As the new year begins, we look back to the local albums that captured us in 2019. Across all the records we see some shared themes cropped up: cries of despair paired with glimmers of hope, truly open and honest narration, and serious self-reflection. Here are some of our team’s favorites, in alphabetical order:

Cliff Notez, Why the Wild Things Are 

Serving as a profound parallel to the children’s tale, Where the Wild Things Are, Cliff Notez’s album Why The Wild Things Are is an uncensored depiction of what it means to be Black in America—and we all need to listen. Over twenty bruised and empowered voices are heard and they present a strong sense of community on this spellbinding album. Fluctuating from sinister to soulful, both lyrically and sonically, each track represents a different narrative and ultimately fans the flames for a much-needed revolution. – KS

Highlight: “Get Free I”

Coral Moons, Quarter Life Crisis

Drenched in nostalgic retro-rock songs and rooted in soul, Coral Moons’ EP, Quarter Life Crisis, is a memory of summers gone by. Its funk-influenced bass grooves and lead vocalist Carly Kraft’s raw vocals spin the story of a narrator aching about a past love. Throughout the record, Coral Moons serve up hints of blues, with influence from bands like The Allman Brothers and Fleetwood Mac. Brilliant, unpretentiously poetic lyricism conjures up poignancy with every listen. -ADB

Highlight: “Just for Tonight”

 

Future Teens, Breakup Season 

Breakup Season, Future Teens’ sophomore album, picks up right where their emo-pop debut left off. Heart-on-sleeve lyrics and Amy Hoffman’s powerful vocals make for an emotionally harrowing listen, while standouts like like “Frequent Crier” and “Born To Stay” underscore the group’s pop potential. Cry in the break room at work or feel the ache of missing someone during a walk down Comm Ave; in a moment when generic, bland sadness is still very much in vogue in pop, Future Teens’ feisty, tearstained anthems are a welcome breath of fresh air. -ME

Highlight: “Emotional Bachelor”

 

Hawthorn, Maggie Willow 

Maggie Willow unspools a harmonic narrative from a faraway dream on a stormy summer afternoon. Cool, ethereal vocals and enigmatic lyricism—set gracefully against a bewitching instrumental backdrop filled with creative guitar-picking—create a ghostly brilliant record that swims deep within your veins, and stays there. -ADB

Highlight: “In the Morning”

 

Helenor, Something Twice

David DiAngelis’ sepia-toned LP welcomes us to desert the mental habits that weigh us down. The illustrator and designer took to music production and delivered a Something Twice under Helenor, a record that speculates on the cycles of life and the patterns we find shaping our days. Twinkly guitars and reflective synths build a psychedelic soundscape that allow self-reflection to arise with comfort. Something Twice encourages us to slow down, take a breath, and let go. -KS

Highlight: “Ocean State”

Houndsteeth, Stain Your Tongue

A sinuous and sincere exploration of the self, Stain Your Tongue combats and combusts as it scores life’s most mentally debilitating moments. Houndsteeth’s sonic dissonance reflects the mental disarray: the groove of “Sway//Stay” swerves into a clash of vocals, an aggressive rise and fall that results in chaotic anti-harmony. Tracks like “Split Your Lip” help you groove through the darkness; this is an album that will hold your hand through the madness. -KS

Highlight: “Sway//Stay”

 

Jobi Riccio, Strawberry Wine

Was there a “sweeter flavor and a kinder neighbor” than Jobi Riccio in 2019? The Berklee student and Denver native released her three-song debut EP, Strawberry Wine, a short but piercing collection of anthems about yearning and heartbreak. Despite its quick listen, Riccio packs a smorgasbord of metaphors and comparisons for all the ways another person can hurt you. Not only do her songs overflow with poeticism, they evoke timelessness like a Keatsian ode. Some gems from her original songs include: “She’s a magnolia, sweetest in May / You called me ‘Dandelion’ but couldn’t wish her away” on “Hangin’ the Moon” and “If only I’d never tasted strawberry wine / Then I’d never know the taste of your lips on mine” on “Strawberry Wine”. -DP

Highlight: Hangin’ the Moon

Latrell James, Still

It might be packed with punchy staccato rhythms, but there is no stutter on Still. Rather, Latrell James’ latest record is a state of constant motion. There’s a sonic playfulness—the light beats are like a karaoke machine’s bouncing lyrics ball—that contradicts the weight of topics like gentrification. Lyrics like “mass murder” and chaperone” punctuate “Tracphone” with the same stiff snappiness as the hi-hat that accompanies them. Meanwhile, the rhymes of “Stay Down” roll into one another, stringing together NBA references, tea leaves and Jeeps. With Still, James replaces the wounds of his unreleased record The Sky Might Fall with revival, gratitude and a map of his maturation. -KB

Highlight: “Tracphone”

Olivia Barton, I Could Have Smiled at You More

I Could Have Smiled at You More, Olivia Barton laments, but her debut album’s full-bodied vocals and earthy folk sound ground her as she bares her healing journey for all to see. Every song is a standout, like gentle but powerful “James Taylor,” featuring Barton’s sailing voice layered over plucking guitars, sweeping violins, and tapping drums. “That Simple” and “Southridge” swell, Barton’s sweet and clear tones floating above; the album is a master class in building to an emotional climax. I Could Have Smiled at You More guides us into a place where we’re allowed to deal with our hurt in messy ways, but finally emerge whole again. -SP

Highlight: “James Taylor”

Oompa, Cleo

Unmatched production polish, thematic creativity and lyrical swagger: with Cleo, Oompa sets a new bar for the Boston hip hop scene. A concept album based on the 90s film Set It Off, Oompa uses cinematic storytelling, aggressive, hard-hitting beats, and fast-paced lyrical flame-throwing on tracks like “Cleo ‘N Nem” to build tension and suspense as she recreates the play-by-play of the movie character’s bank heist. The record’s intensity is balanced out by the joy and levity of church organs and soul-snaps (see “Thank You”) along with Friday night, rattle-the-trunk bass of “Another 10.” -JS

Highlight: “Thank You”

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