Year In ReView: Vanyaland’s 22 favorite homegrown songs of 2022

Photo Credit: Chris Vigue

In case you haven’t noticed, everything since 2020 has been a big, queasy blur. A pandemic came and never left, the world attempted to cope, entertainment as we know it reinvented itself, and suddenly time either slogs or sprints forward — there is no between. Often it feels like the only thing grounding us for more than a minute at a time is the escapism of music. Despite the industry’s unpredictable post-pandemic outlook, musicians from Boston and the surrounding cities raised the bar in every genre this year, from the brashest hip-hop to the lushest pop. We’re happy to report that these are the 22 homegrown songs that held us down — or hurtled us across the dance floor — when we needed it most in 2022.

Serge Alex, “RENT FREE”

On paper, Serge Alex’s September single is about a crush living in your headspace “rent free.” In practice, it’s not a person who’s gobbling up free real estate — it’s Alex’s liquid groove. As one of 2022’s most unrelenting earworms, “RENT FREE” slips in one ear and refuses to exit the other, sloshing around your noggin until it syncs up with your heartbeat. As we noted in our original writeup, a person must be pretty remarkable to lock in any kind of housing gratis in Boston. The replay factor of “RENT FREE” proves Alex’s artistry is remarkable, indeed. 

AzizTheShake feat. Jiles and Meech BOLD, “TOLEDO” 

AzizTheShake boldly entered the ring with a 2022 SOTY contender in fucking January. By the time people were conveniently overlooking their New Year’s resolutions, the Nashua-gone-Los Angeles artist and producer dropped a collaboration that’s so unforgettable, we’re still circling back to it 12 months later. Crafted with earth-shattering bass, Jiles’ signature snarls, and bars between Meech BOLD and AzizTheShake himself, “TOLEDO” is an ineffable, unfuckwithable mélange of modern hip-hop. Ohio’s never sounded this intriguing.

Boy Harsher, “Give Me A Reason” 

Boy Harsher unleashed a monster this year, and we’re not talking about “the Runner.” Yes, the Northampton band’s fictional maneater lent us some nightmare fuel as the eponymous main character of Boy Harsher’s new horror film. But even “the Runner” can’t outpace the claws of “Give Me A Reason”, the darkwave behemoth from the film’s original soundtrack. Dressed in decadent synths, “Give Me A Reason” haunts the line between spooky and seductive like a Wednesday Addams jukebox pick. And unlike following track “Autonomy” (featured in our National list), this specter will happily hunt down anyone who resists its call to the dance floor.

Michael Christmas and Ricky Felix feat. Rebel Mafia Global and Tony Shhnow, “Klutch Sports” 

Michael Christmas and Ricky Felix made a record for all the numerologists this summer. Glance over their collaborative EP Christmas in 6 and you’ll see a pattern repeat: There’s six songs, six featured artists, two tracks with “6” in the title. And, oh yeah, they wrote it in a measly six hours. Any track from Christmas in 6 deserves a spot here, but “Klutch Sports” stands out based on length alone. Clocking it at four minutes and 30 seconds — the longest of the bunch — “Klutch Sports” allows Christmas and Felix to flex to the fullest extent. “I be eatin’ all these beats like it’s a luncheon,” Christmas raps on the first verse. Hell, he probably can eat six different beats from Felix during the span of one luncheon, too.

Jason Ebbs, “Always Wanted”

Ah, to be more than friends, or to keep it painfully platonic? The character in Jason Ebbs’ August single would ask, but he doesn’t seem to have much choice in the matter. “Always Wanted” takes unrequited love on the chin with confectionary pop-rock worth savoring long after the heartbreak passes. Ebbs’ self-effacing handiwork here provides another example of one of life’s greatest contradictions: Even when love hurts like hell and has every right to be called a nightmare, somehow it can still feel like a daydream.

Gatch, “Italian Leather” 

Hollywood can keep its next heist movie — Gatch has us covered. The Boston singer-songwriter narrates the drip (and downfall) of a sticky-fingered criminal who’s forever flush with “rings [and] the shiny things” in his single from this fall. The track’s big-band funk fits Gatch’s story like a glove, most notably when the chorus taunts “I don’t leave no fingerprints / And I’m ‘bout to get my hands on you.” “Italian Leather” vibrates with so much moxie, you’d never know it was a fictionalized tribute to Gatch’s late cousin. It’s the blueprint for how we should all aspire to be remembered one day: As a rule-breaking badass with a kickin’ soundtrack to match.

kei, “Beserk” 

When we say kei’s song “berserk” slaps, we’re putting it lightly. Boston’s rap rabble-rouser uses her rhymes to strike down everything and anything in her way on this no-nonsense bridge between her 2022 projects terrible twos and CHILD’S PLAY. “Anything I do / I kill / I murder,” she threatens on the chorus (or boasts, depending on your perspective). We’re not ones to condone violence, but when the bars feel like a fist to the face, you know a rapper’s doing something right.

