There’s a lot to be proud of Boston for in 2017. Yet for all the big headlines that made it to national attention, there’s triple the number that went overlooked. In the music world, the equivalent of that low-flying goodness are EPs, and there was no shortage of talent this year from some of our city’s best artists.
The line between album and EP is fuzzy, but oftentimes it’s most easily defined by the length of a tracklist. Traditionally, EPs range from a three-song release to a seven-song release. In recent years, some artists have gone on to label an eight or nine-song release as an EP. We try our best to abide by their definitions. So the following list is comprised of miniature listens that you can stream during your lunch break or before you head to bed. There’s surf rock and jazz psych. There’s female-fronted hardcore and straight-edge punk. There’s poetic R&B and no-fills rap. There’s chamber folk charm and alt-rock hooks. In short, it’s a list with something for everyone, but most of all it’s a list of surprises. Give them all a listen and you’ll see what we mean.
As usual, our list of the 30 Best Local Albums of the year comes out in the last issue of the year. So check back here tomorrow to see that in full. But for now, read on for our favorites of what Boston had to offer in bite-sized form.
Like a compact blend of surf pop percussion, queercore rage, and infectious indifference, Dazey and the Scouts have been a favorite of Boston musicians for a long time. With their newest release, the band makes it easy for everyone else to fall in love with their sound. Maggot spends its seven songs whipping through jumpy drums and weird rock. Fans of Vundabar will find similar recklessness in their drum patterns while people who love the vocal acrobatics of Birthing Hips can jive to Lea Jaffe’s yelps. The four-piece offers a Burger Records take that’s full of charisma, hooks, and energy. Think of it as the pre-party pick-me-up for any night where you want to leave the house happy and come back with feet sore from dancing at the rock gig.
800 FANTASY LANE
After rubbing elbows with rappers like Michael Christmas and OG Swaggerdick, Haasan Barclay rose to fame for his bizarre blend of thick R&B, experimental beats, and funk-tinged hip-hop. But now, the 26-year-old is taking a turn that no one could predict. Instead of painting a new genre, Barclay molds a new emotion, and he brings it to life on this year’s 800 Fantasy Lane. Between the odd sadness of nostalgia, the fuzzy contented feeling of happiness, and what it feels like to change hometowns time and time again, there emerges a singular sound that’s bright, slick, and impressively rich. The multifaceted emotion is tough to explain in one soundbite, but it’s a fitting struggle. After all, that’s why the EP exists: to convey what’s best described through sound in a way that only Haasan Barclay could do.
What do you call someone who’s lived in Boston for five years? A New Yorker [bah-dum tshhh]. The joke never loses its relevancy, especially when applied to college grads and Boston’s music bubble. Four-piece Crumb came out of Tufts with a mesmerizing blend of soulful jazz, indie rock, and mellow psych, all within the members’ final semesters at Tufts. Frontwoman Lila Ramani’s voice skates above it all, like some apparition intent on keeping you half-tuned in to the real world while the rest of the band whisks you off into a Tame Impala-meets-Badbadnotgood daydream. Right now, two members live in New York City while the other two, who still live in Boston, are looking to do the same in a matter of months. Next year, they will roll out new material as a New York-rooted act, so cherish the Boston ties here before they’re cut clean.
For a band of chiptune melodies and speedy slop drumming, it would make sense to assume (T-T)b ride on the immediate nostalgic reaction one has to video game sounds. But this isn’t a quick gimmick. The slacker pop trio turn chiptune into a wholly endearing saga, merging the fuzzy vocals reminiscent of LVL UP to the emotional build-ups of some of today’s best emo acts. From youthful, earnest lyrics (“I watch you cry into your french fries / but I don’t think anyone saw you”) to impassioned guitar solos on songs like “Knucklehead,” (T-T)b made an EP that should be your go-to example of why chiptune should be taken seriously—and why (T-T)b should be on your radar for years to come.
CHARM SCHOOL RECORDS
There’s not much known about Dame in the public eye, but those who have seen them live know they’re nothing to mess with. The five-piece act churn out gothic post-punk straight out of the ‘80s that seems to hold something far more sinister in its crevices. Over the course of three songs, the band rolls out a perfected take on the punk side of new wave. Vocalist Diana, guitarist Anna, keyboardist Lauren, bassist Dani, and drummer Meghan churn out three full-bodied post-punk numbers that suggest there’s plenty more to come from Dame in the future, especially if it carries the dead-eyed glare that songs like “Lines” and “Hush” do.
Look, there’s enough ’90s revival within the music industry as it is, especially in the alt-rock category. So when a band holds a candle to that time, they better light a long-lasting flame and make sure theirs burns brighter than those before it. Not only does Boston trio Lilith do so, but they one-up themselves by avoiding feel-good cliches. Five-song EP Apology Plant is at once energizing and mesmerizing, holding interest despite putting you in a daze where you want to lay on a bed, stare at the ceiling, and let the guitar solo in “Loaded” walk all over you. With patient rhythm work and raspy vocal harmonies like Now, Now, the three tread through the record with a comforting familiarity, cementing the sound as their own while never once hiding their influences—a winning combination that puts them at the forefront of the revival.
POWER HUNGRY AND MINDLESS
At the start of this year, a new band entered the hardcore ring, though anyone familiar with the scene recognized their faces right away. Innocent pulls from some of Boston’s best hardcore acts (Exit Order, Green Beret, St. Ripper, Confines, and so on) to develop a sound that burrows into the frantic punk urgency of their past outlets. On their debut demo, Innocent step onto the frontlines. Guitarist Jen Epstein, bassist Andy Turcotte, and drummer Ryan Abbott tear through their instruments while Samantha Albright hurls herself over the power chords, throwing vocal punches left and right that draw you in closer with every energetic toss. It’s a breakout EP that offers plenty to return to when you need to vent.
