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Year in ReView: 10 standout homegrown songs of 2019

 

If you spent 2019 searching for a definitive Boston sound, chances are you’re still looking. But that’s due to no shortage of remarkable talent, and more a result of a varied, diversified musical landscape that feels like it’s on the brink of something special. We saw it this month on stage at the Boston Music Awards, showcasing the best performer lineup in at least a decade, and we heard it throughout the year from neighborhoods on opposite ends of the city’s geographical map. From the Boston’s hip-hop scene ascending as the most exciting thing happening in New England to the underground dark-pop community flourishing with creativity, the undefinable Boston sound was not only more rich and vibrant than usual, but also felt more inclusive than ever. For a comprehensive guide to all that shined bright, scan through the hundreds of posts that fell under Vanyaland’s Boston News section — from New Sounds and Fast Tracked columns to interviews, reviews, and show spotlights. For the purpose of our Year in ReView, Editor-in-Chief Michael Marotta and Music Editor, Boston Victoria Wasylak took on the nearly impossible task of selecting just 10 of their personal faves. There was a lot to choose from.

Bent Knee, ‘Bone Rage’

Ever heard a track that sounds like a volcano violently erupting after a thousand-year slumber? Not a band that’s unfamiliar with being consumed by musical chaos, Bent Knee summoned their finest hellfire to make this experimental rager for their 2019 record You Know What They Mean. Close your eyes and you can almost see the nuclear meltdown that “Bone Rage” implies, chunks of shrapnel being tossed about in a disarray of orchestrated lawlessness, circling lead vocalist and keyboard player Courtney Swain. Yeah, this one is a real force of nature not to be questioned, lest you want to be pinned to the ground by the tumult of Boston’s most forceful art-rock band. — Victoria Wasylak

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House Of Harm, ‘Catch’

Following the late-2018 release of their spellbinding Coming of Age EP, Boston dark-pop trio House of Harm proved no fluke with August stand-alone single “Catch.” A kaleidoscopic cocktail of early-’80s new wave/post-punk and modern synth-pop, “Catch” dances out from the shadows and shimmers and shines like its summer release date, jangly guitars and C86 DNA cascading across electronic-pop drum loops like a painter’s brush strokes, wrapped tightly in the band’s penchant for ethereal pop melodies. At the time, we were reluctant to call it an evolution in sound from the darker, more strobe-fed Coming of Age record, but it does feel like a moment assertive of House of Harm’s current rhythm and mood, especially after the addition of Funeral Advantage’s Tyler Kershaw. A forceful appearance at the Boston Music Awards this month only furthered the band’s growing legacy, but in the end, it’ll be tracks like “Catch” that vault House of Harm to widespread cult appeal. — Michael Marotta

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Humbeats featuring Rosewood Bape and Gio Dee, ‘Nonstop’

Humbeats started this party, and he can end it whenever he wants, goddammit. But, graciously, with “Nonstop” the producer lets the weekend reign every day with the woozy joie de vivre of his single from this fall. Featuring Rosewood Bape and Gio Dee, “Nonstop” plays like a tune that was made specifically for youthful late-night club-hopping, teetering down the streets of downtown Boston or Allston at 1 a.m. Send this frisky gem to Bijou, ASAP. — Victoria Wasylak

 
 

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Latrell James, ‘Tracphone’

According to Latrell James, “If you ain’t first, you are motherfuckin’ last,” but this particular nugget of wisdom in his single “Tracphone” is an irrelevant point — for him, at least. With the all-around excellence of this track from James’ 2019 EP Still, he keeps his coveted spot “at the pinnacle of Boston hip-hop,” as we explained in July. From the masterful production to James’ flow, every aspect of “Tracphone” is ironclad, shielded from any sort of criticism thanks to its impeccable quality. This is a track worthy of the f-word: Flawless. — Victoria Wasylak

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Lost Dog, ‘DFT’

