above image created by Chris Leamy (of Brain Famine, etc.) & originally used as the cover of the Boston Hassle button comp (2011)
When we started this site it was all about creating a place where we could bring together and shine a light on the many deserving but under-heralded, under-reported upon, and overlooked musical artists operating in Boston and its adjacent creative communities. We hoped that we could change for the better, in some small way, the way that people looked at, participated in, and consumed musical activity in these parts. That was 7+ years ago, and you know I’d already been doing my thing for years before that as BOW Shows / Bodies of Water Arts and Crafts, both online and IRL. It’s 2019, and here I am, and here we are and that’s what we continue to do. Definitely feels like it’s time to do another compilation too… Hey check us out over @ Dorchester Art Project, and keep reading this site! And pick up a Compass while you’re at it! This is around 40 releases that really caught my attention this year, either made right here in Boston, or elsewhere in New England. 2019 here goes. Read my favorite 2018 NOT Boston/ New England list of releases HERE.
Adammmmmmmmmmm – Screen Shot 2018 (abstract/experimental electronics)
Opaque electronics skidding from broken techno into vaporwave car crash with little regard for the listener. Such is the adventure one expects to be hauled on by Adammmmmmmmmmm, who has been kicking it truly bizarre here from les Bean for some years now, and is of course part of the Media_Rins crew (not to mention ____highlightreel, ). “%” is my #1 jam here. Bulldozer bass, wonk, skitter, and my heart is aflitter
Al Marantz – Green Tobacco Hair (Plastic Response Records) (underground pop)
Long established as a lynchpin of Boston’s underground pop community here’s a real sweet record from Al Marantz. Can this guy get a key to the city or something at this point? He’s got to be in the running for most consistently awesome release-er of records on the underground circuit around here. Most recently there was a nice run on OSR, and if you had asked me I *might* have said, “oh I like his earliest, weirdest stuff best,” BUT this record is a stunner. Let’s just go into two of the 13 exquisite songwriting examples presented here. “Resident Dancer” is bringing ol’ Lou back from the dead. What I’m in love w/ are those falsetto backing vocals. Shuffle on baby. And “Deflecting The Laughter”, it’s all about that damn bass groove. It had me from note one. Consider it done. Smooth. Hard to top for #1 pop record of the year around these parts. Read Arcadio Falcon’s review of “Green Tobacco Hair” on the Hassle site from earlier in 2018 HERE
American Whip Appeal – Nevermind (KLYAM) (basement country rock)
James Coarse and the bunch barrel through a whole bunch of Velvets working on the basement tapes jams in Allston and the results are lo-fi and wonderful and raucous and just the kind of folk rock country music I want and the only kind of country music that could and should be made in a place like Boston MA as northerly as we here are and as close to that Atlantic ocean as you know we are. Raise a cold macro brew and sing along.
Andrea Pensado + id m theftable – s/t (noise/experimental music/sound art)
“This self titled release (that’s… Andrea Pensado + id m theftable, in case you haven’t been paying attention) finds the pair haunting Portland, ME spaces on two different evenings for around 20 minutes. The longer form approach suits both performers, allowing them to really stretch it out. Crying, daffy duck sounds, cancer causing electronics, samples more warped than one can usually imagine, divine clatter, dread, fear, AND loathing are all present and accounted for and delivered with a sense of wonder and amazement that, while perhaps off-putting to many, is also uplifting if you happen to be of a certain make up. Put this in your ear freak!” …read the rest of my write up from earlier in 2018 HERE
Anjimile – Colors (Human Nature Records) (indie pop)
All of Anjimile’s recordings have been beautiful. Their albums are full of songs crafted around their unique, multifaceted voice, synthesizing various influences; remaining creative and always inclusive for the listener. Colors grabs me and reminds me of so many of the reasons I fell in love with indie pop music in the first place. “Ipswich” is my #1 here. Probably the most upbeat track on the record, I should have been listening to this one in the summertime. Next summer. Breezy and perfect. Anjimile is the queer pop hero that Boston has long needed. Anjimile is playing a show I’m (we, the Hassle is) throwing @ DAP on 1/25, you should come.
