BEST BANDRoomrunnerGrunge. Nirvana. OK, now that we’ve gotten the two entries from the “Idiot’s Guide to Writing About Roomrunner” out of the way, let’s actually talk about this band. Roomrunner is really, incredibly fucking loud, but blissfully so—the aggressive, blaring guitars provide that rare release for both performer and listener. Ideal Cities, the band’s first proper long-player, worked so well because it moved the goalposts from the band’s first two EPs, revealing a diversified array of songs to go along with the piercing chords. The real secret to the band’s sound, though, is the pounding underbelly laid down by bassist Dan Frome and drummer Bret Lanahan. Which is to say they’re an overlooked part in a complete package. Here’s hoping David Geffen swoops in and makes them millionaires.
BEST VIDEO"Wishes," by Beach HouseThe Baltimore music scene has given us plenty of great “what the fuck?” moments in the many music videos it has produced. Now imagine a local band empowered by a big budget. That’s pretty much what you have in this Beach House video, directed by absurdist bon vivant Eric Wareheim, that includes: Ray Wise of Twin Peaks fame mouthing the words of Victoria Legrand over eager cheerleaders twirling large swords and nunchuks, fireworks, horses, and a high school stadium full of spectators, some in horse masks, awaiting the start of a futuristic lacrosse-polo hybrid. So yeah, that is a thing that happened and it’s as glorious as it sounds.
BEST MIX TAPE83 CutlassWe consume rap in mostly one way at this point: the internet. So if rappers aren’t on social media networks biggin’ themselves up around the clock, you won’t hear them. That’s probably why 83 Cutlass’ self-titled debut mixtape was easily breezed by. The self-produced project, with sounds ranging from boom bap hip-hop drums to guitar riffs, could double as a punk record as it chronicles 83’s vulnerabilities in a dark swirl of a cappella confessionals like “Fi-Minutes to 5” and “High Horse Can’t Be Handled,” doses of brutal honesty like his dissatisfaction with the father he is to his children, and his continued struggle with drugs. The standout is “My Grandmother’s Basement,” where he spits with an unmatched fire about being stuck in the same space since he was an early teen. This kind of transparency in rap is sadly nearing extinction.
BEST REMIXMatic 808Overnight stardom doesn’t come often to Baltimore musicians, but if anyone got close this year, it was Matic 808. The Rosedale explosion back in May caused by a derailed freight train crashing into a truck filled with garbage moved him to remix a video of two men driving near the scene as it happened. After getting a few hundred views within a matter of hours, people were locked in on Matic. His brilliance reached new heights, though, when he remixed Kanye West’s Yeezus album as he was listening to it for the first time. Capturing the album’s most entertaining vocals and looping them over heavy bass and completely reconstructing some tracks made his remix a source of comic relief on top of making the album more danceable than Kanye’s original version.
BEST SUMMER JAM"Pussy Ate," by TT the ArtistThere isn’t a creative scene in Baltimore that TT the Artist hasn’t had an impact on. That’s mostly due to a nonstop motor of productivity and her experimentation with the music she’s been releasing over the past few years. Just this year, she’s found herself on a Diplo mix with “Dat a Freak” and was featured in a mini-doc about Baltimore Club by VICE magazine called “Life at 130 BPM.” Carrying momentum, this summer she struck gold with her club music-tinged, Murder Mark-produced track “Pussy Ate.” The song’s vulgarity serves as some sort of liberation for women in places like the Ottobar or Floristree where, upon first hearing, they have an embarrassed grin that quickly leads to all-night dancing. “Pussy Ate” wasn’t just a local hit either—clubs in Brooklyn and Philly also fit the jam into their rotations this summer.
BEST SONG"You're Beautiful," by SchwarzThere’s no character in Baltimore’s underground scene quite like DJ and producer Schwarz. Simply put, he’s random, or exceptionally well-versed, depending on how you look at it. He’s worked with Abdu Ali, Lil Ugly Mane, and Kevin Jz Prodigy, and has remixed artists ranging from Lana Del Rey to Future. That wide range of musical output and his public fandom of Lil B (an internet rapper with a cult-like following who puts an emphasis on spreading positivity) is probably what led him to making “You’re Beautiful.” It’s tailor-made for being played in clubs as Schwarz shouts variations of “I want you to stop for a minute and just think about how fuckin’ beautiful you are!” throughout. He also instructs you to “love yourself” and “love your body” over auto-tuned harmonizing. If you’re ever down on yourself, this’ll help you get things right.
BEST PROMOTERSavage BookingOver the past year, any show worth going to has in some way been organized by Adam Savage and his Savage Booking company. Whether it be at Ottobar, Golden West Café, or Metro Gallery, he’ll have you covered with some of the best punk shows in town. If your Facebook notifications aren’t filled with invites from him, you need to fix that soon. To name a few, he’s brought Mykki Blanco and Hunx and His Punx to town, and has already announced a Trash Talk show, coming to Baltimore very soon.
BEST DJ IN A CLUBDJ Angel BabyDJ Angel Baby is widely recognized as the best thing to happen to Baltimore radio since K-Swift, who died all too soon in 2008. Angel Baby’s the voice behind 92Q’s Rap Attack on Sunday nights and The Late Show during the rest of the week. Being on air isn’t her only avenue of entertainment though. She dropped her Get Pumped Vol. 1 mixtape earlier this year, which featured local club DJs like Murder Mark, James Nasty, and DJ Pierre, as well as Jersey and Philly club DJs. And if you wanna hear the hottest songs in hip-hop and R&B inside of a packed club, follow her. She frequently plays Friday nights at Club Oxygen and is sure to play whatever bangers you want to hear.
BEST ALBUMTime Was, by ZomesWe all know and love Asa Osborn from the now-legendary Lungfish, but up until Time Was, his Zomes project could be a bit esoteric, what with the muddy recordings and static song structures. The brilliant Time Was clears the lo-fi cobwebs away on Zomes’ dreamy repetitions and adds a new collaborator, Swedish vocalist Hanna Olivegren, to the mix. Osborn provides the pithy organ riffs and spartan beats while Olivegren offers up hauntingly beautiful melodies and expressive vocalizations that show us just how much the human voice can do.
