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The sounds of 617: Local music aficionados choose their favorites of the year

Frances Forever, shown performing at the Austin City Limits Festival in October, released the EP "Paranoia Party," in 2021.SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images

A few years ago, the singer who calls herself Clairo began posting music from her bedroom in Carlisle. Now she’s a national touring act with two successful albums under her belt.

The Boston-based songwriter Anjimile self-produced their own releases before cracking several year-end-best lists in 2020 with the debut album “Giver Taker.” This fall Anjimile celebrated their signing to the prestigious indie label 4AD with the release of a gorgeous new single, “Stranger.”

For decades, Boston has been a breeding ground for outstanding new music, and the tradition continues. We asked a few folks with their ears to the ground to tell us which subterranean rumbles rocked their worlds in 2021. Here are two dozen of their picks.

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Neemz, “It’s Above Me” (LP)

Sound of Boston editor-in-chief Knar Bedian says the first album from 25-year-old Tusneem Abuhasan sounds “more like a victory lap” than a debut.

The Chelsea Curve is a favorite of "Bay State Rock" DJ Carmelita.Reuben

The Chelsea Curve, “Inconceivable,” “7000 Hours,” “Top It Up” (singles)

Carmelita, longtime host of “Bay State Rock,” loves the songs of this “pure, tough, female-fronted Mod-pop” group recording for Red on Red Records. The band begins a residency at the Jungle in Somerville on Dec. 17.

Hoonah, “Marram Grass” (LP)

The hills and dales of Western Massachusetts bring us Sarah Smith, who records her “lovely, intimate fingerpicked folk” under the name Hoonah, as Becca Smith attests. The latter Smith, no relation, hosts WMBR’s “Breakfast of Champions” on Wednesdays.

Dino Gala, “Fun Fair,” “Fire Escape,” “Run It Back” (singles)

This Allston indie band makes “music for scream-cry-dancing,” says Amani Cavender, who provides studio support at the Record Co., the nonprofit studio and rehearsal space on Mass Ave.

Adi Sun, “Twin Flame” (single)

Anngelle Wood, longtime host of “Boston Emissions,” calls Adi Sun’s new solo single “dreamy alt-leaning pop rock” from “Boston’s most creative songwriter,” late of the shoegaze-y band Phenomenal Sun.

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Oompa's "Unbothered" was a favorite of author and podcaster Dart Adams.Ally Schmaling

Oompa, “Unbothered” (LP)

Author and podcaster Dart Adams says the poet and rapper Oompa “has been consistently great since the night I first saw her perform as a judge of a rap competition over five years ago.” On her breakthrough third album, she increases the pop dosage.

Fiddlehead, “Between the Richness” (LP)

Recording for Run for Cover Records, local emo/post-punk band Fiddlehead released their second full-length LP in May. It’s “a legit classic of melodic hard-core,” says Ben Kochan of WMBR’s “Late Risers Club.”

Frances Forever, “Paranoia Party” (EP)

Experimental pop songwriter Frances Garrett followed the dizzying success of the TikTok hit “Space Girl” with this six-song EP. Ariana O’Rourke, who handles marketing at the Record Co., enthusiastically calls it “a gay bop, and I’m about that!”

Van Buren, “Bad for Press” (LP)

Allston Pudding’s Harry Gustafson says that every member of this Brockton hip-hop collective can make a case as the group’s most skilled member. “But why bother trying to suss that out when you can hear them line up for a roll call” on their debut?

Future Teens, “Deliberately Alive” (LP)

Sally Pigeon, managing editor of Sound of Boston, recommends this self-described “bummer pop band” for fans of “the Paramore ‘After Laughter’ aesthetic — all strong melodies and pop-rock guitar lines and introspective lyrics.”

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Kadeem released his EP "Universum" in 2021.Mitchell Preffer

Kadeem with Frank the Butcher, “Universum” (EP)

Erik Sarno (a.k.a. Loman) of Somerville’s Vinyl Index and Union Sound wants the world to hear the Mattapan native’s “heady and abstract” new mixtape, which “connects hip-hop with fine art and existentialism.”

