The crystalline glow of Kris Adams’s singing, along with her technical assurance and emotional commitment, make this a standout vocal album, but the arrangements by her Berklee colleague Greg Hopkins put it over the top. Hopkins worked with Adams on seven of the 11 tracks, sometimes with as many as 10 pieces, including cello. The varied material ranges from Joni Mitchell’s “The Dawntreader” and Michel Legrand’s “Once Upon a Summertime” to Mary Lou Williams’s “What’s Your Story Morning Glory?,” a couple of pieces by the British singer Norma Winstone (including the title track), and Adams’s own lyric setting of Steve Swallow’s “Wrong Together.”
“Is This Art?”
With this electric 16-track set, the 19-year-old Roxbury rapper Michael Christmas announced himself as Boston’s most charismatic and original new hip-hop voice in years. His force of personality — a combination of awkward charm, microphone charisma, and lowbrow wit — carries the record, but the strong production throughout makes it one of the year’s best: Christmas flexes his “cheat code flow” over punchy Latin jazz on “Y’all Trippin’ ” and drops quotables over the sleepy groove of “Overweight Drake” (“Mike Christmas is the type to claim he Christ on mikes/ sort of type he claimed to [expletive] that girl he tapping ‘Likes’ at night”).
Singer and looper Virginia de las Pozas, half of the team behind Allston underground-pop cassette label Blood Oath Slumber Party, released this beguiling mix of sweet, airy vocals and blippy, glitchy bedroom electronica in an edition of 100 copies back in March. If you missed the tape, you should still grab the music — download it at www.couplescounseling.bandcamp.com, or bide your time waiting for the swirly colored-vinyl LP likely to follow when de las Pozas’s star ascends in earnest.
Winner of the awards for artist and album of the year at the Boston Music Awards this past Sunday, Will Dailey shot out of a cannon in 2014. “National Throat” was an unexpected breakthrough for the established singer-songwriter, who lives in Newton Corner. Following his decision to shake loose of major-label restraints, he cracked wide open as an independent artist. The newfound freedom electrified his latest songs, which sparkled with brash exuberance and shiny hooks. (Go ahead and try to get the chorus of “Sunken Ship” dislodged from your brain – I dare you.)
“It’s a blood test/ Tell me, are you real?/ It’s a blood test/ Show me how you feel.” That’s how Delmhorst kicks off her quietly provocative new album, her first collection of original songs since 2008’s “Shotgun Singer.” A lot happened in the intervening years, including starting a family with her husband, fellow singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault. That milestone only deepened Delmhorst’s resolve to turn inward, to have compassion and empathy for others. Whether Delmhorst, who’s based in Western Massachusetts, is revisiting childhood memories or ruminating on her future, “Blood Test” aims right for the heart.
“The Departure of Consciousness”
Following up on a gritty two-song cassette EP banged up for a 2013 tour, doom-metal quintet Fórn delivered this grim, grandiose debut album on vinyl in July. Matching vocalist Chris Pinto’s guttural death croak to sludgy, seething dirges, Fórn’s music sounds like it could shake the walls of an ancient subterranean cavern — which it evidently did during a San Francisco show in August. A CD version is due soon, hopefully in time for the band’s show at O’Brien’s on Jan. 2; meanwhile, you can also opt for a download via www.fórn.bandcamp.com.
Four Year Strong
“Go Down in History”
Worcester’s Four Year Strong blends the snotty tunefulness of pop-punk with a decidedly harder-edged delivery, leaning toward hardcore without sacrificing singalong hook potential. “Tread Lightly” in particular is a rip through the scene’s ever-evolving stylistic melting pot.
The debut CD by world-music quartet Grand Fatilla broadens as you get deeper into it — taking in more genres with exacting technical virtuosity and a widening emotional scope. Mandolinist Matt Glover, accordionist Roberto Cassan, bassist Mike Rivard (of Club d’Elf), and percussionist/vocalist Fabio Pirozzolo step in and out of varied traditions, from Bulgaria and Sicily to Morocco and Argentina, making them all of a piece without sacrificing distinguishing idiomatic detail. The closing ballad-tempo “Little Church,” by Brazilian avant-gardist Hermeto Pascoal, is a fitting benediction for this focused, impassioned survey of cultural migration.