BEST RETIREMENTDouble DaggerWhile we are sad to see them go, has a band ever had a better way of saying goodbye? Not only did we get excellent records from Denny Bowen’s Roomrunner and Bruce Willen’s Peals, but the group also dropped the stunning swan song, 333, on their way out. The record encapsulated everything we loved about Double Dagger while at the same time also reminding us of the group’s prodigious talent and potential by exploring new sounds and forms. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, the record was also accompanied by a documentary of their final tour, If We Shout Loud Enough. If only every band could leave on such a high note.
BEST INSTRUMENTAL BANDPealsThe members of Peals are both known for bands with loud vocals way up front in the mix: William Cashion for Future Islands and Bruce Willen of Double Dagger, respectively. But for their current project together, they strip away singing as well as drums or much semblance of song structure in favor of dreamy, textured soundscapes. Instead of disappearing into ambient mush, however, their music sounds alive, both on this year’s Thrill Jockey debut, Walking Field, and in live shows such as their standout appearance at the NOVO: Instrumental Music Festival. And playful experiments like the innovative song featured on the Peals website, “Furniture”—in which the listener is allowed to interact with the music, playing three tracks individually or all together—point to exciting new ways the duo is thinking about the sounds they make.
BEST MCRickie JacobsA few years ago, Rickie Jacobs was a promising teenaged hip-hop producer who’d occasionally put his own small, awkward voice on his tracks instead of selling them to another rapper. But in 2013 he’s not just a prolific MC but one who rarely bothers to produce anymore, so confident in his still-offbeat voice that the listener quickly grows accustomed to it. This year, Jacobs ramped into overdrive to release the album Songs for High School Kids in March, and then following it up with perhaps his best project to date, June’s Beautiful America EP. Add in ace one-off tracks like “Can Goods” and guest verses where he holds his own with other great local MCs like StarrZ and Tate Kobang, and you’ve got the combination of quantity and quality that it takes to make it in hip-hop today.
BEST BEATMAKERJ. OliverLike many successful hip-hop producers, J. Oliver has gained much of his reputation by smartly hitching his wagon to a rising MC, in this case Baltimore’s current breakout star, Los. But like a truly talented producer, J. Oliver hasn’t merely been riding his homeboy’s coattails, landing his first major-label credit this year for French Montana’s “Told Em,” as well as producing for everyone from Houston’s Kirko Bangz to hometown rappers like StarrZ and the late Smash. J. Oliver continues reserving some of his best work for Los, however, outshining some much more famous producers with his contributions to the Bad Boy rapper’s hugely popular latest mixtape, Becoming King.
BEST HIP-HOP DJDJ Harvey DentFar from a two-faced villain like his comic book namesake, DJ Harvey Dent has long been a friend to many in Baltimore hip-hop, playing music at all the hot spots, holding down the beats for live performances by local rappers like Kane Mayfield. Lately, the man born Harvey Rhames can be seen spinning at 5ive Spot in Randallstown or assembling mixes for WDGP Radio, Soul Bounce, and Gypsy Soul’s Ear Candy Chronicles. Or you can just find him cracking jokes and ribbing other DJs on Twitter, where he’s quietly become one of the scene’s most entertaining voices.
BEST CLUB MUSIC DJRod LeeRod Lee has been pushing forward the sound of Baltimore Club music with some of the genre’s most beloved songs since the 1990s, but he’d been a bit more quiet than usual the last few years. And in 2013, he finally came roaring back with the great new album Rock City, Vol. 8: Club Workout. He’s also been on the turntables with a vengeance, appearing at Mixfest 2013 at Paparazzi and throwing massive parties for the 30-and-over crew at the Steel Workers Union Hall and Overlea Hall. He’s long run the label Club Kingz Records, but this year Rod Lee seemed ready to assert his right to the crown once again.
BEST COLLABORATIONMobtown MoonIf there was one album that could sum up the talent, energy, and diversity of Baltimore’s music world, it would be this creative reimagining of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Spearheaded by local music-scene mainstays Sandy Asirvatham (a former CP contributor) and ellen cherry, the ambitious project sees local jazz heroes Russell Kirk and Todd Marcus bringing the jam to “Any Colour You Like”; former Bridge frontman Cris Jacobs vamping it up on “Money,” which also includes rapped verses from David “Native Son” Ross and Femi the DriFish; and sax master Craig Alston teaming up with local activist-singer Lea Gilmore on “Brain Damage.” We’re hoping Asirvatham and cherry make this a regular thing. If any city could do it, it’s Baltimore.
BEST BOX SETThe Disposition of Vibrant Forms, Liz Meredith and John SomersAmbient noise is typically the sort of thing people can only take in small doses—if they can take it at all. Ambient noise as long-form jam? In a box set of five LPs? You might need one hand to count all the die-hard fans for that. All of which makes violinist/composer Liz Meredith and guitarist/composer John Somers The Disposition of Vibrant Forms a minor miracle: five side-long tracks of warm, amorphous ooze that engages the brain as much as it pleases the senses. Think of it as the soundtrack to an imagined abstract film being projected onto the backs of eyelids for about three hours.
BEST MUSIC FESTIVALHigh ZeroWe love Scapescape and all the other scapes, but on its 15th anniversary, it’s hard not to step back and marvel at the wonder that is High Zero. Back in the 1990s, when some of us had fled to NYC, escaping what we thought of as the wasteland of the town where we grew up, we saw one of the first High Zero posters in Other Music, and that moment changed the way we thought of Charm City. We’ve been reveling in the utter confoundingness and beautiful experimentation of it all ever since.
