Either way, the local recordings that have emerged in this bizarre riptide have felt abundant and exceptional — and lucky for us, the excellence spans styles, from jazz, to punk, to rap, to go-go and beyond. If you’re hoping to connect to your musical community through your headphones, here’s where to start.
Ankhlejohn, “The Face of Jason”
With his throat clenched tighter than his fists, this District rapper rhymes in growls and sneers, as if trying to sandblast his gritty, ’90s-style backing beats into an even finer dust. But on his pugnacious new album — “The Face Of Jason,” out April 21 — Ankhlejohn isn’t reliving his back-in-the-days. He wasn’t there. “I sport the 8 Ball jacket like it’s ’89,” he explains in a metaphysical snarl. “I wasn’t even born yet, but still, those be my favorite times.” Got that? This isn’t a nostalgia trip. It’s time travel.
Baby 9eno, “Supply & Demand 2”
Suitland’s Baby 9eno likes to compare himself to Rayful Edmond in the streets, Bernard Hopkins in the ring, Robert De Niro in “Goodfellas” and Carmelo Anthony in three-point range. But the more you listen to 9eno rap, the more he sounds like himself. He talks superb trash throughout “Supply & Demand 2,” rhyming in spring-loaded cadences that make even his most mundane phrases worthy of closer inspection. Like during the acidic drip-drip-drip of “Belly” when 9eno uses figurative language to draw an enemy out of the literal shadows: “It’s gonna come to the light what you do in the dark.” Something about that simple line feels profound, but if it could be captured in writing, it wouldn’t need to be music.
Clear Channel, “Hell”
When President Trump first moved to Pennsylvania Avenue, scores of ding-dongs wondered aloud, “Will punk rock be great again?” Three years later, Clear Channel sounds appropriately fried by these interesting times. The District punk quartet features members of Downtown Boys, Merchandise and Too Free — and together, they’re making party music on the brink of psychic annihilation. Turns out, in Trump’s America, love is dead (“Eliminator”) and sex feels like a freaky trip down the produce aisle (“Hot Fruit”). How does the story end? On this album, tragicomically. The last song is the title track.
Drew Dave, “Focused”
If you judge this album of handsome hip-hop beats by its title, its nucleus is “2uhdaze,” a steady, feel-good pulse with a title that evokes a workout plan or a vitamin supplement. But if you judge “Focused” by its cover — a drawing of the Virginia-raised producer trawling through a record shop, failing to notice that the place is being robbed at gunpoint — then the album’s highlight becomes “Gray990s (DrewBalance),” a far more slippery groove in which the artist seems blissfully lost in thought. And if you’d like to hear more of the maestro in both modes, check out Uptown XO’s recent album, “Culture Over Corporate.” Drew Dave produced every track.
Foxhall Stacks, “The Half Stack EP”
You could chisel this band’s post-punk-indie-pop-hardcore résumé into marble slabs, but you would still be in for a head fake. Instead, Foxhall Stacks (Jawbox’s Bill Barbot, Velocity Girl’s Jim Spellman, Minor Threat’s Brian Baker and Government Issue’s Pete Moffett) are making bright, muscular, Cheap Tricky power pop — which, in this case, sounds like grown-ups scratching teenage itches that punk dogma would not allow. Good for them and good for us. Life is short! It’s also precious, which is why proceeds from this recording are going to We Are Family DC, a charity group assisting District seniors through the coronavirus quarantine.
Goonew and Lil Dude, “Homicide Boyz 2”
These two Maryland rap sensations swap rhymes with such conspiratorial intimacy, listening to their music can feel like eavesdropping. And on a track as exquisite as “Do-Si-Dos,” artfully produced by Mannyvelli, your ear-bending might start to feel like a psychedelic experience. Rapping in paranoid little murmurs, their voices sound larger than life.
Holy Child, “Holy Child”
Who is this wild new mystery band? According to the text attached to Holy Child’s debut EP, the singer’s name is Leo, but that doesn’t help much, especially when Leo is shouting existential nursery rhymes into the mirror: “The more I look, the more I see, the less I think I look like me!” As for the guitars, they sound like they were flash-fried in boiling paint, plus the rhythm section totally slaps (not in a youth slang way; just in the old, painful, across-the-face way). All together, Holy Child pushes toward disintegration with a confidence that only punk bands seem capable of summoning — and during a song titled “Holy War,” Leo makes that atomization feel something like enlightenment: “I have no shadow. I have no shape.”
