We reviewed a lot of albums and EPs in 2018 and no better way to celebrate an exciting year than to recognize the best of the best we came across. Our writers and contributors duked it out in full yelling matches to determine what was the best local album of the year. Just kidding, we took a poll. Here were the results:
#10. The Shirts and Shoes – Bananas, by Shae Carter
Although themes such as death, life, and love intertwined throughout Bananas are common, this album proves to be anything but that. Each individual track is something new and refreshing, and even within each song the listener waits metaphorically (or in my case, when I’m shamelessly dancing around to this album, physically) on their toes. The Shirts and Shoes lead your ears down a musical maze with different twists and turns from verse to chorus, and everything in between. At the same time, they explore the juxtaposition of death and happiness with somber lyrics that accompany groovy melodies and other cheerful musical aspects, in songs such as “Blurry Eyes”. The guitar licks that Emiliano Calvo lays down in tracks like “Forgive Me” and “Slow” will have you rewinding the song to let the notes really sink into the crevices of your brain.
Bananas ends with an extremely melodic track called “Death Threat”, that will take the high you’ve felt from all of the upbeatness of the former part of the album, and shove you into your bed at 3 A.M thinking about the meaning of life. Tyler Charron sings “If words could kill I’d start writing letters” and, “If I love- call me insane” which pack an all too serious punch.
Over all this album is five for five bananas, or ten for ten shirts. If this album hasn’t been part of your rotation in 2018, make your New Year’s resolution to treat your ears better and pop this bad Larry on any type of playlist or listening method you have available to you.
Key Track: “Forgive Me”
#9. Ricky Business – A’la, by Tom Stevens
Paper Mario chiptunes, seductive electronic grooves, shy vocals hiding under autotune melodies—A’la is a sonic playground made from the bedroom, programmed on a laptop but always within reach of a guitar. It might sound whimsical on the surface, but try to listen deeper. Wear headphones. The songwriting is clever and catchy, the lyrics are rich and imaginative, and all the weird synth sounds might make you nostalgic for that video game you haven’t played since you were ten. All these things compliment each other in a way that’s hard to put in words exactly, but it it’s own thing. It might touch a soft spot you didn’t know you had.
Key Track: “Indifference”
#8. Surprise Party – Dull, by Joel Gray
What I liked most about Surprise Party’s Dull is the sheer amount of diversity throughout the album. The album takes the listener on a trip from 1950’s Buddy Holly era moments to 60’s surf rock to 90’s indie pop. Even the 90’s influences seem to vary from more traditional indie like Wilco to the more emo driven Promise Ring. Yet, the cohesiveness of the album makes everything come together tight enough so nothing ever feels out of place. What you’re always going to get are catchy pop licks with enough solid musicianship behind it to satisfy any ULowell music major’s dissective nature when they stumble across the band at UnchARTed or The Worthen.
Key Track: “Skinny People”.
#7. D-Tension – The Violence of Zen, by Lilz Martin
In a world filled with slurring SoundCloud rappers and straight-to-the-club EDM-rap, thank goodness we still have the underground. The spirit and cleverness of golden age hip-hop is alive and well just underneath pop’s surface, and Lowell-based rapper D-Tension is our city’s vigilant ambassador of the genre. Nowhere is this made more clear than on his latest studio full-length, The Violence Of Zen. An album many years in the making, The Violence Of Zen has D-Tension deftly weaving rhymes with the cleverness and irreverence of forebears like Del The Funky Homosapien and Mos Def, and a boatload of top-tier guest spots, including underground and local vets like Akrobatik, Diamond D, and Pace Won, among many others. Hopefully D-Tension won’t have us wait another six years for a follow-up, but one can be assured it’ll undoubtedly be every bit as smooth, astute, and effortless as this album.
Key Track: “Landlord Song”
#6. JoE GriZzLy – The Future, by Seth Rohrer
First off, If you haven’t seen these guys live, do yourself the favor. Two talented word smiths plus a killer live drummer driving beats that make you move equals one pleasant experience. Start to finish, The Future is that honest local hiphop album we needed. JoE GriZzley gave us 12 songs laced with themes of social awareness, spicy samples, texture, and smooth vocal flows. The over all production remains consistent while they explore a healthy variety of sounds, and the sonic blending of acoustic drums in their beats sets them apart from the rest. On a global scale, 2018 cranked out some serious unmentionables, and cringe worthy moments. But there’s still love out there, and progress isn’t only possible but necessary. In my opinion, The Future narrates that quite well. Nicely done boys.
