11 musicians who made their mark in 2021


2021 has been a year of cautious optimism and dashed hopes, cross-country tours and last-minute cancellations. But the studio, it seemed, was a place of solace for many artists in Massachusetts. A number of our critics’ favorite local albums were written and recorded deep in the pandemic; these musicians found a lot of material to exploit from that time, some painful, others transcendent. Below are the artists whose work touched us the most, from an umpteenth year unlike any other:

At the age of 25, Fabiola Méndez – member of the ARTery 25 artists of color to watch this year – made it his mission to restore prestige and importance to the national instrument of Puerto Rico, the cuatro, a small cousin of the guitar long considered a relic of a bygone musical era. It is a task in itself. With “Afrorriqueña”, Méndez’s second studio album, she sets herself a new challenge: to summarize the experience of the Afro-Latinas of Puerto Rico through the work of the poets of the island. The writers that Méndez draws his inspiration from all explore the intersection of race and gender in their work, and include revolutionary mid-century feminist Angelamaría Dávila and Méndez’s ARTery 25 cohort member Yara Liceaga-Rojas. The songs of “Afrorriqueña” are both sophisticated and heartfelt, showcasing Méndez’s jazz chops and a sweet melodic sensibility. The genre of “fusion” is a tricky business; it can be tempting to do too much, especially with a group as easy as the one Méndez puts together for “Afrorriqueña”. But the group merges Latin, jazz and folk influences with confidence and joy, thanks in large part to the clarity of vision of their leader. On “Afrorriqueña”, Méndez knows exactly what she means. —Amélie Mason

Marissa Nadler makes music that exists between life and death. Of three of the lushly arranged songs on his exquisite ninth album, “The Path of the Clouds,” Nadler told me in October, “All three stories are about people who have gone missing and have never been found.” These tales, drawn from episodes of the “Unsolved Mysteries” television show, as well as from her own harrowing experiences, merge into a disc animated by rebirth and metamorphosis, a smoldering, somber work dripping with melody and sticky grooves. . With this outing, Nadler takes a bold step to a new career high. —Charley Ruddell

While large streaming playlists plunge you into teenage angst, Lucy’s “The Music Industry Is Poisonous” takes you even further back to the days of singing funny songs on the school bus. These songs are not trying to be funny; they are radically serious. They feel human and handmade, like they’re glued together for a science fair, full of chintzy keyboard and drum sounds and old-fashioned aphorisms. Lucy conveys her thoughts in cryptic turns of phrase, sometimes becoming very precise on things like the names of her elementary school teachers. “They say the first cut is the deepest… wild!” I don’t believe it, ”says one line. “The Music Industry Is Poisonous” leaves no distance between the listener and Lucy’s work, a strange intimacy which has often led people to describe Lucy as “foreign music”. The thing about this label, however, is that it belies the influences that shine through. On “Turn Page”, Lucy does what sounds like an Atlanta trap stream with a voice broadcast over pop radio 40 years ago. On the final song, “Lucky Stars”, he interpolates a song from Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And through it all, you can hear the spirit of the last decade of internet rap: the awkward sound design of early Odd Futures, the dark textures of the Swedish collective Drain Gang, the weird GarageBand experiments of its former collective Dark World. . His music frees the child in all of us. – Mano Sundaresan

BoriRock, ‘D1: Summer Freakazoid’

There aren’t too many artists clingier than BoriRock. (Sticky in the way people gravitate towards the artist and his music.) The Dorchester native has completely crushed him lately. His personality keeps people engaged and it shows in the music. Its ad-libs get stuck in your head to a point – it’s hard not to like a song. After the release of “It’s Me” in January, the highlight for him musically this year came with the release of his project “D1: Freakazoid Summer”. One song that I kept rotating was “SAY DAT”. Produced by Maka, the rhythm is monumental. Sensory overload – good with mariachi vibes. BoriRock slips on the beat blessing it with eye-catching bars. Perfect for the drive to reception or to start the night at home before you leave. -Noble

“Deliberately Alive” is Future Teens at its best: witty, thoughtful, cathartic. The self-proclaimed “deception pop group” rose to local fame with their 2017 debut album “Hard Feelings,” a gleefully depressive catalog of distinctly millennial concerns of their twenties: breakups, dating apps, existential boredom. Since then, the group has released another studio album, but in some ways, “Deliberately Alive” – ​​a budget-friendly five-song EP – seems as important as a full-length LP. It retains the free and catchy energy of the group’s early work, but shows a maturing lyrical sensibility. These are songs about growth and self-reflection, about what it means to grow old and stick around. As always, Future Teens makes it fun to sing the tough stuff. —Amélie Mason

