Best of Boston Music: The Top Local Albums of 2023

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Boston artists across the board brought their A-game in 2023. Get familiar with newcomers like Tiny Habits and Nay $peaks, and get reacquainted with favorites like Ben Cosgrove and Fiddlehead with our team’s ten favorite local albums released in 2023.

Quiet Music for Young People by Dana and Alden

The debut record from drum-and-sax duo, Dana and Alden, swaddles the listener in silky fabrics and transports them to a state of reminiscing sans dwelling. The aptly named Quiet Music for Young People maintains a cohesive through-line of recliner jazz — sustained by steering saxophone melodies, manifold underlying drum patterns, and accompanying keyboard strokes — while refusing to wallow in a monotonous mire. The moments of deviation from the expected provide some of the highest highs across the project. For an unadulterated bossa nova excursion on “Baja” to breathe the same air as synth-riddled yogurt aisle flirtations on “Let’s Go to Trader Joe’s”, without having to check for an accidental butt-shuffle, illustrates mastery in album curation and genre fusion. (Not to mention, Tiny Habits member Cinya Khan exhibits her own versatility by injecting caressing vocals into both of these tracks.) Throw on Quiet Music for Young People while baking an eggplant parm or folding a daunting laundry heap, but be warned: any subsequent cooking and/or cleaning will lack gusto without it. — Eben Cook

Tiny Things by Tiny Habits

The exponential two-year ascendance of Berklee-formed trio Tiny Habits makes all the sense in the world. Perhaps it’s because of their consistent TikTok uploads of tight harmonies with unpredictable trajectories atop a mere acoustic guitar and the ambiance of a stairwell, or because of their unwavering ability to adorn the mundane amidst turbulent times. Their debut EP, Tiny Things, harnesses the enchantment of their minimalist roots while bringing gentle percussion and personal songwriting into the fold. Cinya Khan, Maya Rae, and Judah Mayowa understand how to both fill and honor empty space in moments that necessitate it, whether hearkening back to being held on Hemenway Street on “hemenway” or channeling the late Christine McVie with an entrancing rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “landslide” (the lone cover to make the cut). The chorus of the closing song, “some things (i’ve learned)” contains the mantra core to the sonic and lyric offerings of Tiny Habits: “Some things end quiet, some things end soft, I don’t need to scream it to prove I said it at all.” Tiny Habits have tiptoed into our living quarters and draped blankets over us with this debut release… and nothing resounds more on a brisk Boston night than that. — Eben Cook

Pocket Knife by ToriTori

Boston-based R&B specialist ToriTori delivers the goods with her debut EP, Pocket Knife. This meteoric release earned ToriTori nominations for New Artist of the Year, R&B Artist of the Year, and EP of the Year at the Boston Music Awards, plus a coveted Saturday slot at Boston Calling.  With an achy, mid-tempo sound, tracks like “Daily” offer a balance of classic R&B polish and modern experimentality, blending lo-fi, hard-hitting percussion with buttery vocals backed by angelic group harmonies. ToriTori is a fresh force in the city’s music culture and a welcomed new ingredient in the stew of Boston’s bubbling hip-hop scene. — Jared Steinberg

Down Deep by Divine Sweater

As contemplative as it is urgent, Divine Sweater’s newest album Down Deep finds the group channeling their efforts into exploring an Apocalyptic Boston. While the concept of a “nautical apocalypse” isn’t something unfamiliar at this point, the band doesn’t dwell on what’s inevitable, or sound overly preachy—in fact, their sound is as up-beat and funky as ever (check “All the Way Down”, for example). Instead, the album asks to celebrate moments as they happen and cherish what’s around us before it’s gone, songs like “Great Scott” in particular, can feel like a sucker punch in the gut when referencing Boston romps gone but not forgotten. Making a concept album can be a risky move, but Divine Sweater finds themselves more cohesive and tight-knit than ever before. — Eric Gonnam

