And so we now find ourselves approaching 2021, a new and promising year, one that can only go upward from the mundane arrest of 2020. Though the preceding year was understandably light on live fare, that didn’t stop the Mill City from putting out some remarkable music, and where a new recording was we were there to cover it. So as we lead this lost year to the exit sign, we once again take a moment to recognize some its greatest and most resonant, as chosen by us at The Lowell Spin.
We had hoped to finally hold a battle royale bloodbath among the writing staff to determine the winners, but social distancing rules being what they are it’s tough to fight to the death when you’re just out of slashing distance, and you don’t have enough polearms to go around and make it a fair fight.
Thus we took another poll.
There’s always next year.
10. Chi Tashi – Chuck and Sechion 2
Lowell’s own Chi Tashi brought a lyrically powerful and musically versatile 7 track album titled Chuck & Sechion 2 into a year that contained much stagnation. Tashi’s tracks are a combination of rap and hip-hop that touch on a variety of subjects – from rising above the criticism of others, to discussing what it means to be Black in America, and all things in between. His lucid flow, along with his ability to effortlessly speak on his thoughts and experiences, while supported with a well balanced backing track and unwavering beat, easily make this album a top release for this year. If you’re looking for an album that will have you lost in its rhythm and musicality while equally leading you to reflect on the state of the world and yourself, Chuck & Sechion 2 is the perfect album to do just that. –Shae Marie Carter
Key Track: “Can’t Fly”
9. Needle Play – Death by Dying
Just when 2020 couldn’t have been any more eclectic, a Merrimack Valley mathcore favorite and 2020’s Boston Music Awards Metal Act of the Year, Needle Play, released Death by Dying. It should be something of a reminder of 2020, but in a good way. This six-track EP contains some of Needle Play’s fastest and most aggressive songs. These dense song structures are sprinkled with melodic tension and release, with an overall overtone that keeps the listener involved in it’s madness. While we all may have had a tough year, listening through Death by Dying might just show you something. Just like 2020, it was not for the faint of heart, and the same goes for this album, but we are all still here, and Needle Play has definitely marked their presence with this release -Jakob Mall
Key Track: “Cambridge, MA”
8. The Old Rochelle – Pony Steps
“Cosmic-country” buckaroos The Old Rochelle released Pony Steps this past September, at a time when America was already six months deep in the 2020 pandemic and (for the most part) had begrudgingly accepted this new quarantined way of life. It almost feels a bit cruel that Pony Steps arrived when it did, a time of year for many tied nostalgically to youth and its tangential social occasions. Conjuring amorphous and intertwining images of harvest festivals, barnyard dances, one-night stands, inebriated despair, DIY basement shows, and working class romance, the listener can’t help but feel their heart grow hungrier for life and it’s rich pageant of experiences.
The music itself references several decades of American music; paying homage to the mid-century Nashville greats but with heavy consideration for Springsteen (Clarence Clemons fans, take note), The Replacements, Meat Puppets, and even 90s local heroes Prickly. “Flyin’ Through The Ages” in particular is a stand-out track that seems to encapsulate everything great about this group. This delicate country ballad beat is laden with cowboy chords and folk instrumentation, yet sonically has a level of saturation mostly reserved for modern psychedelic and shoegaze groups… a welcome stylistic choice for sure. “Flyin’” literally swoops in with a wisened elegance and warm melodicism that was mostly held back during the raucous cascade of the top half of the record. Bucky Fereke’s croaking croon oozes the truth of the unforgiving-yet-empowering passage of time, with lyrics paying equal measure to gratitude and frustration to what he’s been dealt. Top it off with the stunning string work of Katey Lapinski and Monica Mitchell as well as the sighing lap pedal stylings of Peter Zarkadas, and you’ve got yourself a genuine slice of heartland rock that does not skimp on the “heart”. -Patrick Barry
Key Track: “Flyin’ Through The Ages”
7. Layzi – Layzi
Carissa Myre, under her solo name, Layzi, ended a productive year for herself on an incredibly high note. Her four song EP, Layzi, is a dream pop gem that perfectly brings together what she has been doing thus far. From the midtempo opener, “Sit at Home,” to the mellow closer, “Counting Sheep,” she indulges listeners with her talent at layering vocals, guitars and drums into something closer to a dream than mere songs. The atmosphere she creates is perfect for her subject, love, which she sings about with aching and tender vocals as it seems to drift or hurt her when it gets close. Layzi is a perfect example of an artist hard at work on a craft that they know well, and it is sure to be a classic in the future. With new work coming out in January, Myre shows no sign of stopping what she has done on this EP. -Michael Parke
Key Track: “Different”
6. Fatigue – Illusory Things
One of the best releases of 2020 is undoubtedly Illusory Things by Lillian Edith Martin’s synth gothpop project Fatigue. This collection deals with matters concerning death, identity, inner turmoil, and societal collapse, communicated passionately and eloquently over catchy beats. In short, Illusory Things combines the macabre with the insatiable need to dance. A dynamic record, it never grows tired upon countless listens. Everyone should treat themselves this year and turn the lights down low, the speakers high, and sit back as Fatigue laments the woes you didn’t know you even had in the form of cathartic synth ballads. -Morgan Gunning
Key Track: “Trapt“
5. Whiskey Duo – Noise Machine
