Arts & Culture

Music Reviews: August 2015

The latest from Microkingdom, TT The Artist, and Beach House.

Smooth Tendencies (Friends Records)

Microkingdom adds its own brand of discord to Baltimore’s vibrant DIY music scene. At it for almost a decade, the Baltimore trio is equal parts avant-garde jazz performance and psychedelic jam session, and its “non-jazz,” as the band calls it, is quite a trip. At first, the sax, drums, and guitar sound like a chaotic mess, but on closer listen, each track of this spring release takes you for a ride, evoking particularly vivid scenes in its noisy, scrambling swirl. “Chrome Dynasty” is like a smoldering summer night, high above Harlem or Chicago, all fire escapes, water towers, and burned-out stars. “Zero To Negative Diggity” is like a planetarium seminar—cardboard spaceships whirling out into the void. Then “Big Dry” is a mad thing—wiry nights of youth, heavy drinking, and smoke in some dark and dingy city club. At times, they also surprise you with their approachability—the warm one-night stand of “Midnite Plu$$” and swaggering funk of “Diamond Urge”—but this is not your mother’s smooth jazz. It is a layered freestyle of cacophonous art. We’d love to hear them jam out with fellow music misfits Matmos or Peals.

TT The Artist
Gimme Yo Love (Nina Pop Records)

If Abdu Ali is the young prince of Baltimore Club music, TT The Artist is its princess. Like Ali, the MICA grad is here to drive the homegrown party music forward, while keeping it rooted in its past. A frequent performer at local clubs like The Crown, she’s a force to be reckoned with, blending hip-hop, pop, club, and house into pulse-raising, party-starting, booty-dropping bangers. With the swagger of Nicki Minaj, the millennial reach of Rye Rye, and her own confident rhymes, she disses haters, empowers women, falls recklessly for love, and incites jock-jam jump-offs. After a debut mixtape in 2012, gigs with Dan Deacon and Phantogram, and collabs with Blaqstarr and Diplo, she released her first impressive EP, Art Royalty, in February. NPR hailed its “Thug It Out” as one of its favorite songs of 2015. This past July, she dropped this second, smaller EP, with two tracks turned into seven amped-up remixes with the help of fellow local club artists. Hear it now, via Baltimore’s new dance label, Nina Pop Records, and see her live in September at the Bombadillo music festival at Druid Hill Park.

Beach House
Depression Cherry (Sub Pop)

Arguably Baltimore’s biggest success, Beach House skyrocketed to indie stardom after 2010’s Teen Dream and 2012’s Bloom. Both were met with critical hosannahs, but praise can be both blessing and curse for an emerging band; those albums would be tough acts to follow. But here comes Depression Cherry, and it’s everything we’ve come to love about Beach House’s bedroom indie-pop. Fame hasn’t changed singer Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally; they are that same Baltimore duo, wary and unwilling to make a fuss about their art. They’d rather the music do the talking, so put the album on the stereo and listen for yourself. It’s all still there—the dreamy swirl, the intoxication of youth, its yearning desire—bottled robustly into nine new songs. The first track, “Levitation,” rises like the light at dawn, all slow and dewy and soft. Legrand’s sparkling organ whirls in, her husky voice purrs out, then in pangs the ragged reverb of Scally’s guitar. It is lush. It tingles. It cascades. It might be the most Beach House that Beach House has ever been. But the album is filled with little evolutions, too. They dive in with new volume and power, like in the searing single “Sparks,” and they deviate with splendor in the bare bones sweep of “10:37” and the fuzzy Wall-of-Sound, spoken-word pop of “PPP.” After 10 years, Beach House’s shimmer is shining brighter than ever before.

See our interview with Beach House guitarist Alex Scally.