BEST NEW BANDBobby DonnieWhen we say “new band” this year, we mean really new, in more sense than one. Bobby Donnie has only played a few shows, but the duo of of Stephanie Barber and Joan Sullivan also sound new in the best way. When we saw them at High Zero’s Worlds in Collusion at Artscape, it was the highlight of the weekend. The songs were experimental and yet primal, intellectual and yet visceral, avant-garde and super-old school, like the paintings of Henri Rousseau must have felt 100 years ago. And the “Birthday” song they gave us for our Big Music Issue has become one of our favorite songs. We can’t wait for more.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT HALL OF FAMEBaltimore Museum of Art10 Art Museum Drive, (443) 573-1700, www.artbma.org
Under the guidance of art-scene dynamo Doreen Bolger (“Best Do-Gooder,” 2011), the BMA has transformed itself into a major player not only in the stuffier upper echelons of the art scene but down at the ground level. The museum reopened its Contemporary Wing this year and included work by street artist Gaia and Wham City wizard Jimmy Joe Roche, plus an impressive new collection of international work. We’ve, of course, quibbled with a few curatorial choices over the years and were saddened by the recent layoffs, but the BMA is exactly what a local arts institution should be. Over the years it has won “Best Exhibit” (2005), “Best Place to See Art” (2006), “Best Local Art Representing” (2007), “Best Museum Series” (2007), and more than one “Best Museum” (1999, 2001, 2003) or “Best Big Museum” (2000). It can even claim “Best Place to Score” (1999). With more renovations scheduled to be completed this year, we’re looking forward to seeing what else the BMA has in store for us.
BEST LABOR OF LOVEThe Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts blog/compilationsNostalgia for your vibrant young-adult years as you approach mid-life is nothing new—see also: pretty much any white heterosexual American dude author since 1950—but rarely is it pulled off with such profound sincerity for excavating life’s creative purpose. On the Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts blog and compilations, Mike Apichella performs an impressive bit of musical archeology to provide context and clarity to groups of suburban teenagers in 1990s Baltimore County who, for some reason, embraced outré music, writing, visual art, and politics in an effort to self-define who they may become. Bonus: The music, much of it unheard outside its immediate peer group, consistently slays.
BEST ALBUM CONCEPTThe Marriage of True Minds, by MatmosThe experimental duo Matmos (Martin Schmidt and Drew Daniel) has always had lofty inspiration for its records, created with improvisational techniques, field recordings, and high concepts. This time they took it into the stratosphere with a record based on the parapsychological Ganzfeld experiment—an established (though disputed) technique which is used to test for ESP sensitivity. The duo subjected friends (including many notables from the Baltimore music scene) to sensory deprivation while attempting to telepathically communicate to them their ideas for how the album should sound. After each session, they interviewed the subjects about the sounds, images, and thoughts that came to them during the process, and they used these recollections to craft the final album. The result, while not always the most cohesive, is undeniably the fruit of the most unique process in recent memory.
BEST RECORD LABELA389 RecordingsThis year, A389 Recordings, powered by the seemingly limitless energy of founder Dom Romeo, enters its 10th year of putting out quality metal and hardcore records. Its back catalog is packed, featuring great local acts as well as national and international ones. But even compared to the label’s long history, the past year stands out, with the first new recording in eight years by legendary sludge band EYEHATEGOD, the discovery of Noisem, total burners by locals Full of Hell and Ilsa, and discs from Iron Reagan and Integrity. They also transformed the long-running A389 Bash from a one-day concert into a three-day, multi-venue festival. And to top it off, they convinced Canadian hardcore legends Left for Dead to reunite for a series of shows and to record new material. No one is doing more to keep heavy, dark music alive in Baltimore, and A389 is doing it with consistent attention to detail, work ethic, and legitimate concern for the fans.
BEST NEW METAL BANDNoisemIt’s not often that a new band takes us totally by surprise, but Noisem came from nowhere this year, a young band with a sound that blends classic thrash with death metal. We first became aware when they were picked to play grindcore legends Pig Destroyer’s record-release show. At first we were skeptical that a band of teenagers from Dundalk could impress us, but they proved us wrong with powerful riffage, strong songwriting, and exuberant stage presence. Shortly after, they signed to established Baltimore label A389 Recordings, undertook a quick name change (they were formerly known as Necropsy) designed to avoid confusion with other similarly named bands internationally, released the excellent debut LP Agony Defined, and scored several more choice gigs (including Maryland Deathfest) and, most recently, a touring support slot with Black Dahlia Murder. Not a bad year at all, and we expect greater things yet to come.
BEST COUNTRYSterling SistersSome of our more purist friends might find a bone to pick with our choice of some art-school kids as the town’s best country act. But ain’t nobody nowhere put out better country songs in the past year than this band. Just try to find a better country tune than “Red, White, and Beauty.” Eric Paltell’s pedal steel and Andrew Haas’ banjo provide the perfect backdrop for the haunting harmonies of Scout Paré-Phillips and George Cessna. They’re prolific, too, releasing Hale at the end of 2012 and then Songs for the Donors, part of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a tour, earlier this year, with Slim Cessna (George’s pa). In the future, this band might just define Baltimore high and lonesome.
BEST OLD SCHOOLHeight with Friends Versus Dynamic SoundsIt often happens that the only way to make a genre feel new is to go way back, like when proto-punks rebelled against the excesses of proggy stoner rock by returning to Chuck Berry-style riffs and aggression. Height with Friends took the same strategy on Versus Dynamic Sounds, throwing back to the days of Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash hosting parties at parks and rec centers. It’s easy to imagine such a move turning into hokey bullshit nostalgia (after all, punk isn’t invented by every Viagra-swallowing old dude with a guitar), but with Height’s crew, it reminds us of the communal spirit that animated the genre in the first place.
BEST ARTISTJoyce J. ScottIn the past year, how many Baltimore artists exhibited at the Venice Biennale? Participated in the Prospect 2 Exhibition in New Orleans? Starred in a documentary film and a PBS special? Or were awarded the prestigious Renwick Award from the Smithsonian? The answer is one, but she’s one in a million. Joyce J. Scott has been an art-world superstar for decades, with museum exhibitions since the 1970s, including the immensely popular Kickin’ It with the Old Masters solo show at the BMA in 2000. Her work has been collected by the Met, the Smithsonian, the American Craft Museum, the Corcoran, the BMA, and Yale University, so it’s safe to say she’s found a level of success few local artists ever will. Unlike many creative professionals who mellow with age and soften with fame, Scott’s work has become more savage and more achingly beautiful as she evolves.