Big Blood & Thunder Crutch – s/t (Donttrusttheruin) (underground electronics/kosmiche/underground pop)
Crucial, though all of their recordings might be, recording here by Portland Maine’s finest band and their partners in crime for this recording, Thunder Crutch. Thunder Crutch is Chuck Bettis and Yuko Tonohira. Big Blood is the coolest family band (a trio) that could be imagined. They came down and played DAP back in 18′ and they were stunning (especially the star of the live show, the youngest of the lot, Quinnisa Rose). I’ll say that “Saturn” is my favorite of these 12 tracks, but I could have chosen quite a few different tracks as my favorite, honestly. Here we find ourselves in some kosmiche-ian landscape. Walls of synth sprouting up all around, stalactites providing the path for the drips to reach the stalagmites. What was I saying? Lost you for a second there… “Underneath He Is A Girl” is also so fantastic! Underground electronics, with wonderful songs thrown into the mix. Wow.
Billy Dean Thomas – Rocky Barboa (hip hop/rap)
Riding atop that Boston hip hop wave is renaissance artist Billy Dean Thomas who is creating one of the most memorable visual representations, lyrical flows, and artistic sensibilities to grace the Boston hip hop scene ever. No hyperbole. Just listen. You can get spotify samples of the whole, excellent, bombastic album here. “Rocky Barboa” vid is below and that tune is fantastic. Nothing else like this coming out of Boston, totally taking on the world with that syncopation, and cashing all checks with their skills on the mic. Billy Dean gave Boston and the world a tongue lashing this year and it felt good. Need more.
Birthday Ass – Baby Syndrome (Erased Tapes) (experimental rock/pop)
Some of that pop curiosity from the greater New England Conservatory crowd. Priya Carlberg, the voice here, is also the main composer. I saw them a bunch this year, and even played a couple shows with them. Super band. Spastic arrangements make them seem wildly out of control, but Priya is working the strings on this whole thing rest assured. “Fruit Toot” is just lovely bent pop.
Blue Ray – GrubHub (noise pop/post-punk)
Spicy af Allston unhinged indie rock scum + more. One of the more exciting bands to emerge out of the stew of Boston this year. I feel like this band could go in any direction with any song. That is exciting. For my old ass, their sound definitely takes it back to the days before “indie rock” collapsed on itself and burned and burned and burned fiery deaths 1000 x 1000 times. “Forgot My Eggroll” is as charming as anything I heard all year. “Teetering Toddler” has killer riffs aplenty of multiple varieties, and I choose them all thank you. I’ll also take the synth too please. The first of 5 records Blue Ray put out this year. All are worth listening to. Want more though.
Boogie Da God – It’s Been Real EP (hip hop/rap)
I love the production on this EP. The samples are all about acoustic instrumentation, guitars, upright, real drums, voices, woodwinds, piano, organ (not acoustic, ok); a mellow mood setting vibe is created very effectively, a faded time of yesteryear is brought to life. This is echoed on the cover of the EP as we see the elevated orange line pass through Roxbury. This is the best overall production for a Boston area release I heard all year. “Hoopty” (production by Senecabeats) knocks me out. Its got hooks, its got a damn Rhodes piano completely vibing the proceedings. That synth bit and beat come in for the chorus and it feels a bit like a revelation. And of of course the rapping is killer. I love this EP. Came out end of 17′ actually. I hope there’s more to hear from this Roxbury MC mad soon.
Corrode – Age of Ruin (hardcore punk)
Blistering western MA hardcore from the creative font/nexus of Meghan Minior/Will Killingsworth (not to negate the other band members). Real wall of sound stuff, really overpowering. Members of bands like Vaccine and Death Evocation among others. The songwriting takes this up a level for me, as it surprises here and there and if brutality is achieved (as it is here) what more could I possibly ask for? Haven’t seen them live, would very much like to soon.
Creative Healing – Low Effort Social Events (Friendship Tapes/ Feeding Tube Records) (experimental rock/art rock)
One of my favorite contemporary bands. They just played the Hassle’s NYE show. Whispers of the Captain. Shhhhhut your mouffff!! Release after release this lot brings it and brings it correct. The rhythm section are luminous stars, unfuckwithable. The guitarist is a superhero. She sings too. The violin and woodwind tandem have had the tag team belt for aeons. And they both sing too. Mia takes the lead. Andy’s sax is dangerous. My favorite here, besides “Andrew W.K.” obviously, is “Brontosaurus.” Cascades of sound. No vocals here but much unholy funk. If I didn’t have a family maybe I would join the cult and follow this band around on tour.
