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Top Ten

The Year in Local Music

Sam Holden
TWANG WRANGLER: Lungfish's Daniel Higgs discovered worlds of sound in the lowly Jew's harp on magic alphabet.

Top Ten 2004

The Year in News “There’s a myth that emanates around some floors in Annapolis,” Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley told... | By Van Smith

The Year in Quotes 1 “The First Amendment doesn’t say you have to be good.” — street-performance advocate Stephen Bair...

The Year in Sports Suffice it to say that 2004 will not go down as a banner year in the annals of Baltimore sports. ... | By Gabriel Wardell

The Year in Film Cheer up: 2004 was a good year—at least for film. While the past 12 months didn’t produce a film as ...

The Year in Television The “moral values” referendum surprised and rebuked lefties in Hollywood and elsewhere. The post-Nip...

The Year in Music Run down the list of recent heavyweights that released albums in 2004 which have moved units but los...

The Year in Local Music Only one local music story really percolated around Baltimore newsrooms this year: Paula Campbell. T... | By Bret McCabe

The Year in Art Sure, 2004 was the year of Baltimore’s very own public art controversy, in the guise of Jonathan Bor...

The Year in Books Yeah, publishers keep telling us that the book business these days really belongs to nonfiction, tha...

The Year on Stage The vamping post-op transsexual of our No. 1 selection notwithstanding, this year’s roster of Baltim...

By Bret McCabe | Posted 12/15/2004

Only one local music story really percolated around Baltimore newsrooms this year: Paula Campbell. The hometown honey with the R&B breakout debut Who’s Got Next? repped Baltimore on mainstream radio with “How Does it Feel,” “Take You Home,” and “You Make Me.” All respect to Paula—and, no doubt, we’re still loving us some “Lean Back” remix (we got that kind of crush on her pipes)—but Baltimore is also home to some of the most flat-out weird and original music in the contiguous 48. A good deal of it never sees the light of recorded day—the hair-raising, brain-splitting improvisation that pours out of the Red Room throughout the year, the club music of DJs working the bump and grind into the wee hours of the morning, the swinging jazz flowing out of small clubs week in and week out. And it’s with an ear tuned to those tunes that do get pressed on wax and plastic into which 2004’s tops taps.


Daniel Higgs Magic Alphabet (Northern Liberties)

We here at Baltimore’s Most Lungfish-Loving Alternative Weekly realize that we tend to heap hosannas on anything ‘fish vocalist/lyricist Daniel Higgs touches, but we just can’t help ourselves—especially when its something so utterly unlike anything else on the planet. Higgs’ solo Jews harp debut Magic Alphabet is cosmic pan-ethnic folk music that continues to transfix, dazzle, and dizzy with every listen, and Higgs’ solo opening salvo at High Zero 2004 was one of the punkest musical performances of the year.


Fertile Ground Black Is . . . (Blackout Studios)

It took a while for Fertile Ground’s fourth release to sink in. Sometimes the sincerity of FG’s consciousness-raising gets a bit precious on album, and just unwrapping the plastic and flipping through Black Is . . . promised introspection. But after a few spins through Black’s whole cloth you realize the lithe outfit steered clear of the touchy-feely in favor of the listen up. FG prime-musical shaper James Collins sculpts incendiary percussion patterns into agile arrangements that spotlight Navasha Daya’s searing vocal acrobatics, and the overall attitude is heavily invested in the pan-African timbre and thought that gives Fertile Ground’s flowing vibe incisive teeth.


Leprechaun Catering Lychees and Kumquats (HereSee)

The duo of Jason Willett and Tom Boram achieve the near impossible with Leprechaun Catering’s debut: completely out-of-pocket tweakery overstuffed with dance hooks. What kind of dancing is the mirthful question, and Lychees and Kumquats’ bubbling ruckus of gurgling tones and rhythmic gibberish—hardly anything on this album sounds like a discreetly recognizable sound, the closest satellite in its orbit being the Boredoms’ Pop Tatari—doesn’t care how you shake your money maker, only that when you dance your mess around you don’t care how ridiculous you may look. A great a philosophy to live by if there ever was one.


Nautical Almanac Rooting for the Microbes (Load)

You know you’ve wandered off the map when you’ve made, hands down, the most completely batshit record on Providence, R.I.’s Load Records. Rooting for the Microbes, the fifth or 105th release from the beautiful human beings who are Nautical Almanac, Carly Ptak and Twig Harper, is just that next level. It looks like an obtuse glitchcore record, it sounds like a action-painting laptop construction, but, lo and behold, Microbes was sculpted entirely with old-fashioned, human-manipulated, simple-machine tool beating—not to mention those great noisemakers that go everywhere with you, the human vocal cords. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the future.


