Shivers (Friends Records)
Blacksage’s last album, Basement Vows, was the kind of breakout record that would be hard to follow. With a fusion of luxurious vocals and deep, dark, drip-dropping beats, the local duo found their own unique sweet spot in the evolving genre of modern R&B. Turns out that breakthrough was also a breakup—the embers of a relationship between singer Josephine Olivia and producer Drew Scott. In its cathartic wake, a clearing was created for this next album, filled with room for both artists to grow. Freed of those leftover emotions, this new record reveals a much more sparse, sophisticated Blacksage. Themes remain the same—desire, romance, heartache—but each song slows down, spreads out, and oozes with newfound confidence and ease. With technical prowess, Scott builds up and breaks down sounds into undeniably captivating beats, creating an open-floor plan for Olivia’s voice, which is at once vulnerable and in complete control as it unfurls each high hymnal cry or low purring coo. With an emphasis on jazz, the duo becomes a modern version of the past: a new ode to old styles, a fruit of their former selves. With the title track, they declare themselves a powerhouse of the local music scene.
Flock of Dimes
If You See Me, Say Yes (Partisan Records)
This has been quite a year for Jenn Wasner. From shows at the Meyerhoff and BWI to a new album with her 10-year-old band Wye Oak, the Baltimore singer has reached a pinnacle in her already accomplished career. And now, five years after emerging as a solo artist under the Flock of Dimes moniker, and a year and a half after leaving Baltimore for a North Carolina bungalow, Wasner releases her FOD debut. Across 12 songs, Wasner—who wrote every lyric, played every instrument, and even manned the entire production—sings about the duality of moving forward and looking back, most apparent on her aptly named single, “Semaphore.” She connects the past and present, and the Land of Pleasant Living with the Old North State, and seems to discover herself along the way. There are small, introspective moments, and bright, buoyant ones, too, and in the end, she emerges more assured and empowered than ever before (the word “moxie” comes to mind). Maybe she hasn’t found all the answers, but with notes imbued with both an undeniable lightness and a grounded dose of gumption, she makes the case that maybe she doesn’t have to.