Czarface & MF DOOM – Czarface Meets Metal Face (Get On Down) (hip hop/rap)
Instant classic Boston hip hop record right here. Czarface are themselves a super group of course, being the union of Inspectah Deck (of the Wu Tang Clan) and Boston hip hop stalwarts 7L & Esoteric. On this record released by Boston’s Get On Down label that trio are joined by underground legend MF Doom, who is of course one of the most curious and esoteric MCs of all time. Do I need to say any more? I don’t, but I will say that the classic 90s sounding production (with a modern update) is pretty damn good, especially on tracks like “Phantoms”, “Stun Gun”, and “Bombs Thrown.”
Dee-Parts – Can’t Keep Up // Touch (post-punk/goth pop)
A few songs from what I think is a fairly new band. Gothy pop, but definitely w/ enough kick to call post-punk. Actually 3 songs, so don’t be fooled by that title. The bass and guitar interplay in this band is the big draw, well, besides the just straight up good songwriting. “Touch” is a pretty sweet little tune @ right around 2 minutes. I happen to think this fidelity is perfect for this music. I’m paying attention!
Dutch ReBelle – BANG BANG (hip hop/rap)
It’s a pretty heady time for Boston hip hop. What a deep and multifaceted scene we have going on around here these days. Dutch ReBelle made some great Boston hip hop this year. This BANG BANG album bangs all the way through, as it should with a title like that. “Ms. Cleo” is such a jam. The production is viscous on this one with Ms. ReBelle dropping hooks all over the place. And I mean it’s about Miss Cleo. My other favorites are “Cream of the Crop” and “Fitted Down” both of which are just dangerously infectious (both the flow & production), putting Dutch ReBelle’s pop prowess on full display.
Elizabeth Colour Wheel – Queen Tired (Midnight Werewolf Recs) (grunge/ doom rock)
Only three tracks, but I was led by these tracks back to teenage Dan in the 90s, and I touched my brain while there, and this was good. This music digests something like early Soundgarden left out in the sun for waaaaay too long. All melted n’ shit. In my world that is a fascinating thing that I want to hear and need in my life. Vocalist Lane’s cries can honestly be called banshee-like when our context for listening to them is observing them pierce the dense fog of guitars, drums, and electronics that is ECW. The production on this EP (by Shane Blank mastering by Nate Patsfall @ Artifact Audio) is awesome too, BLOWED THE F OUT. A bewitching 3 tracker that nevertheless clocks in @ just under 30 minutes long. Track 3 shoulda been in a Tarkovsky flick.
Innumerable Forms – Punishment In Flesh (death metal)
Evil music. Thank gods for evil music. Just makes you (me) feel better sometimes. This is definitely some of the most evil music born of Massachusetts this year, dense death and doom metal featuring fantastic lead guitar playing. Justin DeTore (Magic Circle, Mind Eraser) gets a band together for this go around and the results are plain nasty. “Re-Contaminated” is a heathen shame. Devastating riffage and pure mythical beast summoning, ear gouging magic. Plodding. Maniacal. Also “Meaning” sounds like the end of the world. Best metal of the year in Boston.
G. Gordon Gritty – “Scary Terry (Terry Rozier III)” (KLYAM) (outsider/underground rock)
“One of Massachusetts’ resident creepy crawlers G. GORDON GRITTY hits a swish with this one. Sure it’s a sporto song, if you fall off now tho, it’s you’re loss cuzz. Mysteriously this track has me feeling like I’m hanging out with a lower fidelity Miles Davis in the early 70s. Bill Russell is there. He does not approve. This is endearing as F. It’s a nice little anthem for the rest of us who can’t dribble either, but yet also love the improbability of Rozier and the rest of the bunch. Where’d Gritty get those electronics from?? Tell us G.! Outsider Boston dun slimed ya! Video by Ethan Long.” Read my review from 2018 on the Hassle site HERE…
Isabella – Whistle EP (Peder Mannerfelt Produktion) (underground/exp. techno)
Isabella is without question the leading underground electronic dance music producer in the Boston area, and now with Container’s departure for the UK, she may be able to take the throne for all of New England. The Whistle EP floored me, coming out via thee mighty Peder Mannerfelt Produktion. This 12″ is a stunner offering a broad range of sounds and feels, for the dance floor and not. “Penchant” has me deepest in its clutches, a wonky ass melodic rhythm grinding up against some kind of flanged(?) bass that kind of had me wanting to bash my head against the wall to find out what was inside. And of course I mean that in the best way possible. Very exciting stuff from an all star who was nice enough to burn it down @ Hassle Fest for us.
