Posted at 01:57 PM ET, 12/22/2011

Best D.C. music of 2011


By now you have surely consumed enough year-end music coverage that you’re able to make a top-10 list of favorite top-10 lists. But have you taken stock of the excellent music that came out of the Washington area in 2011? There was a lot of it, and on these pages you’ll find our take on 25 of the year’s best local releases. There’s introspective indie rock, virtuosic jazz bass, soulful hip-hop, sweaty moombahton and more. That’s a wide spectrum of sounds, which means you might just discover a new favorite who happens to live in your own back yard.

Where available, songs are embedded for your listening pleasure.


The Caribbean’s “Discontinued Perfume” is a s subtle masterpiece. (Josh Sisk/For The Washington Post)
ROCK

by Mark Jenkins

The Caribbean — “Discontinued Perfume”

Cool, collected and mildly jazzy, this trio’s music isn’t rock in the classic sense. On this album, such wordy, chorus-free songs as “Mr. Let’s Find Out” and “Thank You for Talking to Me About Israel” are discursive and expansive. Yet the two-guitar-and-drums (plus electronics) format keeps them tightly focused.

Dot Dash — “Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash”

The latest group to feature Terry Banks’s reliably tuneful songs, this quartet reflects the composer’s longtime interest in mid-’80s British jangle-pop. But the band, which includes veteran punk drummer Danny Ingram and former Mod-revival guitarist Bill Crandall, drives Banks’s material harder than usual, to dynamic effect.

Tragedy Destiny - Dot Dash by thebeautifulmusic

Mobius Strip — “Escalate”

A worthy descendent of 1980s D.C. hard-core punk, this three-singer trio pits harsh vocals against guitar interplay that’s tangled yet melodic. Such songs as “Green Is the New Red” are fast, brief and fervent. But the band is also capable of “Safe,” a mid-tempo power ballad complete with backup “ooh-oohs.”

Office of Future Plans — “Office of Future Plans”

This Balt-Wash quartet adds a cello to the intricate yet forceful rock that has been J. Robbins’s speciality since his band Jawbox came into its own. The most vigorous moments on this album reveal the band’s punk heritage, but the music also incorporates art rock, electronica and even a hint of old-timey music-hall pop.

Office of Future Plans - "Salamander" by Dischord Press

Title Tracks — “In Blank”

Combining pop tunefulness and punky dispatch, this local trio’s second album at first sounds a little too speedy. But John Davis’s songs are cannily structured, and repeated listenings reveal nuance and craft to match the big choruses and spry tempos, as well as acid sentiments that counter the blithe melodies.

Shaking Hands by Title Tracks


Oddisee provided a perfect soundtrack on “Rock Creek Park.” (Antoine Lyers)
HIP-HOP

by David Malitz

Oddisee — “Rock Creek Park”

If the best local hip-hop release of the year is almost entirely instrumental, then those beats must be truly superior. That’s absolutely the case with Oddisee’s tribute to the sprawling D.C. park. The album is at once elegant, funky and contemplative. Head into the park and cue up such songs as “Clara Barton,” “Beach Dr.” and “The Carter Barron” — all breezy and lushly produced — as you get near each namesake landmark, and you’ll have a sweetly soulful tour. But even sitting in your living room, it’s still a joyous journey.

Gods’illa — “CPR: The Blend Tape”

Erykah Badu, patron saint of all things sublimely soulful and funky, serves as the host of this 21-track album, but don’t be fooled, the real stars are the three brothers who make up this Maryland group. This is a dynamic collection by musicians who are clearly more concerned with making a fully formed album that will stand the test of time instead of chasing trends. With cameos by such locals as yU, Pro’Verb and Uptown XO, this is the best “State of DMV Hip-Hop” document of the year.

Fat Trel — “April Fooz”

This mixtape is not necessarily an improvement on his best-of-D.C. 2010 effort, “No Secrets,” but it finds Fat Trel solidifying his persona as a relentless and remorseless street rapper who can hold his own against the biggest and brawniest of beats. He’s still far from a technician on the mike but has a natural magnetism that most MCs could only dream of. When current producer-du-jour Lex Luger serves up a bone-rattling beat on “Respect With the Tech,” Trel steps up with a forceful performance, putting him on the national radar.

