On November 10, Noah Kahan (popularly referred to as “Vermont Hozier”), and the real Hozier released an updated version of Kahan’s “Northern Attitude,” the opening track on his 2022 album Stick Season. The latest of several collaborations, the song comes after Kahan’s performance at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, Tennessee on Oct. 4. There, Kahan introduced Hozier mid-“Northern Attitude,” and the two sang the song as a duet. Kahan later teased the upcoming track on his TikTok before announcing its November release on all platforms.
The collaboration is Kahan’s fourth in a series of Stick Season songs with other artists, the others being “She Calls Me Back (with Kacey Musgraves),“Dial Drunk (with Post Malone),” and “Call Your Mom (with Lizzy McAlpine).” In an interview with Rolling Stone on these releases, Kahan said, “I wanted to do more with Stick Season, but I did the deluxe edition and thought it would be redundant to do an ‘extra deluxe deluxe edition.’ But as I tour, and I don’t have a ton of time to write and record new music, I wanted to live in this world and expand it—offer people a new paradigm, so when they’re seeing things live there’s more context.”
Most of Kahan’s duets thus far have featured additional verses that further the meaning of his songs. In “She Calls Me Back,” for example, listeners are treated to the additional perspective of the women he sings about, voiced by Musgraves. However, “Northern Attitude” instead sticks to his original lyrics, mimicking the style of his “Call Your Mom” collaboration. This lack of new content does not necessarily take away from the music, but compared to the emotion of the new verses in his “She Calls Me Back” and “Dial Drunk” duets, these carbon copies are much less impactful.
The song opens the same way as the classic version, with Kahan singing the first verse and chorus alone. Then Hozier takes the second verse, embracing a much stronger Irish accent than is present in the majority of his own songs. His vocals are undoubtedly beautiful, but Kahan’s songwriting and rhythm lacks the belting quality that is Hozier’s place to shine. It’s just not the best way to showcase Hozier’s voice, range, and energy; if anything, he sounds a bit held back by the song.
However, right after the second verse comes the project’s best moments. Hozier takes on the backup vocals, utilizing the full belting strength that is characteristic of his music. These details are what really enhance the song, adding the necessary emotion and energy to distinguish it from the solo version. However, even these bits of genius feel muted in volume, as if they’re coming from the next room.
The harmonizing chorus that follows is certainly strong, but at times it feels like the volume and strength of Kahan’s voice drowns out Hozier’s. With the echoing style of the original being repeated here, it can be difficult to discern the second voice if a listener does not know to look for it. The backup vocals continue throughout, and these emotional belts are what really tie the two singers together, with Kahan’s “oh-oh-oh”s and Hozier’s “hey, hey,”s artfully overlapping in a raw and emotional pattern. The song’s conclusion possesses the same strong qualities as its backup vocals; as the track slows, the two voices become distinct and the harmony blends without losing either of the singers’ individuality.
Overall, the production of this version just doesn’t align with its message. The original “Northern Attitude,” represents a sole singer reckoning with himself, remembering his darkest moments and acknowledging his greatest faults. Although the tune is energetic and upbeat, Kahan’s voice is raw and desperate as he begs for forgiveness and full of energy and passion as he blames his New England environment for its cruel effects. In accommodating two voices, the duet version lost its edge, and the multi-voice chorus, although captivating, makes the message feel weaker. The energy is just undeniably off. It’s not necessarily bad, but not nearly as strong as the original.
Furthermore, with the addition of another voice, less time is dedicated to the instrumentals of the track, and they too become lost. In the original, the guitar starts off soft and smooth as Kahan remembers his worst moments and memories. The plucking and underlying drumbeat then increase in intensity as he starts to blame his environment and beg for forgiveness, the most emotional parts of the song. At times, the instrumentals feel like Kahan’s counterpart in the song, often coming to full volume at times when Kahan is silent. In the duet, by contrast, there are just so many sounds to absorb that the instrumentals, although musically just as strong, have much less of an impact, tragically losing the listener’s focus.
The lyrics of “Northern Attitude” speak to isolation and a closed off heart, and perhaps that is why it struggles to incorporate another artist, since the presence of two voices undercuts its messages of solitude. Although Kahan in his solo version finds his way out of the dark winter to ask for patience with his self-built walls, there isn’t a need for him to ask for forgiveness in this collaboration. The song is still strong and an enjoyable addition to Kahan’s line of recent duets. But when faced with the depth added by Musgraves’ additional verse, Malone’s personal style, or the distinctively different voice of McAlpine, Kahan’s duet with Hozier falls short.
With Kahan’s ongoing tour, it is impressive that he is continuing to produce new music. In fact, he has confirmed that there are more collaborations coming, and with a “a very specific idea for ‘You’re Gonna Go Far,’” as he told Rolling Stone, new lyrics and perspectives are hopefully still to come from his songs with more distinct storylines. While this project was a bit lackluster, Kahan has not lost his magic, and will hopefully find his footing in future duets as well as balance new releases with his upcoming tour. Until then, I will stick to the original release.