JJ JHNSN – TROG (doombop/out jazz rock)
I honestly don’t know much about this bunch, but I love this record. Allston renaissance man Travis Hagan recorded this deviant “jazz rock” record, and Alex Quinn who plays in Birthday Ass is the main composer and that’s the end of my knowledge. The rest is gleaned purely from listening. Proper jazz chops are obvious, but the music being made dabbles, nay descends, deeply into vortexes of noise rock, and ugly mountains of improvisation are kicked up furiously with great intensity at times. JJ JHSN can make some thrilling music to be sure. I hope this isn’t a one off. “JJ Johnson” could, might be my fav track, that bass slappin’ at it grossly locked with our drummer, got me bouncing. The rest of the band just gives it up to their gods. A ripping “fusion” band that leans nasty is a band that I would like to book a lot in 2019 if possible.
Kadeem – The Game Is The Game (hip hop/rap)
If you’re looking for some of that hip hop with the psychedelic feel, Kadeem is your man. This EP is another 2018 Boston hip hop production star. Digging deeply into his sounds-of-the-past bag, Kadeem pulls out some brilliant soul music and psychedelia and merges it magically with hip hop, allowing the beat to completely drop away at times, but never allowing the music to lose its powerful rhythmic inertia. “Heavy Hands” is a wonder. Production offers a stuttering beat and some some kind of wonderful cosmic synth riff. We have Ray Allen and Liam Neeson references, and a generally laid back flow that is conducive to…let me just step outside for a second, I’ll be right back… Can’t wait to hear what come next from this Mattapan repping MC!
Kathy Snax – The Spooks EP (electronic pop)
Minimalist electronic pop – indie pop – dream pop fever dream from Kathy Snax on her first debut EP. 5 songs. Sparse arrangements set drum machine. So easy to fuck up, but Kathy Snax steered clear of the pitfalls. Way to go Kathy. At its best brings to mind another band from Boston, The Magnetic Fields. Cool EP.
Landowner – Blatant (post-punk)
Clean, clean, clean post-punk sounds. Perfecto, exacto sounds that conjur many bands, yet Landowner remains their own band. These sounds get dragged into new territory by this band and that is what makes Blatant extra special. Mechanics on lock down, but not song ideas on autopilot. I’ll say it again, cuz why not: Landowner plays DAP on 3/17.
Lifeless Dark – Who will Be The Victims? (crust punk/thrash)
Insane speed punk looking toward the smashing together of punk and early death metal/thrash in the mid 80s UK for much of their inspiration. Elaine’s angry bark is exactly what this crusty vibe shredding needs. Only 3 songs (and a cool intro and interlude) but the riffage and songwriting is excellent, not to mention the guitar playing. Really looking forward to more, and hoping there will be more! Band features members of Green Beret, Death Evocation, and Magic Circle among others. RIPS!
Mal Devisa – Shade and the little Creature (exp. rock/soul)
I love Mal Devisa’s voice. On songs here like “Crowd Pleaser” her voice soars over complimentary bare bones backing instrumentation. I like these songs most. But Shade and the little Creature isn’t only about Mal Devisa’s powerful voice. This album is bursting with so many cool ideas and musical thoughts it’s truly invigorating. There’s rap, there’s punk, there’s soul. Everything this singular artist has touched upon in her music over the years is here in the stew of this album, bubbling up in this song or that. What an exciting album (one of three this bassist/singer/songwriter released this year). “Raised In The Pit” is so awesome. I am partial to that fuzz bass though, so…
Moisturizer – One Dozen Donuts (grindcore)
One of the most spazzing and out of control releases I heard all year. They played our Scorched Ear #3. These guys are the fastest and most furious band I saw play all year and on record they are absolutely no different. This is the music that made me want to berate innocent passers by this year. You know, just get up in their grills and yell some shit. I never crossed over the line and did that, but if I had, these guys definitely would have been to blame. Bonus points for one of the guys sounding like Mojo
Jojo when he does the low growl. Sick stuff.