“Respect With the Tech” (NSFW)

Black Indian — “I Tried to Tell You”

One of the former vocalists for late-’90s area favorites Opus Akoben makes a welcome comeback on this mixtape produced by Judah, another D.C. staple. The local hip-hop scene has changed drastically in the decade since Black Indian was a fixture, yet he manages to balance retro sensibilities with beats that never sound dated while also bringing a veteran’s point of view to an increasingly young scene. For being away so long, Black Indian still sounds comfortably in his element.

We From The Bottom by BlackIndianDC

Gordo Brega — “#ThinkBig”

The Bronx-born, current DMV resident continues to find his voice on his latest mixtape, which finds him mostly leaving the Spanish half of his Spanglish rhymes behind on his booming, club-ready anthems. Comparisons to fellow burly Bronx native Big Pun have always been made, but Brega is starting to earn them — and not just based on background and appearance. He’s a playful but potent rapper who has graduated from one to follow to one to hear.

“My Money” (NSFW)

ELECTRONIC

by David Malitz

(Note: This category is songs, not albums.)


Outputmessage’s “Game Over” has crossover hit potential (Courtesy of the artist)
Outputmessage — “Game Over”

Outputmessage is Bernard Farley, arguably the 2011 MVP of Washington’s electronic music scene. He released a stellar EP as one-half of Dmerit early in the year and is a member of rising disco-house trio Volta Bureau (see below). But his crowning achievement is the “Game Over” EP, highlighted by its standout title track. The disco-flecked, electro-pop beat is irresistible, but it’s Farley’s sweetly soulful vocals that make it possible to envision hearing it on mainstream radio. It’s one of the year’s best songs and not just on a local level.

Game Over by Outputmessage

Benoit & Sergio — “Principles”

This low-visibility D.C./Berlin duo released a pair of excellent singles on New York’s DFA Records, continuing the venerable label’s tradition of introducing the world to smart, sleek and slightly smirking dance music. While this song would fit seamlessly into any house DJ’s set, it also easily stands on its own — a testament to the duo’s careful songcraft, attention to detail and ear for a hook.

Principles by benoitandsergio

Tittsworth/Alvin Risk — “Pendejas”

On this lead track of the “2 Strokes Raw” EP, the local duo tackles moombahton, the locally born genre that slows down the beats-per-minute pace while favoring slightly off-kilter, herky-jerky rhythms. The song starts with what sounds like someone gasping for air, which is perhaps predictive of the relentless rattling that follows. A few siren-fueled buildups suggest chaotic climaxes, but Tittsworth and Alvin Risk pull back, favoring a steady surge instead of a predictable payoff.

Alvin Risk & Tittsworth - Pendejas by AlvinRisk

Volta Bureau — “Alley Cat”

Three regulars in the U Street Music Hall DJ booth — Outputmessage, Micah Vellian and Will Eastman (the club’s co-owner) — join forces in this local supergroup that lives up to its pedigree. The trio’s best song is “Alley Cat,” which is its most fully realized example of its self-described “cosmic, hypnotic, somewhat psychedelic take on house/techno/disco.”

Alley Cat by Volta Bureau

Billy the Gent — “Vibrate”

This was the year moombahton lurched its way out of Washington to become a national phenomenon. Some of the genre’s best tunes, however, are still created in its place of origin, including this one. (Technically, it’s an interstate collaboration between local producer Billy the Gent and Richmond’s Long Jawn.) Like the best of the genre, you can practically feel the sweat dripping off the track, and body convulsions become involuntary.

Long Jawns x Billy The Gent - Vibrate (Original Mix) by longjawns


Ben Williams’s major label debut is likely just the start of a long and successful career. (Jati Lindsey)
JAZZ

by Mike Joyce

Ben Williams — “State of Art”

Every winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition has a bright future, but some seem brighter than others. On his major label debut, Washington-born bassist Ben Williams justifies the media buzz he has received, first with the coupling of his resonant tone and sure-footed technique, then with his blossoming composition skills. Yes, this could be the start of something big.

