2019 did not let us down as far as local tunes go. This year yielded a massive crop of music, varying from Lowell’s usual bag of fuzzed-out indie rock and hard-hitting punk rock, mixed in with a healthy dosage of underground hip-hop, glitchy electronica, power pop, and earnest singer-songwriter folk, to name just a fraction of the sounds coming from the Mill City. As with last year, utilizing an “octagon”-style fighting arena system, we pitted our writers and staff against each other in a bloodthirsty fight to the death, to brutally determine which acts were truly deserving of the mantle of “Best of 2019”.
…actually we took another poll.
We never get to have any fun.
Here were the results:
- Fomosurfer – Don’t!
Fomosurfer is a musical entity brought into the world by Silas Price (Who also managed his way to sneak onto this list in another way as being a member of the infamous Inspector 34). Fomosurfer’s “Don’t!” is an album comprising of electronica, funk, schizophrenia, humor, lust and boredom. The creative freedom that Fomosurfer bares is one to recognize. The many entities that human Silas Price can create, it is silly to not give thanks to him and his music that is around you. “Don’t” give it a listen, or a few. – Navarre Williams
Key Track: “Standing Next to Famous People”
- Needle Play – Cruel Spring
Described as “Math fusion” and “Jazz core” on their bandcamp page, NeedlePlay’s Cruel Spring is a brilliant album that fuses elements of jazz and classical music, yet remains true to a metal ethos.
The album is full of screaming vocals, fast and complex guitar shredding, and drumming that makes you wonder how many arms the drummer has. Aside from these typically metal characteristics, there are some unique features on the album, such as the use of piano and violin- instrumentation one would not expect on a metal record, which only proves that Needle Play is a band that is unafraid of taking risks. – Dave Boz
Key Track: “Doomster Baby”
- Bystander – Nothing Matters
Bystander’s “Nothing Matters” combines elements of grunge, hardcore, and post rock that are sure to cause head-banging and mosh pits at their live shows I’m sure. It is chock full of bottom heavy drumming, guitar effects, and a whole lot of power chords and screaming. Despite the EP’s consistent high-energy and intensity, Bystander knows when to dial it back when necessary, with some quieter and more melodic moments, namely on their song “Tar.” – Dave Boz
Key Track: “Tobacco”
- Kofi The Spiderman – Adventures In NumbNumb Land
Kofi The Spiderman has either been living in NumbNumb Land or he visited there and it made a real impression on him. This album gives you a good idea of what NumbNumb Land sounds like without numbing you completely to it. Fully feeling a lack of feeling? This’ll make you feel something, even if it’s just “the void.”
Twisted hip hop from a dark place. Demented beats and broken rhymes. Spooky skits. You could dance to it or just collapse on the floor in a heap and either would be appropriate. Kofi keeps making music but don’t let the new stuff make you forget about this one. – Jim Warren
Key Track: “Get A Dub”
- Floor Hockey – Today’s Kids
For a band that only logged its first release this January, Floor Hockey ended 2019 sounding like effective vanguard voice of their scene. At the centerpiece of that rapid rise was, of course, their May LP Today’s Kids.
This record centered around ambient keys and a sense of vocal detachment. Weaving chimes and other atmospheric samples under often twangy guitars. Lyrically, this tightly produced gem of a record focused on themes of creation, with the single “Seeds and Stems” including the earnest hope that the song’s narrator is “inventing [himself] someone [he] can stand.”
As a band, Floor Hockey are a little sad, a little experimental, a little dreamy, and a little out there. For a scene that underwent big losses like that of UnchARTed, and the ever promising arrival of plenty of new bands in this same calendar year, that type of confusing ensemble fits like a glove. – Dakota Antelman
Key Track: “Seeds and Stems”
- Hyber – sleEP
One night I was casually enjoying some drinks and a burger at Opus with a friend. On a complete whim, we decided to check out the show downstairs in hopes of seeing a decent show by pure luck. What we heard was the beginning of Hyber’s set whose sound immediately pulled us into the situation as if we pre-planned to come to the show. We stayed the whole set. Since then, I’ve seen them 3 more times.
