Year In Review: The Beat’s top 10 Baltimore albums of 2017

Joe Biden, “S/T”

1. Joe Biden, “S/T”: This un-Googleable self-titled EP from the four-piece punk outfit mockingly named after our former vice president is a relentless lightning strike of righteous indignation. These seven, screeching tracks are the scuzzed out distillation of the maxim “all cops are bastards,” played fast and hard, recorded with an immediacy that turns your headphones into the basement of a house show. Recorded during the uprising after Freddie Gray’s death, the persistent air of pointed rage is, depressingly, no less relevant two-and-a-half years later. But it’s a cathartic blast of expression, a necessary exorcism of anger at a status quo that isn’t changing fast enough. (Dominic Griffin)

2. Sneaks, “It’s a Myth”: With just her bass and drum machine to aid her, Eva Moolchan continues to make space for curiosity on her minimalist second release and first on Merge Records. Sung or spoken like they are common knowledge, Moolchan’s lyrics impart absurdist wit: the circuitous non-answers of ‘Look Like That’ (“What do they look like?/ The look like that”) or the emblematic use of kids’ rhymes to suggest otherness in ‘Not My Combination’ (“tic tac toe, three in a row/ not my combination”). This is the album I jump-rope to while wondering how I came to be jumping rope wearing pajamas in my living room in the middle of the day. (Maura Callahan)

3. Lafayette Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes, “New Urban World Blues”: This album couldn’t possibly feel more rooted in Baltimore. “New Urban World Blues” finds Lafayette Gilchrist drawing from disparate elements of jazz, soul, funk as always, but every song here is densely packed and never shies away from having dissonant horns interject into a swinging piano melody like menace lurching around a street corner and down the block. On ‘Blues for Freddie Gray,’ Brooks Long sings, “did you see him, did you hear him as he screamed in pain” and yet, Gilchrist works patiently toward a genuine hopefulness—the album ends on a heartbreakingly beautiful and bright little song called ‘Treasures In Our Futures,’ sung in English and Spanish by two young children, about getting up in the morning and going to school. It’s also about comprehending the vast unfairness of the world at such a young age, nevertheless holding onto hope that “there are treasures in our futures that are great yet unknown.” (Brandon Block)

4. Pale Spring, “EP2”: Pale Spring’s second release, the five-song “EP2” co-produced with Drew Scott, evokes the altogether slower, sexier, and sadder sides of things. Over minimalist beats, twinkling piano, thrumming guitar and occasional birdsong, multi-instrumentalist Emily Wenker seems to pull from dreams and nightmares, foggy moods, and gothic literature. Opening track ‘Waiting Time’ reckons with the void (“face of your cruelty/ what was I to do?” Wenker sings) and bleeds into the blushing/pulsing synths of the next song, ‘Proud of Your Poison’ and subsequent allusions to pleasure and suffering and sins—it is hard to shake the serpentine lingering of Pale Spring. (Rebekah Kirkman)

5. Liz Durette, “Four Improvisations”: Durette numbers her extended instrumental improvisations as bluntly as a painter titling abstract canvases in a series, and the four excursions here—three cruising around 7 minutes, one a 20-minute inner-space odyssey—gorgeously plunge down similarly expressive mental mineshafts. Durette’s at times nimble, at times plaintive Rhodes lines minnow through the electric piano’s gift for meditative, almost sacred moods and timbres. These odysseys travel through tessellations, where a snippet of melody elicits a pang of longing that unlocks a memory hiding inside the brain’s happy place, that cozy resort where consciousness holidays when reality threatens to become too much. (Bret McCabe)

6. YGG Tay, “Rich Before Rap 2”: So there is YGG Tay’s ear for aggressively pleasant trap beats—what our EIC Lisa Snowden-McCray once observed sounds like trap music for the spa—which adds a dimension to “Rich Before Rap 2” that’s different from plenty of other Baltimore rappers embroiled in the life. And there is Tay’s rapping, a direct approach that owes a great deal to Jeezy but becomes more flexible when it needs to with a dose of Meek Mill off-the-rails mania. Funny given his star is rising as a result of his song ‘Why You So Mad,’ “Rich Before Rap 2” thrives thanks to Tay’s modesty: a curt 11 tracks with like-minded guests (D.C.’s brilliant and bouncy Shy Glizzy, West Baltimore’s brash YG Teck) and soaring, solid tracks that pile pain on top of punchlines and by the time that hook comes around, provide a catchy, club-ready respite from it all. (Brandon Soderberg)

7. Ultra Naté & Quentin Harris, “Black Stereo Faith”: House music icons Ultra Naté and Quentin Harris team up for this epic journey through a veritable cornucopia of dance music strains. “Black Stereo Faith,” joining Ultra Naté’s dramatic and powerful vocals with Quentin Harris’ chameleonic production skills, feels like a David Lean widescreen approach to the past few decades of what gets asses shaking, hearts soaring, and feet pumping. Once the opening track ‘SNL’ starts with its disco rhythms and technicolor string stabs, it’s clear we’re going to be in for a real treat. From the Italo-indebted ‘Tears’ to the new wave-y ‘Transformation,’ there’s no corner of the dancefloor universe that isn’t touched upon, crystallized, and in some cases, improved upon. (Dominic Griffin)

8. Eva Rhymes, “The Life & Times of Eva Rhymes”: That Eva Rhymes celebrates all the world’s “weirdos”—you know, all y’all vulnerable, complicated human beings just like her—is only the third or 87th most interesting thing about this versatile MC on her assured full-length debut. Like Snow Tha Product, another underrated MC, Rhymes has more vocal personalities than some dudes have sneakers, moving from Bahamadia chill to Rah Digga fire to the ethereally headiness of S.I.N.’s Medusa and Koko. And she confidently raps about depression, insecurity, the unnecessary competitiveness between girlfriends, social media anxiety, and more, giving such ordinary travails the thoughtful, comic, and candid attention they deserve. (Bret McCabe)

9. Natural Velvet, “Mirror to Make You”: Bassist/vocalist Corynne Ostermann swirls together elements of shimmery glam, kohl-eyed proto-punk, and bo-BS garage rock into Natural Velvet’s musical stew and art direction. Ostermann’s voice, though, is pure, closer to Babes in Toyland’s Kat Bjelland’s glorious bellow, and with her bandmates—drummer Greg Hatem and guitarists Spike Arreaga and Kim Te—NV pounds out a propulsive mix of Dog Faced Hermans’ melodic throb and Scissor Girls’ coiled turmoil. Lyrically, Osterman is in a personal-is-political storyteller mode here, as on album standout ‘Crowning,’ about a woman fresh out of fucks to give about how others want to define her. (Bret McCabe)

10. Dyyo Faccina, “People Are Scared…”: Few working artists today flit between moods as seamlessly as Dyyo Faccina. On “People Are Scared,” he alternates between sexy and menacing, humorous and pained, boisterous and withdrawn with ease. Whether rapping, singing, cooing, whispering, or just speaking, he possesses a compelling presence, soldering genres onto other incongruous genres, driven by audacious abandon. From the ghastly boom bap subversion of opening track ‘OoOoOoo’ to the wryly threatening ‘See Me With The Hands,’ he’s a singular force, adapting to shifting sonic landscapes without losing a shred of authenticity or clarity. The plaintive ‘Fight or Flight?’ may be the album’s best, where his nimble rhymes are fired off with a casual confidence befitting his natural star power. (Dominic Griffin)

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