Every music critic has the same weakness: When December comes, we feel the incredible urge to affirm our glorious responsibility as the ultimate authority on the past year’s discography. So bear with me, and behold, five of our favorite local releases from 2014.
Michael Christmas: Is This Art?
It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that in a few years, we may use the 19-year-old rapper’s debut as a dividing line in Boston’s recent hip-hop history—not because Christmas somehow reinvented the genre, but because he so simply and completely made it his own. That’s down to his considerable skills and some excellent beats, but mainly because of Christmas himself: Like a rap game Louis C.K., he flows with such easy charisma, understated intelligence and lack of pretension that even all the masturbation jokes end up being funny. Try “Y’all Tripping,” “Leonard Washington,” “Overweight Drake,” and “The World” if you’re still skeptical.
Will Dailey: National Throat
The story behind Will Dailey’s National Throat, the crowdfunded album he left Universal Records to create, is more than just a big part of the record’s appeal—it’s essential. The modern meaning of artistic freedom is explored literally at times (“Sunken Ship”), but more often than not it doesn’t need to be; the way Dailey’s buoyant vocals soar above bursts of funky horns on “Why Do I” and linger in the hazy afterglow of blues guitars on “Don’t Take Your Eyes Off Of Me” says it all, his newfound creative independence sparking his most complete and impressive album yet.
The CreaturoS that emerges from under a thick cloud of feedback on the band’s sophomore LP isn’t the same beast we last heard on 2012’s Swampp Thingg: The garage-punk outfit has evolved into something more muscular and formidable here. The sticky beach boardwalk jam “Short Shorts” is bright and breezy, but it’s the exception to an album that mostly comes at you in concentrated waves of noise. Witness the throbbing pulse of “Going Out in Style,” the sticky guitars on “Sunrise Wedding,” or “The Master’s Dope,” a bristling psych-rock cut straight out of Easy Rider. Culled from sessions spread over a four-year period, Popsicle allows you to hear the band’s progression.
Speedy Ortiz: Real Hair EP
Quality trumps quantity on this four-track set from the celebrated quartet, which puts the spotlight on their dynamic and sophisticated songwriting. “American Horror” wades knee-deep in slushy feedback, but pushes Sadie Dupuis’ vocals to the front of the mix, allowing her to sing with bemused detachment until the chorus rumbles in. She imbues songs like “Everything’s Bigger” with personality—an acerbic wit, just the right amount of self-awareness and vulnerability— that transcend the ambiguous lyrics, and make Real Hair greater than the sum of its few parts.
D-Tension: D-Tension’s Secret Project
Here’s the plot: hip-hop producer assembles an all-star crew of local musicians to make a New Wave synth-pop album, and it works. An anachronistic but undeniably catchy nod to the era of The Cure and , Secret Project maintains its creators’ spirit throughout, particularly on “Can You Stand It” and “Gatekeepers,” a bouncy dance cut played from the tip of an extended middle finger.