What’s My Scene: Baltimore

As part of a new series, Sydney expat CHRISTIAN J BEST gives us his guide to Baltimore, a city where experimentation is encouraged if not expected. A former member of Talons, Best has formed a new band, Smoke Bellow, with fellow Aussie Meredith McHugh (The Rational Academy). Their debut EP ‘Old Haunts’ is out now, and they’ll be touring next month in support.

Coming from Sydney it’s fair to say the adjustment to Baltimore life was quite an undertaking. Poverty, danger, recession and overhead helicopters – as depicted on the reasonably accurate The Wire – are all factors that pervade everyday life here. But there’s an uplifting feeling that hangs about in this town. In summer it’s echoed with vegetation growing over everything and sweaty shows a plenty. More or less a big small town, Baltimore has more amazing bands than you can poke a stick at, and a scene where experimentation is encouraged, to the point of being almost expected. There is crossover everywhere, with many people sharing projects. As seen below, it’s a card shuffle of musical personalities. I wish I had 20 slots to fill. So, please read on in the knowledge that the following bands are just the frosty tip of a shiny iceberg.

Other Colors

Other Colors began as the bedroom pop project of Will Ryerson. From these beginnings it bloomed, broadening in scope from homespun 4-track hiss into soaring, mystically enhanced “spectral pop”. These songs manage to exude undeniable uplift vibes. It’s a carefree, adventurous spirit. Will has a particular gift for birthing earworms, too. They burrow your head for days, almost to the point of being annoying. Testimony of this comes in the song ‘Dark Things’, an effortless bit of refined guitar-pop. Other Colors’ new record Free Thoughts will be released later this year, so you’re sure to hear more of them real soon.

Horse Lords

Highly lauded locally, Horse Lords are a special band. Its four members – Andrew Bernstein, Owen Gardner, Sam Haberman and Max Eilbacher – musically function like four separate limbs. Independent, yet sharing a torso; a Krauty torso, with some distinctly African genes detectable here and there. It’s worth noting that both Owen and Max re-fretted their bass/guitar necks to sound chromatic scales, essentially bending the expectation of our western ears, they play frenetic phrases in repetition. Behind them, the dual percussion of Sam and Andrew propels forward through scapes that stretch out over linear timelines, each element bowing in and out to intermingle, interact, or sometimes ignore the others. I hear bands get described as “mind blowing” too often, but Horse Lords are the real deal, the sort of band that elicits feelings of disbelief in their audience, followed by long wistful sighs, shrugs and post coital hugs.

Jon Ehrens

Choosing Jon Ehrens is a bit sneaky. Although he does perform solo sometimes, he’s also involved in a million other great projects about town, so it’s a sly way of side-stepping my five band limit. Jon is insanely prolific. He churns out song-after-song, week-after-week under various guises. Sheer output aside, what is truly incredible about Jon’s turnout is that none of these projects share a common sound, resembling everything from oddball, hyper, weirdo pop (The Art Department); smooth ‘80s throwback pop (White Life); the Guided by Voices-ish Spitting Images; and finally, modern radio-stroking R&B (Dungeonesse). All of these projects are 100 percent worth checking out, but well deserving of an honourable mention is Dungeonesse. Currently unreleased, Dungeonesse is a collaborative excursion into the world of mega-hit club jams with Jenn Wasner (another golden Baltimorean) of Wye Oak fame. I can already hear it blaring from open windowed cars next Summer.

Which Magic

Sarah Autrey makes doomy folk songs that send you to a certain time and place – for me it’s here and now. Her production walks a tight line between bedroom wash and studio polish, allowing just enough clarity to showcase her legit songwriting, while still maximising the haunt. Also, Sarah is excellent to witness live, providing some of the best stage banter I’ve ever heard, with subjects ranging from sex to sex.

Holy Ghost Party

Holy Ghost Party is the side project of Dave Jacober and Zach Utz, two members from another of Baltimore’s golden bands: Dope Body. I have seen them play close to eight times now, and every single time they have sounded like a completely different act. Once they were brown-note-doom-dub, the next, washy and breezy. It’s like roulette. A friend describes singer/drummer (who additionally drums in the Dan Deacon Ensemble) Dave Jacober’s personal disposition as “aggressive chill”. I think this description lends itself pretty well to Holy Ghost Party’s music, too. Sometimes it wears its anger on its sleeves, bludgeoning the audience in a straight out onslaught. Other times, it opts to bury its teeth under summertime sands. Either way, it’s a sheer delight for the show goer.

Smoke Bellow tour dates:

Saturday, November 3 – The Waiting Room, Brisbane

Sunday, November 4 – Gasometer, Melbourne

Friday, November 9 – Midian, Sydney