Baltimore boasts one of America’s greatest independent music scenes, full of restlessly original weirdos, DIY lifers and conservatory-trained virtuosos. And there’s always an array of strange and cool new songs blaring out of local studios, labels and venues that are worthy of your ears.
To help you keep track and update your playlists, The Baltimore Banner presents a monthly roundup of the best and most noteworthy new indie rock, punk, folk and experimental music from the area. Here are our picks from the last few weeks, which range from free jazz to kickass punk.
@, ‘Major Blue Empty’
Carpark Records is based in Washington, D.C., but the label has proven to be an influential satellite to the Baltimore indie scene, helping to launch the careers of Beach House, Dan Deacon and Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, among others. Carpark’s latest link to the city is @, a duo comprised of the Baltimore-based Stone Filipczak and the Philadelphia’s Victoria Rose, who remotely collaborated over the internet on their debut album, “Mind Palace Music.” The album was initially self-released in 2021, but reached a wider audience this month with its rerelease on the independent label. The haunting “Major Blue Empty” layers the duo’s vocal harmonies over acoustic and electric guitars with a flute solo by Filipczak in one of several tracks on the album that echoes British folk artists of the ’60s and ’70s like Vashti Bunyan and Fairport Convention.
Susan Alcorn, ‘Benn’
Susan Alcorn is one of most unique and fascinating musicians in Baltimore. An Ohio-born pedal steel guitarist who cut her teeth playing in traditional country bands in Texas, Alcorn has unlocked her instrument’s potential in experimental improvised music, collaborating with avant garde innovators like Eugene Chadbourne and Thurston Moore. Alcorn has periodically performed in a trio with two other improvisers with Texas roots, clarinetist Patrick Holmes and drummer Ryan Sawyer, for over a decade. And one of their 2022 sets at Union Pool, a Williamsburg, Brooklyn venue, was recently released as a live album. On “Benn,” the first of three long tracks on “From Union Pool,” Alcorn’s pedal steel guitar sometimes sounds enormous, like some kind of engine or generator is powering up near the other two musicians. And sometimes Alcorn’s instrument is the warm, beautifully melodic sound that works as the glue between Holmes’s trilling runs and Sawyer’s rumbling percussion.
Knub, ‘The Sift’
Split releases, with two like-minded bands each contributing half of the songs on an album or single, have been a staple of underground rock since the ’80s. Knub, a heavy post-hardcore band from Baltimore, recently released a split EP with Cleveland’s Brain Cave and played a string of shows together that included stops in both bands’ hometowns. “The Sift,” the first track from Knub’s side of the EP, is a righteous blast of sludgy basslines and monster riffs. And the entertainingly morbid video for “The Sift” depicts a femme fatale taking each member of Knub out on a date — and then murdering him.
PLRLS, ‘Burn For Me’
PLRLS (formerly Plurals) have been playing their catchy brand of new wave garage rock, heavily influenced by The B-52s and Devo, on stages all over Baltimore since 2011. But as with many bands, the COVID-19 pandemic probably prolonged the time PLRLS took between albums, and their third outing, “Curses,” is their first new music since 2017. One song, “Dear Covid (45),” addresses the pandemic in irreverent fashion. But based on early spins of the album, “Burn For Me” stands out for the piercing lead guitar that shoots through the unusual five-bar chorus like a flaming arrow.
Some Fool, ‘Vicus Cracti’
Rjyan “Cex” Kidwell, a prolific and mischievous Baltimore musician whose dozens of albums have spanned electronic music, hip-hop, noise and rock, recently sent a characteristically cryptic message to his Bandcamp followers: “I’m not 100% sure but I think I might be Some Fool??” The accompanying link led to a new cassette credited to Some Fool, which is presumably yet another Kidwell alias, consisting of “dungeon synth” new age instrumentals with Latin song titles. “Vicus Cracti” (translation: craggy village) sounds like a cross between the soundtrack of an obscure fantasy RPG game and something from the instrumental Nine Inch Nails album “Ghosts I-IV.”
Al Shipley is a Maryland-based music and culture writer.