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Review: A Track-By-Track Analysis of Noah Kahan’s new acoustic EP “Cape Elizabeth”

Noah Kahan is an incredibly talented musician, known for his strong voice and musical skill (read more about him here). While in quarantine, he’s been back in his hometown of Strafford, Vermont. During this time, he has recorded and produced music with his friend Phin Choukas. Their acoustic efforts come together on his latest EP Cape Elizabeth. Cape Elizabeth is a small town on the water near the capital of Maine. It’s known for its lighthouses, cycling and a slow-paced lifestyle. Noah draws out the gentle nature of this town on his EP, like waves lapping at the shore.

Noah’s musical and vocal style lend themselves to the nostalgic feeling of the song and album, like an old sweater that’s slightly scratchy but so full of memories that you can’t bear to let it go.

A Troubled Mind

Crackling recording style and rapid guitar introduce the album, like a record playing in the background of a cozy memory at the lake house. Noah’s blends the folky sound of musicians like Bob Dylan and John Denver, with millennial anxieties. The story begins quickly on “Troubled Mind,” matching the tempo of the guitar. Noah shares what it feels like to see the world as an anxious person, explaining that to witness life through the lens of anxiety is to struggle, “I told you, love, if you could see it through my eyes/You’d understand my fear of everything in sight.” 

The chorus builds and Noah’s voice gains strength. He lists worries, “I worry for the sun, yes, I worry for the snow/I worry I’ll die young while I worry I’ll grow old,” and his voice grows quieter and rawer as he sings, “It makes me sad.” The acoustic guitar continues to play as a thumping beat begins. Noah’s voice is layered on top of itself, as his brother Simon Kahan offers background vocals. He chants “worried head” at one point, possibly a call to his hit song “Busyhead.” The chorus loops after Noah shares details about people watching and riding public buses. “A Troubled Mind” sounds like Noah is sitting with his face pressed up against a bus window watching the world go by as he reminisces. In other parts, it looks as though he’s very much in private, crouched with someone close to him, gripping their hand, tears peaking in the corner of his eyes, trying to explain his pain.

 

Close Behind

Fears follow worries as “Close Behind” pours more concern into the album, after “Troubled Mind.” The song opens with Noah saying, “I think I found a fear of mine…” The guitar is similar in sound to the light acoustic on “A Troubled Mind,” with some dark chords twinging in the later verses. During a time where concerns rule the lives of so many, Noah packs these worries into a self-aware reflection on the need to live life without the pain of questioning everything. Birds caw in the background, emphasizing the setting that he’s trying to establish. Noah croons, “And I should change this way of thinking/That all my fears are facts of life/But I could die tomorrow/You’d be close behind.”

Noah shared, “When you hear Cape Elizabeth, I want you to feel like you can escape for a second. I want you to feel recognized and know your thoughts aren’t scary or crazy. I hope you’re drawn into the stories and connect to the characters in the lyrics. Relax, chill out, listen to this, and look out the window.”

 

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My new EP, Cape Elizabeth, is now out everywhere!⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Cape Elizabeth was recorded over one week at my friend Phin Choukas' home studio in Vermont exactly one week after I left New York City in March. Returning to my parent's farm home town of 1100 people from a small apartment in a city of 8.3 million felt like I was returning to some part of me I had left behind, a reunion with that obnoxious, ambitious, and totally terrified teenager with some folk songs and an acoustic guitar who first took off for Showbusiness™ in 2015.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Throughout this crisis, I've spoken to friends who say they feel similarly, like they're back in high school again, back with their old selves. Long grown and emancipated siblings inhabit their old rooms and settle back into long forgotten routines, family dogs think "what the fuck are you doing here? I don't see a Christmas tree." We become who we were, for better or for worse. I wanted to do justice to this experience, and create something that felt like who I used to be: a kid at his friends home studio with an acoustic guitar and a story. Free from the shackles of constant analysis and crippling self criticism, unburdened by the never-ending comparison to those around me, I recorded some raw acoustic tunes about worry and departure. I gave myself a one week deadline, and got to work. Hope you enjoy.