Real on Purpose Entertainment Presents the Movement, Vol. 2

The recording quality of this mammoth two-CD local mixtape gets a little furry about midway through its second disc, but it’s jam-packed with local names and non-names (Comp, N.E.K., Clayway) that has set more heads nodding than a methadone clinic. Organized by local roughneck Ogun, Real on Purpose sounds like it is composed of mostly freestyles that are streetwise, fearless, and all over the map. Everybody has a favorite cut, but lately we’ve been feeling Tim Trees’ “No Club Shit,” a muscular, cautionary boast-threat in which Trees tosses off, “I don’t think you know what block this is/ you don’t wanna wind up waking up in a Johns Hopkins bed” in his charismatic, always changing and Scarface-threatening delivery.


Human Host Invisible Arteries (Baths of Power)

Former Charm City Suicide Mike Apichella’s latest musical feat lassos the limbs and brains of a small army of locals—HH’s multi-instrumentalist core is Apichella, Rick Weaver, and Cory Davolos, but their full-length debut Invisible Arteries’ membership cites Mike Garber, Mike Gittings, Josh Marchant, Ari Schenck, Kevin Hall, Kim Cafuir, Nick Podurgski, Brendan McLaughlin, and Andy Devos—and turns out a cornucopia of noisy melodies and ideas. Moving from tranquil, orchestral electro bubble and scrape (“Harvest”) and Crampsian stomp and shake (the ass-kicking “Airborne Particles”) to precocious no-fi bedroom simplicity (“Kazeeta”) and mystic hypno-folk (“Ghost Ship”), this debut and its anything-goes live show should make Human Host invisible no more.


The Anomoanon Joji (Temporary Residence)

We’ve always demurred from plugging Ned Oldham’s journeys with his Anomoanon because of Oldham’s occasional writing flirtations with City Paper, but with his seventh album (and second this year alone), Joji, we couldn’t be coy anymore. Oldham’s songwriting has always displayed traces of country folk and psychedelic-tinged 1970s Southern rock, but on Joji he seamlessly blends the rustic with the lysergic and then transports the combo back to a late 1800’s porch and lets the wind and soil wear workmen’s calluses into the songs’ souls.


Wake Up on Fire Wake Up On Fire (Torture Garden Picture Co.)

The first and maybe last album from the doom-metal septet Wake Up on Fire stares directly at the face of the soul-sucking abyss of human beings at their worst, and gives it the finger. This six-song razor blade is what Sigur Rós would sound like if it grew up in death-metal Norway rather than fairy- and-sprite-strewn Iceland. And if you never caught this cellist, drummer, and percussionist-powered beast live, strap on “Oubliette” or “4 White Walls” on headphones and try to imagine what that steamrolling was like.


Slow Jets Remain in Ether (Morphius)

Baltimore’s very own XTC can’t seem to write a song that doesn’t immediately winnow its way into your indie-rock-happy DNA. Remain in Ether, the band’s third, brims with all the subtle hooks, trebly guitar punch, rollicksome bass and drum spanking, and sideways wit that made early 1990s indie-rock such a vital force—and does so without ever sounding like a nostalgia act out of touch with this time. It’s probably due to guitarist/vocalist Gregory Preston’s lyrical panache, restrained wordplay wallops that chronicle inscrutable narratives with hidden meanings, like a single page from a book riveting enough to make you thirst for what comes before and after.


Lafayette Gilchrist The Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist (Hyena)

Sure, local piano magician Lafayette Gilchrist’s Hyena debut is sewn together with tracks culled from his previously self-released CDs, but the production has been beefed up, which gives his funky struts and blithe keyboard pirouettes a much better dancefloor. It also injects a little bottom behind reeds wizard John Dierker’s sax bellows and the bootyquake that is drummer Nathan Reynolds and bassist Erve Madden, lending everything a beefiness that starts to approach what Gilchrist’s New Volcanoes do live. And now they’re no longer our little secret. ‘Bout fucking time.

The next 10 (alphabetical):

1 Arbouretum Long Live the Well-Doer (Box Tree)
2 Avec If I Breathe I Fall Asleep (Ambiguous City)
3 Shelly Blake Shelly Blake 1995-2005 Vol. 1; The Bossman Mixtape (self-released)
4 5th Element The Dri Fish and Native Son Present: Circle Circle Dot Dot, Nobody Can Touch Me (self-released)
5 King Rhythm What’s Left (Quatermass)
6 Misery Index Dissent (Anarchos)
7 The Spark Fashion Rats and Status Whores (Mike Fitzgerald)
8 Splitsville Incorporated (Houston Party)
9 Tiemann-Belzer Crypto (self-released)
10 Two if By Sea Translation (Speedbump).

Related stories

Top Ten archives

More Stories

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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That Nothing You Do (6/23/2010)
Will Eno embraces the banality of everything

All Eyes on Him? (6/16/2010)
John Potash's The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders offers a different version of the slain rapper

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