2020 Year Enders, BOSTON/NE BANDS, Music

Boston Hassle’s Top Local Music of 2020


2020 was, by all accounts, a difficult year. As we fully fledge ourselves into the future, our world continues to suffer from a microscopic force and macroscopic corruption. Lives are still being lost, politicians are still trying to save face, and the clouds still grow grayer.

Through this arduous mess, music is still what binds us together. As with most places, Boston saw multiple independent venues close due to this viral monstrosity, and with little to no state and federal relief, many owners have no clue if they can even open again.

With these challenges in mind, our local musicians and curators made 2020 just a tad more tolerable, and for that, we can’t thank them enough. They kept the heart of music beating when times appeared hopeless. They gave us a small sliver of comfort amongst the uncomfortable reality.

As part of our admiration for all they’ve done, the music writers and editors at the Boston Hassle highlighted our favorite local albums from 2020. With this list, we hope that we can, at the very least, capture the fruitful spirit of genuine creation.

Banshee – Livin’ In the Jungle

Boston’s Banshee is one of the most Boston punk bands I know of still kicking. They keep the dream alive and I am personally surprised this album could come out in a city so… clean. Banshee is the dirt and grime we need in all of our lives and Livin’ in the Jungle is the perfect encapsulation of this idea. Overlooked no more, this album will go down in history (at least the Hassle’s history) as being one of the best albums of 2020 that is probably not on any other list you’ve seen.

— Chris Hues

House of Harm – Vicious Pastimes 

Post-punk wunderkinds, House of Harm dropped their nine-track LP, Vicious Pastimes, in September. The genre-spanning album features stormers like the title track, “Vicious Pastimes,” as well as more pop-driven and danceable tunes, like “Always”; ethereal songs like “Behind You” reveal the group’s versatility, and Mike Rocheford’s dark-but-relatable lyrics lured me in even more. House of Harm has a brilliant future ahead and their album helped me survive the last few months of 2020.

— Ashley Kreutter

OG Swaggerdick – Multiple Dicks

The dick is back with Multiple Dicks this year, a repeat-worthy EP produced by the eponymous OG Swaggerdick himself and MultiplePetes. Releasing a handful of heat this year, including the presidential VOTE 4 BERNIE and Might Get Rich, Swaggerdick has continued to churn out the hits. Multiple Dicks brings to the table everything that makes Swaggerdick special with three distinct songs that warrant playing at max volume.

— Andy Dion

OgSwaggerdick · Multiple Dicks (EP)

Kadeem – Passing Exchange

As I said in my review from earlier this year, when Kadeem raps, it sounds like he is building an intimate connection with nature while simultaneously grasping his Mattapan roots. He begins his new EP Passing Exchange elevating the Black individual, pursuing the agency that the United States systemically tries to eliminate. Songs like “Kissing the Sun” and the lachrymose “Jaded” find the Boston spitter coming to terms with his own past, and how he plans on spiritually moving forward.

Born Jamaican-American, Kadeem continues to shine a bright light on the culture and the famous Caribbean Center that fostered music, family gatherings, graduations, and funerals for the local Jamaican-American population. Although the center is gone (for seemingly no reason at all), Kadeem makes sure to pay homage to the family and culture who made him. Passing Exchange is a continuation of these worthwhile narratives.

— Ryan Feyre

ILL ADDICTS – beautiful,

Six-member supergroup ILL ADDICTS have been prolific in 2020, releasing three equally exuberant albums over the course of eight months. From MALFUNCTION! In February to beautiful, in July to foundation, in September, ILL ADDICTS hit their stride and didn’t look back. Their latest release, foundation,, plays as the climax of their confidence and is certainly their best of the year. All three tapes are animated, fun, and welcome escapes from the inability to do dumb shit with your friends.

— Julie McDonald

Sweeping Promises – Hunger For a Way Out

Hunger For a Way Out is the best Boston post punk-adjacent release of 2020 and there are no two ways about it. From the Kleenex inspired catchy bass riffs, jangly guitars, and overall vintage feel, Sweeping Promises created a familiar yet surprisingly fearless record. Incorporating the best of the early post punk while melding an egg punk sensibility with rusted synths and cutting melodic vocals, Hunger For A Way Out is everything we didn’t realize we needed this year.

— Andy Dion

Red Shaydez – Feel the Aura

With the release of Feel The Aura, Red Shaydez ascended to a new level in her rap career.  Since its monstrous drop in late July, the lyrical prize fighter Red Shaydez has been having a banner year musically, picking up mentions and features from The Globe and WBUR, all the way to UPROXX and UK’s POP Times. She was also nice enough to sit down for a Boston Hassle video Interview this fall.  The album was nominated by the Boston Music Awards for Album of the Year while Shaydez herself was nominated for Hip Hop Artist of the Year, Breakthrough Artist of the Year, and she won the 617Sessions Artist of the year for for “Lemme Go Talk My Sh**.”

