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Music, Mental Health and Me: My Thoughts on Noah Kahan's 'Stick Season'

I have never reviewed an album. And I still won’t have done by the time I’ve finished writing this. I am not even remotely qualified to comment on the musical intricacies or technical skill that goes into making an album. Nor will I attempt to. However, I wanted to talk about an album that came out in 2022, and how it affected me. So, here is the review (that isn’t a review but is some form of commentary that doesn’t fit into a category) of Noah Kahan’s Stick Season.

Firstly, Noah Kahan is incredibly gifted. I maintain that I don’t know enough to comment properly, but I do know enough about music to be able to tell the difference between basic, formulaic melodies and the real thing. Throughout the entire album you’re aware that you are listening to something special. But the music isn’t what makes this album something that I am compelled to write about; it’s the storytelling. There were so many occasions as I listened to the album for the first time where I said, “how is this man inside my head?”. He was saying things with such eloquence that I had not found the words for, and not for lack of trying. And although I am not without a healthy ego, I couldn’t be so bold as to assume Mr Kahan - a New England native - had chosen to write his album about a Yorkshire bloke he’d never met. Which leads me to believe there are other people, all over the world, listening to this album and saying, “how is this man inside my head?”.

This was a brand-new experience for me. For a long time, I have listened to bands who could tell a story. My headphones are often filled with the poetry of Death Cab for Cutie, The Weakerthans and Ben Howard. But they often seemed to voice the person I wished I was. Lines spoken by the idealised version of Tom Osborne, who led a far more dramatic and interesting life than the one who was more concerned as to whether rent could be paid and whether the LA Lakers won last night. Stick Season had so many songs that spoke to who I am, flaws and all, and that was an incredibly eye-opening experience. For the words of someone else to trigger such self-reflection was not something that had ever happened to me. That feeling that someone else is speaking for you is unique to art and is the reason that human beings keep falling back on theatre, storytelling, and performance to express emotion. But it’s a rare thing when you feel like someone isn’t just saying things you agree with but is allowing sentiments and thoughts that have only existed inside your head to be brought to life. I have been acting for about 18 years and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to express a character’s thoughts the way this album seemed to express mine. I’m not sure whether that’s brilliant or terrifying. Probably both.

This album also made me reflect on my own mental health and how I viewed it. The last 2-3 years have been incredibly difficult, although 2022 was very much a year of recovery. I’ve hit catastrophic lows, and often wondered when the time would come that I could label myself as ‘fixed’. But listening to songs such as ‘Growing Sideways’ changed that. Hearing someone else say that it’s okay not to be fixed and actually just aiming to get healthier - whatever that looked like - lifted a weight I thought would be ever-present off my back. Noah Kahan has said that he was told, after he performed the first song he ever wrote at a school talent show, that he should go to therapy due to the bleakness of the lyrics. Yet it’s the stark nature of that same lyrical style that have resonated so poignantly with me. There’s something about it being a man who was saying this to me, in a world where we are still throwing off the restrictions of gender stereotypes, that made me believe it was genuinely possible to recover without needing to be the same as I was before my depression, and that that was okay. It also made me realise that there’s an awful lot I still haven’t come to terms with. Tracks such as ‘Homesick’ and ‘Northern Attitude’ made me reconsider my relationship with my hometown. ‘Orange Juice’ spoke to my sobriety and the people that had both supported me and made me feel ostracized for it. Now, I’m not saying listening to a single album is an adequate substitute for proper mental health treatment, where saying ‘stick some good music on, have a cuppa and chat with your mates’ seems to be a way to gloss over the reasons why our mental health services are in such heinous dire straits. But music has incredible power to help people who are struggling, and this album did that for me. So cheers, Noah.

I have an incredibly eclectic music taste, ranging from metal to show tunes, indie rock to grime. So many artists have appeared in my most played, as I obsess over them for a period and then allow them to fade to the background of my playlists. There are always staples, the bedrock of my musical repertoire. I consume so many forms of art, plays, podcasts, films, all of which I adore. But Noah Kahan, and this album in particular, has cemented itself in a very special place in my library. When I want to hear something from myself that I’m not brave enough to admit, or maybe haven’t realised yet, there will be a lyric that does the job for me. I’m not even necessarily recommending this album specifically (although if you haven’t listened to it, you definitely should!) but what I am saying is find some art, whether that be music, theatre, sculpture, or dance, and let it speak to you for a bit. You may learn more about yourself than you realise.


Tom is a writer, actor and trainee stage combat instructor from Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Growing up with a huge interest in politics, music and sport, he often combines all of these in his performing work. Follow him on Instagram @Tom_M_Eastwood.

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