There’s a newfound excitement and genuine eagerness that comes with starting school as a freshman. While the following artists certainly aren’t at the beginning stages of learning how to make music, they are at the early stages of their artist careers—and we can’t wait to see how they flourish.
The following list is a who’s who of rising musical acts in the Boston scene. In other words, they’re our Freshman 15. To highlight the true small artists of the city, and to be eligible for this list, these artists must have only released songs or EPs so far. It’s a way to highlight artists beyond DigBoston’s Best Local Albums of the Year or Best Local EPs of the Year lists. Those who have released an album aren’t included. Those who have been profiled aren’t included. Instead, the following acts are pure rising talent, and we’re holding out for them to have their blow-up moments real soon.
The reason it’s so quiet right now is because ANSON RAP$ is about to create a storm—despite having no mixtape or EP to his name. Born and raised in Boston, Anson Frazier is a local through and through, which puts him in the perfect spot to push his rap to the next level of Boston’s artistic and visual standards. His big single “MVMNT” lays the foundation for the type of flow to expect from ANSON RAP$. His cameos with artists like Treva Holmes shows whose radar he’s on. Best of all, he rubs elbows with artists like Oompa, Dutch ReBelle, and Billy Dean Thomas, establishing himself as a community member who’s plotting a big surprise.
Record label Anxiety Pop is slowly becoming the Flying Nun Records of Boston. Its newest release is Die Alone pt. 2, the newest EP by alt-rock trio Banana. While their songs fluctuate between yappy indie rock and sludge pop, Banana’s most dependable quality is the rawness, a trait that the band embraces openly to give their songs personality. If you need to air off your chest like you’re listening to Nirvana in middle school again except way cooler, this is the band to listen to.
After steadily releasing four singles since 2016, Boston Cream finally has an EP to show for their work. The five-piece indie punk band—comprised of Melanie Bernier, Ryan Connelly, Peach S. Goodrich, Joe Marrett, and Nicholas Ward—has a flair for the disco era, and they let its influence show in creative ways on Mine: shaker flourishes, synth runs, and reverb-dipped vocals. It’s all the fun of a basement show without the inescapable sweat. They deliver on the city moniker, too, with odes to college outfits, Boston humidity, and the Mass Ave bridge. It’s a certified tasty listen, but that much is a given, right?
Metal is one of the most tawdry genres, if only because of how many musicians pick it up without doing any of its subgenres justice. For every 10 tacky records you find, an enjoyable one surfaces. If you’re lucky, it will be half as enduring as Dim’s two EPs. New England’s finest purveyors of sludge, doom, and death metal remain one of its most hidden to casual listeners, despite cultivating a small following in Europe. Don’t worry; none of the heaviness will bore you to death. Music Man and Sunn amp worshippers, this one’s for you.
It’s been four years of Elizabeth Colour Wheel making a name for itself, and yet technically the doom-lovin’ shoegaze band still falls in this category. Three EPs, a few singles, and dozens of shows later, the band celebrated its first label release this year thanks to Midnight Werewolf, who released Queen Tired. With harrowing, intense vocals, creeping bass, and thrashing drums, the EP delivers on everything the band is known for: a loud, distorted, bewitching experience. After already performing with acts like Cloakroom and Have A Nice Life, it’s time the Elizabeth Colour Wheel hype finally crosses over to the mainstream so the Allston act can get the extensive fandom and critical praise it deserves.
Though the music is totally bare-boned, there’s a big anticipatory feeling lurking behind the music of Fawn. The folk rock project of Anne Malin Ringwalt and Will Johnson is an outlet for self-described “metastasis, meta-stasis, and meditation.” Their songs deliver on that. Just like Angel Olsen lets her wavering words hang in the air, all powerful delivery and deeply felt emotion, Ringwalt’s voice will haunt you on jaunty and slow burning songs alike. With two standalone singles and a 2016 EP called Neither Dog Nor Car, the latter recorded by Medford artist Elio DeLuca, Fawn is shaping up to be a haunting listen that will make you stand still no matter where it is you hear its music.
Take one look at Grace Givertz and you would never know what’s coming. The tiny indie folk singer-songwriter is a massive tour-de-force musician. On her only EP, last year’s The Light, she flexes her verbal wit while juggling guitar, banjo, ukulele, harmonica, and foot tambourine. So when she name-drops global warming-induced sweat and openly sobbing in the same breath with a cheeky joy, hearty harmonica breezing in its wake, the only real option is to smile at how much she packs into a tiny punch of a song. Give her a stage and the crowds will come in no time.