If you’re familiar with T.G.C. (The Gentlemen’s Club), the Boston rap group that’s opened for acts like Rockie Fresh and Nipsey Hussle, then Rams’ voice will ring a bell. After ditching a job on Newbury Street, Rams committed himself to going hard on music and dove into a solo career, and he hasn’t stopped pushing himself since. After experimenting with producers like Haasan Barclay and Stripes iii, his interest in cinematic orchestration doubled, and he channeled his inner Tarantino and Spike Lee for this year’s Diablo with help from Maka. The mixtape is full of shadowy, haunting instrumentals that help him confront paranoia, suicidal ideation, and hallucinations. It’s a dark listen, make no mistake about it, but Rams positions his stories at the center like a life preserver he’s willing to share to make sure you both make it out alive.
Ex-Providence musician Erica Sutherland has been perfecting her songwriting for years ever since she moved to Boston. With dreampop act Littlefoot, she finds the perfect outlet to lure listeners into a part-synth, part-surf, part-slow dance style of music that recalls the early releases of Beach House and Lower Dens. Over the course of seven songs, Littlefoot unveil a beautiful surf pop web of spider silk that tapers off into a dream. Lavender is a guide to self-discovery and the happiness that comes with realizing maturing isn’t so bad after all. Zone in on Sutherland’s ’60s pop vocal balladry and you will be there in no time.
Hidden in the onslaught of 2017’s bad news was a band dissolution that broke our hearts. Dæphne were one of the city’s most promising up-and-comers, establishing themselves as a force of 2010’s twinkle emo and grunge rock shrugs. The band split (hopefully temporarily) to pursue other jobs, like Larz Brogan joining Palehound as their new bassist, which makes Pondhopper their first release as a trio and last release as a band. But don’t worry. They got the last laugh by releasing Pondhopper on 4/20. So blaze it, baby, and zone out to the melodic Ovlov-ian grit of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” and the percussion feats of “Poster Girl.”
Those who love Fruit Bats and Portugal. The Man should turn towards newcomers The Solars. Self-described as a chamber folk rock band, The Solars is a quaint mixture of spirited instrumentals, from flute on “Help Me to My Hometown” to the warm organ on “Potter’s Field / Dockery.” Miles Hewitt and Quetzel Herzig create a layered world of cascading percussion and filtered vocals amid jaunty keys. If you aren’t listening close enough, it’s easy to mistake them for a triple-A radio staple. Who knows. Give them some time, and Retitled Remastered could be the first of several signs that The Solars would, and then did, make it big.
AFTER THE GLORY
Boston MC Haze has been dropping tracks faster than most veterans in the city. It’s all thanks to Grubby Pawz, the producer he’s been partnered with for a while. The two have released three records this year alone, but the best introduction to their sound is After the Glory, a seven-song EP that highlights the best of the two, both as individuals and as a duo. With cameos from Code Nine, JuneLyfe, Estee Nack, Crimeapple, and Eto, the EP takes its time in unfurling the vibe the duo go for. But in our eyes, the dusty, horn-filled samples and slurring verses from guests make After the Glory a nighttime listen, perfect for cruising through Roxbury and the South End at sunset on the way to pick up the rest of your friends. What you do after that is up to you.
BONG WISH EP
BEYOND BEYOND IS BEYOND RECORDS
Hello and welcome back to the ’60s. Mariam Saleh will be your guide. At live shows, Bong Wish have been putting listeners into a daze with their flute flourishes, woodblock beats, and tambourine crashes. On the band’s self-titled EP, though, they perfect the British folk pop they’ve been chasing, churning out a psych folk rock record that could easily be mistake for a vinyl dive gem. As tempting as it is to pass it off as a single-note listen, the EP has groovier moments that pick up the pace, like “Conversation With Business People,” where a driving bass refuses to let up. Simply put, Bong Wish EP is the instrumental precision of Dungen with the basslines of Melody’s Echo Chamber, all held together by Saleh’s trippy visions caught in a summertime breeze.
Cambridge band Lenderson fill their sound with thin guitar and steady percussion, but when they reveal themselves to be a duo, suddenly the music triples in sound. On their debut self-titled EP, the two whittle through breezy indie rock that sounds like it comes from veteran musicians. Do some digging and it turns out there’s a reason. Guitarist-bassist-vocalist Jesse Brotter and drummer-keyboardist Jonathan Gilad are half of jazz psych poppers Crumb. So when they’re swimming gracefully through the lyricless grooves of “Blastoff/Exploder” or the sunny doubletime shift in “Cutglove,” know it comes with the experience of two guys who bounced through the jazz, funk, and hip-hop circuits of Tufts’ underground music scene for several years now.
For a band that’s been around for just over two years, Horse Girl has the form of one of Boston’s staple DIY acts despite flying low on the mainstream’s radar. The trio—comprised of singer-guitarist Ellis Hobby, singer-drummer Sam Mackenzie, and bassist Liz Sclafani—hails from Salem and performs shows on the regular, which explains how they got their brand of sad rock pop to sound airtight. From the freeing calls of opening number “Alright” to the catchy rhythm section on “Kelsey,” Been Better lifts itself up with the type of emboldening indifference and off-kilter screams that capture what it’s like to spend a summer in the city when you’re not quite sure if you’re in the right place chasing the right path, but you’re having too much fun to trade it for anything else.