With all that still remains precarious in this world, at least we can all agree that the potential for a lively spring is certainly much stronger than last year’s. I, for one, can sense a note of optimism coming from the 2021 music calendar thus far. Music reflects the culture of a society, as they say, and the culture is sounding promising if I do say so myself.
Whereas our winter music guide suggested a trend in creation by means of isolation, these exceptional releases below signal a kinetic shift in the paradigm, one that suggests creation by proxy of change and growth — a shedding of skin if you will. Nearly half of this list features legacy artists in a triumphant return to form. Other featured albums are powerful debuts from artists imbued with an aching desire for self-acceptance. But whether it’s steamrolling rock ‘n’ roll or meditative ambience, ‘90s dance floor bangers or hushed indie rock, the albums on our spring music guide bring a much needed sense of change as we begin to shake our winter chill.
Space Cadet, 'Lion On A Leash'
Reassembled from the remnants of noted Boston punk band The Explosion, Space Cadet — helmed by Dave Walsh and Matt Hock — explores the more interesting caverns of punk rock. On their debut album “Lion On A Leash,” songs like “Bad Luck” and “Lose Control” feel more akin to the goth/Brit rock sounds of the ‘80s (with bands like The Cure and New Order), than the Northeastern hardcore scene that established their previous project. Through nine tracks of driving rhythms and whirling guitar sounds, it becomes abundantly clear: This is the record Walsh and Hock have been waiting to make their whole career.
Multi-instrumentalist/producer Sai Boddupalli took a year and a half break from music after leaving two of Boston’s most beloved rock bands — Animal Flag and the recently lauded Really From — to recenter his creative path. Following a life-altering mental break, the IDM-inspired music that constitutes “VIMS,” his newest release under the name Mercet, channels the harrowing experience of returning from a psychiatric care facility to face the unexpected challenges of quotidian life. Like Tycho or Oneohtrix Point Never, Boddupalli makes ambient music feel entirely alive and intensely emotive; his healing is a sonic gift.
Ben Cosgrove, 'The Trouble With Wilderness'
In February, we featured instrumental folk pianist Ben Cosgrove’s sparse “The Machine in the Garden,” an impressionistic ode to the modest nature found in urban spaces. On his newest album, “The Trouble With Wilderness,” Cosgrove expands on this curious motive with a collection of piano-driven compositions that capture both the ethereal and dynamic aspects of wildness in a built environment. Drawing from influences that range from the great instrumental impressionists (Debussy, Glass) to more modern experimentalists (Nils Frahm, Brian Eno), Cosgrove’s newest venture is a striking still life of beauty sprouting from a concrete jungle.
Dinosaur Jr., 'Sweep It Into Space'
The lively “Sweep It Into Space” is the 12th studio album from Western Massachusetts rock ‘n’ roll mainstays Dinosaur Jr., though they like to frame it as the fifth record since their 2007 rebirth. Since the group reunited that year after mounting the immense alt-rock wave through the ‘90s, the band has consistently capitalized on the unbridled fuzz, steamrolling energy and undeniable pop riffs that constitute their foundational sound. The Kurt Vile co-produced “Sweep It Into Space” is no different; nearly four decades after its inception, Dinosaur Jr. still rocks hard.
Rochelle Jordan, 'Play With The Changes'
Nothing is more identifiable in electronic music than the moody synth stabs of an early ‘90s house banger. It’s a truth Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Rochelle Jordan preaches from the DJ booth on her new album “Play With The Changes.” Blending the kinetic industrialism of early U.K. garage and the sultry haze of contemporary R&B, “Changes” is an ode to an electric counterculture that feels irresistibly alluring in one of the most dreary years for dance clubs in recent memory.
Mia Joy, 'Spirit Tamer'
On “Haha,” the humorously poignant lead single from Chicago-based artist Mia Joy’s debut album “Spirit Tamer,” the vintage, shoegazing tones of Cocteau Twins effortlessly meld with a hushed vocal delivery recalling Liz Harris’ jarringly ambient Grouper. It’s a throughline that proudly beams through the album, one that also suggests more sage influences like the sultry Sade or Arthur Russell. For a record so emotive and gauzy, “Spirit Tamer” cuts deep with its mysterious nonchalance.
Juliana Hatfield, 'Blood'
For the first time in her near 30 years as a solo artist, Juliana Hatfield’s newest album, the staggeringly unbound “Blood,” was recorded entirely at home. It’s an exceptional fact, considering that the Boston rock stalwart’s 19th solo album could be her most powerful yet. Fixated on the toxic realms of human behavior stemming from the tumultuous last four years, Hatfield uses soaring melody and whip-smart pop rock songwriting (and a touch of DIY magic) to expunge the noxious hot air in an attempt to restart. It’s an irresistible catharsis laced with endless earworms.