Hyber’s sound is reminiscent of everything I ever loved about Jimmy Eat World before they became a shadow of themselves. In an era where “emo” has become synonymous with 2000’s “pop punk”, Hyber creates a sound which gives a true late 90s feel to a modern audience. The song writing is incredible, their live shows are amazing, and even though this band originated in the North Shore, they hold enough logistical and personal ties to Lowell we can only hope they embrace the city for years to come. – Joel Gray
Key Track: “Ghost”
- Inspector 34 – Don’t Worry This Is Okay
Is “junk rock” a subgenre? I couldn’t say for sure, except to say that Inspector 34’s latest EP almost certainly falls under that banner that I assume I just made up. Don’t Worry This Is Okay marks the Jimm Warren-helmed project’s latest outing, and their first ever in a studio setting, (At Somerville’s famed Q Division studios, joining the ranks of recording alumnus like Dropkick Murphys, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Yo-Yo Ma.) which somehow manages to make I34’s already deranged and messy indie sound even more deranged and messy.
Fortunately that unhinged, fuzzed-out sound is where I34 operates best, and Don’t Worry This Is Okay is a compact, but terrifically solid quartet of tracks. It is an EP that deftly mixes the weirdo sensibilities of Ween, the scrappy un-polish of pre-90s Violent Femmes or Daniel Johnston, and the fuzzed-out freakouts of early Yeah Yeah Yeahs as though by second nature. Extra credit goes to keys-player Silas Price (Also of Fomosurfer) for marrying superbly uneasy synth atmospherics and textures to Warren’s guttural yowl. – Lilz Martin
Key Track: “Try So Hard”
- Zachary Boudrot – In The Glue
Personally, I’m all for throwing down in the octagonal arena because I am VERY confident in my candidate. Zachary Boudrot paired up with Jake Checkoway, head of Honest Face Records, earlier this year to produce a marvel of a record. In the Glue capitalized on introspective, often ironic lyrics, masterful instrumentation, and infectious melodies; all huge things I listen for when reviewing work. Technique and arrangement aside, In the Glue captured a variety of notions inherent to the human experience. Songs like “Tongue Tied”, “Bumblebee”, and “O’er the Mountain” for instance all cover, respectively, feelings of integrity, companionship, and adventure. Perhaps what I love most about this record is that Boudrot maintained his own balanced style when expanding on these concepts. There was always a bitter sweetness to his composition; both a pleasant aura and a waning lilt. Boudrot gives beauty, pain, and their many facets room to breath with In the Glue and you only stand to benefit from listening in. -Luke Pelletier
Key Track: “Tongue Tied”
- Gish – The Stitcher
In the latter half of this year (October to be exact) Gish released their second EP titled The Stitcher. Gish creates an incredibly unique and mystifying sound throughout the entirety of their EP, that leaves the listener in a state of mixed enchantment and tranquility. The many harp melodies and harmonies, peppered with gentle string and bell counter melodies, and topped with Gish’s angelic vocals, create not only a divine sound, but an overall ethereal feeling as well. Gish trances the listener from the first note of the first (and title) track “The Stitcher” until the last note of “The Bluebell Bed”, and makes it incredibly easy to replay the EP in its entirety an endless amount of times.
This EP is not only one that I wished to experience with headphones on, but also surrounding me in the speakers of my car on a drive home late at night. I could picture any of these songs as the track in a movie such as “Donnie Darko” or “American Beauty” where the main character is stuck in a trance like state after their world – and their lives – crash and burn in the most seemingly peaceful way possible. Gish creates a work nothing less than magical. Their talent and originality reflected thoroughly throughout their EP leaves me yearning for the music they have in store for the future. – Shae Carter
Key Track: “The Stitcher”
- Green Piece – Whatever
Wow! This came out in early March 2019 and every time I listen to it, there’s still a bright feeling I get in my guts when I bop to this. Green Piece laid out this spicy lil’ EP before the heat of Lowell Folk Fest this year. I remember hearing them play “Stacy’s Dad” across the street from the Worthen; every crushy, glitchy crackle they could warble out of those speakers had me on my tip tops. These beans know how to temper a familiar mood; this 80’s thrash pop synth comforts you toward something similar to The Cars but then decides to rub your nose it.
This is a brash EP that has honestly set a tone for Green Piece as a Lowell staple. It came out at more than just the right time, it felt like spring punched us in the face. And for that we are thankful! There’s no doubt in my mind that “Whatever”(haha) they put out next is only going to be Whiteclaw chugging worthy & exactly what us grumpy New England folk need to keep warm in the coming months. Keep paving the way for bummer pop! We deeply appreciate your sparkling gloom & all your good, strange work. – Alyssa Aileen Vautier
Key Track: “Stacy’s Dad”