Lost Dog’s power-pop cruiser clocks in at a mere 129 seconds, but the young Somerville quartet use that time wisely; barreling down the avenues of alt-rock and indie with a sonic lineage that that recalls The Breeders and Speedy Ortiz, particularly the former’s use of noisy melody and the latter’s ability to sling heaviness with easy cool. Mixed by Andi Jones at So Big Auditory and mastered by Bill Henderson at Azimuth Mastering, March’s eminently re-playable “DFT” is a song that “grapples with the ways other people attempt to exert control over how we process our own complicated emotions,” and teeters of the brink of guitar-rock chaos without ever losing its fuzzed-out focus. A month after the band released “DFT” as a single, the three-track Don’t Feel That EP followed, and we’ll go right ahead and recommend that bad Larry as well. — Michael Marotta

 
 

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Oompa featuring Anjimile, ‘By You’

Oompa’s brilliance + Anjimile’s brilliance = one hell of a winning ticket. Perhaps the most replayable song on this list, “By You” presents a seamless yin-yang of sorts; Oompa’s verses flame the fire of Anjimile’s guitar licks, and in turn, Anjimile’s mellow vocals add a layer of coolness to the entire ordeal. We dare say it’s the best “duet” to come out of Boston this year. That’s just simple math, kiddies! — Victoria Wasylak

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RIBS ‘1992’

At the start of the decade, RIBS burst onto the Boston music scene in a beautiful fury, thanks to the brash, metallic sound of 2010’s British Brains and 2012’s Russian Blood. After years of dormancy and adopting a dual residency of Boston and New York, the duo of guitarist/vocalist Keith Freund and drummer Chris Oquist resurfaced in June with “1992”, a monster single of mechanical wonder that serves as an assertive, if not outright menacing, return to form. The track was produced and engineered by former Passion Pit synth wizard Ayad Al Adhamy, and its entire 4:33 runtime is a thrashing torrent of post-industrial guitar-rock that swirls around RIBS’ uncanny ability to create sinister sounds that also, somehow, feel so warm and comforting at its core. Let’s hope the next wait is not so long. — Michael Marotta

 
 

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Rival Island, ‘Steel Tide’

Summertime is the sleepiest of Massachusetts seasons, but that’s no excuse for Rival Island’s Year of the Butterfly to not be one of the most celebrated records to come out of New England. The North Shore band’s August EP is a brilliant piece of indie-pop craftsmanship, evolving the Rival Island sound from the retro swirl of recent origins to a more refined guitar-pop sound that touches on everything from Brooklyn indie to yacht rock. It’s led by the melancholic “Steel Tide,” a true Song of the Year contender that lifts and pulls with such urgent precision, it could be among the sharpest songs to come out of Massachusetts in a hot minute. The guitar tone alone is something of a wonder, and it warrants repeated listens to absorb everything going on just beneath the surface. Those who missed this incredible track over the summer are given another chance below. — Michael Marotta

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The Sheila Divine, ‘Kurt Cobain’ 

The Sheila Divine’s Aaron Perrino could have easily spent 2019 resting on his scene laurels, spending the year mining the 20th anniversary re-issue of the band’s breakout LP New Parade. Instead, Perrino stayed busy showing off some of the finest lyrical smarts of his songwriting career. After capturing the terrified liberal mood of Trump’s America with late-2018 guitar-rock banger “Melancholy, MA”, The Sheila Divine this year took on “Kurt Cobain” and pondered a question we’ve all asked for the past 25 years: What would the Nirvana frontman be like in the modern day? But that query was framed against a larger issue, one that saw Perrino perhaps reflect on his own career: “It’s a beautiful world but some tap out / Before they ever had a chance to sell out / Life gets bigger and our convictions recede / Just ask Bono, Johnny Rotten or Bruce Springsteen.” The Sheila Divine may be calling it quits as the year comes to an end, but Perrino remains one of the region’s most gifted songwriters. — Michael Marotta

 
 

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STL GLD, ‘The New Normal Pt. I’

The Boston Music Awards results don’t lie, do they? “The New Normal Pt. 1” from STL GLD’s 2019 album of a similar name took home the trophy for “Song of The Year” at the BMAs last week, and for good reason; sizzling with palpable tension and more-relevant-than-ever lyrics, this track is a smack in the noggin to everyone who says hip-hop “isn’t political anymore.” Appropriately, “The New Normal Pt. 1” thwarts that entire (incorrect) notion in under three minutes, which is exactly the kind of artful precision we’ve come to expect from Boston music veterans Moe Pope and Janos “The Arcitype” Fulop. — Victoria Wasylak