Ama Chandra, ‘Blackbird’: I ding the Beatles a little bit a few track reviews down but look, the most beloved band of all time can take it, and besides, they exist to at this point to be toppled, overtaken. That’s what Ama Chandra gently does on this oblique cover of ‘Blackbird.’ A tricky bass line that sounds like something from Sleep’s ‘Dragonaut’ sets this cover off-course from the jump; then her vocals melt this cherished track into a jazzy, unsentimental, and empowered interpretation.
Blue Benjamin Sleepy, ‘Stick & Move’: Probably best known for the frantic ‘On The Run’ from 2016, this new one from Blue Benjamin Sleepy also has a frenetic “Frogger”-like quality, with Sleepy bouncing all over the time’s-running-out video game beat, mixing Migos-like triplets and Soulja Boy-esque sputtering, then slowing it all down to talk some heartening “I was down but now I’m up” stuff—like Big Sean but not um, shitty—with a touching aside or two, as always: “I done had too many lessons/ I’m tired of my grandmother stressing.”
Creek Boyz, ‘Trap Digits’: With harmonized howls that fall somewhere between Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony and Lil Yachty, ‘Trap Digits’ is a club-at-closing-time cry fest featuring a whole bunch of maudlin guys singing at the same time over a beat that sounds like it’s from “Legend Of Zelda.” As another profoundly scrappy tale of what hustling’s actually like, it answers more idyllic dope-dealing tracks with a Charles Burnett-like bittersweetness. And in the context of Creek Boyz’ ascent, it’s a worthy follow-up to the streets’ top tearjerker ‘With My Team.’
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, ‘Dunce’: Wherein minimalists Ed Schrader’s Music Beat eschew the oft-perfected drum and bass or just drum and voice primitivism of the past for some kind of Suicide ‘Frankie Teardrop’-like maximalism with help from Dan Deacon, who pairs “Rat Movie” composer mode electronics with “wriggle like fucking eel” squiggles of noise. Meanwhile, vocalist Schrader offers a kind of ’50s movie Aldo Ray cynical snarl. My theory? It’s about Trump or maybe just oppressive male dickheads in general.
Hardly Flesh, ‘Gender Sucks’: Hardly Flesh sings the way you talk to a good friend, where words stick together, and thoughts bump into one another and the end goal is just the rare chance to think through your shit aloud, unabated. Something like a love song (“If I am your girl, I can be your woman/ And if I am your boy, I could be your toy”), ‘Gender Sucks’ is also about doubt—in the last verse Hardly Flesh admit they wrote the song in 10 minutes, wonder how many songs they “can write in C,G, and D”—and is an aching example of how social constructions such as gender invite self-doubt into just about everything, even the song they’re singing.
JPEGMAFIA, ‘1539 N. Calvert’: The opening track of JPEGMAFIA’s latest “Veteran”—which is getting a lot of non-local love since its release and hey that’s great (save for so many reviewers’ impulse to apologize for JPEGMAFIA’s politics, OMG music critics are such half-stepping dorks)—takes its title from the address of the beloved Bell Foundry, shut down by our crooked, fascist city and, well, that means a whole lot to me and plenty of other people. The song itself? Like ‘Hotline Bling’ as remixed by Kyle Hall with a Bootie Brown acapella over it.
Medicine Man, ‘Red Line Blues’: A 2016 demo of this functioned like po-faced folk with a strong message, but this proper recording has got music as angry as its lyrics, raging against gentrification, institutionalized racism, honky apathy, and everything else Baltimore’s got in spades. The garage rock protest trio declare on their Bandcamp that they are “three upstanding young men trying to save rock & roll from being whitewashed,” and here they invoke rock before the Beatles took out its rumble and made it all hippie-dippie.
Ronnita Freeman, ‘Father Fix-It-Felix’: This track about the limits of the church from singer-songwriter Ronnita Freeman begins with the biting, “See you told me to go to rehab but I don’t drink/ You’re quite the stranger to accuracy/ But please, please keep tellin’ me what you think.” From there, a barely-contained protest song seething under its coffee shop confessional exterior: “In between prayin’ the gay away/ My bad thoughts won’t stay and anti-conversion therapy/ All my sanity is a grave playground for you.”
Ryan Harvey, Kareem Samara, & Shireen Lilith, ‘See It Through’: Folk punk that could come with footnotes it’s so well-observed and thoughtful and fully embroiled in the world of activism. There’s even some oh-so-important praxis here, seeing as it comes from “Thin Blue Border – Vol. 1,” a collaboration with London’s Kareem Samara and Amsterdam’s Shireen Lilith. In the background, Lilith sings, Samara’s oud eddies, and Harvey’s voice shakes as he tells himself and others, “Hold the line, even if your voice shakes/ Friend of mine, even if your voice shakes/ Push forward, it’s up to you/ See it through.”
Sheree Hicks, ‘Living All Alone’: A tough cocaine ’80s thump with some rigid, live instrumentation, and vocalist Sheree Hicks’ unruffled delivery updates this cover of the vaunted 1986 Phyllis Hyman hit for a more pliable, modern house anthem about heartbreak. Produced by DJ Pope of the legendary “DJ Pope and DJ Oji’s Underground Experience” show once on WEAA—and like so many things on WEAA long gone, but anyways—this is throwback vocal house of the sort that never feels old, just real, real comfortable and always a little transcendent.