One track to pay to close attention to is “From Bahamas to Atlanta ft. Oompa” which is a rhymefest of two skilled lyricists pushing each other to the limit.  Over a chilled out beat with a soulful melody, Shaydez, and local rap titan Oompa, deliver a collaborative execution of machine-gun speed verses.  Shaydez’ musical journey is one of long-term growth within the Boston hip hop scene through meticulous trial and error, and if you listen closely to the “From Bahama’s” lyrics you can hear an industry conversation with Oompa welcoming Red Shaydez to the top of the Boston rap game. This track is more than just a song, it’s a red carpet welcome party for the new queen of the mic.

— Jared Steinberg

Red Shaydez · Feel The Aura [Full Album]

Anjimile – Giver Taker

Few year-ender writeups have seemed to pay proper due to the transformational queer themes underlying Anjimile’s latest full-length, Giver Taker. The release is lush, breathtaking, and soft-spoken; it begs relation and dissection. (Not, necessarily, in that order.) Where their previous album, 2018’s Colors, held transness at arms’ length, questioning it with a relentless scrutiny, Giver Taker lives it, embraces it, breathes new life into the journey on Anjimile has taken their listeners over the years. (And, yes, it has become an “over the years” kind of situation, here, with Anjimile’s roots and legacy(ies) in Boston growing stronger and lengthier over time.) With their now hardly unnoticeable break out of (but not away from) Boston and into the mainstream, Anjimile has demonstrated with Giver Taker their ever-impressive ability to innovate, move, and emote. The album finds the macro in the micro, moving from the death of sunflowers to finding love and protection in a lover (“Your Tree”) or playing with the absence of language altogether on “Not Another Word”. Giver Taker is momentous in its understatement, promising in its lush beauty. A wave-maker in the Boston music scene and one of the most impressive albums of 2020.

— N. Malte Collins

Kira McSpice – Aura

Kira McSpice’s gauzy EP bestowed with the fitting title of Aura is perfect nap music at first blush, but truthfully one of the most haunting releases of the year. Laden with a folk sensibility and threadbare instrumentation, Aura’s raison d’etre is textural introspection. Aura is a powerful and captivating listen, bottling a dormant well of energy that the EP’s spiritual sister called Attack, exploding with visceral screaming and percussive musical destruction. Both are worth a listen, but there is something truly haunting about the minimalistic drone of despair that is Kira McSpice’s Aura.

— Andy Dion

Saint Lyor – If My Sins Could Talk

During a humongous year for Massachusetts rap, Brockton’s Saint Lyor broke out as a tremendous talent. The Van Buren associate released If My Sins Could Talk to widespread acclaim, even earning high praise from legendary journalist Donna-Claire Chesman, who called him her “favorite new artist” back in May.

It’s easy to see why people outside of Massachusetts are beginning to enjoy Lyor’s music. He brings energy, charisma, confidence, and a wise edge that many other artists lack. When I wrote about “Aunt Jemima” back in March, I described his approach to music as meteoric and hypnotic. The same could be said for songs like “This is Not an Image” and “Finsta.” He brings a whole other dimension to his music without ever sounding self-serious or self-centered. Nothing is ever sugarcoated in the land of Lyor, a.k.a. E.T.

— Ryan Feyre


bedbug – life like moving pictures

bedbug made their quietly triumphant return to the Boston scene in 2020 with life like moving pictures. Dylan Citron’s fourth release pieces the year together through seasonal interludes, underscoring the uncertainty of change with crackly bedroom production and shaking vocal overlays. Not to be overlooked is the album’s many skits and political commentaries—bedbug will not let you forget that capitalism has failed us, especially this year.

— Julie McDonald

Squirrel Flower – I Was Born Swimming

I Was Born Swimming is on the run, so to speak. The lyrics are frequently moving—”I tried to be lyrical, but lyrics failed me / So I gave up poetry and ran west on I-80″ on “I-80”, and “Cruise the turnpike / That’s what I like / There’s that lightning / On water that makes me feel new” on “Eight Hours”. But in another sense, Squirrel Flower’s latest album is ethereal, almost evasive; Ella Williams’ singing floats serenely atop a shifting array of reverbed guitar and mushy, brushed drums. But I Was Born Swimming gets its investment back in time, exploding with energy on the sugary “Honey, Oh Honey!” and relentless drive and glowing charisma of “Streetlight Blues”. But that’s not to discount the album’s more brooding bits: Tracks like “Belly of the City” and “Home” gnaw with melancholy, rife with properly holy-shit-inducing lyrics: on the latter track, “You pull me out of bed in the morning / Make sure I have my coat / Make sure I’ve got my shoes tied up.” It’s never really clear, throughout the album, whether O’Connor is addressing a personal support figure or the throes of a major depression. Masterful. If nothing else, I Was Born Swimming is a signpost, one part of a journey, a benchmark, a measure against which Boston indie music will be measured for years to come.