OG Swaggerdick – “Fuck Gentrification” (rap/hip hop)
“Best tune I’ve heard yet addressing the destruction of the Boston I grew up in and as my father would also put it, the Boston he grew up in. OG SWAGGERDICK, long Boston’s greatest oddball rap hope since the days of Edan and Mr. Lif (if you ask me) gives it to us straight. But straight is still w/ a smirk for OG, and that’s part of what’s so appealing about this track. It’s bringing up this capitalist steamroller of a problem, being felt in all cities where people want to live (including our own apparently cherry city), and hopefully getting some conversations started in some places where they may not already be happening (and hopefully getting some people angry in the process). The track isn’t full of answers. It’s more of a “Fuck You” track than a “Here’s some ideas” track.”…read the rest of my write up from earlier in 2018 HERE
Pink Navel – Born On The Stairs (rap/hip hop)
Repeatedly over the last bunch of years Pink Navel has appeared from down on the South Shore and shown me a new and different way to think about local underground hip hop. Over these 12 tunes, many with live backing instrumentation, Navel does it again. An engrossing flow and a musical narrative that refuses to get boxed in will do it to me every time. I want to hear some of that Navel with the ill production though!
Puppy Problems – Sunday Feeling (Sleeper Records) (indie folk/pop)
Bummer/uplifting folk/indie pop from Allston. Has a beautiful shimmering shambolic quality, that is to say this music is magical and ephemeral and fragile and all the rest of it. Touches my heart and mind in ways that not a lot of music I listen to these days often does. Life in these modern times rambles along just as these songs do, and it is often, similarly, bittersweet. “More Water” jangled its way into my heart as my fav out these 10 sweet songs.
Rong/Landowner split (Midnight Werewolf Records) (post-punk/noise rock)
Rong smashed me in the ears this year coming outta Allston w/ some of that high high quality post-punk/noise rock whatever you want to call it loudness. Same goes for Landowner (who you will find more from elsewhere on this list), only they come from western MA and sling a purer “post-punk sound”, possibly. Anyway, what an epic pairing by Midnight Werewolf Records, an Allston underground stalwart who have put out some of Boston’s best underground records over the years. Both Rong and Landowner are among the most exciting bands in MA right now and I cannot wait to see and hear what comes next. FYI: Looks likes I’m doing a show w/ Landowner over @ DAP on 3/17…
Scrolling – Untitled 3″ (end of the world prog grind)
Ummm… you knew that things had to eventually get to this point. The world has started caving in and it’s happening in Allston right now. Guitar and drum machine theatrics of the post-modern hessian variety by one Jacob Schwartz. This is amazing. I only wish it was longer.
Service – Terse (experimental rock/noise rock)
Three songs from this great Allston band who tear it up in the live setting. The guitar work in this band is what really puts them over the top. “Albondigas” shows the full range of Service, working out a full two minutes of a beautiful guitar riff before launching into some underground noise rock proggery. I hear a new album is on the horizon and I am looking forward to it!
Similar Items – Things Can Change (hardcore punk)
Ragged hardcore punk from Salem, sounding like they fell out of the 90s and completely missed all punk since. Thank tha lawd, cuz they sound really great. Got to play a show with these 3 this year and they played Hassle Fest as well. I saw them a couple of other times too. Just a great friggin’ band, doing a sound that no one has fucked with around here this well since White Pages. Hope there’s more than 3 songs coming this year. Read my review from the Hassle site from earlier in the year HERE…
sundog – The Measured Mile (Erased Tapes) (folk rock)
A treasure of an album. 16 curiously chorded indie-folk-rock something tunes, beautiful and strange. Jonathan Nankof runs the very excellent Erased Tapes, which has been quiet this year, but thankfully he did release The Measured Mile, which he also created and wrote. Melancholy comes seeped into the cracks of these songs, so even when the sun shines, it doesn’t shine too brightly. For me “Teach Me No Thing” is a stand out. A meandering track, the melody and song structure are a real ride that I’ve taken on repeat. “Rotary” kills me every time too. I hear a New England lineage to this variety of folk pop. Just a wicked lovely album.