BEST MUSEUM SHOWRevealing the African Prescence in Renaissance EuropeIt is the rare and wonderful museum exhibit that presents to you a piece of history—a real, thriving, fascinating world—that you have probably never thought about before and then fills it with so many interesting stories and perspectives that it will stay with you forever. This Walters exhibit, which tells the story of Africans in Renaissance Europe, is such an exhibit. Though relatively small, the show was filled with beautiful and relevant paintings and sculptures, each telling a story you’ve never heard and which you’ll want to read every word of, such as “View of a Square with the Kings Fountain in Lisbon,” which depicts four Africans, including a drunk, being carried away by Jewish policemen, and a nobleman on horseback, and the sculpture of St. Benedict of Palermo, an uneducated and illiterate son of Sicilian slaves who would become recognized as a great Christian thinker. At their best, museums should be this endlessly enlightening.
BEST CURATORIAL MESSSondheim Artscape Prize: 2013 FinalistsThe Sondheim Artscape Prize exhibition of finalists is an annual highlight for Baltimore’s contemporary artists, but not because it features a select handful of the area’s best artists. Truth be told, it’s actually a Hunger Games-style deathmatch for artists, a group show where participants are pitted against one another for a $25,000 prize. This year, the exhibit was hosted by the Walters Art Museum’s Special Exhibition Gallery to mixed reviews. Some of the problems stemmed from the subjective decisions of out-of-town jurors who chose four photojournalists and two installation artists as finalists, an inaccurate representation of contemporary art in the area, while others resulted from awkward curatorial placements which distracted rather than enhanced. Regardless, the show continues to capture the public’s attention every year, spawning a serious betting pool and results that are always shocking.
BEST-KEPT SECRETBaker Artist Award Jurors
A self-taught artist, an MFA graduate, and a professional musician walk into a museum. It sounds like the start of a joke, but it might actually be the secret formula to the Baker Artist Awards. Nobody is complaining about the interactive website and generous cash-funding bestowed upon Baltimore’s creative class by the Baker Foundation, but the fact that their awards process is completely secret seems at odds with their mission of visibility. When asked about their process, executive director Melissa Warlow cites other artist awards decided in secret, like the MacArthur Fellows Program. According to Warlow, “The Board of Governors of the Baker Fund holds the process to the highest objective and professional standards and annually recruits a panel of nationally respected jurors from outside Maryland who use the website to make their independent selections.” We honestly don’t care if they hire psychics or draw names out of a hat, the Baker Artist Awards give over $80,000 a year directly to Baltimore artists: The end justifies the means.
BEST GALLERY SERIESMAP's Thirty: 30 Creative Minds Under 30 monthly speakers seriesArtist’s talks in the gallery seem to be more than a passing phase, and it’s too bad because they are tediously boring! This is due to a just-winging-it approach where artists ramble indiscriminately about their inspiration, ideas, and whatever else comes to mind. Wouldn’t it be great if young artists were given the opportunity to practice their speaking skills with mentorship from professional curators and experienced artists? MAP’s new Thirty: 30 Creative Minds Under 30 is just such a program. Initially conceived by Michelle Gomez, a former programming committee member, MAP designed the speaker series for all types of young artists to hone their speaking and editing skills, to give a public talk at a respected venue, and receive feedback from professionals in the business. The events feature three artists at a time and have been hugely popular, bringing in crowds of listeners and enthusiastic reactions. MAP is planning a second installment for 2014.
BEST SOLO SHOWStopgap, by Lisa DillinBaltimore sculptor Lisa Dillin has been known to create spectacles where office furniture, faux vegetation, and industrial lighting confuse the man-made and the natural world in clever ways. Stopgap, her most recent exhibit at Gallery Four, brought her fascination with artificial nature to a participatory level, so that the viewer could not only appreciate her well-crafted detail, but also wear it, taste it, and be it. The show included a spray-tan performance where volunteers donned specially made tanning uniforms to be airbrushed into a bronzy glow by the artist. Once tan, participants could enter a cave/lounge where imitation rocks served as comfy chairs and a secret beer fridge. In addition, Stopgap featured a giant communal water fountain inspired by a woodland watering hole, a giant linoleum floor depicting dinosaur bones, and a perplexing room full of hybrid office furniture and ferns. In Stopgap, viewers were surrounded, submerged, and ensconced in Dillin’s artistic vision, which created a unique sensory experience few artists can match.
BEST HUBBaltimore + Justince ProjectArtists have always found ways to apply their skills to community-based projects, from the painfully obvious—the public-art murals—to the less so, such as community gardens and oral history projects. Baltimore, like many economically depressed urban areas, has a healthy history of such actions, but MICA’s Baltimore Art + Justice Project is the first organized effort—in the city and the country—to map both the artists and direct-action community-service providers who are already collaborating/want to collaborate on such projects. It’s only been collecting data for a year, but it’s creating a vital tool for constructing a sustainable infrastructure for exploring how creative laborers can apply their expertise to real-world problems—problems that often fall through the budget-cut cracks of conventional social services.
BEST PHOTO SERIESGeolocation by Nate Larson and Marni ShindelmanNate Larson and Marni Shindelman’s ongoing series (one of several the pair have worked on collaboratively) juxtaposes beautiful shot photographs of seemingly empty urban and suburban landscapes alongside social media posts. The most iconic image from the series so far is a beautifully composed photograph of what appears to be a lonely roadside motel. A single car sits alone in front of a bank of rooms. Puddles are scattered throughout the parking lot (from a fresh rain? We don’t know.). The caption reads: “Tell me I’m not making a mistake. Tell me you’re worth the wait. #fb”. What’s so interesting about the project is that it’s not an arbitrary pairing—it’s that they use the GPS coordinates embedded in the post to take the photo where the post was actually made, and as soon as an hour after. The most ephemeral of modern communication tools, social media, is thus made hauntingly real. Viewing them, one can’t help but reflect about their own social media missives, the circumstances around them and how technology can transform a seemingly fleeting thought into something both public and persistent.
