Arts District

Best Music of 2015

Our year-end review of Baltimore’s ever-growing music scene.

In the last year, Baltimore’s music scene has just burst at its seams. We’re not just talking big names like Future Islands or Beach House, though we dig what they’re doing, too, but in the quiet corners of every genre—from bluegrass and hip-hop to electronic and punk—new musicians reveal themselves every day. Here are just a few of our favorites, both new artists and old, from 2015.

Gliss Riffer
We didn’t think we could ever love Dan Deacon more than we did after listening to his spring album Gliss Riffer, falling head over heels for his tick-tocking third track, “When I Was Done Dying.” But then the local electronic artist threw the most envy-inducing dance party at NPR, told us about his amazing tomato-music metaphor, conducted a stellar, synapse-singeing set at Windjammer, went on tour with Miley Cyrus, and we quickly realized: we were completely wrong. We love him way more. We are the biggest fans.
Top picks: “When I Was Done Dying,” “Learning to Relax,” “Feel the Lightning”

“Keep Movin’ (Negro Kai)”
By now, there’s a good chance you know Abdu Ali, the young Bmore Club artist who continues to break artistic boundaries as a musician, writer, and speaker in and around Baltimore. Two years ago, he started his Kahlon dance parties at The Crown, which celebrated local talent of every type and has since sparked a wave of other DIY shows and collectives throughout the city. With unbridled energy and bold artistic vision, Ali pours passion into his endeavors, as heard on every inch of his 2015 single “Keep Movin’ (Negro Kai),” a minimalist monologue that swings between avant-garde artwork, motivational freestyle, and free jazz. Expect big things in the coming years.
Top picks: “Keep Movin’ (Negro Kai),” “I, Exist” (Already, 2013), “Invictos ft. Schwarz” (2013 mixtape)

Thank Your Lucky Stars
At this point, we’ve almost forgotten about Beach House’s first album of 2015, Depression Cherry, as we’re glued to our speakers, completely enraptured by the band’s surprise follow-up TYLS. Seriously, we can’t stop listening to “All of Your Yeahs.” And on these 18 new songs, Beach House does what Beach House does best—modern melancholy, youthful intoxication, shimmering nostalgia—through front woman Victoria LeGrand’s velvety voice and Alex Scally‘s twangy surf guitar. This album is like reading your teenage diary all over again, giving us all the feels.
Top picks: “All of Your Yeahs,” “One Thing,” “Somewhere Tonight”

Like his smile, Al Rogers Jr. is infectious. Aside from his stylish swagger and confident rhymes, the young artist is imbued with an openly optimistic outlook on life, spreading his feel-good vibes through what he has affectionately come to call his trademark swooz. On Luvadocious, Rogers’ new album with local producer and Blacksage bandmate Drew Scott (see below), the two friends create a utopian storyline of clever wordplay and spellbinding beats that takes you on a trip, better yet a “love voyage,” to a place where you should give your heart with abandon and always pursue your dreams. It has quickly become our go-to late-night jam.
Top picks: “Godina,” “Conversations,” U>Me,” “Pomegrante”

She Is Me
This summer, Natural Velvet actually inspired two Baltimore editors to start their own, all-girl, punk rock band. One listen to their raw, rip-roaring sound and you’ll soon figure out why. This Baltimore band is badass, fulfilling every bedroom dream you ever had of starting your own, thanks to 99.1 HFS. Frontwoman Corynne Ostermann taps into the hidden angst of your wide-eyed youth as she waxes between piercing wails and low, lovesick, Morrissey-esque moans, and all the while, her plugging bass line pulls at the strings of your 17-year-old heart.
Top picks: “Fruits,” “Swell,” “Crash”

