Dec 30, 2009, 07:57AM

"But did you hear…?"

Splice Today asked a bunch of Baltimore musicians what records released in the past ten years haven't gotten the respect they deserve.

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I've never been a fan of the standard Best Of lists that are all but obligatory at year's end. Figuring out why Pitchfork put Interpol's Turn On The Bright Lights at 20 of their Top 200 of the decade list while over at Paste it's nowhere to be found in their Top 50—well, I don't have it in me. I decided months ago I wasn't about to work out a Best of the 2000s (no one needs my sad-bastard alt-country list), but instead would do something a little different. So I emailed some friends around Baltimore and asked, What's the most underrated album of the past decade? Forget the critics. What has inspired some of Baltimore's best musicians? Answers below.

Brian Litz (We Used to Be Family)—The first album that comes to mind from the 00s that I've never heard anyone listen to or tell me about is Bell Orchestre's As Seen Through Windows. Having Tortoise's John McEntire produce the album seemed to help the band grow in scope but also nail down some of the great things that worked on their debut. As Seen feels like one of the more complete albums I've heard in a long time and reminds me why nine times out of ten I'll always prefer well-composed instrumental (or post-rock or neo-classical or whatever you want to call it) music to any other genre.


Jon Ehrens (Art Dept.)—Bablicon's Orange Tapered Moon. I found this band and the 90s ended.  I can't say if it's the best or most-overlooked album, but to me, this group foreshadowed a lot of the music I would hear/see in the years to follow.

Bablicon - "Anne on an Infibulus"


James Sarsgaard (Noble Lake)—Actually two records. Company released Parallel Time and Old Baby in the latter half of this decade, and I really think they both would be cream of the crop in a just world. Three songwriters who all have the ability to write simple, beautifull, earthmovin' songs. See "The Widow's Man," "The Sad Businessman," "In the Jaws of a Lion," etc. And their drummer is a beast.


Jason UrickUS Maple's Purple On Time. The list of albums that I could choose for this list is pretty staggering. A decade is a long, long time as far as music goes. In the end I settled on this album somewhat randomly as I have been listening to it a lot lately. In general US Maple wasn't an overlooked band really, but they did sort of languish in the underground more than I think they deserved. All in all these guys put out five albums all of which were pretty well received in the press, except for Purple On Time. I've always been a big supporter of this record. It was a turn towards more "straight-ahead" rock, but I felt it did so without compromising anything that made this band the best band in the late-90s/early-00s. I was pretty excited by the new direction, but sadly this was their last record.

Bonus choice: Moondog's Viking of Sixth Avenue. Obviously the music on this predates the 2000s by quite some time, but this collection of songs, released this decade, introduced me (and I imagine many others) to the music of Moondog, who has since become one of my all time favorites.


Nick Often (Rapdragons)—As far as underrated stuff, I'd have to go with Air's Talkie Walkie. I didn't see it on any decade Best Of lists. It dropped in 2004 and it's definitely a favorite of mine from its genre. It's got a sound to the whole record that makes it feel like a movie. Another is the 2001 self-titled release by The Pupils, a side-project from Lungfish's Daniel Higgs and Asa Osborne. Stripped down, raw, meditative, playful; Higgs' untethered wail still drives memorable tracks like "The Mind Is a Hole in the Body," but the most touching songs are the quieter, closer, and more vulnerable, like "It's Good to Have Met You," "Go to Gone" and "I Will Remain Human for Another Day."


Lesser Gonzalez AlvarezVideoHippos' Unbeast the Leash. I'm always amazed when I hear Jim Triplett's melodies; they're so simple and perfect. I don't think there's an easy way to explain why this album didn't get more attention, but it would be a mistake to think the song writing has anything to do with it. The focus of music changes often, and there's almost something cosmic about how music achieves notoriety. It's easy to see how music can fall through the cracks when you consider all the elements that build up momentum for an album, and how most of them have very little to do with the music and much more to do with taste-making websites, promotion, and gimmickry. Some get everything just right, some get some, and some get none. It's not so hard to imagine VideoHippos selling out arenas. I once saw Datarock open for Devo with all of their instruments unplugged, miming as their music pumped into the PA like a wave of shit and cum crashing over the front row, and the crowd revelled in it. VideoHippos gets more and more precise and adventurous every time I see them, and their ability to lock into a driving euphoria doesn't show signs of fading.

VideoHippos - "Bear Fight"


Adam Lempel (Weekends)—The Desaparecidos' Read Music/Speak Spanish. The lyrics speak about suburban sprawl, strip malls, rampant consumerism and Starbucks; this is the document of 21st century corporate America in a record. The band is led by Conor Oberst and this record has outlasted anything that he recorded with Bright Eyes. The guitars have this crunchy tone and the whole record has this blown-out tape quality.  This album is amazing. The lyrics, the songwriting, everything. Best rock record of 2000s.


Mickey Free—Instead of writing about a particular record from this past decade, I'd like to focus on a prolific and talented artist whose work I feel hasn't garnered the praise he deserves: Cass McCombs. Cass is a songwriter of such talent, it's hard to put into words. In a decade of diminishing respect for traditional songcraft, where many bands are idolized for how "far out" they are, instead of how good, Cass McCombs stands way out from the crowd. Each of his five releases includes a number of truly beautiful songs. He's one of my favorite artists of any era. It's a heavy title, but to me Cass McCombs is a genius.


Jana HunterSpenking's Free Doom. In a life blessed with the company of many outstanding musicians, Spencer Kingman is simply the best songwriter I've ever known personally. Generally, I find the "singer-songwriter," acoustic-guitar-and-vocals genre overrun with mediocrity; rarely is it ever done right, and here it is done perfecty—forthright, simple, beautiful, powerful. Every element is perfectly executed, and the result is music that, at my core, settles like cement and flowers like the Spring. I don't know if this particular work is available commercially, but anything he's done is worth purchasing.

Spenking - "Bikee Summer"

HeightReverend Run's Distortion. This record clocks in at 22:55 minutes. There are no skits and no guest spots. The album’s energy is flawless. Every other rap album feels bloated and unfocused by comparison. It’s a sample-based record, but there isn’t any emphasis on twisting and bending the samples into something new. Recognizable samples of Joan Jett, Blondie, KISS, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Funkadelic all get rocked, as is. I think tastemakers would have loved this album if it had MF Doom or Vincent Gallo on it or something. No one really seemed to pay the album any mind, but it’s awesome.

Rev. Run - "I Used to Think I Was Run"

  • a record I really think deserves more attention is Ecstatic Sunshine's latest, "Yesterday's Work." That sure seemed to get past in year end lists, I think it's amazing.

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