Top Ten Baltimore Albums of 2016

1. JPEGMAFIA, “Black Ben Carson” (Memorials Of Distinction)

Every song on “Black Ben Carson” wields the kind of weaponized vitriol usually reserved for socialist meme pages on Facebook. The title is reason enough to draft legislation to make license plates wider in the new year, but it isn’t just the clever titular wordplay. And even though songs like ‘I Just Killed A Cop Now I’m Horny’ and ‘This That Shit Kid Cudi Coulda Been’ sound more like emphatic “fight me” declarations than song titles, it’s the balls to repurpose a Cudi hook on the latter track or son MC Ride from Death Grips on ‘Drake Era’ that brought about a specific brand of brashness that you couldn’t find anywhere else in music this year. JPEGMAFIA makes the incendiary infectious, like a spiked bat-toting Pied Piper luring youth in for some much welcome radicalization. With his jagged, dissonant production, he’s throwing bows in every single direction, never pausing once to catch his breath or look over his shoulder at the wreckage, more than willing to blow the whole game to a cinder and start from scratch—a vengeful Djinn summoned by the collective black consciousness yearning for revolution within hip-hop’s compromised walls. (Dominic Griffin)

2. Abdu Ali, “Mongo” (self-released)

Abdu Ali released “Mongo” on April 27, the one-year anniversary of Freddie Gray’s funeral and the day the Baltimore Uprising got violent after police showed up to Mondawmin Mall, a safe space for teens, in riot gear. The album itself is a cathartic cocktail of Baltimore club music and experimental Afrofuturism: free jazz on ‘Keep Movin (Negro Kai)’; science-fiction club music on ‘Did Dat’; and noise-rap on ‘I’m Alive (Humanized).’ This isn’t your father’s vivid, melancholy storytelling over boom-bap dillatudes—RIP to the legend J Dilla though—and listening to this record in your car on a late rainy night isn’t the best way to consume it. This album is better suited for a dance floor. While it packs the same punch as your “traditional” hip-hop-hope concept album, “Mongo” is an introspective dance record with all the intensity and “rage of a black mother,” as Ali would say. (Reginald Thomas II)

3. :3lON, “Ronin” (Nina Pop)

Elon Battle has the voice of an angel and the aesthetic of Satan. A lover of Anita Baker and anime, his music brings together all types of people because he blends the new and the old effortlessly. I could play this EP for my high school choir director and the goth kids, and everyone would agree that this is an artful, excellent EP. Dark, romantic and textured, “Ronin” sounds like creamy R&B poured over hard industrial and EDM beats, and mastered so that it sounds like he’s singing right into your ear. “Ronin” is, perhaps, the best example of the new class of musical talent coming out of Baltimore right now. (Nia Hampton)

4. Post Pink, “I Believe You, OK” (Sister Polygon Records)

This local quartet understands that manic, minimal pound and rattle is one of the best packages for DIY punk’s political insistence, oddball humor, and euphoric nonsense. And, thankfully, Post Pink didn’t try to upgrade the short-sharp-shock recording approach of its 2015 demo—“I Believe You, OK’s” eight songs may tumble along in under 15 minutes, but bassist Emily Ferrara and drummer Sam Whitelaw create rollicking grooves out of their colliding thumps, guitarist David Van McAleer dusts that with broken-glass melodies that don’t worry about a few sharp edges, and vocalist Angie Swiecicki packs worlds inside those concise, pulsating songs. The band delivers both bark and bite. (Bret McCabe)

5. Matmos, “Ultimate Care II” (Thrill Jockey)

Domesticity gone kaleidoscopic and ambient. Matmos’ one-track, especially high concept album “Ultimate Care II,” made up exclusively of sounds derived from the duo’s washing machine, locates comfort and unease in the sounds of water rushing, a machine rotating, doors squeaking, and more. An experiential kind of experimental music that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it lasts as long as a wash (38 minutes), and touches on capitalism, consumerism, waste, and most importantly, the ways in which wide-eyed wonder can be applied to everything around us, even that big white rumbling thing in the basement. The effect is meditative thinking—how we turn tiny things into big things, noise into music, and how when we’re at the mercy of alleged convenience, our minds wander. (Brandon Soderberg)

