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Baltimore Shuffle

Together, new albums by Rye Rye and Beach House are soundtracks to the perfect Baltimore summer

Photo: Josh Sisk, License: N/A

Josh Sisk

Rye Rye

Photo: Liz Flyntz/Sub Pop, License: N/A

Liz Flyntz/Sub Pop

Beach House, both oh so Baltimore, but oh so different


Rye Rye

Go! Pop! Bang!

Beach House

Bloom

This May saw the release of what could be Baltimore’s perfect summer album. Except that it was actually two albums from two different Baltimores and for two different summers and neither of them are perfect alone. But taken together, Rye Rye’s Go! Pop! Bang! and Beach House’s Bloom make a hell of a statement.

No critic anywhere could deduce anything like a unified Baltimore sound from these two records. To put it in the terms of popular pharmaceuticals, if Beach House is Xanax, Rye Rye is Adderall. Both are so relentless in the pursuits of their singular visions that it is difficult to listen to either album all the way through, except under certain circumstances—for Rye Rye it’s dancing, and for Beach House chilling, though both albums are good for very different kinds of sex. But when you make a playlist out of Beach House’s Bloom and Rye Rye’s Go! Pop! Bang!, it is like the best kind of sex, loosened up by Xanax and jazzed up on Adderall in a measured shift between swooning and thumping.

Bloom, the Billboard chart-cracking fourth album by Beach House’s Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, has garnered all the rave reviews of 2010’s Teen Dream, without actually making the same kind of strides. When Teen Dream came out, critics and fans alike sat up—or maybe laid back—and took notice, because it represented a vast maturation of the duo’s sound. What had been a cloistered, claustrophobic dreamscape—two musicians wrapped up in the fragility of their youth, their licks, and their vocals—blossomed into a lush, dreamy, and almost orchestral kind of softness. Though the dream might have been teen, it sounded mature and fresh, like those moments when actual teenagers remind you of things you’ve long forgotten by saying them slightly differently. The droney swoops and pulsing keys drew on everything from girl groups to the Velvet Underground to the Jesus and Mary Chain to Mazzy Star and late-model Flaming Lips, without sounding like any of them. Legrand’s husky vocals were swooning, sexy, and yet somewhat androgynous, and Scally’s guitars and synths wrapped them in the perfect mix of fuzz and shimmer, the sonic equivalent of combat boots under a retro-swanky evening gown with a few perfectly placed rips.

Scally and Legrand have not charted new territory on Bloom, but every song sounds like the perfect Beach House song. They took their formula and perfected it. Songs like “Wild,” “The Hours,” and “Other People” create such rich, warm sonic backdrops that Legrand’s swooping vocals and Scally’s pulsing melodic lines stand out with astounding clarity and depth.

The emotional pull makes forgettable lyrics feel like they matter, especially on the aforementioned “Other People” (the stronger drum beat and backing vocals make a world of difference here). “Never thought that it would mean so much, other people want to keep in touch,” Legrand sings, but this banality feels important because her vocalization of it convinces us that it matters.

The problem comes with the album as a whole. For a band that relies so heavily on mood, it delivers few emotions and no surprises. Every song may sound like a perfect Beach House song, but that’s not necessarily a good thing when you have a whole batch of them.

Rye Rye’s oft-delayed Go! Pop! Bang! suffers from the opposite problem. Like the title, every song is punctuated with an exclamation point, and yet it embraces such a wide variety of sounds that it manages to be almost constantly surprising.

Go! Pop! Bang! has any number of tracks on it that could be massive summer hits in the style of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” and Cee Lo’s “Fuck You”—hits that are actually good. Some tracks are too spazzy for the masses, but “Sunshine,” the first single, with Rye Rye mentor and Super-Bowl-bird-shooter M.I.A., is insanely infectious. It captivates and surprises all at once, beginning with a bass line and an electric piano blipping out a singsong, nursery-rhyme melody. Then comes the clap track, over which Rye Rye chant-sings like Joan Jett, before bursting into a super-fast Charlie Parker-like lyrical flow that somehow simultaneously is reminiscent of the Sugar Hill Gang and early Jackson Five while sounding ultra-new.

New Orleans legend Professor Longhair once told the equally legendary Dr. John to look for lyrics and melodies in what the girls were singing on the street as they jumped rope. Whether she’s heard the anecdote or not, Rye Rye does well by that advice (the best track on last year’s great mixtape RYEot PowRR was “Witchdoctor,” a song that mixes an old Baltimore club song and a children’s rhyme with a story about a weed-dealing witch doctor). On “Better Than You”—with M.I.A.—she samples Annie Get Your Gun’s proto-feminist ditty “Anything You Can Do” to dis a female rival, with perfect comic timing.

Rye Rye has the same infectious brattiness that inspired both early hip-hop and punk. When she played a T-Mobile webcast show at the Metro Gallery last year, the place was crawling with corporate goons and rolling cameras. But even after they had all packed up and gone home, Rye Rye was grinning out on the dance floor, getting her impressive groove on. She was having fun and it’s clear she is having a blast on this album.

With a handful of the hottest producers and guest spots by M.I.A., Robyn, and Akon (who comes in on ballad-y beach-party song “Crazy Bitch,” which will become a big frat hit and will be played at hundreds of Ocean City parties by the end of the summer), Rye Rye’s exclamatory album feels like a party. The variety means that every song on the album offers some unexpected delight.

But for all her brilliance, listening to the album straight through feels like hanging out with a particularly exhausting friend. She’s so energetic and inventive it can be tiring.

That’s why a shuffled playlist of Go! Pop! Bang! and Bloom makes the perfect album for this summer. The random listener—outside of the city—would get a great sense of the possibilities in the largely black Baltimore club scene and the largely white indie-rock scene.

But for something really cool next summer, Rye Rye and Beach House ought to team up and actually make the perfect Baltimore album.

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