Irreversible Entanglements, “Who Sent You?”
The latest album from this multicity jazz collective opens with a line by D.C. bassist Luke Stewart, and maybe a metaphor, too. The notes drop down, then rise back up, over and over, unflinchingly as the music marches forward through time. Eventually, vocalist Camae Ayewa — who performs solo outside of Irreversible Entanglements as Moor Mother — asks, “At what point do we stand up? At the breaking point? At the point of no return?” Taking aim at the racial injustice that continues to define American life, her voice underscores the group’s message and intensity, but throughout “Who Sent You?,” Stewart provides the musical infrastructure. Bass as base.
Hailu Mergia, “Yene Mircha”
If you haven’t heard the incredible story of Hailu Mergia, here it is in one sentence: He came up in Addis Ababa playing hybridized jazz of the highest order, then relocated his illustrious Walias Band to Washington in 1981 where it quickly dissolved, leaving Mergia to drive a taxi in and out of Dulles International Airport until 2013 when his forgotten solo recordings from the mid-80s found a new audience online, allowing the composer-keyboardist to reemerge as a hero of Ethiopian song. Now, Mergia is doing things his way, and his aptly titled new album — “Yene Mircha,” or “My Choice” — is an ensemble affair that never sounds crowded. Instead, his collaborators create room for his rich melodies to breathe — whether Mergia is playing them on accordion, Rhodes, organ, piano, or synth.
Nappy Nappa, “Dye”
Somehow, this District rapper’s otherworldly vision keeps growing more introspective — that is, when his music sounds way out, it’s actually way in. To best transport your mind’s ear into his psyche, cue up “Let Urself Go,” the final track on this three-song EP in which Nappa endeavors to “communicate the divine message” over a beat that sounds like it’s evaporating beneath his sneakers. It ends with a mesmerizing whisper: “Everything that goes up gon’ need a place to land — coming to you live!”
Rare Essence, “PA #22 Live @ Aqua Nightclub 2-29-20: The Quarantine”
“Ain’t no party like a R.E. party ’cause a R.E. party don’t stop!” Go-go fans hold these truths to be self-evident, but the party’s over for now, which makes listening to one of the legendary group’s final live recordings before the lockdown feel more bitter than sweet. At least “The Quarantine” offers plenty to savor, including a moment late in the show in which the band merges sounds from Jamaica and Memphis into a conga-stippled reverie that’s unmistakably Washingtonian.
Tommy Models, “Tommy Models”
Here’s a new band that you’ve heard before. Guitarist Marc Riffle used to play with H.R. from Bad Brains. Brandon Findley once drummed for the late, great Chuck Brown. Skeeter Thompson played bass in Scream. With Ben Gartenstein on the other guitar, Scott Schoem on keyboards and Kyle Moriarty holding the microphone, the band’s debut EP — out April 20 — sounds like rock-and-roll, loud and clear. But it hasn’t been stripped of its ambiguity entirely. At one point, Moriarty throws out a riddle that feels punky and cryptic: “THC is not a drug, and now you want your mommy’s hug.”
Weak Tilt, “2020 Demo”
I’ve never landed an ollie in my life, but I’ve spent endless hours watching videos of skateboarders sliding across curbs, stair railings, picnic tables and more. It’s an impossibly beautiful thing to see: human bodies grinding airborne panels against immovable public surfaces in a weightless smear. Would it be contrived to say that the music of Weak Tilt sounds a lot like that? This young D.C. hardcore troupe is all tough edges, but when the band shifts tempo, gravity ceases to exist for a moment. I should probably mention that these guys are also regulars at a downtown plaza where skateboarding is still a crime, so I probably shouldn’t tell you which one. Being a poser doesn’t make me a narc.
Xanman, “I’m a Bad Person”
“I’m too different,” Xanman declares at the outset of his new album. “Too different for you.” Here’s how to know if “you” means you: Do you like when rappers incessantly barge ahead of a song’s tempo as if they’re trying to defeat the idea of temporal existence? Do you like when rappers evoke the sound of gunfire by singing “YODEL-AY-HEE-HOO!” instead of the usual “bang” or “pow”? Would you like to hear a rapper recycle the lyrics and the pathos of “Dancing On My Own,” the 2010 confection by Swedish pop star Robyn? If so, keep listening to Xanman. He might goof his way into becoming the best rapper the DMV has ever heard.