We raved earlier this week about how much we’ve been enjoying Nootropics, the new album from Lower Dens. The record’s out this week, and should definitely be on the shopping list for anyone with ears. It’s also the latest of many excellent records to come out of the ultra-fertile city of Baltimore in recent years — we don’t generally buy into city-based hype, but it’s clear there’s something good happening down on the Maryland coast, and has been for quite some time. So with a bit of help from our resident Baltimore music expert, we’ve compiled a list of the best Baltimore bands right now — suggestions are, as ever, welcome. And no, Good Charlotte are not included.
So, if you’re wondering — no, we still haven’t stopped playing Nootropics obsessively yet.
Definitely the best-known Baltimore band kicking round at the moment, and rightly so — the combination of Victoria Legrand’s rich alto and mournful synth sound and Alex Scally’s slide-driven guitar work makes for one of the more distinctive and identifiable sounds in music today. Bring on Bloom, already.
There seems to be something going on with funereal synths and Baltimore, actually — they’re all over Future Islands’ most recent record On the Water, providing a suitably dramatic backing for Samuel T. Herring’s ultra-theatrical vocals. Like Beach House, their sound is instantly recognizable, largely thanks to Herring’s very, very distinctive voice.
Future Islands’ Thrill Jockey colleague Jason Urick deals in less overtly dramatic sounds than his label mates, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great emotional depths to be found in his abstract, fractured soundscapes. Urick’s work has explored various aspects of ambient music over the years, from the relatively serene to the dark and discordant, and his 2011 LP I Love You is highly recommended to fans of such things — you can hear the whole thing above!
And one more dose of droning abstract synth work from Thrill Jockey — Zomes is the stage name of Asa Osborne, formerly of long-running Baltimore hardcore band Lungfish, and transfers the minimalist, repetitive ideas of that genre into the realm of the synthesizer. The results are fascinating and hypnotic — Osborne has released three albums under this name (2008’s self-titled debut, then Earth Grid and Improvisations last year), and we’re hoping for more soon.
A veteran of the Baltimore scene, Dan Deacon and his demented, ultra-participative live shows are just as idiosyncratic now as they were when he first emerged in the mid-’00s. These days, however, Deacon’s working more as a classical composer than anything else — he had his debut show at Carnegie Hall in March, a show that was apparently very well received, and scored Francis Ford Coppola’s new horror film, Twixt.
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat
The eponymous Ed Schrader and his bass-slinging colleague Devlin Rice apparently got together at a rave, which makes perfect sense when you listen to their idiosyncratic take on rock’n’roll. The duo’s setup encompasses only bass and drums, and their songs oscillate between roof-raising wig-outs and subdued, Morphine-esque balladry. Their debut album Jazz Mind saw more of the latter, and among other things, featured a collaboration with Matmos. Speaking of whom…
They’re originally from San Francisco, but MC Schmidt and Drew Daniel have been in Baltimore long enough now that we reckon they totally warrant a place on this list. The erudite duo have long made some of the most interesting experimental electronic music you’ll hear anywhere, and their talents also extend to criticism, as Daniel’s work for Pitchfork and his 33 1/3 book on Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats demonstrate. We’re looking forward to their follow-up to their most recent record Supreme Balloon, which was one of our favorite albums of 2008.
Many hearts were broken last year when Baltimore’s favorite post-hardcore trio, Double Dagger, announced that they were packing it in after a solid decade of music that was both confrontational and intelligent. But our pain has been eased by the emergence of Roomrunner, led by former DD drummer Denny Bowen and currently making the kind of fuzzy, noisy, melodic yet chaotic grunge rock that will make Nirvana fans very, very happy. They’ve already released two EPs — Super Vague and Roomrunner — and we’re very much looking forward to a full album.
We’re not sure what’s happened to Rye Rye’s buzz/album/career in general — although she does seem to have made the curious decision to appear in the dire-looking film version of 21 Jump Street— but we’re hoping her much-delayed album Go! Pop! Bang! actually does appear on its scheduled May 15 release date. It’s been in the works since 2008, and we’re looking forward to finally hearing it in a couple of weeks.
Nina Simone — “Baltimore”
Just the best song about Baltimore ever. (And yes, pedants, we know Randy Newman wrote it.)