Juliana Hatfield is one of the few artists whose records keep improving, and her firsts were pretty hard to beat. Earlier this year, with over 25 albums, Hatfield’s “Blood” was born out of the intersection of deeply melodic pop-rock writing and the trauma resulting from the last five years of American politics. “Blood” is certainly gory, but its thematic violence is only a touch more striking than the joyful exuberance of its music; it boldly lights up Hatfield in his most inflamed and liberated state, both accessible and practically sparkling in the mouth. —Charley Ruddell

Effortless hitmaker, Boston’s Gio Dee has been among the best in the state for years in hip-hop. He has had at least one project a year since the release of his EP “MYB (Mind Yo Business” in 2015. His latest – “Excited For The Hate” – is on the way. Gio Dee is synonymous with consistency and if he does it). fact “I don’t think a project is worthy enough for its followers it will make sure to have some amazing singles to help them out. His most impressive is” Designer Casket “. is draped in sheer fabrics, telling us this he thinks. “If you don’t stand for something then you will die for nothing / Coming from where I’m from, n —– I don’t do what I did.” “Designer Casket” is a cut that will leave your head hanging down. If that isn’t enough to convince you of Gio’s abilities, check out another single from this year called “At the top. ” -Noble

When Van Buren Records played “BLACK WALL STREET” cut “FOXY BROWN” on their tour, they did it as a game of “Street Fighter”. Ricky Felix was the judge, and two-by-two, the rappers clashed, exchanging bars while looking each other in the eye. The question Ricky asked at the start: who is the best rapper in VB? Earlier in the year, the band’s debut album “Bad For Press” showed us how a sprawling roster functions as a unit: as shameless competitors, training partners with cut-throat raps. But their follow-up EP, “BLACK WALL STREET”, goes even further. Looser and more immediate than their album, it introduces rappers in depth, sharpening their collective spirit with quick stick passes between members. Recorded with producer AzizTheShake in LA, “BLACK WALL STREET” is what a major label would bill as VB’s debut album, but in reality, it’s just a heat test. – Mano Sundaresan

In the aftermath of a mental breakdown, Sai Boddupalli took over the music. The resulting music found on “VIMS”, Boddupalli’s IDM electronica debut as Mercet, is practically buzzing, a complete piece that pulses and contorts like an organic life form. Drawing inspiration from influences from artists like Baths and Aphex Twin, “VIMS” connects mechanics to organic, a collage of teeming synths and jerky drum breaks that sound as though they’ve been harvested from the depths of the world. earth or deep space. It’s one of Boston’s most compelling outings this year. —Charley Ruddell

Roxbury’s Oompa is one of Massachusetts’ best live artists. Fingers in the nose. Her show at Paradise Rock Club in October was one of the best hip-hop shows for an independent artist this year and she was nominated for Hip-Hop Artist of the Year via the Boston Music Awards. It was definitely an eventful year for Oompa. A shining light in his catalog was definitely “LEBRON” from his new album “Unbothered”. Oompa looks back on her days on the basketball court while sending a message of self-worth and being great. (The song also gained traction outside the state. Ebro Darden of Hot 97 FM in New York and Revolt TV noticed it.) Ya baby mom house, ”Oompa said on a Instagram post highlighting the song. The video for “LEBRON” presents the hometown of Oompa. Shot right in the legendary Malcolm X Park (formerly known as Washington Park), Oompa brought out the cool kids, athletes, an old car or two, hood pals, local kids and more in a strong display of community collaboration. “LEBRON” was a success in every way. -Noble

On his debut studio album, “The Bed I Made”, Worcester musician Chris Kazarian, aka The Real Chris Kaz, is a man of multitudes. He writes all the songs, plays all the instruments, mixes all the tracks; her voice, stacked on itself in dense harmonies, is a chorus of many thoughts and moods. Previously, Kazarian had distinguished himself as a charismatic leader in exuberant funk bands. “The Bed I Made” is more interior, an album full of references and ideas that Kazarian said lasted 10 years. He cites a vast catalog of influences, from Miles Davis to Moses Sumney to Radiohead (I also mean Dirty Projectors and the Beatles): creators as experimental as they are emotional. Kazarian is also a devoted musician to the weird and cerebral, but his songs are steeped in sentiment.

Kyle Rittenhouse’s verdict came as I listened to “When Will We Get To Live?” – Kazarian’s slow-burning protest song. “He gets to live / When our brothers and sisters die,” Kazarian begins. “He gets to live / When our mothers and fathers cry.” And then, later: “He manages to hold / AK-47. A series of three deep drums, like a heartbeat, then a pause, like a question. “When can we live? Kazarian whispers in a hoarse falsetto voice. Little by little, his voice gains strength. Then the trap is triggered, and the music rises, like a warning, smoking in the air. “We have the right to live / We have the right to live,” Kazarian sings, over and over again, a defiant mantra that, after a while, reaches ecstasy. —Amélie Mason

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