Lik Meraki, “Anticipation” 

Lik Meraki essentially manifested her way onto this list. “My mommy told me I am one of the chosen few / And everybody know it too / It’s always been my destiny” she raps on her October single “Anticipation.” Meraki’s no-frills declaration of bravado goes in for the kill, blasting phonies and inferior artistry as she ascends to the spotlight. It’s a tune that leaves you lyrically satisfied and simultaneously craving a little more sass. And we’re shivering with antici….pation for whatever she drops next.

Jill McCracken, “help me, hold me, heal me”

Jill McCracken picked her words wisely for this standalone single. Sometimes it’s the simplest phrases that help us ask for what’s not-so-simple, and that’s exactly what McCracken does with her straightforward soul smash “help me, hold me, heal me.” The title tells half the story; the rest lies in the passion of the notes between her requests for love that’s equal parts unconditional and unrelenting. “help me, hold me, heal me” speaks with tenderness, but delivers the message with a newfound authority that suits McCracken’s mighty pipes. It’s exactly the kind of energy we’re holding onto as we welcome 2023.

Mint Green, “Body Language” 

2022 had Mint Green turning green with envy. Or maybe that’s sheer admiration gushing from the chorus of “Body Language“, the band’s lead single from their LP All Girls Go to Heaven. “You are to me something I wish I could be,” frontwoman Ronnica erupts on the chorus with mounting urgency. The rawness in her vocals uncorks a level of passion that even the clearest body language — on stage or in private — can’t touch. It was already assumed that Mint Green would be right at home with their new label Pure Noise Records, but their gut-wrenching performance of “Body Language” truly seals the deal.

MyCompiledThoughts, “Pentagon” 

Step inside MyCompiledThoughts’ love triangle “Pentagon” and get ready to swoon. In an era where artists are eager to squeeze their music under the uber-streamable three-minute mark,  MyCompiledThoughts’ July single takes its time, letting his charming R&B ebb and flow naturally. “I don’t really make too much / Can we cuddle up? / Can you fall into my world?” he croons on the pre-chorus. But when you can write a love song as enticing as this one, you don’t really don’t need to make much money to woo new boos, do you?

Prateek, “Diamonds” 

When your heart feels hardened as a diamond, you don’t exactly have to go mining for ballad inspiration. Prateek perfects an oldie but a goodie here, steeping a years-old tune in the swampy muck and mire of Southern blues with some help from producer Sean McLaughlin. “Diamonds” shines through the authentic grit that surrounds it — and that’s what makes it the crown jewel of Prateek’s catalog to date. 

Rilla Force, “FEELS” 

They say to never bottle up your feelings… unless you’re Rilla Force, and you want to harness their powers to hurtle yourself through time and space. The Boston DJ’s hyper single “FEELS” launches itself like a rocket and never drifts back down to earth, forever bouncing between satellites and Saturn’s rings. This Energizer Bunny track zips and zigzags across Force’s collection of beats, making for a delightfully bumpy ride. You’re gonna want to buckle up for this one. 

Savoir Faire, “Sweet”

Even if Savoir Faire’s January single wasn’t steeped in an important social message, it’d earn a spot on this list simply for its magnetic turns of phrase. Boston singer-songwriter Sarah Fard flexes her wordplay with “Sweet,” a pushback against the cursed, cutesy terms that minimize women and their work. “You see my thoughts are anaphylactic / To that dastardly tactic / That you think because you push, I might cave in,” she asserts with ominous poise. A spoonful of “Sweet” might send misogynists into a rage. That’s exactly what we love about it.