— N. Malte Collins

Eleanor Elektra – Exquisite Corpse

JP Stalwart, player of Hassle shows, Eleanor Elektra was kind enough to drop an album for us this year and it’s her best yet. The music is jazz and folk inspired, singer-songwriter, minimal but haunted by a very creepy flute. I recommend this album for long drives or pensive walks in the fall or spring. The music runs through you like a gentle yet stern wind and is cool yet not cool enough to make you uncomfortable.

— Chris Hues

The Perfect Trip – The Perfect Trip

The Perfect Trip’s self-titled album is a psychedelic romp through the ever expanding expanses of the Universe. Using harps, organs, and horns, the band weaves a musical trio back in time to 1960. Everything flows together beautifully and is a gentle antidote to the darkness that the band explores lyrically in tracks like “The Magician’s Trick” and “Psych Blues.” Definitely an album reminiscent of the past yet befitting of the chaos that is our current time.

— Ashley Kreutter

Evicshen – Hair Birth

Evicshen, aka Victoria Shen, released Hair Birth off the American Dreams label. Evishen hails from Somerville and is an experimental and performance musician who puts out dark noise music and makes unique instruments to get her sounds. Hair Birth is a culmination of years of toying, tinkering, and reimagining to release one of her official full length albums in what looks to be the beginning of a long promising career in noise-music circles. Hair Birth is definitely a must-listen for 2020.

— Chris Hues

DJ WhySham – Finally

DJ WhySham, AKA “Your Community DJ,” dropped her full-length album, Finally, on September 7th, and garnered immediate respect among the Boston hip hop community, which earned WhySham a 2020 BMA nomination for “DJ of the Year.”  A welcomed modern addition to the Boston music scene, the album weaves together lyricists and poets onto WhyShams’s own eclectic, often atmospheric rap beats. One track worth hearing (10-15 times) is, “Say My Name: Rekia Boyd” ft. Porsha Olayiwola and Dalaun. The song overflows with stories of systemic racism that will give you chills for days.  The powerful words of Boston’s poet laureate, Porsha Olayiwola, echo over a slow rolling beat with spectral 808s and consoling, angelic vocals by Oakland-based R&B/Soul singer, Dalaun.  The civil rights discussion on this track is delivered with such a unique intensity and liquifying resonance that this song should be an education requirement for every American.

For the classic East coast hip-heads, check out “We Run the City ft. Cakeswagg, Kay Wattz”. The track is bars only, using battle-rap style rhyming with a broad-shouldered Boston persona that oozes toughness.  It’s something of a fight song that gives all the specific reasons why a fight with her is a bad idea.  With rapid-fire lyrics throughout from Cakeswagg, the kind you need to listen to 5 times to get the full lyrical breakdown, especially the acapella verse at the end when the beat drops out.

In addition to putting out her own music, WhySham is also a member of the The MiSFiT’s Club, a local hip hop collective of LGBTQ+ artists including, Medino Green, J.A.B.S., Kweeng Doll that comes together for epic cyphers filmed around the city.  The MiSFiT’s club explains on IG that they’re about “breaking down boundaries and showing that there is a space for the lgbtq community in the hip hop world.” DJ WhySham is here to stay, adding new layers of sound, support, and runway for our scene to thrive.

— Jared Steinberg

$ean Wire – Internal Dialect

On Internal Dialect, $ean Wire attempts to conquer his own inner-demons while navigating the ups and downs of adversarial relationships. It’s a natural concept that’s intricately explored through metaphorical vignettes (“those tactics match wrecking balls”) and certain moments of literary foreshadowing (“settling down before we crash in a ditch”). This isn’t a cynical project by any means, but rather a cautiously optimistic one. Even amidst the trials  and tribulations, the Dorchester native reminds us all that something beautiful can and will come. As long as we’re honest with ourselves and others.

— Ryan Feyre


Landowner – Consultant

Landowner’s Consultant was perhaps the musical moment for me this year. This album checks off all of the boxes. This album is full-length, local, DIY, totally original and unique, and dark and satirical as music comes nowadays. If you for some reason have been skipping over listening to this album, please do yourself a favor and put it on for some angular hard rock with a crass attitude. I hope to see them play live in 2021? I don’t know, don’t quote me here, but I would indeed find myself traveling far and wide to see this band play ASAP.

— Chris Hues

Optic Bloom – Space Garden 

Local duo Optic Bloom—made up of already-prominent producers Flowerthief and Dephrase—held nothing back in 2020 with their latest full-length, Space Garden. The album sounds almost like a tour of the Boston hip hop scene, with features from Cliff Notez, Latrell James, and Oompa. It shimmers with fuzzed-out, electric energy, the duo unafraid to wax cinematic throughout—the climactic, eerie, ambient one-minute fadeout of “Sadboi Sadgurl” comes to mind, or the jarring brevity of “Other Girls”, which feels somewhere between a commercial break and a cutaway. But Optic Bloom’s relentlessness and lyrical prowess still abound throughout the album: “Movement”, in particular, roars through its multi-part structure to create a track both atmospheric and biting. Space Garden is the much-needed union between two massive talents, never failing to impress and ranking unquestionably among the top local releases of 2020.

— N. Malte Collins

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