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Top Ten

The Year in Local Music

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The record label Thrill Jockey is not based in Baltimore. Nor is City Paper on the Thrill Jockey payroll. Yet here we are with almost a third of the following records bearing the label’s logo, exactly the same as last year. And, in 2010, the label also put out excellent records from Daniel Higgs (solo), the Coil Sea, and Double Dagger. In the next few months, we’ll also see new Arbouretum and Thank You records from the label, which made its name with legends like Tortoise and Trans Am, plus a new release from Sweden’s Skull Defekts with Dan Higgs on vocal duties. (Yes, that’s correct: Higgs is fronting a rock band again. Be excited.)

Finally, we just up and called Thrill Jockey on the phone and asked, “Why are you all up in Baltimore’s stuff?” Publicist Dave Halstead replied, “We started off with maybe one or two [bands] and from there, it just kind of blossomed. It wasn’t like a ‘We need Baltimore artists thing.’” Basically the label got recommendations about other Baltimore bands from the ones it’d already signed, starting with Higgs, and everything branched out from there. In other words, Baltimore bands are very good at supporting other Baltimore bands.

The methodology to this year’s list can barely be called a methodology in any proper sense. We took the votes for local artists from the national Top 10 ballots, reweighted them for this list, added in lists from myself, Al Shipley, and Raymond Cummings, Lee Gardner, and Bret McCabe and out popped the below. It seems pretty on point. And, if you flip back to the national Top 10, you can see how some of these folks fared against the world—like, say, Lower Dens taking the No. 1 spot. And, if you don’t like lists because lists are always kinda arbitrary and rankings are way uncool, then, dunno, just take heart that a whole lot of people really liked these records. (Michael Byrne)

 

1 Lower Dens Twin-Hand Movement (Gnomonsong)

In some ways, Twin-Hand Movement is nothing special. This sort of echo-y, spartan guitar-based indie rock has any number of antecedents, from old-school Flying Nun pop on up to the xx (a lil’ bit, here and there). But something about the interplay of singer/songwriter/guitarist Jana Hunter’s plangent croon, her sparring with guitarist Will Adams, the steady support of the rhythm section, Chris Freeland’s deceptively unshowy production, and these songs—growers, all—adds up to the single most addictive pop pleasure we’ve encountered these last 12 months. Simple as that. (Lee Gardner)

2 Labtekwon Next: Baltimore Basquiat and the Futureshock(Ankh Ba)

No, Next is not just another heady, wiggy album from Baltimore brainiac Labtekwon, though it is undeniably intelligent and pretty sure to flip wigs. So while the beats and production are as left field as ever, Lab lyrically ever-artfully dense, and his delivery often a breath control lesson session, Next is a musical and visual distillation of the heart and soul of an artist who has lived and breathed Baltimore hip-hop since he was a teen. If it confounds, confuses, and makes you rethink, then it’s working. If it makes you want to get up and dance with and respect girls, even better. (Bret McCabe)

3 J. Roddy Walston and the Business J. Roddy Walston and the Business (Vagrant)

If Elton John and Jerry Lee Lewis had a baby, and in high school it got together with the love child of Little Richard and Jim Dickinson, and they formed a band with some white boys from Detroit who grew up listening to nothing but Motown, that band would still have its ass handed to it by J. Roddy Walston and the Business at band camp. This Baltimore-by-way-of-Chattanooga outfit really only knows one tempo on its Vagrant Records debut—flying off the rails—but with hooks and choruses this big, don’t be surprised if you’re singing them in your head for weeks. (BM)

4 Twig Harper and Daniel Higgs Clairaudience Fellowship (Thrill Jockey)

Erstwhile Lungfish frontman and all-around totem of Baltimore’s left field Dan Higgs plus west-side spiritualist and avant-garde guiding light Twig Harper is natural enough until you consider what they each actually do. Harper makes anarchic, alien soundscapes; Higgs makes mantras, whether it’s three-note art-rock progressions or literal New Age Christian spoken-word chants. Listening to this, however, you realize just how much they’re both chasing the same goal of not so much reaching ears, but reaching someplace so deep inside of a person maybe even God himself has forgotten about it. And through sound-storms and sound-fogs clouding around words heavy like wet earth, maybe even somewhere deeper. Also note: This is a grower. (MB)

