Baltimore’s rock scene has produced world-famous bands like Beach House and Turnstile, but there’s a stunningly diverse underground spanning guitar rock and more unconventional sounds always bubbling below the surface. To keep track of what’s going on, and help keep your playlists up to date, The Baltimore Banner will bring you a monthly roundup of the best and most noteworthy indie rock, punk and experimental music from the area. Here are our picks for September.
Natural Velvet, “I Keep You Honest”
Since forming as MICA students a decade ago, Natural Velvet has been one of Baltimore’s most consistently excellent post-punk bands, adept at songs that are both haunting and catchy. But the quartet hadn’t released any new music in a while besides last year’s remix EP, so their new single is a welcome return. “I Keep You Honest,” co-produced by drummer Greg Hatem and Jawbox legend J. Robbins, has a typically Natural Velvet mix of dark and light. The main guitar riff is buoyant and danceable, while singer/bassist Corynne Ostermann’s lyric opens with an ominous vision: “In my dreams the roof crashes down on me, I drown in its collected rainwater.” It’s the first taste from a new EP, “Cruel Optimism,” due out next year. Natural Velvet will play The Crown on October 30th.
Don’t Start None, “Eastern Ave”
Hardcore has always had a fervent presence in Baltimore, but the recent rise of exciting bands like End It and Praise has brought a new level of attention to the louder, faster end of the punk scene. And Don’t Start None’s new five-song demo positions them as perhaps the next awesome local band to open up the pit for. The 75-second bruiser “Eastern Ave,” named after the street that starts at the waterfront and runs through Fells Point and Highlandtown, concludes with a spoken section, with a second hype-man vocalist declaring, “Bring the beatdown back to Baltimore!”
Micah E. Wood, “Adderall”
Baltimore-based photographer and graphic designer Micah E. Wood has shifted his focus a little from sight to sound since releasing his first album as a singer/songwriter, “See Me,” in 2017. Where Wood’s earlier records often veered towards electro-pop with occasional guest rappers, the new “Ring Ring” EP features live drums by Ian Vierra on a half-dozen pop-rock gems. And the opening track “Adderall” has a certain mid-period Talking Heads charm in its descending guitar riff and lilting vocal melody.
Jill Christensen/David Menestres/Will Redman, “A Bold Value”
In a music marketplace that is increasingly polarized between digital streaming and old-fashioned vinyl, Microkingdom drummer Will Redman launched a new label this year, Sensitive Documents, with the rallying cry, “CDs are back!” One of the label’s first discs, “Piano Trio,” sounds like Redman is improvising alongside Jil Christensen and bassist David Menestres in a free jazz mode. But the three musicians are all actually reading a graphic score by Redman “employing confounding extensions and extrapolations of traditional music notation in order to elicit radical interpretation by the performers.” It’s fascinating to listen to “A Bold Value” and try to imagine exactly what shapes and symbols Redman put on the page to elicit these particular unpredictable clusters of notes and stretches of empty space.
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, “Climbing Trees”
In 2019, a Catonsville-based church janitor named Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon became one of the rare singers at an “American Idol” audition who wowed the judges with an original song. That song, “Almost Heaven,” was a poignant piano ballad that wrestled with questions of being accepted by his faith and his community as a gay man. After landing in 6th place on “Idol,” he released a studio recording of ”Almost Heaven” with an ensemble featuring veteran jazz bassist Steuart Liebig. And in the years since, Harmon has continued to chart his own unique path with a series of albums, most recently “Desert,” recorded in Joshua Tree, California. Harmon’s lithe and expressive voice is the main attraction, but his arrangements are also artful and inventive, particularly on “Climbing Trees,” which alternates between 7/8 and 4/4 time signatures.
Al Shipley is a Maryland-based music and culture writer