Senseless Optimism, “Leave You Behind”

Senseless Optimism — the artist and the concept — can only be pushed so far. When the good vibes wilt, Brittany Tsewole won’t hesitate to pull the plug on a depleting situationship, and that’s exactly what she does on the opener of her EP It Gets Better. “Leave You Behind” spurns a flaky lover with a wink and grin, ditching them for good before they can do the same to her. Yes, it does get better, as the EP’s title states, but you have to shake shit up before anything improves. “Leave You Behind” is Tsewole rolling up her sleeves, cutting the cord, and spinning the split into a soul record made for lazy Sunday mornings.

shallow pools, “Say What You Want” 

Say what you want, but shut up when the new shallow pools song is playing. The Boston band guts gossipers with this middle finger for the holier-than-thou crowd who spend their free time protesting LGBTQIA+ pride. As a songwriting collaboration with PVRIS’ Lynn Gunn, this is Massachusetts pop-punk at its most potent. “Say What You Want” invites bigots to run their mouths, but after lines like “you’re no one’s savior,” the haters are likely feeling a little tongue-tied. “Who are you to judge?” lead singer Glynnis Brennan jeers on the refrain. Technically, judging’s in our job description, and we deem “Say What You Want” a top-shelf clapback.

SuperSmashBroz feat. Chrystel, “Whine for Your Life”

When you haven’t torn up a dance floor in two years, you better let loose like your life depends on it in 2022. SuperSmashBroz bust down the boarded-up doors at the club with this carpe diem gem from their Miles Away EP.  “If I ever get another night / Imma go hard / Imma do it right,” sings featured artist Chrystel over SSB’s sultry beats. Party-like-there’s no-tomorrow songs certainly aren’t a new concept — they’re practically their own genre by now — but after a pandemic, musical mantras like “Whine For Your Life” just hit different.

The True Faith, “Minimal Change”

Seasons shift, band names change, but The True Faith’s moody post-punk remains dependable as ever. The Boston band entered a new era in more ways than one this year: First by tweaking their moniker, then by teasing their forthcoming album Go to Ground  with lead single “Minimal Change”. The new material continues The True Faith’s steady stream of brooding cuts that began with 2021’s EP As Much Nothing As Possible. The group’s consistency checks out: After all, why make anything beyond a “minimal change” or two when you’ve already perfected the formula for mesmerizing music?

STEFAN THEV, “ghouls! zombies! skeletons!”

STEFAN THEV keeps some creepy company, and he’s not shy about it. THEV’s March single assembles an army of its titular creatures — ghouls, zombies, and skeletons — and uses them to put a mangled face to the demons that keep THEV up at night. As visions of corpses and “gone too soon” t-shirts pollute THEV’s mind, he quips in the background that “I’d get rid of ‘em… but I’d be lonely.” Back in the spring, we proclaimed “ghouls! zombies! skeletons!” was the “best thing you’ll hear this side of spooky season” — but frankly, THEV’s acerbic rock can kick the ass of any tired Halloween fodder, too. 

Ant Thomas, “Opulence” 

Ant Thomas’ “Opulence” doesn’t need to be a moment over 66 seconds. The closer for Thomas’ Privilege Pack EP stacks truths like a swift piece of slam poetry, speaking so poignantly that the Boston rapper doesn’t break a sweat. “We could be Breonna Taylor on any given night / And you gon’ get away / If your skin blue or white,” he raps with solemnity. But Thomas isn’t one to end his song — or his project — on a negative note, and he can flip the script on a moment’s notice. “It’s dark here,” he acknowledges in his final breath, before motivating his crew: “But we gon’ make it light.”

 Viruette, “Viruette”  

People meet. People fuck. People forget about each other until they’re awkwardly face to face again years down the line. It’s a tale as old as time, yet Viruette manage to make the story fresh again with a ripper of a debut single. The newcomers unravel a cautionary tale about entertaining old lovers, or what singer and guitarist Harry Bee explains as “how romantic and exciting self-destruction seems in youth.” In turn, “Viruette” proudly presents a one-band wrecking machine eager to recreate that kind of self-inflicted chaos.

Yavin feat. Michael Christmas, “Dumb.”  

Finally, a song for when you feel like a living, breathing version of clown applying makeup meme. As we’ve seen with his past pop confessionals, Yavin’s the strongest when he’s dishing on his weaknesses, and this single is no exception. Meet “Dumb.”, a whimsical dump-me-already anthem about not living up to a partner’s expectations. “I fall flat / You don’t deserve that,” he sings over a bouncy keyboard riff, not unlike the piano that carries DRAM and Lil Yachty’s jubilant 2016 bop “Broccoli.” Yavin’s tone is candid, but his backdrop is pure camp, zipping comedy and tragedy into the same kitschy clown suit. Playing dumb never sounded so clever.