A post shared by Noah Kahan (@noahkahanmusic) on

 

Glue Myself Shut

Noah praises the people who sacrificed for him and stayed in his life, as his talent for musical storytelling is strong on “Glue Myself Shut.” The acoustic guitar utilizes sharper strums on this number. Noah’s voice has a heavier emphasis on the lyrics this time, leaning on a sing-song style. Noah hums in the background, adding to the intensity of the background audio on the track. Noah sings, “We gambled our souls to the summer/We rattled our bones to the thunder/We watched every sunset/Until we got sick of each other,” telling the tale of being in a relationship and not seeing its quality until he “packed his bags.”

Noah explained, “This is my ‘Thank You’ to the fans who stuck around, came to shows, watched my live streams, and listened. I wouldn’t be here without you supporting me. That goes for my label, family, and, especially, the fans.”

“Glue Myself Shut” is about being emotionally closed off, being distant, being flawed, but still having people in life who love and pry past the shell, “And if I glued myself shut/You would find your way in.”

 

Anyway

This track serves as a promise. It’s fingers intertwined, rosy cheeks and cold winter mornings – simple, sweet and temporary moments that feel like they’ll last forever. The same acoustic guitar dips and picks up. Noah wants to stay with someone forever, and he wants them to know that he means it. The consistent guitar plays as Noah sings, “Always, I’ll wait/For sharp glass when you break/I’ll be the light that you can’t make…” The guitar slows at the end of the guitar and fades in and out during the commencement of the bridge, as he continues, “I hope I ain’t the last of what the world left you.”

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It’s not all bad right, Maggie?

A post shared by Noah Kahan (@noahkahanmusic) on

Maine

The conclusion to the Cape Elizabeth Ep, “Maine,” pays homage to the state the real town of the EP, as well as Noah’s New England roots. The track opens with humming, paired with the same acoustic guitar that has filled the project. Birds squawk as the song begins, like venturing out onto a hiking trail or walk, early in the morning – as though the song is awakening the same way nature and the world does. 

The song is a bittersweet reflection on a love lost. Noah’s lyrics are pure poetry, packing in detail and personality, referring to habits and inside jokes. He sings, “You don’t hate the summers/You’re just afraid of the space/Asking strangers for answers/To forget what they say.” He artfully uses the cape town as a metaphor for the personality and detail of what they had, “‘Cause this town’s just an ocean now.”

His voice is slightly bitter, but the vocal runs he adds are light and airy – like a sea breeze. The guitar is more substantial in this track than the other songs on the EP. He sings about these moments, frozen in time between them, “…And my dad still tells me when they’re playing your songs/Laughing at the way that you would say ‘If only, baby, there were cameras in the traffic lights/They’d make me a star…'”

In the post-chorus, Noah cries out, “I wanna go to Maine, mmm/I wanna go to Maine, oh.” Noah misses being in Maine with the subject of the song. He misses the jokes and joy. He doesn’t miss Maine, but instead he misses the way she made him feel there. Maine is just another state without the relationship – or as he said, it’s “just an ocean” without what they had.

The guitar dies down and Noah concludes the EP and song with even more memories, singing about leaving Maine and heading for the city. Noah sings, “Once you’ve had your change of heart/’Cause we’re no more than the fossils/On Crescent Beach State Park/And we used to sing along to church bells on Sundays/And can you even hear em from the subway now?…” He refers to state parks, churches and fossils – all of which memorialize and preserve something that once was something spectacular, but that is no longer entirely the same.

 

You can stream Cape Elizabeth everywhere now.

 

Feature image courtesy of Republic Records

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Written By

Helen Ehrlich is a writer who enjoys politics, music, all things literary, activism and charity work. She lives in America where she attends school.

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