Baltimore has produced scores of respected indie bands over the last few decades, from Lungfish to Wye Oak, and there’s always more where that came from in the city’s restless and diverse underground. To help you keep track of the scene and update your personal playlists, The Baltimore Banner is bringing a monthly roundup of the best and most noteworthy indie rock, punk, folk, and experimental music from the area. Here are our picks for October.
Pinkshift, “Cherry (We’re All Gonna Die)”
Oct. 21 was a pink Friday of sorts in Baltimore, to borrow a phrase from Nicki Minaj: both the avant-dance project, The Soft Pink Truth, and the pop punk band Pinkshift released new albums. Three Johns Hopkins students formed Pinkshift in 2018, and their video for “I’m Gonna Tell My Therapist on You” struck a nerve in the early pandemic days of 2020, going viral with a generation that used to go to the Warped Tour every summer. Following in the footsteps of Baltimore’s biggest punk rock success stories, Pinkshift have signed to the label that launched All Time Low’s career, Hopeless Records, and recorded their debut album with the producer of Turnstile’s Time & Space, Will Yip. “Love Me Forever” features a big curveball in the form of the beautiful piano ballad “In A Breath,” but the other 11 tracks on the album are big, anxious anthems. Ashrita Kumar sings “Everything will be okay, it’s never gonna be okay” on one standout track, as if indecisively caught between optimism and pessimism, with the title “Cherry (We’re All Gonna Die)” acting as the bitter punchline.
Nina Gala, “The River is Mine”
After releasing two EPs in 2017 and 2020, Baltimore singer/songwriter Nina Gala unveiled her full-length debut “Swan Heart” in October, a beautifully vulnerable album inspired by the end of a long relationship. Gala’s voice and guitar are often starkly unadorned, with string arrangements by Jon Birkholz (Soul Cannon, Adjective Animal) and percussion by co-producer Erik Schwarzenberg occasionally ushering in big arresting moments. The gorgeous “The River is Mine” drifts past you in waves of soft and loud so perfectly that you scarcely notice that the song is six-and-a-half minutes long.
Chaz Monroe, “Piloting Giant Robots As A Form Of Gender Expression”
Chaz Monroe’s fourth album “Who the Hell Do You Think We Are?!” is a “love letter to life and humanity” full of power-trio barnburners. But one of the most memorable tracks finds humanity in an unlikely place. “Piloting Giant Robots As A Form of Gender Expression” is a transgender anime fan’s whimsical yet poignant song drawing parallels between mecha anime, like Mobile Suit Gundam or Neon Genesis Evangelion, with the dysphoric feeling of being born in the wrong body.
Midway Fair, “White Noise”
This month the long-running indie folk band Midway Fair released its first album in over a decade, “The Habit of Fear,” co-produced by bandleader Jon S. Patton and studio veteran Chris Freeland. Much of the album has a restrained Americana sound that foregrounds Patton’s lyrics. But “White Noise” stands out, thanks to propulsive drums from Freeland, who hasn’t lost his touch since rising to prominence with the Baltimore math rock band Oxes two decades ago. And the song’s biggest hook is actually hidden in the bridge, with Patton repeatedly pleading, “I won’t let love be wasted, please don’t be a waste of mine.” Midway Fair performs at the Next Phaze Cafe on Nov. 17.
Queen Wolf, “All Hail the Glorious Summer Light”
For the third October in a row, the Baltimore quartet Queen Wolf has celebrated Halloween with new music, dropping the “Out There Halloween Mega Mix Tape” on Bandcamp in time for spooky season. On the three-song EP, the members of Queen Wolf don musical costumes, posing as three different fictitious acts. Toni & The Weregirls, featuring guitarist Christie McDonald on lead vocals, performs “Cool Cat Creepy Crawl,” a campy pastiche of ’60s novelty songs like “The Monster Mash.” DJ Green Gawblin’s “Stripper Ghost” is an amusingly obnoxious dance track. And Smashtodon’s “All Hail the Glorious Summer Light” is a hard rocking instrumental with a deliciously sludgy guitar tone.
Al Shipley is a Maryland-based music and culture writer.