Top Ten Baltimore Singles of 2015

1. Tate Kobang, 'Bank Rolls' (300 Entertainment) Jumping on Rod Lee's endlessly bubbling beat for Tim Trees' 'Bank Roll,' Tate Kobang announces his place in Baltimore's musical mythos while effortlessly connecting the dots between personal and communal history, going from being "raised in the gutter" to a "rep" for "the struggle." He plays casual tour guide à la Miss Tony in 'Whatzup, Whatzup' as well as vetter of fakes and interlopers; he pays respects to fallen friends, local hero K-Swift, and also local heroism when he raps "we showed police we ain't with none of that nonsense." That last line is important, because Lee's beat is spare but perpetually revving up, its own dream deferred set to explode, but it never does; instead it extends another invitation to dance the pain away, which Kobang does lyrically and physically. In the video for the remix, those same "alleyways" where he was "duckin' them dirty needles" are grounds to two-step over and the whole city's invited to join in. (Adam Katzman)

2. Young Moose & Martina Lynch, 'No SunShine' (Out The Mud) There was a lot of music that came out of Baltimore in response to the death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent Baltimore Uprising, but the best song of the bunch was Young Moose and Martina Lynch's single 'No SunShine.' Moose, who has had plenty of his own problems with the local police, connects the death of Freddie Gray to Rodney King and Emmett Till, while Martina Lynch's spitfire verse talks about the struggle of growing up in communities with violence, trauma, and poverty. (Anna Walsh)

3. Abdu Ali, 'Keep Movin [Negro Kai]' (self-released) Last year, Baltimore rapper, poet, singer, and CP contributor Abdu Ali released 'I, Exist,' a declaration of self and empowerment over a beautiful bouncing beat. The song took on greater meaning following a series of Baltimore protests in solidarity with Ferguson in the fall. This year, Ali's put out an even more gnarly and embattled anthem—the collage-like 'Keep Movin [Negro Kai].' It's a Coltrane-meets-Fela free jazz-rap howler produced by Ali and Mental Jewelry and if you didn't see him this year flitting about the stage yelling the song's climax of "I want to be free" you missed a moment of catharsis unlike any other (especially at The Crown on what turned out to be the last night of the city's curfew). As Ali wrote in a statement when the video for 'Keep Movin [Negro Kai]' was released: "I'm telling you my story from existing in Baltimore to being condemned by society to being self empowered and just wantin to be free. I'm purposely trynna uplift not just my self but my ppl too." (Brandon Soderberg)

4. Natural Velvet, 'Fruits' (Friends Records) Natural Velvet tends to pull from heavy-sounding shoegaze and post-punk influences, but what makes this song a standout is just how crystalline it is. Singer Corynne Ostermann's simple-yet-sweet "uh-oh-oh" melody was one of the best damn ear worms of the year and, with it sung after each verse over lightly jangling guitars, the song is heavy on hooks. But the chorus shifts gears, placing the emphasis on a clamoring wall of guitars and crashing cymbals, which is to say that 'Fruits' succeeds like so many other great examples of the loud-quiet-loud dynamic: striking a great balance between harsh noise and the saccharine. (Brandon Weigel)

5. Blacksage, 'Basement Vows' (Friends Records) There's no better way to let go of love than by celebrating its demise and reveling in its glorious heartbreak. 'Basement Vows,' the single from Blacksage's album of the same name, is a sexy, melancholy catharsis for the Baltimore duo. "It was just a summer dream," Josephine Olivia coos as she recalls a love that once was. 'Basement Vows' feverishly palpitates with a skittering beat constructed by Drew Scott while Olivia seduces us all into a sweet sadness. Like rubbing salt in the wound, we're reminded time and time again that it's all over as Olivia repeats, "I wanna love you but I need to love me more." (Casey Embert)

6. War on Women, 'YouTube Comments' (Bridge Nine Records) One great way to destroy your haters is to read their bullshit back to them verbatim. In the minefield of dealing with men of the internet, taking screenshots of violent and crude messages is an essential tool for documenting the rampant misogyny of cyber-masculinity. War on Women took that practice a step further, compiling the sordid comments from their video for 'Effimimania' and built an anthem in spite of its horrors. Vocalist Shawna Potter screams comments ranging from dismissal of musical ability to denigrations like "cum catchers," wanting to "pork the singer," and death threats which find themselves in a hall of mirrors with explosive riffs and taunting battle cries laying bare both their stupidity and simulating just how dangerous and abusive they are. (AK)

7. Wet Brain, 'Waitress' (Girl Problem Records) There is no intro to 'Waitress'—it just fucking starts. The dark, surf-psych guitar riff and Amanda Boutwell's relentless drumming drop like a guillotine and then go nonstop for the next three and a half minutes. But the best part is Sienna Cureton-Mahoney's voice. It's sort of like a raspy screech, or maybe whiplash—I don't know, but she goes for it and it's great. She mockingly sings from the point of view of a sexually harassing patron, so knowing that the aggression is righteous gives the song some extra awesome. (Shannon Gormley)

8. TT The Artist, 'Thug It Out' (self-released) TT The Artist released an EP in February, "Art Royalty," that culled together new songs with old favorites like 'Pussy Ate' for an impressive summary of the iconoclastic rapper's far-reaching sound. 'Thug It Out,' produced by frequent collaborator and Baltimore club leader of the new school Mighty Mark, was the record's most aggressive outlier, with TT chanting "if a hater talkin' shit, go ahead and stomp 'em out" over ominous synth horns. But it also became the most popular of her new songs, thanks in part to an eye-catching video, which juxtaposed TT's tough talk with a free-spirited dance battle. (Al Shipley)

9. Future Islands, 'The Chase' (4AD) 2014 was the year of Future Islands, with Baltimore's favorite North Carolina transplants releasing their 4AD debut "Singles" and the breakout track 'Seasons (Waiting On You).' And while they continued touring the album in 2015, they dropped a pleasant surprise, a great two-song single that continued the band's mastery of bittersweet synth-pop gems. On April 28, the band returned to "The Late Show with David Letterman," which helped make 'Seasons (Waiting On You)' a sensation a year earlier, to perform 'The Chase,' and frontman Samuel Herring's heart was clearly heavy with the events at home: "This song is gonna go out to the people of Baltimore, let us not discount their voices," he told television audiences before the group played the song. (AS)

10. Odwalla88, 'What The' (self-released) Amid what sounds like warped audio from an old nature special, the phrase "another petal on my daisy learning patch" recreates a girl scout's educational rite of passage. But this is a song called 'What The,' so those early stages of world-building are disrupted by adult onset identity crisis where linear narratives obfuscate as much as they purportedly make sense, especially in the gendered flux of co-opted independence and the insecurity of co-dependence (i.e. "be you and do your own thing" vs. "everything's easy with me, you'll see"). The brilliance here is how Odwalla88's conflicting exclamations, surrounded by muffled yelling and punctuated by the titular question, form a dialectical approach for sorting through it. The learning patch reappears, truncated in petal form, suggesting absolute knowledge is out of reach, but each upheaval and its affirmative counterpart—from a passive-aggressive relationship with your shadow to a real friend that will save your life—is another useful petal. (AK)

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