Terell Stafford — “This Side of Strayhorn”

Every winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition has a bright future, but some seem brighter than others. On his major label debut, Washington-born bassist Ben Williams justifies the media buzz he has received, first with the coupling of his resonant tone and sure-footed technique, then with his blossoming composition skills. Yes, this could be the start of something big.

Afrobop Alliance — “Una Mas”

Once again, this Annapolis-based Latin Grammy-winning ensemble makes it look easy, colorfully animating a series of challenging arrangements. Drummer Joe McCarthy and conguero Roberto Quintero make for a visceral pairing; the horns often generate their own momentum; and the tunes composed by Luis Perdomo, Cal Tjader, Hector Martignon and others clearly inspire the soloists, including guest vibraphonist Dave Samuels.

Jim Snidero — “Interface”

Although recorded in New Jersey, this album marks another reunion of two jazz musicians who frequently paired up in Washington during the 1980s: alto saxophonist Jim Snidero and guitarist Paul Bollenback. During this quartet encounter, the new emphasis placed on Snidero’s lyrical bent and Bollenback’s acoustic guitar creates wonderfully haunting interludes.

Tony Martucci — “Life in Hand”

Drummer-percussionist Tony Martucci has been a fixture on the Washington jazz scene for decades, accompanying visiting jazz greats, collaborating with countless area musicians and teaching. So how does he spend his spare time? Writing the kind of intriguing, contemporary jazz compositions that often turn up here. Small wonder pianist Marc Copland and other top-tier jazz artists signed on as collaborators.


Deleted Scenes keeps listeners delightfully off balance. (Laura Rotondo)
BEST OF THE REST

Deleted Scenes — “Young People’s Church of the Air”

This band is like the Mars Rover of music, boldly going to unexplored musical places. This new album channels minimalist composer Steve Reich while also infusing the tunes with a creative rock sensibility. The quartet seems genuinely curious about where it can go musically, employing various tactics to keep the listener curious: a brief key change here, a harp there, weird production sounds everywhere. Yet for all the experimentation, in the end the band’s most impressive accomplishment may be its ability to make musical sense of each song and therefore the album, creating tunes that go someplace. (Moira E. McLaughlin)

Deleted Scenes - "Bedbedbedbedbed" by Sockets Records

Assorted Artists — “Walkin’ & Swingin’: The Kennedy Center Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, Vol. 2”

Tickets for this annual jazz bash are always scarce, so here’s a convenient way to sample some of the music at the springtime festival, performed by a stellar lineup that features pianist and Howard University alum Geri Allen and recent Grammy-winning bassist Esperanza Spalding. Best of all, this collection is almost entirely devoted to pianist Mary Lou Williams’s richly textured and, in many cases, seldom heard compositions. Brava! (Mike Joyce)

See-I — “See-I”

Vocalists Arthur “Rootz” Steele and Archie “Zeebo” Steele have been the energetic cameo stars of the reggae portion of Thievery Corporation shows for many years now, and they prove they can handle the spotlight on their impressive, long-awaited debut album. Using dub reggae as a foundation, the nine-piece band deftly mixes funk, rap, rock and Latin jazz to paint a diverse sonic canvas. It’s a party record with musical depth. (David Malitz)

Dangerous by See-I

Maimouna Youssef — “The Blooming”

This R&B/soul/hip-hop dynamo delivers a vibrant collection of songs that finds Maimouna Youssef brimming with confidence as a vocalist. But her talents as an arranger are equally noteworthy. From the sultry, bluesy crawl of “Black Magic Woman” to the horn-fueled hip-hop of “You Ain’t Hard” and the slow, seductive R&B of “I Got a Man,” every track is an impressive showcase of the up-and-coming performer. (David Malitz)

Meredith Bragg — “Nest”

Most “folktronica” is as awkward as that term, but the experiments by this Alexandria singer, songwriter and guitarist are assured and graceful. Meredith Bragg works here with producer Chad Clark and a discreet backing group that includes cello, violin and occasional percussion. They give pretty tunes such as “Arrowstork” a spacy vibe that, oddly, sounds just right. (Mark Jenkins)

Next Time - Meredith Bragg by Meredith Bragg Music

By  |  01:57 PM ET, 12/22/2011

Categories:  Music

 
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