When we first set out to select our favorite Massachusetts entry to NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest — what we’re calling “WBUR’s Wicked Good Boston Favorite” — we knew it wouldn’t be easy. The submissions ranged from seven-piece bands to lone singer-songwriters, from gospel to hip-hop to folk. Many wowed us immediately. The further we dug into the music, the more these songs revealed their depths — and the harder our task became.
In the end, our panel chose a performance that doesn’t so much wow as enchant. “1978,” by the Boston singer-songwriter Anjimile, is one of those songs that becomes more miraculous the longer you listen. It is clever in its simplicity, sublime in its quietude.
Anjimile, 25, lives in Roxbury but originally hails from outside Dallas, Texas. The musician — who uses the pronouns “they” and “them” — describes themself on Bandcamp as a “queer & trans songmaker.” A student at Northeastern University, they have been a staple in the Boston area ever since their 2015 self-released debut, “Human Nature,” made a splash in the local scene.
Anjimile originally wrote and recorded “1978” for their 2016 EP “Good Boy.” The song is about their grandmother, who died in an accident before the singer was born.
“I've heard a lot about [my grandmother] from my mom and how much of a special person she was,” Anjimile tells me. “I kind of view her in my life as a positive presence, like a guide that watches out for us — my family, and also me. So it's a song of love and appreciation for her and her life.”
Anjimile’s video submission was filmed at Industry Labs, a co-working space in Cambridge where the musician recently wrapped up a three-month artist residency. It features Boston musician Photocomfort (the stage name of Justine Bowe) on harmony vocals and a portable synthesizer called the OP-1.
In the end, our judges were won over by Anjimile’s deft sense of phrasing and melody, and their ability to conjure a mood. Mali Sastri, of the Boston avant-rock band Jaggery, puts it like this: “Anjimile’s ‘1978’ cast a spell on me: I love the simple, stark verses and how they open up to a mesmerizing, almost haunted chorus.”
Mark Simos, who teaches songwriting at Berklee College of Music, was equally enthralled. “Since original videos were submitted with a Tiny Desk rather than live concert format in mind, we knew we were sometimes hearing great, bigger bands scrunched raucously, even hilariously, into a living-room setting. Nevertheless, Anjimile’s music stood out,” he writes. “Not many notes, yet each exactly where and what it needs to be.”
As WBUR’s favorite Massachusetts submission to NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest, Anjimile will join the lineup on WERS’s inaugural Wicked Good Festival, headlined by Bleachers, on Aug. 18.
Before that, you can catch Anjimile on July 13 at Industry Lab in Cambridge, where they will be celebrating the release of their latest LP, “Colors.”
The voting is still open for fans to choose their own favorites from among our finalists — so go listen, and vote! The Fan Favorite will perform at WBUR's new performance venue, CitySpace, which is due to debut in 2019.
In the meantime, stay tuned for more stories about some of our other favorites.