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Top Ten

The Year in Local Music

Urban Ave 31, DJ Debonair, Misery Index, Lungfish, Richard Chartier and more

The Gospel According To . . . : Cass McCombs (far left, with his band) made a dreamy pop record with real bite.

Top Ten 2003

The Year in News O'Malley vs. Ehrlich, Public Housing Segregation Trial, Computer Voting, Baltimore's Primary Election, and More

The Year in Quotes Bon Mots by Joy Martin, Martin O'Malley, Keiffer Mitchell, Miss Maryland and Others

The Year in Film Another year, another intro essay bitching about the past 12 months of cinema...

The Year on Television So now it's official, there are two kinds of television: the kind you watch, and the kind you gawk at...

The Year in Music Jay-Z, Little Brother, OutKast, Stephen Malkmus, The White Stripes and more

The Year in Local Music Urban Ave 31, DJ Debonair, Misery Index, Lungfish, Richard Chartier and more

The Year in Art "Work Ethic" at the BMA, "Imperfect Innocence" at the Contemporary, Performance Video at UMBC, and Other Remarkable Shows

The Year in Books The Cadaver Industry; a Meditation on Race, Music, Family and Postwar America; Growing Up in the Bronx, and More

The Year on Stage Hedda Gabler, Dickens of a Carol, Misalliance, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Great Performances

The Year in Food Grilled Sardines, She-Crab Soup, Spicy Tuna Tartare, Pierogi and Other Memorable Morsels

Posted 12/17/2003

Charting this past year in local releases just wasn't any fun. Not for the usual reason--scrounging up 10 local albums you're not ashamed to stand behind--but because whittling down the piles to the 10 "best" is a pruning akin to deciding what finger you want cut off first.

No lie: We've been around other towns' music blocks and know lame when we see it, and that's not the case here. From jazz to avant, hip-hop to club, soul to punk, Baltimore has a host of interesting sounds reverberating through its streets, clubs, and festivals. In fact, Baltimore's musical output may be diverse to a fault--there is no one Baltimore sound putting it on the proverbial map. We've got some straight-ahead rock (the Oranges Band), we've got some freakazoid rock (Long Live Death). We've got the straight-ahead jazz (Greg Thompkins), we've got the in-the-moment improv (Neil Feather). We've got the electronic experimentation (DJ Pneuma), we've got the groovy chill (DJ LoveGrove), and we've got the mommy-please-make-the-evil-people-stop (Nautical Almanac). We've got soul (MaShica Winslow), we've got hip-hop (Labtekwon), and we've got a smooth blend of both (Urban Ave 31). But the closest thing we've got to a bonafide local style is club music, and it's too unabashedly and excitedly weird for many people to wrap their ears around. But that's OK by us. The community of Baltimore musicians is too busy doing their own thing to worry about marketing plans.

We admit there are some CDs we haven't spent enough time with--Karmella's Game's What He Doesn't Know Won't Hurt Him, Myracle Brah's Treblemaker, Oxes drummer Chris Freeland going indie-pop with his Frenemies self-titled debut, Mia Miata's Urban Arias, and we only recently wrapped our ears around Flowers in the Attic's debut full-length and Swarm of the Lotus' neck-breaking When White Becomes Black. But what you'll find below are the ones we kept putting back in the player, the ones that we talked about when colleagues from other cities asked what was going on here, the ones we took home with us to listen to, becoming a part of the always-expanding collection--the ones that, basically, became part of the personal soundtrack that wallpapers daily life around here. (Bret McCabe)


Urban Ave 31 The Antidote: The Healing, Vol. 2 (self-released) When other consciousness-raising R&B/hip-hop/neo-soul dogmatics decide to let their music speak as righteously as their precious words, they can all take a look at The Antidote to get schooled in how make the message sing. The key: songwriting, songwriting, songwriting. How this large ensemble with multiple songwriters maintains such a consistent level of booty shake and knowledge drop is a mystery, but no mind: A 79-minute album has never moved so smoothly or quickly. (BM)


DJ Debonair Samir "Uncle Fucker" (Clubtrax) In the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, "Uncle Fucker" was a gleefully profane spitball sung by Canadian kiddie provocateurs Terence and Phillip. In the hands of DJ Debonair Samir, it somehow becomes even more mind-bendingly, deliriously obnoxious. Over an insistently rudimentary Baltimore-club beat and trumpet honk, Terence and Phillip bleat, "Shut your fucking face face shut your fucking face face," with the sort of nagging repetition that seems custom-made to drive any fourth-grade teacher to insanity. And then the fart solo comes in. (Tom Breihan)