A Picture for a Frame by Noble Dust

Somerville-based Noble Dust has been around the Boston circuit for a few years now and released its second full-length album this year. A Picture for a Frame showcases everything that’s great about the band. It starts with the songwriting of frontwoman Emily Cunningham, whose lyrics and voice are simultaneously soothing and attention-grabbing. What makes the band unique, though, are their instrumental arrangements. At different points, songs feature three-part harmonies, trumpets and trombone, and cello. Even the piano and guitar parts contain little melodic motifs rather than being relegated to purely rhythmic backing. It would be easy for parts to get lost in a wall of sound, yet the band’s careful arrangements and the top-notch mixing on the album ensure that everything is discernible while never overpowering the voices. The result is an indie-folk-Americana stew that can only be described as a warm hug. — Jeff Williams

for what it’s worth by Miranda Rae

Miranda Rae stuns in her new album, for what it’s worth. Her Boston Music Award-winning, soulful alto voice is the centerpiece of the album, and rightfully so. From the rich, gentle melodies of “remorse” to the jazzy, high-range bounce of “pieces,” Rae’s talent and vocal prowess are on display in these old-school R&B songs. “ease” is a true love song, reminiscent of Mariah Carey’s “Whenever You Call“—honest and gentle, with an intense depth of emotion. Beyond her stellar vocals, the album’s instrumentals stand out as well, like the soothing saxophone solo that tapers off the ending of “stoneheart.” (Rae is a sax player herself.) “over it” also has a unique ending, scored by a conversation between friends: “I was born in the late 1900s—don’t play with me!” for what it’s worth is a heartfelt listen all the way down, perfect for an evening on the couch with a glass of wine. — Sally Pigeon

Death is Nothing to Us by Fiddlehead

Fiddlehead comes out swinging with this album. Immediately louder and punchier than its predecessor, Between the Richness, Death is Nothing to Us feels just about as close to a party album as Fiddlehead can get. From the intro song “The Deathlife” to the closing track “Going to Die”, the album doesn’t let up on its raw sound. Death is Nothing to Us stands as a testament to the staying power of heavy, aggressive emo rock sound, as long as bands like Fiddlehead keep turning out albums like this. — Eric Gonnam

Bearings by Ben Cosgrove

Following in the wispy footsteps of his previous releases, Ben Cosgrove’s Bearings offers twelve tracks of tender introspection. The multi-instrumentalist is known for his use of prepared piano, drawing out gossamer textures from the instrument and layering it with delicate percussion, guitar, and strings. But Bearings is not all inward facing. Like many of his creations, the album invokes nature, landscape, and location as a point of musical departure. The track “Volcano,” no doubt a point of inspiration from Mother Nature, injects a harder-hitting piano, with extra gravitas conveyed through cinematic strings, cascading piano lines, and enveloping polyrhythms. Cosgrove is an expert at painting sonic portraits of curious, unexpected places. The track “Whales of Southern Ohio” replicates sounds from a Cincinnati railyard, immediately piquing the listener’s imagination and sense of wonder. But all the tracks on the album are tied together through the feeling they evoke, one that makes you want to get up and go somewhere, to explore, to adventure. In the liner notes, Cosgrove states, ” Whether they’re about estuaries, highways, rivers, avalanches, storms, or something else — [the songs] are fundamentally about movement.” — Tristan Geary

Nayborhood Healer by Nay $peaks

Both tenacious and tender in her approach, 19-year-old Mattapan hip-hop artist Nay $peaks has gifted us a feat of a debut project. Nayborhood Healer sees Nay at her most triumphant, asserting herself as a hot commodity on tracks like “Post Up(“Real talk you better move up out the way cuz I got places to be, you gotta make it through my team before you make it to me”). She shirks the label of a one-dimensional rapper by balancing the braggadocio with vulnerable verses on love and relationships seemingly extracted from tattered diary pages: cherishing a dream-like romance on “Love Jones Interlude”, detailing what she values in a man on “I Do I”, capturing the sorrow of loving the right person at the wrong time on “Everything is Beautiful”. The concluding track “Higher” epitomizes the allure and singularity of Nay’s craft — an effortless toggle between spitting in the pocket and disrupting the flow with spoken word, hammering home messages of self-love and self-worth atop a vast array of soul sample chops and drum loops. With the poise and maturity she has displayed on the mic at this early stage of her career, the ceiling is the floor for Nay $peaks. — Eben Cook

Copilot by Copilot

Everyone gets to shine on Copilot‘s self-titled album. Stellar vocal performances by all three of the band’s lead singers along with crunchy bass lines, intricate guitar solos, and punchy percussion make this album a complete sonic package. Fans of a sound reminiscent of fellow Boston-bred, multi-piece band Lake Street Dive will find a lot to love in groovy jams like “Bang Bang Boogie” and “Gimme My Mans Back.” From the muted guitars and softly begging vocals of “Lucy” to a country-inspired romp reflective of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” in “Emily,” Copilot weave tales musically and lyrically throughout this stunner of an album. — Sally Pigeon

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