Chris Collins is a music editor for the Boston Hassle website, and coordinates a wide swathe of the Hassle organization’s other myriad endeavors. He also spends pretty much all his free time going to shows. He’s also that guy who’s always asking you for money at the door of Hassle shows. Say hi sometime – he won’t bite.
OK so it’s (maybe) almost too late to post a ‘year in review’ article this late in January, but who cares – 2013 rocked HARD and ya’ll need to know just how hard. Below is a list of my favorite local bands of the past year. These days, I struggle to maintain interest in bands I don’t see live. I know there’s a lot out there in the world (almost too much) but Boston bands (and New England bands that visit Boston often) have carved out a special place in my heart, and they just refuse to move out. All these band’s have great records worth a listen or two, but I strongly recommend you see these guys live. Because nothing compares to the live experience.
Happy Jawbone Family Band
This bunch of Brattleboro, VT buddies have that tossled, stuck in bed forever feel. They’ve been working hard for years and earned a dedicated, rapturous following, and it makes sense. What first may sound sloppy, unpolished and lackadasical soon reveals itself to be an intricate webbing of hazy metaphors and indelibly catchy melodies that gradually enclose you in their fantastical dream world. These are basement anthems for the anti-hero in us all. They played Boston a lot last year, and their boisterous, inspiring performances got better each time.
So so happy to witness the reunion of this band after a two year hiatus. Their 2011 digital demo is (still) stuck in my music player and my head. This is enthusiastic garage pop that challenges you to overcome negative thoughts, beckoning you to drop inhibitions and embrace life. Now with new drummer Nick, this 3-piece featuring has a sharper edge than their old iteration – harder hitting, faster, with a more pronounced punk spirit. Yet their earnest invocations to dance and love ring true as ever. Free Pizza connect and inspire people like no other band, and I can never get enough. Look out for more recordings (and many more live performances) early this year.
Sam Gas Can
Discovered this western Mass solo musician early in 2013 through a fantastic split with Gnar tapes honcho Rikky Gage aka Free Weed. Like his west coast bud, SGC throws the past half century of popular genres (power pop, sitar drones, post-punk death dirges, etc) into a broken blender and churns out a foamy liquid goo of singular pop odes that sound like they come from a bizarro world. Dude also rocks hard in his ‘late Black Flag-inspired’ acid-fried Sam Gas Can Band (featuring some w. MA heads) and as a fantastic comic artist.
This young buck pop-monger (and co-founder of BUFU Records) writes smarmy, cutting songs about being perpetually horny and how stupid young people are, all wrapped in unpretentious, jangle-heavy bun of musical delight. His lyrical content is pointed and critical never indulgent, and the lighthearted, self-deprecating tone means its all in good fun. He’s songs are short, sweet, and to the point. A solo singer-songwriter at heart, Ewen plays with a rotating cast of Berklee buds, most recently as the beach bummer babes The Sulk Scouts. He also does all the art for BUFU and his comics have been featured in the Compass many times.
Electronic musician Will Mayo aka Homeworld is so busy sharing and promoting other people’s music – working at Deep Thought records, organizing Scanners dance night and other experimental electronic shows under the moniker Open Loop, distributing Vice magazine, etc – that its amazing he squeezes any time at all for his own music project. In 2013 Mayo shed (for the most part) his drone/noise-focused Double Awake moniker, and took on the mantle of Homeworld to signal his embrace a more beat-oriented sound. With a bevy of live performances, including a fantastic one at NEUMF, Mayo generates truly alien rhythms that oscillate and deterioate in perplexing gyrations that slink through your brain like a kaleidoscopic slug slowly consuming your frontal cortex. Lots of rolling bass and misshappen percussion to titillate and stimulate. No recordings as yet, so you’ll have to content yourself with Double Awake (which is still kicking), below.
This Boston-based 3-piece has been one of my favorite bands ever since I started reading the Compass and going to house shows two winters ago. Their songs grab me with the arresting, gutteral groan croons of singer Jonah and the amped, tumoltous rhythms that are so difficult to describe. Like with many contemporary Boston bands, Krill has a certain resonance with 90’s grunge and power pop, but they truly have a style and perspective all their own, informed by the melacholic introspection and metaphysical ponderings of 19th century Russian lit. I was so enthralled with their debut Alam No Hris that I avoided their follow up Lucky Leaves for many, many weeks. But it won me over pretty quickly all the same. The band experienced quite a shake up with the loss of original drummer Luke (aka Lucky -get it?) leaving for studies in the UK (do you get , but they carry on quite well with new drummer and old friend Ian. They are embarking on a nation-wide tour this March so look out for them coming to your town real soon.
Like Free Pizza, Allston basement guitar/drums duo SaraLee released a fantastic couple demos in 2011 that inspired me like little else, but the band seemed to fade as Sara moved out of MA and no new recordings appeared in 2012. Fortunately my hopes were revived last year as they put out a fantastic eponymous full length on Ride The Snake Records, a split with tour-mates Giving Up and started playing a lot more shows again. This is one of my favorite bands in Boston, and I know I’m not alone. I’d go so far as to say they’re a musicians band, but their appeal is wide and growing. Their minimal, unstudied instrumentation lets the raw emotion shine through, making me feel like a marooned adolescent, isolated and shaking to break through the self-imposed walls of angst and doubt. And their live performances, like all the best local bands, are truly mesmerizing.
There is perhaps no harder-working band in Boston today. These dudes (and dudette) put out two fantastic LPs and a Zorn-produced CD this year, went on several extensive tours, and still managed to play Boston all the time, lending their energy (and dedicated fan base) to many a Hassle show. In the past couple months G Toss has (finally) received some well-deserved national coverage, so congrats for that. But more importantly, this band gives it their all at every live performance, with a perpetually unstable dynamism that lends an inimitable excitement to each of their shows. And they get people to actually dance (well at least hop around energetically). Props to them for bringing fans of noise rock and harsh punk together, and teaching them how to ‘hippie mosh.’ The word ‘skronk’ is once again creeping into the national vocabulary, and we have G Toss to thank for that.
These up-and-coming noise brats have built a following by playing haphazard, crazed grooves based on the sounds and principles of noise rock, but with a refreshingly lighthearted, playful approach that is as infectious as it is unpretentious. These D-boys don’t affect a downer dungeon feel common with their contemporaries, instead smiling with shit-eating grins and can do attitude. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a couple years you’ll see a younger generation of show-goers professing a love for noisy kingpins G Toss but secretly preferred the more pop-oriented (and therefore ‘accessible’) sound of Designer. They got a 7″ coming out on the lovely BUFU, so look out for that.
Of course there is so so SO many other fantastic bands not mentioned above, but I will wax eloquent about them in due time. Boston is a great town with a strong and supportive music community founded firmly on a commitment to experimentation and a DIY ethos. 2013 was the year the basement scene came to terms with the traumatic loss of its home (rip Gay Gardens, Butchershoppe etc), but the death of those intimate, supportive spaces pushed the community to find new spaces to perform in, and consequently found new ears ready to listen. If the past year was any indication of what the future holds, 2014 is going to be fucking beserk, and I for one am looking forward to getting my hands dirty.