The Jacklights, “Drift” (EP)

This trio led by guitarist/vocalist Nilagia McCoy makes melodic pop-punk that instantly transports Carmelita “back to the purity of my early punk rock days.”

Maria Finkelmeier and Jean Laurenz, “Descended” (LP)

Maria Finkelmeier pairs with the great-great-grandniece of the journalist and ghost-story connoisseur Lafcadio Hearn. “The dark side of Danny Elfman meets David Lynch with a hint of voodoo,” according to Leslie Miller Jewett, business manager at the Record Co.

Lightfoot, “Terra Incognita” (LP)

Erik Sarno has high praise for this “vibrant, hard-hitting” collection of instrumental beats by producer Lightfoot, “a leader and an inspiration in our scene and beyond.”

Henley Row All-Stars, “Never Met a King,” “Dry Eyes … Bye-Bye” (singles)

A rotating cast of characters affiliated with a private recording studio in Stoneham, the Henley Row All-Stars are “a Boston-area music collective making great music that’s mostly [flown] under the radar,” according to Anngelle Wood.

Camp Blood, “Black Martyr,” “Cenobite,” “Trap,” “21 Shots” (singles)

Industrial-strength hip-hop from locals Haasan Barclay and Shaka Dendy. Their music is “gritty, thought-provoking, and genre-bending,” says Jamie Rowe, studio operations manager at the Record Co.

Husbands, “The Moon Shuts Off Sometimes” (LP)

They call their music “slowgaze.” Tim Gilman, Monday DJ on WMBR’s long-running “Breakfast of Champions” program, calls Husbands’ new album a “loud, slow, and melodic ‘90s alt-rock throwback.”

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Michael Kane and the Morning Afters, “Tear This World Apart,” “Carol Kaye” (singles), “New Suits” (EP)

Anngelle Wood digs this “gravelly-voiced” Worcester-based five-piece rock band, who say they’re working on a forthcoming full-length album.

Coral Moons' "Fieldcrest" evokes “sun-bleached childhood memories,” says Sound of Boston staff writer Alexis den Boggende.TatianaAriola

Coral Moons, “Fieldcrest” (LP)

Sound of Boston staff writer Alexis den Boggende likes the “wistful retro-rock” of this local indie band, led by vocalist Carly Kraft. Their new album evokes “sun-bleached childhood memories.” Coral Moons play Brighton Music Hall on Dec 14.

Pink Navel, “Epic” (LP)

Raised on the South Shore, Devin Bailey (the eclectic musician behind Pink Navel) considers themself a native of the Internet more than any particular city or region. The full-length “Epic,” performed live on Twitch, is “frenetic” in the best sense of the term, says WMBR’s Tim Gilman.

Little Fuss, “Hazy” (EP)

This transplanted Ohio duo, singer Olivia Martinez and multi-instrumentalist Cody Von Lehmden, are Anngelle Wood’s “favorite new band that came out of nowhere.”

WMBR’s Banti Gheneti is a big fan of the band Bent Knee and its album "Frosting."Rich Ferri

Bent Knee, “Frosting” (LP)

Boston’s most “unapologetically original” band is releasing its latest album on clear vinyl in the spring, but you can stream it now on Bandcamp. “Fun and weird electric anthems, with ambient tracks spliced in,” says WMBR’s Banti Gheneti.

Really From, “Really From” (LP)

Formerly known as People Like You, this foursome of Berklee alums released a full set of their “indie jazz” back in March. Allston Pudding’s Harry Gustafson says he can imagine jazz aficionados starting a mosh pit to the band’s music while scene kids contemplate Coltrane.

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Ex-Hyena, “Artificial Pulse” (LP), “Nightmare Pills” (single)

This electronic duo creates “dystopian dance music for the inevitable end times.” Longtime collaborators Reuben Bettsak and Bo Barringer make “music that jumps out at ya in your face,” says Carmelita.

Senseless Optimism, “Yesterdayz,” “Why?” (singles)

Self-taught Lowell native Brittany Tsewole records as Senseless Optimism. She took a detour from her rock band as the pandemic persisted, cutting bedroom pop with a touch of jazz. “A breath of fresh air,” says Anngelle Wood. And who among us couldn’t use one of those?