BEST PHOENIXOpen SpaceCP designer Jasmine Sarp is a member of Open Space, so we may be biased, but you’d have to be a pretty heartless bastard not to be glad that this scrappy but impressive collective of artists came back from the devastating fire that destroyed their homes and studios this year. Weekends’ Brendan Sullivan is a member of Open Space, and the band’s new record was being stored there before its release. When we got our copy, we were pretty sure we got a whiff of melted tire or something, but it made the music sound that much better and was a perfect soundtrack for rising from the ashes.
BEST NEW GALLERYSpringsteen Gallery1511 Guilford Ave. B303, springsteengallery.com
Springsteen Gallery, in the Copycat Building, is a beautiful, ultra-bright, ultra-white cube gallery that shines its light out over Station North like a beacon. What really makes the gallery a shining star in the city’s art scene is the sharp curatorial sense of Amelia Szpiech and Hunter Bradley, who put on ambitious shows such as James Bouché’s Not Yet in Ruin or the work of Milton Croissant III. We wish more people in the Copycat were half as committed to the scene.
BEST RENAISSANCE MANAbdu Ali“Renaissance man” is a title that gets kicked around a lot. But when you’re a fashion blogger, designer, successful musician, and dance-party planner, you’re a good fit for that title. Abdu Ali is all of those. His popular Eat on This blog was one of the first to cover the local fashion scene. The Guttahball after-hours parties, of which he’s a co-founder, routinely pack underground venues like the Broom Factory Factory, and this year he released the track “Banjee Musik” with local music producer DJ Schwarz, which became a cult hit on the local gay scene. Here’s to hoping rents in Brooklyn, N.Y., rise so high he has to stay and party with us in Baltimore.
BEST CULTURE JAMMINGFORCE: Upsetting Rape CulturePink Loves Consent—a fake Victoria’s Secret online ad campaign that printed consensual sex slogans such as “No Means No” on women’s underwear—was as subversive an appropriation of conventional corporate messaging as the Brandalism street art that littered London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. The genius brainbomb of FORCE founders, Rebecca Nagle and Hannah Brancato, turned the Pink Loves Consent site of sexual commodification—women’s bodies—into a cleverly euphoric way to flip off advertising’s beauty standards (skinny, white, for the male gaze) and call attention to the fact that sexual commodification actively supports the attitude that women are mere objects for men’s sexual pleasure, a fundamental assumption underlying our current culture of sexual violence. It’s merely the first in FORCE’s heroic confrontation of the rape and sexual abuse, reported and not, that happens every day in this country.
BEST STREET ARTWall HuntersWall Hunters is not only this year’s best street art but it is some of the best art we’ve seen all year. Over a dozen different artists, both local and international, used the ugliest aspects of our city’s ruined urban landscape as a canvas this summer. Under the direction of street-artist Nether and housing activist Carol Ott, the project packed a hell of a political wallop. But its aesthetic impact was just as powerful, as neighborhoods far from the centers of the city’s artistic culture suddenly found themselves hosting artists such as Gaia, Tefcon, Stefan Ways, Doom, and LNY. The work of these artists incorporate both the blight of the vacant buildings on which they are hung and the vibrancy of the people still living in the houses around them, ultimately turning the aesthetics of street art into a kind of urban evangelism that the visiting artists are likely to bring back to their own cities.
BEST REINVENTIONThe ComtemporaryWhen the Contemporary Museum shut down last year in the midst of its Baltimore Liste show, we have to admit we were pretty miffed. Sue Spaid had done a lot to revive the flagging museum and it felt like they just gave up. Little did we know, they were going underground to reemerge sleeker than ever with young dynamo Deana Haggag at the helm and no permanent location, just as it was back when George Ciscle started it over 20 years ago.
BEST GROUP SHOWGran PrixCo-curated by New York gallery Gresham’s Ghost, Gran Prix was tremendously ambitious in its scope, not only occupying Nudashank (co-owned by erstwhile CP contributor Alex Ebstein) and Gallery Four, but also taking over two empty storefronts on Howard Street, providing a vision of what the new Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment District could look like. Gran Prix was great not only for its grand vision, but also for its individual pieces, like Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez’s American automotive zen meditation series. Even a piece like Max Guy’s series of clocks, which didn’t initially impress us, have grown in their power over time (we guess, being clocks, that was the point). Fuck $RB’s Grand Prix, this is the kind of thing the city should be pouring its money into.
BEST THROWBACK TECHNOLOGYCurrent Darkroom421 N. Howard St., currentspace.com
Thanks to Current Space and photo virtuoso Ginevra Shay, darkroom dreams are alive in Baltimore. With the help of a successful fundraising campaign and some elbow grease from members of the space, there are now facilities to develop, print, and matte black-and-white film photography in an affordable central setting. The darkroom program plans to offer membership, various classes, workshops, and additional programming. Why limit your shutter-happy days to the confinement of high school memories when you can make physical photos in the company of fellow artists in the community setting of Current Space’s basement?
BEST ALL-NIGHT DANCE PARTYDeep Sugar5517 Harford Road, (410) 426-1930, hamiltontavern.com
Every second Saturday of the month, the Paradox nightclub is home for dance music legend Ultra Naté with DJ Lisa Moody and other icons in the house-music community. Deep Sugar’s lineup changes monthly, drawing DJs, producers, and recording artists of the international and local variety, all of whom have rocked the roof off. You’ll share the dancefloor with cool kids, couples on date night, b-boy/b-girl crews, and bouncing ravers. For those who are still self-conscious, the smoky main room of the Paradox is dimly lit for you to dance awkwardly in. The crowd is peaceful, the venue is spacious, and the dress code is never strict—just come ready to sweat and dance until the wee hours of the morning.
