Top Ten Baltimore Albums of 2015

Dan Deacon, Lower Dens, Al Rogers Jr., and Wume top City Paper's list of top 10 local albums

1. Dan Deacon, "Gliss Riffer" (Domino Records) "America," Deacon's 2012 release, was a statement album, a sweeping, pastoral meditation on America and its geography and culture. "Gliss Riffer" finds Deacon looking inward and, rather than aiming for grand orchestration, embracing the dancier aspects of his earlier music while also pushing in new directions. As has been reported in this publication and just about everywhere, Deacon focused more on his lyrics, and those words touch on anxiety and self-doubt, and how to overcome those things. Fittingly, Deacon expertly uses skittish rhythms to heighten the sense of skittishness before deploying soothing, drawn-out tones and comforting sounds, making the album a wonderful relaxant on its own. (Brandon Weigel)

2. Lower Dens, "Escape From Evil" (Ribbon Music) What a year for Jana Hunter—the Lower Dens leader released the best record by Lower Dens yet and penned a scene-shattering op-ed for the website Pitchfork with the assistance of Abdu Ali about how Baltimore's white musicians benefit from the city's apartheid-like policies whether they intend to benefit or not. The two seem tied together of course. From the cover art by Hermonie "only" Williams, to the way the thing swings, with hints of propulsive techno, quiet storm, and '80s pop along with the prerequisite freak-folk, krautrock, and shoegaze influences of "indie rock," "Escape From Evil" is politically aware, harsh, and full of melancholy. "I wish I could feel/ Anything at all," Hunter croons on 'Company' (which also features some rather Robert Fripp-ian sheets of guitar) to which I say, "Same, Jana, same." A nervous, confident masterpiece. (Brandon Soderberg)

3. Al Rogers Jr. and Drew Scott, "Luvadocious" (self-released) "What if God was a her?" That's the central question in "Luvadocious," a collaboration between rapper Al Rogers Jr. and Drew Scott, of Blacksage. Rogers mixes singing and rapping as he explores this idea, his delivery speeding up or slowing down to match with Scott's pulsing, expertly crafted beats, with radio-show host LaDawn Black guiding the listener through the album as "Godina." While this album has plenty of love for Baltimore's music scene—Josephine Olivia from Blacksage and Blaqstarr are featured on songs, and 'Conversations' asks, "how you wanna carry it?" in reference to Miss Tony's classic 'Whatzup? Whatzup?'—its ambitions should catch the attention of plenty of people outside the city too. (Anna Walsh)

4. Wume, "Maintain" (Ehse Records) Binaries, see, it's all binaries. From the black and white patterning of "Maintain's" cover art to the male-female yin-yang of Wume duo April Camlin and Albert Schatz to their chosen lineup of percussive drums and melodic synths—or maybe that's the other way around, eh? Together they make the complex, the layered, the expansive, the sunnily songlike out of two instruments, on and off, zero and one. That deft synthesis is what makes Wume stand out from the crowd of motorik-driven synth fans these days, and what makes "Maintain" blur the binary between the avant-garde and warehouse jams. (Lee Gardner)

5. Trunkweed, "Trunkweed Live, Man" (self-released) Like the stoned sloth in that recent Australian anti-marijuana campaign that inevitably became a hero to stoners everywhere, Trunkweed understand the troubling, dissociative effects of drugs as well how they help deal with the comedown of life's natural withdrawal—growing up. On "Acid at Sixteen," for example, the mind-expanding psychedelic converts the "quarantine" of childhood into adult "liberty," but it's the magic of the former that the latter can now only achieve in dreams. And the rest of "Trunkweed Live, Man" is like Bodhi riding into the 50-year storm at the end of "Point Break," with simple surf-punk pushing the death wish of existential angst into higher meaning. As a live album recorded in a studio, the absence of a crowd allows the sonic space to fulfill the album's themes of affirmation amid isolation—friends riffing together against the void. (Adam Katzman)

6. Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra, "Blues for Tahrir" (HiPNOTIC Records) Baltimore community organizer Todd Marcus is now gaining national recognition as a jazz composer and advocate for his chosen instrument: the bass clarinet. That instrument is especially effective on the Middle Eastern motifs that have long fascinated Marcus, the son of an Egyptian immigrant. That interest climaxes in the four-movement 'Blues for Tahrir Suite' that gives this album its title. The 11 musicians—a mix of Baltimore fixtures and New York ringers—weave their distinct voices into a thick tapestry that evokes the great hopes and great disappointments of the Arab Spring in Cairo. (Geoffrey Himes)

7. War On Women, "War On Women" (Bridge Nine Records) With the think-piece economy chugging along as it has for the last few years, picking apart identity politics has become something of a cottage industry. That's not necessarily a problem—acknowledging these things is important—but it can often drive discussions into the weeds or lead to infighting. Feminist hardcore band War On Women's debut album cuts through all that noise and delivers a powerful, raised-fist manifesto that carries the flag for things like abortion rights and trans equality while also taking time to take on the trolls. And the band writes absolute rippers, too, adding a ferocious noise to match what vocalist Shawna Potter refers to as moments of "righteous anger." It's one of the best albums and one of the best feminist think pieces of the year. (BW)

8. Locrian, "Infinite Dissolution" (Relapse Records) Why Deafheaven's navel-gazing noise-gaze receives near unanimous year-end metal praise when a band like Locrian exists is one of Satan's own little mysteries—especially when the Baltimore/Chicago trio released an album as indelible as "Infinite Dissolution." Where Deafheaven's approach to heavy music/lyrical immersion sounds likes it just needs to go back on Wellbutrin, Locrian's patiently reverberating tumult feels like it encountered an ancient evil and survived, forever changed. "Dissolution's" nine tracks meld war cry to end-of-days funereal march, a teaser of the music that'll fill cathedrals after humans finally annihilate each other. (Bret McCabe)

9. Nudie Suits, "Summer Fun" (Ehse Records) Who the hell needs a full band anymore? This is fucking 2015. Duos (especially if they're all female) are where it's at, and Nudie Suits are a physical manifestation of why. Allison Clendaniel and Ruby Fulton can do plenty of awesome shit without anyone backing them. "Summer Fun" is filled with looped beats that are surprisingly easy to move to, gorgeously theatrical vocals, and strange synth sounds. The "Twin Peaks"-inspired band's album is dreamy and dark and spacious and beautiful and weird—like a rainy night at The Roadhouse or maybe even the mysterious interior of Log Lady's mind. (Shannon Gormley)

10. JPEGMAFIA, "Communist Slow Jams" (Memorials of Distinction) This sly 29-track thunderbolt felt like it appeared completely out of nowhere earlier this year. The MC/producer known as JPEGMAFIA is behind everything here, and lyrically he's equal parts Immortal Technique and Antonio Gramsci, musically equal parts DJ Screw and Nurse With Wound. The combination yields an intimate intelligence wrapped in the kind of cushiony soundscapes that chilled bros like the Weeknd and Drake use to peddle the hotline bland of 21st-century excess, and which JPEGMAFIA harnesses as a down parka for his political agitation. (BM)

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