Baltimore’s music scene is more of a mindset than a specific sound—our musicians are fearless. A sense of community, enthusiasm and total lack of ego have brought notoriety to B’more’s bands. Each year brings new surprises, and in that spirit, here are three bands to watch. Stylistically, they couldn’t be more different; what they share is an experimentation with new sounds and aesthetics.
Bond St. District
At the crest of a new wave of brash Baltimore rappers who bring together fashion and music, Bond St. District has an undeniable star power. The release show for this duo’s debut album, “A Church on Vulcan,” was modeled after a church service, complete with a call to worship, invocation and competitions for “Best Dressed” and “Best Church Lady Hat.”
On the album—out now on the Baltimore indie label Friends Records—rapper DDm wistfully reminisces about growing up on the west side, and later, meeting Bond St. District’s producer, Paul Hutson. But DDm came up on Baltimore’s battle rap scene and can go hard and dirty when the music calls for it. Onstage, he’s unmistakable. DDm calls his wardrobe “organized chaos,” pairing traditional African hats with Versace sunglasses. He also puts on some of the best live shows in Baltimore, mixing elements of theater, standup comedy, trap and dance. “I’m a fan of all things big,” he says. “The bigger the better for me. … You never know what I have in my bag on any given day.”
Bond St. District opened the sold-out Windjammer mini-festival at Pier Six Pavilion in August 2015, which featured headliners Future Islands, Beach House and Dan Deacon. For Hutson, this was Bond St. District’s first big show. “I used to work at the marina right next to Pier 6 and I would watch groups like the Beach Boys and Earth, Wind and Fire perform and think about what it must be like,” he says. “Walking onto that stage was a special moment for me.
The hottest new band in Baltimore is also one of the youngest. Snail Mail, a “bummer rock” trio has released one proper record, 2016’s “Snail Mail EP.” But the band is being hailed as one of the most original and talented groups to hit the scene in years and they have sold out shows at The Ottobar and WTMD.
Pitchfork music critics called Lindsey Jordan, the band’s singer and guitarist “the wisest teenage indie rocker we know.” After last year’s South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, the music blog Stereogum wrote that “everyone’s talking about Snail Mail.” Jordan, who took two weeks off from high school to go to the festival, and her bandmates live up to the hype. The music is melancholic and vulnerable, with touches of grunge and early Velvet Underground. Jordan recorded the song “Thinning” during a lengthy bout of bronchitis. On the album – and especially live – her voice sounds like it could crack at any moment.
But above all, Snail Mail’s music is relatable. We were all teenagers once and some of us still carry that angst. On the song “Stick,” Jordan sings “And did things work out for you? Are you still not sure what that means?” After a recent Baltimore show, one 30-something concertgoer mused, “I wish these songs existed when I was a teenager.”
Jordan graduated last May and has put off going to college to focus on Snail Mail. “It’s a huge honor to have so much support and a platform to be doing this thing full time,” Jordan says. “Definitely not taking anything for granted.”
Not long after they came together in 2006, Pianos Become the Teeth began following a typical path for an aggressive, post-hardcore and screamo band. They were often on the road, amassing a loyal following in the U.S. and overseas. And when they came back, the Baltimore crowds were bigger each time until they routinely sold out The Ottobar.
Then in 2014, Pianos Become the Teeth took an unexpected turn, signing with the major record label Epitaph and releasing “Keep You,” an album which saw the band exploring an entirely new sound. The album had the feel of a summer storm, full of foreboding with moments of thunderous but short-lived fury. Singer Kyle Durfey’s intensely personal lyrics were sung, not shouted. “Keep You” was praised by Pitchfork and other music critics, and though it surprised longtime fans, it also drew in new listeners.
Pianos Become the Teeth spent more than a month this spring in Conshohocken, Penn. recording a follow-up to “Keep You”—and binge-watching “The Office,” guitarist Michael York says. The band took a looser approach to recording, which paid off. “It’s the best our songwriting has been,” York says. “We’re coming into our own as a band.” The songs are heavy but also melodic, with an experimental streak, he says. They teamed up with producer Will Yip, who worked on “Keep You” and is a close friend of the band. “There’s nobody else that would be able to do this record justice,” York says.
Pianos Become the Teeth scheduled a 10-day Australian tour this past summer to test some of the new material live and the record should be out in early 2018.