Key track: La Amo
#5. Knock Over City – it’s bad, dude, by Dave Boz
Knock Over City’s it’s bad, dude is an indie rock masterpiece. With a sound reminiscent of both 90’s grunge (Nirvana, Soundgarden) and 90’s indie rock (Archers of Loaf, Dinosaur Jr) It’s bad, dude delivers 10 tracks full of driving drumbeats, vocals that convey as much aggression as desperation, and riffs that are as heavy as they are melodic. It’s also worth mentioning the guitar playing approaches virtuosity at times.
All in all the music and vocals perfectly accompany the brilliantly written lyrics, which are mostly about battling depression. However, this isn’t a collection of self-absorbed emo songs about depression. Lyrically, the album looks at depression as the plague that it is, as it affects us, our friends, and families. Yet guitarist/vocalist, Nunzi Debenedetto manages to comfort the listener with the lines like “To absent friends/ if depression takes them/ know depression didn’t win/ if their name’s still on your lips.” After all, as described on their bandcamp page, this is “a record about getting better.”
Key Track: Ghost Meat
#4. Kid Widow – Kid Widow, by Troy Nicholson
Loud, heavy and dirty are the things I think of when I remember back on Kid Widow. Their time as a band was short and sweet like a haiku, so I wrote one.
Kid Widow was cool
Here today, gone tomorrow
I guess Lowell wasn’t ready
Key Track: “Deploy | Decoy”
#3 Horse Mode – I’ve Had It With Your Jazz, by Al Gentile
I’ve Had It With Your Jazz is an excellent representation of a band equal parts Modest Mouse, Rush, and Minus The Bear. While known for some of the most sophisticated abstract, progressive indiecore in the Lowell scene, Horse Mode takes these concepts a major step forward with this release. For listeners unfamiliar with the band, I’ve Had It With Your Jazz features heavy hooks, an ironically jazzy treatment to the hardcore sound, and linear (as opposed to cyclical) song structures that listen more like evolutions than songs. An endearingly interesting piece, I’ve Had It With Your Jazz is something that takes a few listens to fully comprehend. The time spent on this is most definitely not time wasted.
Key Track: “Steal Your Voice”
#2 daisybones – Gold, by Luke Pelletier
Iconic riffage meets a nicotine-fueled aesthetic to produce all the cheeriness you can possibly hope to find in fundamental pessimism. Quite honestly, there’s more than you’d expect. In releasing Gold, daisybones took the initiative in giving a general sonic identity to millennials. Track after track, listeners are captivated by memorable melodies and larger-than-life choruses. The record’s lyrical recipe follows a pattern of 1 part skepticism, half a cup of nostalgia, a sprinkle of self-loathing and a dash of hope. From the gang-vocals and big-boy boppin’ licks to the drippy, washed out guitars, the smooth, rounded bass fills and the clever vibe layered on from the keyboards, every thread of Gold is stitched together to form a luxurious aural fabric. daisybones landed the Deli New England’s Artist of the Month in October of this past year. With Gold out, I can only wonder what new heights the group will reach.
Full review 12-2-18
Key Track: Beautymark, but Lemondrop absolutely slays.
#1. oldsoul – Coy, by Alyssa Aileen Vautier
Sonic joy. Each moment is harnessed finely with lush melodic evolution, utilizing demanding voicing and dynamic tempo shifts that cultivate effortlessly. Each track is a scenic ride on a cable car, bond for tangy harmonics and soft yet compelling vocal tactics. With sturdy production quality under their outfit, oldsoul’s Coy is a more grown version of all of us; chronically tired but feisty, a little too dehydrated, and fed up with being so jaded. It’s a punchy indie album that’s actively engaging; holding sharp hits of unrelenting groove that carry so well from start to finish. It’s deeply intimate, provided by Jess Hall’s driving vocals – offering a layered take on vulnerability that’s just so goddamn powerful. The band created a cohesive mood that is relatable and congruent with the kind of growth necessary for them to evolve, making them more malleable in the long run. This album is full of bite and does more than bark!
Key Track: “Good Girl”