BEST GALLERYsophiajacob510 W. Franklin St., sophiajacob.com
Is it a laundromat or a gallery? We like a gallery that challenges us. We like a gallery that has so much to offer that we are disappointed when we can’t make it to half of its openings, artist lectures, performances, and celebrations. Luckily, between openings and gallery hours, we were able to catch a lot of the work on display, and were consistently impressed with the inventive and daring choices. Sophiajacob’s curatorial thoughtfulness and variety of programming has no apparent motive but to devotedly foster and display the work and inherent discourse of emerging and established artists. Regular accompanying publications add an appreciated takeaway element, and we love that they are also available digitally on the gallery website (along with photo and video documentation of most everything else the gallery puts together). We’re excited to see what happens next.
BEST PLACE TO BUY ARTCurrent Gallery421 N. Howard St., currentspace.com
This artist-run space has presented a variety of approachable opportunities to buy art over the years: CART in 2011, a gallery storefront turned grocery store-style art shop; and BINGO in 2012, a rambunctious performative bingo game with collectible artist bingo cards. The gallery continues to host Transmodern Festival markets and happenings. Most recently, the gallery worked with Print/Collect to display the work of eight notable printmakers whose work was solicited for a folio and publication, available together for the price of a cheap painting. Print/Collect may be asking more from your wallet than you shelled out at CART or other local art and publication fairs, but with the quality of work being presented, we dare say this is a good thing. Check out rotating gallery shows and the shop on Current’s website for more available works.
BEST REMEMBRANCEBlaster's The Baltimore Years“Blaster” Al Ackerman had been living in Austin, Texas, when he transitioned out of this world on March 17, 2013, but from 1992-2010 he was an almost shamanistic local fixture, a poet/artist/metaphysical mischief-maker who could make you smile while calling attention to the existential void we insufficiently call “life.” That defiant playfulness was on fabulous display in the John Eaton-curated Blaster’s The Baltimore Years (1992-2010) exhibition at the Current Gallery during the Transmodern Festival which brought together a wide swath of Ackerman’s output—paintings, letters, recordings—and, for a short time at least, made you grin in the face of the absurd great inevitable right along with him once again.
BEST PRODUCTIONAcme Coproration, PlayThere were a lot of great productions this year, but no one else took the insane chance that Acme Corporation took in putting on Samuel Beckett’s Play first for 12 hours straight and the following weekend for 24. But it wasn’t just the extreme-sport, endurance aspect of the play that was so winning, it was the way the company got inside Beckett’s short text and transformed it into four different plays; the way those plays changed depending on the hour and the crowd; and the way that finally, in their utter exhaustion, the repetition managed to eliminate every trace of acting and actually transform the actors.
BEST ORIGINAL PRODUCTIONThe VIP, Single Carrot TheathreWith The VIP Single Carrot delivered a history lesson about a Peruvian Marxist revolutionary group that held a group of politicians, businessmen, and diplomats hostage for 126 days in Lima from late 1996 into 1997. As written and directed by SCT member Aldo Pantoja, however, the play boldly mines the real and imagined dichotomies—Spanish versus English, singing versus speaking, the sacred versus the secular, collaborate versus revolt—that fuel political radicalization and, in the process, they zeroed in on the passionate foibles that ignite people to action. The end result was a thriller as taut as Four Days in September and as emotionally poignant as Dog Day Afternoon.
BEST AMIBITIONMurdercastle, Baltimore Rock Opera SocietyCome on, we all know what kinds of entertainments the Baltimore Rock Opera Society produces: monuments to epic heaviosity riddled with campy LOLs perfect for sincerely raising devil-horn hands while ironically banging one’s head. With Murdercastle, the members of BROS proved that they don’t always reside at the intersection of Wagner and hair metal. Co-writers Jared Margulies and John DeCampos’ slowly developing portrait of late 19th-century serial killer H. H. Holmes not only realized a believable dawn-of-electricity-age Chicago but gradually built to a quietly disturbing and genuinely upsetting drama of sociopathic logic—and bravely didn’t end in the falsely comforting safety of evil being punished.
BEST EXPERIMENTBaltimore Performance KitchenWhen Buck Jabaily launched the Baltimore Performance Kitchen in 2012, expectations were high. A co-founding Single Carrot Theatre member who led the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance for two years was returning to creating live theater—without a home base or a resident company. And he wanted to create original work from local artists. And make every production free for community members to see it. An insanely tall order? Yes, but how the Kitchen delivered that—the dance, music, poetry hybrid experiment Red Flags, the Liz Lerman dance workshops, the impressively reimagined, almost speculative fiction take on Romeo and Juliet—added yet another distinguished feather to Baltimore’s already ass-kicking young theater community cap.
BEST SET DESIGNRyan Haase, StillPointe Theatre InitiativeLooking at the sets designed by Stillpointe Theatre Initiative’s creative director, Ryan Haase, one can’t help but get the feeling that he is living on the wrong side of the last century. Old furniture, peculiar antiques, and countless books are staples in his creations, giving the sense that the audience is watching theater in their grandmother’s attic or in the basement of an old antique store. Never straying too far from this look, Haase has managed to bring a certain cohesion to all of Stillpointe’s productions, creating a familiarity for the audience that keeps them coming back for more. This man has panache.
BEST ACTRESSSophie HinderbergerAnyone involved in the 24-hour production of Beckett’s Play gets mad props from us. But Hinderberger brought such a varied range of emotion to her performance, from unhinged drunkenness to sincere desperation and even actual, if momentary, glimpses of happiness, that her performance was unforgettable. Add to that Macbeth, where she played the male lead as if it was no big thing but brought the Scottsman to convincing life, liberating the Bard’s words from the shackles of tradition. We hope that smart directors give Hinderberger plenty of chances to display her emotional and intellectual range.