Smooth Tendencies
For nearly a decade, Microkingdom has added its own brand of discord to Baltimore’s vibrant DIY music scene, as this experimental trio is equal parts avant-garde jazz performance and psychedelic jam session. At first, the sax, drums, and guitar seem to combine in a chaotic mess, but on closer listen, each track evokes particularly vivid scenes in their noisy, scrambling swirl. A smoldering summer night, high above Harlem or Chicago, all fire escapes, water towers, and burned-out stars. A planetarium seminar, with cardboard spaceships whirling out into the void. Mad wiry nights of youth, heavy drinking, and cigarette smoke in some dark, dingy, city club. At times, they also surprise you with their approachability, but this is not your mother’s smooth jazz. It is a layered freestyle of cacophonous art.
Top picks: “Chrome Dynasty,” “Diamond Urge,” “Midnight Plu$$”

Art Royalty & Gimme Yo Love
We want TT’s closet. Just take one look at her Instagram and you’ll know exactly why. When it comes to fashion, the MICA alum goes bold with bright color and creativity, just like she does in her Bmore Club music, as heard in her two 2015 EPs, Art Royalty and Gimme Yo Love. On both, she disses haters, empowers women, falls recklessly for love, and incites jock-jam jump-offs. In short, she’s no bullshit, and a ton of fun. We can’t wait for her new album in 2016—or her next music video.
Top picks: “Gimme You Love,” “Thug It Out,” “Fly Girl”

Like some secret love potion, Wume found us transfixed this summer when the Baltimore-by-way-of-Chicago duo (pronounced woom) released their new album, Maintain. During a live set at Artscape, we hypnotically bobbed along in an evening daydream to drummer April Camlin’s steady beat and keyboardist Albert Schatz’s sparkly synth. It was like we had transported into the opening scenes of some 1980s science-fiction film or a beloved but antiquated arcade game, and we didn’t hate it. We could watch April command that kit for hours.
Top picks: “Control, “Gold Leaf,” “We Go Further”

Basement Vows
Since the first listen of “Casualty,” Blacksage has haunted us with the low purr of lead singer Josephine Olivia and sludgy beats of producer Drew Scott (see Al Rogers Jr.) snaking their way into the corners of our darkest fantasies. The electro-goth duo melds deep house and trap music with old-fashioned pop and R&B, all morphing into moody, murky, modern baby-making music that’s as ambient and brooding as it is bold and bright. Consider them your next deep love (or bad breakup) songs.
Top picks: “Casualty,” “Basement Vows,” “Pillow Talk”

The Dongo Durango
Sun Club makes us want to be bad. More specifically, the young punk-rock band makes us want to stay up late, skip work the next day, and spend the afternoon sipping beer on a beach somewhere with our buddies, just basking in the sun. No obligations. No worries. That’s because they are a blow-out-the-speakers band of merry pranksters who defy the rules and flick off the authorities with their own skateboard brand of rambunctious pop rock. Full of eager energy and good vibes, we’re on the bandwagon, wherever they go.
Top picks: “Summer Feet,” “Beauty Meat,” “Cheeba Swiftkick”

The Manly Deeds
Though this album actually came out in 2014, we truly fell in love with it this past year. During the early days of summer, the Baltimore band’s Americana mix of country, bluegrass, and folk had us yearning for a wide-open road. The Land of Pleasant Living locals sing songs of travelers, coal miners, and thieves in the style of music past—from plucky ditties and timeless ballads to thumping mountain hollers—paying homage to Maryland’s bluegrass heritage, from the hills of Appalachia and the tides of the Chesapeake Bay. At the end of the day, we’re just suckers for anything with a fiddle, harmonica, or slide guitar.
Top picks: “Troubles Like Mine,” “My Own Red Blood,” “As the Cow Flies”

Escape From Evil
Frontwoman Jana Hunter has been everywhere lately. Whether she’s talking race in Pitchfork, politics with CNN, or misogyny with Cosmopolitan and BBC, she eloquently expresses her beliefs in the same sort of unapologetic way that she makes her music. The local indie rock band’s third release is robust and undeniable—a warm, aching album of echoing guitar, shadowy synth, and Hunter’s inimitable voice full of hope or heartbreak, falling away in abandon or howling out in despair. Whatever your state, “Sucker’s Shangri-La” is one of the best songs of the year.
Top picks: “Sucker’s Shangri-La,” “Ondine,” “To Die in L.A.”