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ALBUM REVIEWS

Nine albums by local artists that have gotten this year off to an exciting start

Boston-based artist Niu Raza released her debut album, "Mm-hmm," in late January. The native of Madagascar is a Berklee School of Music graduate.
Boston-based artist Niu Raza released her debut album, "Mm-hmm," in late January. The native of Madagascar is a Berklee School of Music graduate.Courtesy of Niu Raza

“Mm-hmm” — Niu Raza

The présence Africaine within Boston’s music scene — from hip-hop to the Haitian underground — is nothing but enriched by Madagascar-born Niu Raza’s new offering, “Mm-hmm.” The Berklee College of Music alum keenly combines dancehall vibes and a pop structure with the textures of her native island country, including Malagasy lyrics and polyphonic vocal layers. To call the album “Afrobeats,” though, might collapse it too much. As Raza weaves a lyrical tapestry about home, heartbreak, and diasporic life throughout “Mm-hmm,” the listener is both put at ease and made to think that Raza is just getting started. Wherever and however her magnum opus blossoms, “Mm-hmm” is a beautifully intuitive debut all the same. Essential track: “Madagascar”

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HASSAN GHANNY

“VIMS” — Mercet

Sai Boddupalli’s electronic debut unfurls with the narrative sensibility of a film score, layering ambient textures with strings, pared-back beats, and synth that climbs toward euphoria. It’s an adventurous trek across a wet, blustery landscape: Opener “Birdsong” flutters through a gentle rain; on the wind-whipped “No Door Is Shut,” collaborator Kira McSpice lends a mournful cello melody only to get dissolved by a sinister haze of synth; “Mirst” crawls through a storm drain before surfacing above ground with a propulsive beat. “VIMS” builds toward plenty of bright spots, but it’s meditative even in its most somber and mysterious moments. Essential track: “Birdsong”

KAREN MULLER

Say Darling
Say DarlingAmanda Kowalski

“Before & After” — Say Darling

Say Darling recorded the first five songs on their new album pre-COVID. Then the pandemic brought in-person co-writes, studio recording sessions and the like to a screeching halt. The group’s powerhouse singer, Celia Woodsmith, reacted by pivoting her songwriting to address the situation at hand, the results of which form the second half of the album. Thus, the concerns of the normal (love gained and lost, chocolate), delivered with a full-tilt rock-and-soul vibe, are followed by the more subdued sonics of songs that contemplate and lament what the pandemic hath wrought for musicians and for us all. In its title and its content, “Before & After” mirrors what has happened to the world. Essential track: “These Songs”

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STUART MUNRO

“Spotify Is Surveillance” — Evan Greer

Artist, activist, and community organizer Evan Greer unleashes a rallying cry with “Spotify is Surveillance,” seven tracks of earnest and honest punk rock recorded at her home “on a busted MacBook.” The title references the streaming titan’s recent patent of technology that would allow it to monitor users’ speech for data about their environment, age, (presumed) emotional state, and (also presumed) gender — ostensibly to better recommend music, but it’s not hard to imagine more harmful uses that data could be put to. The album also puts forth blistering polemics against transphobes (“The Tyranny of Either/Or”) and armchair leftists (“Emma Goldman would have Beat Your Ass”), but the album’s emotional nexuses are found on more personal tracks — “Willing to Wait,” about a relationship suddenly turned long distance thanks to COVID; “Back Row,” a remembrance and good riddance to shows where she spent more time on her phone than watching the music; a heartfelt tribute to John Prine. Greer’s no nihilist; she’s a utopian desperately trying to steer the ship toward less toxic waters. Essential track: “Surveillance Capitalism”

A.Z. MADONNA

“Whatcha Looking For” — Billy Wylder

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“Whatcha Looking For” is four bites of the desert blues-infused music that Avi Salloway has been purveying, both during his tenure with one of the form’s more famous practitioners, Bombino, and with his bandmates in Billy Wylder. The title track starts things off with a driving, psychedelic variant that wouldn’t be out of place on a Steve Gunn record; “Santiago” builds a layered, metronomic murmur; the instrumental “Sahara” showcases Salloway’s stinging guitar work; and “Painter” offers a slow burn before a frenzied change-up to close. Here’s hoping that — as EPs often are — this is a taste of a more ample serving soon to come. Essential track: “Whatcha Looking For”

STUART MUNRO

“Cyberbully” — Trap Beat Tranny

The artist formerly known as Dev Blair returns with a trans-pessimist, ontologically Black concept album made for 2021. The 16-track manifesto refracts the artist’s experience as a Black gender nonconforming person against a digital world underscored by online harassment, Twitter politics, and “cancel culture.” The artist pulls no punches in taking to task both the social dynamics that villainize trans people of color (“TL/DR”) as well as apathetic queer people (“Pack It Up Crystal Gems”), over a trap soundscape drawing from old-school hardcore and chiptune music. While the album’s beats and lyricism are hard-hitting, don’t you dare cast Blair as “aggressive” or “angry” — just crank the dial up and mosh. Essential track: “Block Party (Burnt Bridges)”

HASSAN GHANNY

Future Teens
Future TeensAdam Parshall

“Deliberately Alive” — Future Teens

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The sting of 2019′s “Breakup Season” lingers on Future Teens’ latest EP, but this time around, vocalist/guitarists Amy Hoffman and Daniel Radin channel their trademark emo twang into searing moments of self-reckoning. On “Guest Room,” Hoffman lays out the heavy question at the heart of the record: “If I’m gonna be somebody deliberately alive, how do I do it right?” It’s an ode to survival and self-forgiveness, but it’s also a call for change. With shimmering hooks and pop-country harmonies, the Teens agonize over (and find occasional relief in) saying what they really mean, and wrap it all up with a winking cover of Cher’s “Believe.” No dancefloor triumph here; just crushing sincerity. Essential track: “Guest Room”

KAREN MULLER

“Tell Me I’m Bad” — Editrix

Led by virtuosic guitarist Wendy Eisenberg, Easthampton’s self-dubbed “avant butt-rock” trio blends shreddy technicality with wild impulse on their debut album, cartwheeling through punk, noise, and slacker rock with a sense of gleeful chaos. Frenetic riffs continuously lurch around corners, melting into growling bass and bash-your-skull-in drums. Brain-scrambling solos and rhythmic shifts ensue. But Eisenberg’s voice floats above the mayhem, taking on power structures, politics, and partying with a sing-song lilt that serves as a funhouse mirror: How much it warps the details depends on where you stand. Essential track: “Chelsea”

KAREN MULLER

“The Dinallos” — The Dinallos

The Dinallos’ eponymous debut is a family and friends affair. It’s the first record that Boston roots-music veterans and husband-and-wife pair Michael Dinallo and Juliet Simmons Dinallo have made together under a group name, and it features the assistance of musical compadres from both of the locales, Boston and Nashville, between which the two split their time, as well as a vocal turn by their 10-year-old daughter, Annabel. The result of this pooling of resources — a little bit of country soul, a healthy serving of Americana, some harder-rocking fare, a countried-up Fleetwood Mac cover — is a variegated whole that, as with all successful collaborations, is greater than the sum of its parts. Essential track: “When the World Was Mine”

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STUART MUNRO


A.Z. Madonna can be reached at az.madonna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.