Tarp – Part (Feeding Tube Records) (underground electronics)
Part is an epic electronic wormhole excursion with two of New England’s more tenured musical deviants, Conrad Capistran and Josh Burkett (of Sunburned Hand of the Man and Vermonster respectively, not to get into it too deeply). Nearing the 20 year mark on Tarp’s existence if deepest level electronic splodge is something you like to put in your pipe, then smoke this shit, and hurry!
Thee Amazing Andy California – s/t 7” (Mandinga Records) (garage punk)
King Daddy Garage Punk Andy MacBain is a dirty rat. That’s what he’s singing here anyway. Nobody touches this motherfucker. World class blues scuzzery is in your midst when Thee Amazing Andy California is around. Only 3 songs on this 7″, but each a proper frazzled gem. Put on this record and commit crimes.
Upheaval – Altar of Ash (death/black metal)
“Abyss” just grabs me by the throat and strangles the life out of me. This band is a monster. This album is a sludgy black/death metal thing that grandmothers should not be exposed to (unless they are metal grandmothers). As they are truly brutal and operate in one of my preferred metal strains, these guys are one of my preferred bunch of local metal operators, truly. Amazing live as well. We were lucky enough to have them play Scorched Ear #3 in 2018.
Wendy Eisenberg – Its Shape Is Your Touch (VDSQ) (improv/exp. folk guitar)
VDSQ is no slouch of a label. So obviously they would want to work with Ms. Eisenberg, who is quickly becoming regarded as a guitar heavyweight. She also put out a trio record on Zorn’s Tzadik label this year! I haven’t heard it yet though! Woe is me! Vin Du Select Qualitite is an instrumental guitar label though, so here on this record we find Wendy playing alone. She improvises across 7 tracks on the electric guitar and the tenor banjo and each track is a trip. Lovely folk melodies crumble into discord. Discord prevails and meager rations of melody are doled out to the plebeian ear when the mistress of the guitar pleases. A warm melody comes and goes, and I don’t know what to next expect while listening. And that right there, is why I’m listening. That is why I will be listening to Wendy Eisenberg’s music for a very long time to come. Read Mike Moore’s review of “Its Shape Is Your Touch” on the Hassle site from earlier in 2018 HERE…
Wimp – Vengeance EP (hardcore punk)
Angry and menacing hardcore punk that rumbles, and teeters perfectly while spitting vitriol at the cis-world, the Boston punk scene, self described allies, and hypocrites. I think Wimp is bad ass. “Good Guy Backed Hard” just might be my punk song of the year. Their sound is sludgy and their anger is real and I’m glad to hear them making such a racket in Boston. I for one think it’s great to see such queer anger represented in these parts and hopefully the kids are tuning in. I hope they keep making their music here and I hope they can grow louder and release more music ASAP. Nasty band.
Wound Man – Prehistory (Iron Lung) (hardcore/powerviolence)
Wound Man are a devastating band. Disappointment never arrives while listening to Wound Man. Only punishment. This is the sound of heads being removed… like they do in New Bedford. Iron Lung doesn’t fuck around, and this is not the first record by this gang they’ve put out. Get on the train now, or get run off the track. For my money (I have no money) “Hate Flag” is the baddest of this lot of 9. Ugly. Group chant. Growl. Pummeling, relentless drumming. Nasty riff. MA glory.
Dan is one of the founders and directors of the 501(c)(3) non-profit BRAIN Arts Org which runs this Boston Hassle site, of which he is the Chief, just the Chief. He loves his wife and his 2 boys very much and they live together in Jamaica Plain. When he’s not hanging out with them, or working at one of his 2 non-BRAIN jobs, he writes for this site, plays in the band THIGHS (currently recording), and DJs soul, gospel & rnb music every first thursday in JP @ JESUS DRINKS FREE. Listen to some slightly older music of Dan’s below…