Amy Reid, ‘Only Tonight’: Let’s work backwards here and begin with the last unexpected minute or so of this wounded, doomed hook-up song wherein its slow jammy-ness dissipates and all you’re left with is a roomy, maybe kinda womb-y, under-the-covers electronic glow, part Vangelis-y lift and part My Bloody Valentinian smear. What leads up to this epilogue-as-exhale, though, is R&B that is unabashed and fearless in its vulnerability. “If we only have tonight now, what’s your move?” Reid asks over clicks and glitches. Where Aaliyah and Autechre become one.
Axebreaker, “Live Assault II”: A calloused, live track from Terence Hannum’s antifascist noise project formed following Trump’s election. “I tolerated a lot of garbage because I was into transgressive music,” Hannum recently told me, referencing noise and metal’s longstanding flirtation and sometimes endorsement of fascism. Axebreaker began as “something that was more abrasive and more direct I was doing in my basement,” Hannum adds, as “just a way to vent as I saw all these old specters rise.” “Live Assault II,” which is full live performance from May at the Red Room, allows us all to vent with him.
Bobbi Rush, ‘Island’: Not so much a broken-hearted song as a frustrated-hearted song, ‘Island’ is about being ghosted or just being ignored for the moment (which can feel like forever, yes), full of romantic half-stepping (“I love you, but I’ve been drinking it too”) and love/hate/loathe tension (“turning me down, turning me on,” goes the helium-voiced half-a-hook). Bonus: An Atlantean beat you could imagine Gucci Mane dancing all over that conjures up the image of Minnie Ripperton making a guest appearance at a club in Lando Calrissian’s Cloud City.
Bobby Woody, ‘Phoebe’: Like A Tribe Called Quest or early Kanye West—or OK, if that’s too generous, how about Chi Ali at least—Bobby Woody’s chatty rhymes and lithe Soulquarians-like instrumentation have a thoroughly legit everyman sort of appeal. ‘Phoebe’ is a kicking game sort of rap song with Woody taking the charming, scenic route to asking her out: “I could be Egyptian king and you be Nefertiti/ Psyche—we too broke to go back to Africa/ A Marcus Garvey reincarnate hoping that he black enough.” Spoiler alert: She says yes.
Invincible Summer, ‘Toreadornado’: Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ as covered by muzak Ministry with Fred Schneider of the B-52’s reading some sort of Zappa-esque spoken-word thing. More sounds pile up, the story becomes more immersive, the spoken-word more rappity (in a Travis Morrison from The Dismemberment Plan sort of way) and then Douglas Sirk-like as the narrator’s aunt praises her washing machine and says she never actually loved her husband. Slint for dweebs maybe? That is totally a compliment, by the way.
Little Gunpowder, ‘Happieness’: Little Gunpowder’s work is adjacent to some of the other really haunting, quotidian singer-songwriter stuff happening in Baltimore (see: slugqueen, Mothpuppy) and sounds well, from somewhere else: aged, wise, but not retro (she sings with all the wooly ache of Dock Boggs), just something raw and real and archly sincere. “Happiness doesn’t exist it’s not yours to keep/ It comes and it goes everytime you sleep/ So I guess I’ll just stay awake.” Karen Dalton gone noir? Mazzy Star meets Michael Mann?
Movakween, ‘Listen Up’: A soup of Three Six Mafia sounds—pieces of ‘Stay Fly’ (and its swirling Willie Hutch sample) and chunks of ‘Sippin’ On Some Syrup’—with Movakween declaring, “I’m tryna build a whole damn team of creators who want the same damn thing.” And I’m reminded of the anthology “Octavia’s Brood” and its editors Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown’s declaration that “all organizing is science fiction.” Well, here is organizing’s spacey soundtrack. Of a piece with bbymutha’s ‘Rules,’ if you ask me.
Queen Wolf, ‘Where The Wasps Are’: Man, remember “The Woods,” that Sleater-Kinney record that rock critic dorks dubbed “hard rock” record because it was ostensibly heavy and well, rock critics are dorks so going Grand Funk Railroad is some kind of shocking, blasphemous seachange novelty instead of well, just a thing to go and do? Well, ‘Where The Wasps Are’ recalls “The Woods” with Queen Wolf kinda going Grand Funk (and Blue Cheer and Thin Lizzy). Why does the song gotta fade out though?
YG Teck, ‘DTLR Freestyle’: This West Baltimore favorite’s four-and-half-minute freestyle from Downtown Locker Room Radio turned local hit, especially because of one line that really resonates (“We been fucked up so long we don’t even know if getting rich real”). Now with an official video, it hinges on an artfully timed moment where the beat drops out and YG Teck lays out the utopian qualities of hustling in plainspoken poetry: “If my dog had some ‘caine, that was my ‘caine too/ And if my dog felt some pain, then that was my pain too.”
Young Moose, ‘1st Day Out’: Moose runs through a whole lot of loss and occasionally some stability but never really victory, and that’s all before the beat—jacked from Tee Grizzley’s melodramatic confessional ‘1st Day Out’—even drops. Listen for what sounds like a sly dig at BalCo Bone-Thugs Creek Boyz (“We in the jungle, y’all niggas in the creek, boy”), though it feels a bit justified given Creek Boyz sell out the city on the new version of ‘With My Team’, where shouts to Baltimore’s victims of homicide are replaced with, well, basic “don’t stop my shine” platitudes.