If the Boston Music Awards‘ The Best New Artist field is a snapshot of Greater Boston’s new generation of musicians, it’s hopeful. The area’s thriving hip-hop and DIY scenes are well represented, and a host of bedroom pop artists are putting their own stamp on the top 40 sounds. The field should be described as “diverse”, in more ways than one; mixed rock bands are the norm, and black artists stand out in genres where BMAs have generally favored white musicians. Maybe the end of White Guy Indie Rock is finally near.
Members of the public can vote for their favorite nominees until November 25.
Alisa Amador got what can only be described as a truly big break in 2022 when she won NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, so it’s really no surprise to see her on the BMA ballot. Amador grew up in Cambridge; his parents, Rosi and Brian Amador, are part of the Latin folk group Sol y Canto. Amador’s winning Tiny Desk contest entry is a quiet, yet powerful reflection on her struggle to feel at home in a cross-cultural identity, which straddles family roots in Puerto Rico, New Mexico and New England. Sung in Spanish on a stripped-down acoustic guitar, “Milonga Accidental” is hushed and enveloping, a bittersweet meditation on the search for oneself.
CHYLD’s songs could be engineered in the lab to excel on Spotify’s algorithms: polished, emotional, and impossible to get out of your head. The Shrewsbury producer/singer released an EP this year, ‘Be Patient’, which sees him on the verge of rising through the ranks of chamber electropop. It’s a collection of intimate songs with an expansive production, a series of small stories with big aspirations.
Although Dino Gala have only released a handful of singles in their short life so far, the band are already making waves in Allston’s DIY scene. The band, whose members met at Berklee College of Music (you can check it out on your Boston Music Bingo card), are an exemplary entry into a particularly Boston tradition of emo-ish rock music, with grimy guitars, big dynamic and a little woebegone sensitivity. The group’s 2021 single “run it back”, a slowly building depressive anthem, is its most streamed song on Spotify. But my favorite might be 2022’s “British,” which features a soaring hook and ends with a deliciously mean kiss.
Northeastern University student and rising pop star Eph See caught our eye this year for his earworm-laden songs; we featured Eph See in our Sound on the series on emerging local artists. An exceptional musician with an unearthly ear for melody, Eph See channels the pains of adulthood into bubblegum melodies laced with wry melancholy. Their 2021 EP “g*rlhood” was a surprisingly confident debut album that was both quirky and polished.
going222jail’s 2022 EP “Ragweed” is a promising, shimmering and melancholy debut album. The Salem indie rock band tends towards melancholy, with guitar-driven songs about the strange and slightly alienating journey to adulthood. But there is also a playful aspect to the music, detectable in incongruous riffs and singsong cadences. We feel that the group resists its own nihilistic counter-current while still having fun.
HAAWWS released their second studio project, “NSFW,” this year, a slim and offbeat entry into Greater Boston’s burgeoning rap scene. “NSFW” has a loose, experimental feel, with downtempo beats and breathy basslines. Despite a forward-looking production, HAAWWS is, at heart, a rapper’s rapper, enamored with sly rhymes and tight beats.
The Boston rapper kei has rightly acknowledged that having a schtick is worth it. In his case, he’s a campy, deceptively violent character, which most recently manifested itself in an EP titled “Child’s Play”; on the cover, kei appears in an auburn wig, wielding a knife, in homage to the horror movie series about a murderous red-headed doll named Chucky. Once you hear kei’s music, the track takes on its full meaning: she wields the bars much like she does this knife, manic and sharp.
Little Fuss is still gearing up to release their debut album, “Girls at Parties,” which is due out in early 2023, but the group has already started making headlines. Boston’s Olivia Martinez and Cody Von Lehmden do hook-heavy indie-pop, with Martinez’s expressive vocals taking center stage, by turns ethereal and sharp. The duo transform ominous minor-key melodies into feminist bangers.
Of all the entries in the Best New Artist category, STEFAN THEV might be the hardest to rank. The musician from Brockton makes almost fanatically optimistic pop-rock, sprinkled with parodically pessimistic lyrics. “Have you ever seen your face on a T-shirt, ‘gone too soon’,” he sings of “ghouls! undead! skeletons!” “I have! / That’s not so cool!” It’s ironic, reveling in the dark.
Another day, another indie rock band from Allston. This is not to diminish Winkler – quite the contrary. It’s hard to stand out when you’re part of such a proud and popular local musical lineage. (Especially when your band shares a drummer with fellow Best New Artist nominee Dino Gala.) Winkler manages to stand out, mostly by playing slow, his songs dreamily meandering through psychedelic production and cheeky lyrics.
The 2022 Boston Music Awards will be announced on December 14 at Big Night Live.