BEST ACTORClinton BrandhagenClinton Brandhagen is big and a little goofy looking, not unlike Chris Davis. And like the Orioles’ first baseman, Brandhagen’s deceiving appearance makes it all the more surprising when his talent sneaks up on you. When he’s playing a comic character, such as Sullen, the drunken country squire in last June’s The Beaux’ Stratagem at the Everyman Theatre, his apparent cluelessness makes the farcical role all the funnier. But when he plays a more complicated role, such as Tom, the put-upon son in the theater’s current The Glass Menagerie, the sharp wit behind the dull exterior adds considerable depth to the character.
BEST PROGRAMMINGCenter Stage, The Raisin CycleWith the programming for his first full season as artistic director of Center Stage, Kwame Kwei-Armah declared that his tenure would be bold, challenging, and directed right at the core issues facing Baltimore. And none of his choices did so more than the so-called Raisin Cycle, which included Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris’ response to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and Beneatha’s Place, Kwei-Armah’s response to Clybourne Park. The two plays, expertly presented with nearly identical casts, ask vital questions about race, place, and ownership—the very same issues confronted in the constantly changing landscapes and demographics of Charm City.
BEST NEW PLAYWRIGHTlola PiersonOffice Ladies is one of the best plays we’ve seen in the last year, and its author, Lola Pierson, is not only local, she’s just barely out of school. But you wouldn’t guess it by the solid, funny, and sophisticated dialogue of Office Ladies, where individual obsessions bleed out of monologues into truly compelling scenes. We can’t wait to see what else she has in store.
BEST UPGRADEEveryman Theatre315 W. Fayette St., (410) 752-2208, everymantheatre.org
We actually loved Everyman’s old location on Charles Street, but the palatial new theater gives the company a lot more room to stretch out their production chops as well as the chance to do for the new Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment District what they did for Station North. (But, you know, also don’t let the food truck poach off the businesses already in the neighborhood, because that’s part of what’s great about having the theater there.)
BEST HISTORICAL RE-REENACTMENT1814! The War of 1812 Rock OperaMost of the official programming to commemorate the Battle of Baltimore and the War of 1812 in general has been a bit bland and fusty. Or musty. You know, boring. And just as we were starting to wonder, What the fuck? Baltimore saved the world 200 years ago, and all we can do is dress up in some dumb old clothes?, Dave Israel and former CP editor David Dudley let out their resounding, devil-horned “hell no!” in the form of an all-out, epic, balls-to-the-wall rock opera celebrating our city’s great fucking fortitude and a “big ass flag.” Dudley and Israel have been working on this thing forever—well, if not since 1814, at least since the 1990s—but neither had the vocal chops to pull off the Alice Cooper/Adam Ant/Rob Halford vocals they needed, so they enlisted some of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society and a bunch of other badasses, and have been assaulting area ears with a rock ’n’ roll onslaught for the last year now, even bringing the show down to Washington, D.C., known back then as the capitol of pussydom, because instead of fighting the British with bombastic cock-rock, they let themselves be burnt. Here’s hoping Israel and Dudley can get the Park Service to let them bring the noise at Fort McHenry.
BEST NON-FICTIONSpike Lee's America, by David SterrittSterritt, the veteran film critic for The Christian Science Monitor and MICA adjunct professor, pays Spike Lee the utmost respect by understanding this consummate New Yorker—pardon, Brooklynite—as both a serious filmmaker of ideas and acute observer of contemporary America. In this study of Lee’s movies, from She’s Gotta Have It through Miracle at St. Anna, Sterritt impressively teases out Lee’s thoughts not only about urban African-American lives but surviving late 20th- and early 21st-century America, where race, culture, and politics complement and confuse each other in equal measure. And in chapters about Clockers and 25h Hour, Sterritt recognizes these sometimes-overlooked films as the visually innovative, powerful statements of a bona fide auteur.
BEST FICTIONThe Tide King, By Jen MichalskiJen Michalski’s The Tide King is not only the best local book we’ve read this year, it is one of the best books we’ve read, period. Its magical realism emphasizes the realism while the mystical elements allow Michalski to take a long view of her characters, whom she casts as “gods who live in hell.”
BEST CHAPBOOKSorry I Wrote So Many Sad Poems Today, by Tracy DimondWere there any justice in this world, Tracy Dimond’s arresting poetry collection would’ve been as much an internet hot topic as the Marie Calloway’s “Adrien Brody” short story. Not that Dimond’s writing is anything like Calloway’s—Dimond refreshingly prefers the plurality of emotional intensities over the affect of meta-narrative reportage—but she’s thematically exploring a similar terrain: the interior life of a young woman in the early 21st century. Dimond’s compact Sorry I Wrote So Many Sad Poems Today moves from confessional to funny to distressing in a few lines, conveying big feelings in simple, direct language that is much harder to pull off than it looks. Bravo.
BEST PUBLISHING COMPANYPublishing GeniusWe gave Publishing Genius this award back in 2009 and they have only gotten better since then, publishing, for instance, Stephanie Barber’s Night Moves and Megan McShea’s A Mountain City of Toad Splendor this year while also establishing the Chris Toll Prize. And Publishing Genius is already planning to publish five titles in 2014. One of our true cultural treasures. Buy some books.
BEST MAGAZINEArtichoke HaircutThe editors of this hand-sized fiction and poetry magazine have only put out about five issues total in the publication’s history, but the staff— Jon Gavazzi, Adam Shutz, Melissa Streat, and Justin Sanders—bring an abundance of attitude and energy to everything under the Artichoke Haircut umbrella. Basically, they approach the literary world with the intelligent irreverence that runs through local music and art, and it shows up in everything, from the magazine to its blog (see: Justin Sanders’ post “Go-Go Dancers Strategically Placed in Literature”) and especially its “You’re Allowed” reading series and open mic, which hews closer to engaged performance than mere recitation.