Misery Index Retaliate (Nuclear Blast) When you absolutely, positively have to part every motherfucker's hair in the room, accept no substitute: Misery Index has turned death metal's blistering speed and guttural bowel growl into a mallet that hits headbanging hard backed with a rock 'n' roll swing. And the quartet has done it by adding space to contemporary metal's brutal same-old, sculpting technicolor horrorshows through skillfully controlled dynamics rather than wanky chops. (BM)


Lungfish Love Is Love (Dischord) Dan Higgs scares people. The enigmatic singer of Lungfish has a squinty eye, a piercing howl, and a seemingly endless supply of hallucinatory lyrics. The Pupils, Higgs' side project with Lungfish guitarist Asa Osborne, released a stunning self-titled album last year, distilling the sprawl of Lungfish to a ringing, repetitive fugue. On Love Is Love, Lungfish's ninth album, the band has learned from the Pupils' triumph, leaving punk behind entirely and stripping its sound down to a ragged, hypnotic sparseness and somehow making Higgs' wail even more apocalyptic. (TB)


Richard Chartier Two Locations (Line) Not that he needed to, but with Two Locations lowercase sculptor Richard Chartier made the bitch-slap to silence all those critics who've cheekily described his electronic compositions as the sound of one hand clapping, pun intended. The disc is a roiling inner-space odyssey of sound-puddle ripples colliding into waves that rush over the crenelated surfaces of the cerebellum like magic fingers, sculpting the gray matter into morphing shapes and forms as if it were warm clay. (BM)


Double Dagger Double Dagger (Hit-Dat) It's appropriate that Double Dagger opened for the Buzzcocks this summer; the Baltimore trio takes the graphics-savvy pop punk that the Buzzcocks pioneered decades ago to new extremes--faster, bitchier, more fun. The unrelenting bash of bassist Bruce Willen and drummer Brian Dubin gives muscle to the frenzied sneer of vocalist Nolen Strahls. (Willen and Strahls have contributed graphics to City Paper.) (TB)


Labtekwon The Hustlaz Guide to the Universe (Morphius Urban) Why Baltimore's very own Sun Ra of hip-hop isn't rocking radio airwaves coast to coast is one of Allah's own little mysteries. Hustlaz Guide is yet another gonzo, ghetto-tastic misadventure in paranoid sci-fi from a righteous-man earth-walker, told in Lab's wide-screen, corkscrewing lines. (BM)


Cass McCombs A (Monitor) Cass McCombs' fragile songs sneak up on you. Hiding sharp hooks and strained humor in wistful, haunting folk-pop, McCombs sings sad songs that rely more on bemused confusion than self-pity. Like Belle and Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister . . . , A is a dreamy, shambling pop record with real bite. "When the Bible Was Wrote" is the show-stopper, possibly the most endearing song ever written about Old Testament alienation. (TB)


Billy Colucci Solo (self-released) The ghost of Bill Evans undoubtedly hovers above Billy Colucci when he sits at the keyboard, but it's more in temperament than sound, for the emotional depths plumbed on the 12 original compositions on Solo are pure Colucci. An emotive pianist who lyrically gets more from less, Colucci's impeccable, tasteful playing is surpassed only by his bittersweet thoughtfulness; Solo is a decidedly blue mood, but it's hard to feel down too long when the music is this lovely. (BM)


MC Height I Have a Gun (self-released) Twenty-one-year-old Catonsville MC Dan Keech calls himself the "white rap Lightning Bolt," but his emotionally strained voice occupies the middle ground between Aesop Rock's abstract expressionism and Freeway's tortured introspection. The beats on his second album, mostly provided by producer Shields, are dense and off-kilter. But I Have a Gun is more than an experimental album; Keech's relentlessly honest exhibits of self-doubt are matched only by his wry, self-assured strut. He's a complicated man. (TB)

The next 10 (in alphabetical order): the Anomoanon Portrait of Entwistle (Western Vinyl) 10-inch; Shelly Blake and the Novel Great Americans Nights of Revolution (self-released); Cex Being Ridden (Temporary Residence); the Economist The Economist (Hit-Dat); Tamm E. Hunt Live @ Birdland (self-released); Meatjack Days of Fire (At a Loss); Nautical Almanac Cisum (HereSee); Oranges Band All Around (Lookout!); Private Eleanor My Pious Friends and Drunken Companions (self-released); and Greg Thompkins Boo Boo's Birthday (Roland Park Jazz).

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Top Ten archives

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The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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