Thursday, July 18, 2024

Open Mike Eagle at The Sinclair in Cambridge’s Harvard Square on Dec. 13. (Photo: Michael Gutierrez via Hump Day News)

It’s awards SZN.

By the end of December, every music publication under the sun has dropped its “Best Of” lists. The best artists, songs, albums – whatever commodified unit of music consumption we can dream up. And most of that nominating work was done in November. Maybe even October?

The lists are published in the first or second week of the month, which allows writers and editors to take highly shareable victory laps around what is essentially recycled material from earlier in the year.

Hey, the media needs time for its holiday shopping too. And a few glasses of eggnog …

What happens when you’re late to the party? Artists that drop music in the last quarter of the year are left out in the cold. It’s like showing up late to the house party. The band already played, the neighbors already called the cops and the only weirdo left in the room is offering you a limp hose from the White Claw keg. (Yes, it comes in kegs.)

Not every artist is SZA, who dropped “SOS” in December of last year and watched it win the 2023 BET Album of the Year award (tied with Beyoncé’s “Renaissance”).

So let’s right some wrongs by shouting out a few local albums by local artists. The late bloomers smell just as sweet as anything in 2023.

this body is all i have in this world
soon, i’ll let you go (released Nov. 10)

The gaze-soaked outfit is the brainchild of Tyler Zucco-Bernard, who favors densely textured artcore riffery served up with enough splash for the headbanging crowd in “soon, i’ll let you go.” There are lighter, more pop-forward passages, especially during the guest harmonies by Cape Crush’s Ali Lipman. But the boot is positioned steadfastly in the upper stratosphere, and eager to drop. The tracks have been culled from nearly a decade of songwriting work. There’s a real sense of musical journey from start to stop. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

Otis Shanty
Early Birds (released Oct. 6)

Shout out to Otis Shanty for listing its hometown as Somerville instead of “Boston.” That’s just what you expect from the band that delivered “Early Birds.” The four-track EP shimmers with a frank authenticity earned from sound songwriting and pristine production. The album moves at a leisurely pace, letting the neu-soft rock moods wash over you at the right frequencies. Shades of Madeline Kenney, Widowspeak and 10,000 Maniacs. The EP clocks in at under 20 minutes, so you’ll have to hit a live show for more.

Pink Navel
How To Capture Playful (released Oct. 20)

Pink Navel is everywhere in 2023, including at the end of this column! His superlative “How To Capture Playful” is a high-concept meditation on video games. He’s a hip-hop artist that pulls the gamer community into his orbit the way that Wu Tang pulled kung fu fans into their Clan. With producer Kenny Segal (Open Mike Eagle, Hemlock Ernst, milo, R.A.P. Ferreira) aboard, the local rhymer has the backing to realize his witty and whimsical vision. The single “Present Vendor” makes a working-class, underdog hero out of an ubiquitous merchant character from the Zelda series: “Beedle been exhausted.”

Honorable mentions for late-blooming albums: The Jacklights’ “Final Girl,” Jiddo’s “They Can’t Keep Getting Away With This,” A Day Without Love’s “A Stranger That You Met Before” and Andrew Stern’s “Lonely Hunter.”



Monday: Bearly Dead – A Very Bearly Christmas (Crystal Ballroom, Somerville)

There’s no wrong day of year to fire up the incense for a Grateful Dead tribute band. Why not Christmas night? Bearly Dead goes deep into the legendary jam band’s catalog to build a different set every show. Mary’s on merch, Baby Jesus is napping in the green room and the Three Wisemen are selling nitrous oxide balloons in the parking lot. Hallelujah!

Tuesday and Wednesday: Melissa Ferrick (Club Passim, Cambridge)

Take a breather from the hectic holiday season with a solo acoustic folk set from the veteran picker. Ferrick has the kind of CV that spins your head around. Seventeen albums; major label releases; regular tours; shared stages with Tegan and Sara, Bob Dylan, Ani DiFranco and more; and a professorship at Northeastern. Somehow they found the time to be the named plaintiff in a class action against Spotify too, over copyright infringement. You can find the 114-page settlement here for some light reading.

Dec. 29: Bella’s Bartok, Your Friends In Hell (The Rockwell, Somerville)

Klezmer, gypsy punk, whatever you want to call it. Bella’s Bartok packs a party onto the stage with rock ’n’ roll numbers that go long on danceable refrains. The Amherst-based band is touring through Davis Square on the wings of its recent album “Apocalypse Wow!,” released last Halloween. Speaking of which, opener Your Friends In Hell brings “Nightmare Before Christmas” vibes.


Let’s check in on last week’s show circuit. We knew that Los Angeles-based rapper Open Mike Eagle was rolling through The Sinclair with local hip-hopper Pink Navel in the opening slot. But did you know what a MF DOOM fan the headliner is?

The emotional centerpiece of the night was a tribute sing-along to the dearly departed rhymer who shuffled off this mortal coil in 2020. Not a cover, not an interpretation, not a remix. Just a good old-fashioned sing-along. The only thing missing was the bouncing ball.

What did Open Mike Eagle and Pink Navel learn from the masked man? That wit and humor, packaged in medium-tempo rhymes with plenty of meat on the bone, still has a prized place in hip-hop after all the machismo rap wars have been fought. MF DOOM is gone, but the man who gave us the lyric “Got more soul than a sock with a hole” will not be forgotten.

Michael Gutierrez is an author, educator, activist and editor-in-chief at Hump Day News.