BEST BOOKISH COLLECTIVERed Emma'sSure, by this point Red Emma’s is kind of like the Yankees of the “Best Collective” category. Who else is going to win, right? Since they closed up shop in Mount Vernon, though, we’ve realized how much we’ve missed their combination bookstore/coffee shop and we can’t wait for their new location on North Avenue, which will reunite the Red Emma’s non-imperialist empire of the bookstore with the Free School—though 2640 will stay where it is (at 2640 St. Paul St.) and remain the most beautiful venue in town.
BEST DOCUMENTARY12 O'Clock Boys, by Lotfy Nathan12 O’Clock Boys isn’t just a gorgeous art film about an extreme sport, nor is it just a social film about problems we’re facing in the city. It’s both of those things, and they are both captured so well in the character study of Pug—the film’s protagonist, who desperately wants to be a 12 O’Clock Boy—and his struggling mother, Coco, that it is a good movie even if you’ve never seen or don’t care about people riding dirt bikes on city streets. But since you do care about those things, this isn’t only a great movie, it is an important one.
BEST FILMI Used to Be Darker, By Matt PorterfieldMatt Porterfield’s latest maintains the slow, meditative, Bresson-like pacing of his previous movies, and nothing much happens except for the aftermath of a music couple’s separation and the growing up of two cousins—but those are exactly the kind of flicks we love. And Porterfield can capture the mood of these in-between moments like no one else. No less than Best of Baltimore Hall of Fame inductee John Waters placed Porterfield’s work alongside his own and that of David Simon and Barry Levinson as Baltimore-defining. Plus, Porterfield brought Ned Oldham, at least briefly, back to town.
BEST COMING ATTRACTIONThe Senator Theatre5904 York Road, thesenatortheatre.com
The Senator Theatre has undergone a reported $3.5 million in renovations, with the new owners adding three screens to the original one dating back to 1939. Come October, it’s finally due once again to throw open its doors and light up the screens—with an added bonus: the right to sell alcohol. This is all good news, and hopefully will cap an era of contentiousness over the theater’s fate, fueled by its former owner, the inimitable Tom Kiefaber, who’s been banned from setting foot in his former business. John Waters’ Hairspray will be screened for the Oct. 10 opening night—25 years after its Senator premiere—and next up is the Tom Hanks thriller Captain Phillips. Here’s hoping that the reopened theater’s film-presentation capabilities uphold the persnickety standards set by Kiefaber, who, despite his disturbingly pointy elbows, always managed to keep the old Senator on the top of the technology game.
BEST MOVIE MASADABengies Drive-In3417 Eastern Blvd., (410) 687-5627, bengies.com
If you’ve been to the Bengies Drive-In (if you haven’t, shame on you), you know D. Vogel, the owner, likes to get on the microphone to let you in on the movies you’re going to be seeing, along with everything that’s going on in his world, the world of the Bengies, which is all about having the biggest screen in America that presents movie images completely uncropped. You know all about how they don’t serve Coke or Pepsi because it’s too expensive, so they serve a special cola, Bengie Cola, the syrup provided locally, especially for the Bengies, and you know that the nearby Royal Farms store, with which the Bengies has been joined in protracted legal battle, throws light and noise pollution across the street with the potential to ruin an amazing American drive-in movie experience. So, a night at the Bengies can get you into a weird mindset, not exactly Stockholm syndrome, but definitely a sort of Siege syndrome, hyper-aware of the increasingly rare experience you enjoy here, and ready to throw down with anyone or anything threatening it. We don’t even care what’s playing. Long live the Bengies, and turn off your damn headlights.
BEST APPWham CityPrince, who recently joined Twitter and quickly became the best Tweeter on planet Earth, sent out a Guardian top 10 list of reasons to use your mobile (for you non-Anglophiles out there, that is how the Brits say cellphone) at a show, to which he added the retort: “oNE rEASON Y tHIS LIST sUX . . . hANG ON lEMME tAKE tHIS CALL 1ST.” What neither Prince nor The Guardian seem to realize is that local arts collective Wham City has changed this from a nuisance to artists to something fans and performers alike can enjoy. Their app, Wham City Lights, turns iPhones, iPads, and Androids in the crowd into a visual spectacle of colors that flash along with the song being played. It is a breathtaking sight to see. Here’s hoping the likes of Prince get on board.
BEST FAKE APPKidnAppJustin Sirois has taken the brilliant concept of his thrilling novel So Say the Waiters to the next level by creating a website for the KidnApp the book centers around. You can download the app and sign up to get kidnapped, thus becoming one of the titular waiters. “Let our talented and creative Takers lift you out of your mundane routine for an abduction you will never forget.” We hear the television folks are interested, so we hope to give Sirois “Best Show-runner” in the near future.
BEST TUMBLR-ERLauren BrickVisual artist and MICA grad Lauren Brick (maybe you saw her brilliant Akira-inspired poster for cross-dressing Lil Wayne-like rapper Mykki Blanco’s March show at the Metro Gallery) has a pretty interesting personal Tumblr that houses descriptions of weird dreams, random cool shit from the internet, post-ironic selfies, and occasionally her knotty, witty digital art. But she also has a Tumblr displaying her fingernail-painting prowess: complex, hypnotic patterns (one recreates the logo of the Crown, the Charles North bar) and splashy colors ambitiously applied to her and her friends’ nails. A Fourth of July-themed paint job recalls the American flag with a menacing red-orange tip, as if the flag is on fire. Brick captioned the photo with, “Happy Independence Day ~ assassinate everyone!” She’s the coolest, most exclusive manicurist around.
BEST OFFENSIVE PODCASTAn Innocent Looking Bookstoreinnocentbookstore.libsyn.com
Is there are phrase for something lower than “low-brow”? Under-brow, maybe? Whatever it is, An Innocent Looking Bookstore takes the cake as far as crude, lewd, and offensive podcasting is concerned. What separates this podcast from others in the same vein, however, is how well it’s formatted. Recurring sketches, listener Q&As, and a different guest every week are just a few of the things that bring structure to a podcast that, if played in any other country, could get them locked up for societal degradation. These guys don’t just ignore propriety. They mark it with a bulls-eye, take aim, and blow it out of the water. ?