Picture this. You’re out on the road. Your destination is still unknown but you don’t even care because the windows are down, the breeze feels warm, your bags are packed, and you’ve got Whiskey Duo’s Noise Machine blasting on the car stereo. Whiskey Duo’s debut LP is for those who need to get away across state lines or into the woods. While acoustic singalong songs are often found in bars, they rarely translate as well into a record but this feat was masterfully accomplished by the two-piece band. Whether it’s the drinking singalong “Girl in a Castle” or the slower morose ballad “Gotta Be Something”, you’ll want to shout out these lyrics in your car, in a bar, or next to a warm campfire. While most bands are fighting for their own brand of originality, Whiskey Duo takes the simple, time tested approach of someone with an acoustic guitar and something to say, all accompanied with just the perfect amount of percussion to match. -Joel Gray
Key Track: “Girl in a Castle”
4. Wax On – Sprezzatura
Amidst 2020’s onslaught, we welcomed Wax On’s sophomore album with open arms. Sprezzatura arrived in September, whirling in on a macabre cloud of gore & guts we couldn’t get enough of. With a dynamic fugue of funk horror & indie rock, we instantly feel ourselves taken elsewhere: Conor Murphy of Foxing suddenly experiencing a migraine in a German ballet institute. There’s a driving meter of chaos within a bevy of deceptive calm. We feel drawn into this eerie sense of someone watching us listen to the album. Yet, there’s a devastating quality to this work. There’s a haunting, if not a vacancy at the core of the piece. Some might describe this as a loss of self or others, some might just chalk it up to the feeling of retinal disparity & convergence: both binocular functions necessary for comprehensive sight but impossible to conceive at once. This is what pushes the album over the line. It’s risky, enthralling, & provocative without even batting an eye.
This full ensemble, custom with horns & distortion, have been setting Lowell ablaze for a while now. From shattering ground at the Glitterbox to touring like circus monkeys in any bar Providence will have them, they’ve become a staple of ours. We’re just goddamn lucky they still want something to do with us. We’re thankful for their candied, manic distillation of love loss & leaving; demanding catharsis & composition over all else. Moreover, we’re thankful for their commitment to innovation & their willingness to not hold anything in. -Alyssa Aileen Vautier
Key Track: “Regrets In Stereo”
3. SkyTigers – Eulorgy
As the first note of “Affordable Garbage” rises up you know something big is coming. Then the onslaught begins and continues for the rest of the album. Skytigers are a band of power and intensity that grabs you by the throat and screams the brutal truth into your soul. After winning best Punk/hardcore Artist of the year at the 2019 Boston Music Awards the band follows that success up with the release of Eulorgy. The thing about this band that really shines on this record is the span of subjects they are not afraid to approach and often destroy. The song titles are often fun “Nobody Puts Baby in a Dumpster (Stillborn in the USA)” “Angel of Debt” and “Speak and Destroy” just to name a few.
No matter what the subject they hit hard and on point. The music is blistering perfection. These songs are solid and the performance is intense. -Jim Phelps
Key Track: “Keep Christ in Christmas (and Out of Rock n’ Roll)”
2. Zachary Boudrot – Disaster
Zachary Boudrot launched his new solo project in 2019 with his debut album In The Glue. That release had a great indie folk rock vibe that solidified Boudrot’s place as one of the strongest songwriters in the Greater Lowell area, and landed him a spot on our, “best albums of 2019” article. On his sophomore album Disaster, we find more of everything we have come to love from his previous release including a more refined focus on instrumentation and the same unique lyricism.
Across Disaster, Boudrot sings of navigating both good and tiring relationships, violence and death, love that never was, and other challenging personal experiences. The cohesiveness of this album is remarkable with each song holding their own weight and effortlessly delivering their message. At the centerpiece of these tracks we find Boudrot’s distinct baritone voice and folky acoustic guitar. And at no point are these overshadowed, only complemented by the melodic electric guitars, piano, and glockenspiel found throughout the album. Some standout tracks include “Fake Candy,” “Confidence Can Kill,” “Nice to Meet You,” & “Sorry.” The essence of what makes Boudrot’s music so memorable and original can be found on these songs.
Zachary Boudrot’s Disaster is an emotionally complex album that you can turn to when life becomes daunting. And after this year, we can all use a pick-me-up. -Phil Cambra
Key Track: “Confidence Can Kill”
1. oldsoul – You Were Overwhelmed
Back in 2018, we named oldsoul’s previous full-length release coy as our pick for album of the year. It was a lushly melodic, and deeply personal release that danced a thin tightrope between emo revival and shoegaze, and an artistic breakthrough for Jess Hall and company. Now it’s two years later, and oldsoul return with their Counter-Intuitive Records debut You Were Overwhelmed, which not only recaptures our “Record Of The Year” title, but builds brilliantly upon its predecessor.
You Were Overwhelmed contains 11 tracks of thoughtful indie rock that are deceptively sprightly, containing previously unexplored elements of power pop that mask a darker undercurrent than previously explored on coy. The record’s vivid imagery and clever lyrical metaphors serve to bolster its themes of grief, trauma, and loneliness, that are only further complemented by oldsoul’s deft, textured fuzz-pop arrangements, and even the addition of a string section.
You Were Overwhelmed is a record of self-discovery, introspection, and staring down one’s inner demons, in a way that encapsulates the helpless-yet-hopeful ennui of 2020 just a little too perfectly. -Lilz Martin