6. Horse Lords, “Interventions” (Northern Spy Records)

There’s always that one asshole you jam with from time to time who’s never heard of the concept of abstaining. You know, after an airtight rhythm and guitar and bass have been locked down, this asshole just can’t keep from doing endless flippant floundering along the fretboard—how oblivious they are to how much they SUUUUCK makes you want to just kick their teeth in. Horse Lords are seasoned players, meaning they had to have encountered a similar situation at least once or twice before in their music-making lives, but any vestiges of that hypothetical arse’s lack of abstaining aren’t present on their latest, “Interventions,” an inexorable stream of glimmering rhythms repeated and—this is key—uninterrupted to the point that they aren’t exhausting. Instead they’re hypnotic and (as noted back in the Best of Baltimore issue) “ass-moving” as fuck. (Eli Zeger)

7. Bond St. District, “A Church On Vulcan” (Friends Records)

Resist the urge to deem “Vulcan” a throwback to some golden age when hip-hop and the world were ostensibly better. As much as emcee DDm supplies memories of growing up in West Baltimore over the plush, soulful melodies and beats that producer Paul Hutson supplies here, the album doesn’t hide from the blunt facts of existing while black—or gay—in today’s America. But like Chance the Rapper and Kamaiyah, DDm and Hutson recognize that defiant musical joy can be a radical act. It helps that the battle-rap tested DDm has dazzling microphone charisma and that Hutson is utterly unafraid of knockout pop hooks. How this album hasn’t received more national attention is one of g-d’s own mysteries. (BM)

8. Deakin, “Sleep Cycle” (My Animal Home)

The Kickstarter campaign to fund Animal Collective member Deakin’s trip to a Malian music festival appearance was initiated back in 2009, which guaranteed donors the release of a new album, his solo debut. But three years and $25,000 later, with no updates on the progress or supposed nearness of that album, Deakin’s reticent campaign was branded as an exemplar of “the nearly non-existent accountability practices of Kickstarter” as Gawker.com called it. Now, four more years later, and with Gawker bankrupted by Peter Thiel, Deakin’s guarantee has finally come to life. Nocturnal found sound swirls around a deceptively reductive sequence of echo-guitars and rhythmic heartbeats on ‘Golden Chords,’ as Deakin sings in silky falsetto—a range he’s gotten a lot more skilled at since ‘Wide Eyed,’ the only Animal Collective track on which he takes lead vox. This solo album is psychedelic somnolence at its most enchanting. (EZ)

9. Blacksage, “Shivers” (Friends Records)

Blacksage has always lived comfortably in a sound that explores the darker side of desire, and that became even more apparent with “Shivers,” where the duo’s liner art and live performances featured a bondage harness as everyday attire. For their third album, they had the smarts to include a six-minute song—long enough to, well, get the mood going—and it’s called ‘Make Out Interlude,’ so duh. Also, let us not forget the title track, ‘Possess Me,’ and ‘Sight See,’ the last one being one of the bounciest songs you’ll hear about kink-exploring this side of Prince (RIP). But that’s not to say “Shivers” is more of the same. Producer Drew Scott seems more comfortable bringing other genres—including hip-hop, one he is intimately familiar with—into the fold, and there’s a greater sense of foreboding here than in anything else Blacksage has released. “Shivers” is sleek and sexy, yes, but it can be a bit of a bummer, too. (Brandon Weigel)

10. Melanin Free, “White Noise Boys” (self-released)

With the Bell Foundry shuttered by the city, a mix of concern-trolling, gentrification-courting, and bureaucratic cruelty, this spiteful transmission quickly constructed in the Bell over the summer from Qué Pequeño—who had taken to booking shows in the basement, renamed You Know T.F. Where—and Jenghis Pettit—maybe you caught his videos of him adding guitar riffs to trap songs on YouTube—is a bit like a pre-emptive last gasp and a “fuck you” to this apartheid city. “White Noise Boys” is a parody of the noise scene’s glib whiteness and an improvement: adding some sleek rhythms (stutter-house on ‘TRANSATLANTIC’) and on ‘White Excellence,’ a kitchen-sink approach to party music. It’s a bit like Tim Hecker, Eddie Hazel, Drexciya, and Throbbing Gristle jamming out, introduced by a shit-talking Birdman sample no less. (BS)

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