Kahan addresses both the flaws of himself and his love interest plainly with a strong presence of emotion in his lyrics and vocals. At first, Gracie Abrams’s feature on this song specifically did not make much sense, as her solo career boasts a softer, more reserved sound and lyrical tone that doesn’t match the sweeping, very emotional sound of Kahan’s confessional. Ultimately, Kahan’s choice in Abrams as a collaborator doesn’t make sense until the two are singing together. Paired with Kahan’s emotions, Abrams makes the song more tender and heartfelt in her gentler vocals, adding to the overall intimate theme of the song which may be lost to the triumphant back track of the song.

Homesick
(Featuring Sam Fender)

Sam Fender, like Noah Kahan, was introduced to me in the passenger seat of my brother’s car driving around on a summer night with all the windows down, an introduction Fender himself embodies. Both Fender and Kahan have very ‘reckless’ voices with emotion that adds to the raw anger of the lyricism. Fender’s new second verse also continues to expand on the relatability of the song’s underlying message of the complex relationships many people have adapted with their hometown. Like Hozier, their two voices work together naturally, making the song feel as organic as the rest of the original versions of the songs.

You’re Gonna Go Far
(Featuring Brandi Carlile)

Brandi Carlile, for me and a vast number of people who grew up in the early 2000s, is the epitome of nostalgia. There’s a timeless quality and strength to her vocals that makes her singing so powerful and her lyricism all the more poignant. To include her on this track was one of Kahan’s best creative decisions on Forever. On a song that centers around the process of leaving your hometown to pursue something greater, Carlile’s vocal strength and maturity takes the song to greater musical heights and adds to the sentimentality of the song itself. Although a completely new second verse could have showcased Carlile’s lyrical talent, her vocals alone added enough to the song to make this feature one of the greatest on the album. The best, or maybe worst, time to listen to this song is in your childhood kitchen with your mom, talking about college, the future, and every other thing under the sun. There is a specific duality in the bittersweet longing to be home and acknowledgement that you have to leave that Carlile and Kahan capture so beautifully.

Paul Revere
(Featuring Gregory Alan Isakov)

Although it’s not commonly thought of as Kahan’s “cornerstone” song, Paul Revere effectively captures a repeating theme in many of his songs; the desire to leave everything behind in his small hometown where everything seems to have gone wrong and completely change his life. The choice to include this as the last song on the album is an extremely important one to the album itself. Although in the end, Isakov’s feature did not add anything new lyrically, his older, more rough-around-the-edges voice adds an additional level to the song’s complexity, as if Kahan is singing with an older version of himself. It is not the best feature on the album, but in the end, it does make the most sense for this song and the ending of such a massive creative project as Forever.

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