Sometimes all it takes is a voice. Singer-songwriter Aubrey Haddard has been slowly building up her sound, but her voice has been a fame-fitting shoe-in ever since she dropped her first and only EP, Adult Lullabies, back in 2016. Armed with an acoustic guitar and a soulful spirit, Haddard rocks the chill acoustic vibes of Corinne Bailey Rae with the casually enormous lungs of Lianne La Havas. She resurfaced this year with lively single “I Should Know Better.” As she belts through a chorus about oncoming jadedness, the energy of a proper band behind her, we can’t help but wait around for more.
Boston has emo bands, but good luck finding a well-recorded one early on in their career. Please make way for I Wish I Could Skateboard, one of the only new bands who waves emo and pop punk flags without getting caught up in their own image. The four-piece sees guitarist and vocalist Patrick McPherson, bassist Hannah Fletcher, guitarist James Alvarado, and drummer Brandon Hall split their time between Boston and Tyler, Texas they’ve been able to release two fun, enticing EPs: 2014’s I Appreciate Your Lack of Confidence and 2017’s Alternative Lifestyle. Every title reads like a joke, and yet the band sounds like a young colleague of Glocca Morra, Tigers Jaw, or Joyce Manor.
Please keep your two-minute hardcore songs as far away as possible. Once you’ve done that, let a band like Innocent show you how straightforward hardcore punk should be. With a short demo tape and the four-song Power Is Violence EP, the four-piece churns out aggressive, rapid-fire, and uncorrupted punk that dabbles in D-beat. Samantha yells her vocals with an occasional shriek, registering them so high that it’s hard to pick out exactly what’s being said. By the time one minute-long song ends, another starts, and all you can do is live in the feeling she and her bandmates kick up. As with anything on the Side Two record label, it’s a promising band that doesn’t overcomplicate things. Just look at their sole two Bandcamp tags: “Punk,” “Boston.”
Boston listeners who like their indie rock with a side of weird offness will be happy to know a band like Kármán Voh lives in their backyard. The Jamaica Plain musical project of Pasha Koskins merges shoegaze, pop, muted electronica, and post-punk in a perfectly produced bubble. The final product sounds like the more stunning and elegant songs in Deerhunter’s catalog or B-sides to Thom Yorke’s The Eraser—massive comparisons, and yet they’re incredibly apt. With only this year’s If Only Apart EP and a nine-song release from last year (Okay, so this could technically be an album, but for the sake of this list we’ve decided to include the band regardless) in the act’s catalog, Kármán Voh is primed for a big breakout once more soon-to-be fans discover its out there.
The world of experimental electronics can be sorted into three categories: uptempo, bizarre, or meditative. While it’s tempting to place mmph in the latter category, the Seoul-born, Boston-based producer manages to dance between all three. At just 24 years old, Sae Heum Han found a way to merge classical training and sound design. His debut EP, Dear God, skates beautifully through ambient, noise, and avant-techno, reminding us how nice it is to hear an experimental electric act that forgoes the genre’s stereotypes without actively trying to avoid them.
Focus leads to fruition, especially when determination enters the equation. Last fall, experimental duo Neck arrived on the scene as a live act and quickly got to work creating a proper studio effort. Hand It Over, the resulting debut EP, is a surprisingly patient listen. Singer and guitarist Kira McSpice and bassist Bailey Hein roll forward in a slow daze, letting synths and Omnichord echo around them with levity despite addressing loaded topics like mental health. If it took the duo several months to create a mesmerizing EP, then who knows what the two will roll out in a year’s time.
The hardest part of making intricate music is making it sound easy. With only two EPs to its name, alt math rock trio ozlo has already figured out how to do that. Guitarist and vocalist Jess Schmid, bassist and vocalist Tallie Hausser, and drummer Joren Carlson balance heavy, roving instrumentation with alluring straightforward vocals. The way their dueling guitars knot themselves and then unknot themselves is addicting, the type of complicated math rock that still wants unfamiliar listeners to follow along. Listen to this year’s Sorry Charlie EP to try to figure out how the three make it work.
The perfect comedown music takes its form in slowcore, a genre that’s as obvious as the title implies. Tuft, the solo project of Jessica Hesse, is a vaguely self-deprecating outlet for sad, jangly guitar and half-whispered ruminations. Tuft uses that musical style to make her sole EP, Whoever Gets You in the End, a personable expression of unhurried self-examination in the vein of Bedhead and Pedro the Lion. In other words, when you want to fall asleep but know you won’t anytime soon, this is what you should put on.