“Die on Stage”
Connecticut/Boston act Hostage Calm sounds thoroughly contemporary by pulling from a few decades’ worth of pop, punk, and pop-punk at once. Nods to a simpler era of ’50s and ’60s songwriting from the unfortunately recently disbanded group peeked through heavily amplified trappings, but the hooks of songs like “A Thousand Miles Away From Here” are timeless.
“Home, Like Noplace Is There”
In a review back in March, I highlighted the melodicism and bleeding heart at the center of these growled, guttural punches from the Worcester act whose frequent matinee shows around town were among the most enthusiastically received of all the local bands I saw this year. Never mind locally, this album should be on a slew of national best-of lists.
“Live at the Armory”
For years, fans of Kingsley Flood have sworn by the same thing: You gotta see these guys live. At long last, the local roots-rockers captured the freewheeling energy of their concerts on this album recorded over two April nights at Somerville’s Armory Sound. Frontman Naseem Khuri sounds like he’s singing in the corner of your living room, while his comrades careen through foot-stompers and tear-jerkers. After a recent lineup change and with a new EP expected in January, “Live at the Armory” feels like a time capsule from a band about to kick into high gear.
LAKE STREET DIVE
“Bad Self Portraits”
This accomplished New England Conservatory-spawned quartet wowed crowds everywhere it went in 2014. Whether encountered in the intimate confines of the Sinclair — where Lake Street Dive returns for a three-night sold-out stand at the end of the month — or in front of thousands at the Boston Calling Music Festival, the band’s beguiling blend of folk, jazz, soul, pop, and Americana made “Bad” sound oh-so-good.
It would be easy to lose sight of the songs obscured by the torrents of noise and cacophonous hardcore instrumentation of My Fictions, who I profiled in August. But within each cut, there’s a nugget of melody that peeks out or a guitar line slicing through the glut, showing the songwriting detail behind the explosions.
A beloved singer for a decade now, Marissa Nadler has long had a knack for conjuring emotional atmosphere using little more than her slender, keening soprano and a few well-chosen accompanists. Here, though, was something of a breakthrough: Partnered with Seattle producer Randall Dunn — whose credits include such disparate acts as Sunn O))), Boris, and Akron/Family — Nadler swathed her fragile ruminations with instrumental settings endowed with a positively lambent glow. She’s never sounded more haunting, or more assured.
After several well-received releases, expectations were high for Dutch ReBelle to continue her artistic growth on “ReBelle Diaries.” She succeeds, scoring matching pairs of well-executed, instantly catchy bangers (“Yen” and “Stop It”) and confident statements of intent (“Meant for Me” and “Gone”). But it’s the moments when Dutch goes introspective — sporting a breathless stream-of-consciousness flow on the murky “I Know,” or meditating on fame over a Gwen Stefani vocal sample on “No Less” — that give the album an emotional depth that is truly impressive.
“Temple of Plenty”
Back in April, I called Somos one of the most likely to succeed amid the year’s glut of so-called “emo-revival” bands, saying songs like “Familiar Thing” and “Domestic”, “with their noodly guitar lines, brightly strummed chords, call and response vocals, halftime breakdowns, and strident pop-punk choruses” were “precisely crafted and viscerally delivered.”
“My Monday Morning Music”
Just when he seemed to have found a comfort zone, Moe Pope throws himself headlong into a new challenge with STL GLD, his third full-length collaboration with a producer following LPs with Headnodic and Rain. This time he teams with the Arcitype, whose dynamic sonic palette and polished style inspires Pope’s most balanced project to date. That means introspective cuts like “Bastard” and “Ovrdose” are complemented with chill vibes (“Again”), upbeat jams (“Rock Me, Pt. III”), and sharp storytelling (“Sid Vicious”), with both artists pushing themselves to a new level of sophistication and ambition.