5 So Percussion and Matmos Treasure State (Cantaloupe)

That these particular worlds collided wasn’t a shock: The NYC avant-garde-ians of So Percussion and Baltimore electro-deconstructionist duo Matmos have long moved in similar circles. What startles about collaboration disc Treasure State is that each unit’s disparate aesthetics mesh so nicely, with the former’s icy pinprick minimalism naturalistically complementing the latter’s scavenger-hunt studio shenanigans. From the strafed, staggered funk of “Cross” to the glitch-stitched, pointillist patter of “Needles” to the incandescent xylophone-solo rapture of “Flame,” State is never less than artfully insurrectionary, adventurously warm, and gently macabre. (Raymond Cummings)

6 Dirt Platoon Deeper Than Dirt (Brake Fast)

Brothers Raf the Almighty and Snook Da Crook formed Dirt Platoon back in the 1990s, so if their grimy sound evokes a time when Wu Tang and Boot Camp Clik ruled hip-hop, don’t think of it as retro but simply as what they’ve always done. The duo’s second album this year and first with Brake Fast Records is the pinnacle of Dirt Platoon’s long career, summing up both the group’s history and its city’s history with tracks like “Pennsylvania Ave” while Brake Fast producer Tom Delay lays down the rawest, nastiest beats of his life. (Al Shipley)

7 Future Islands In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey)

Future Islands explore new sonic territory on their long-gestating sophomore record effortlessly enough that it feels like a promissory note from the band’s hopeful future. Everything is deeper: Synth-synths give way to actual textures and new, adventurous sounds; Sam Herring gets comfortable and discovers new vocal realms; and, all in all, songs don’t so much get stuck as linger. Which is an entirely different, and vital, thing. (MB)

8 Los Shooter (After Platinum)

Los says it all on the intro track of his first full-length of all original songs, following a series of freestyle-heavy mixtapes: “I killed everybody’s beats so critical/ nothin’ left to do but to drop an original.” The production, by J Oliver, Skarr Akbar, and 21, among others, is on point, and big-name guest spots by Rick Ross and Raheem DeVaughn help make Shooter feel like an event. But as usual, the main attraction is Los, who runs circles around every track with a tenacious flow, slick wordplay, and occasionally disarming moments of honesty. (AS)

9The Art Department Paperwork/Birdwork (Gen Pop)

The Art Department, an oddball Jonathan Ehrens lo-fi project among many that came to life as a gigging live trio, released its second album on vinyl at 45 RPM. That makes sense given that the Art Department often feels like a sped-up and compressed version of a more normal band you might hear at 33 1/3. The Paperwork side, recorded in Georgia, expands that sound with clarinet, tuba, and zither, while the Birdwork side, recorded at Beat Babies studio in Maryland, finds the core trio as tight and weird as ever. (AS)

10 Dustin Wong Infinite Love (Thrill Jockey)

It’s possible that, save for certain audio editing software and maybe Auto-Tune, looping stations are the most overused and misused tool of the 2000s, the thing that turned the guitar into a hack instrument and noise and drone into Mickey Mouse genres. But when someone comes around and handles guitar looping so right and so naturally, making these short future-Fahey songs that you could listen to for days and come out of it a more relaxed and thoughtful human, it gives hope for the one-man-bands of the future. A record to explore. (MB)

  • The Year In News It was the year of the “enthusiasm gap,” and not just as applied to the long-over honeymoon between President Obama and all but his most ardent admirers. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Film Though only one cracked into City Paper’s Top 10 list, 2010’s cinematic cup runneth over with top-notch documentaries—and not just the Michael Moore, Errol Morris, An Inconvenient Truth sort of zeitgeist-baiting nonfiction. Instead, smaller, more intima | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in DVDs Max Ophuls’ 1955 Lola Montes endured many of the same heartbreaks and indignities as its title character: misunderstood, manipulated, abused, and abandoned. | 12/14/2010
  • The Year in Television I watch the Hawaii Five-O remake on CBS. There, I said it. Now, don’t get me wrong—it’s awful. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Music In years past, City Paper has looked to its freelance contributors to vote in its annual Top 10 records poll. This year, we looked to Baltimore instead. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Local Music The record label Thrill Jockey is not based in Baltimore. Nor is City Paper on the Thrill Jockey payroll. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Books In years past we’ve polled City Paper’s book reviewers for their 10 favorite books of the year and threaded a list together from their input. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Art Unlike last year’s Laure Drogoul: Follies, Predicaments and Other Conundrums at the Maryland Institute College of Art or 2008’s Franz West, To Build a House You Start With the Roof: Work 1972-2008 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, there wasn’t one exhibitio | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Stage The year in local stage is bookended by a pair of DIY transitions. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Food When we try to count our blessings in precarious years, we invariably include good health in our shortened list. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year In... City Paper's writers go beyond the categories and pick even more top tens | 12/8/2010
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