Weird year, 2011. D.C.’s most visible band released an app, not an album. Its great rap hope released an album that was disappointing in critics’ eyes, but which cemented him as a mainstream presence. Dischord returned to relevance with a handful of new albums and handsome archival releases; new labels formed; and Sockets remained the indie-rock scene’s most reliable clearing house. Moombahton got bigger, both locally and all over the globe. DIY spaces came and went. And for some reason my bosses decided to send me on a garage-rock cruise.

And the music: Well, it was pretty good. I had a lot of trouble picking just 10 songs—-and I was pleased I didn’t overlap with Ryan Little‘s and Marcus J. Moore‘s picks too much. (Ramon Ramirez‘s and Michael J. West‘s lists will be on Arts Desk tomorrow.)

My selections are below. I also dug songs, albums, and mixtapes by X.O., Wild Flag, Title Tracks, Protect-U, More Humans, Meredith Bragg, Macaw, Hume, L&T&W, Kid Congo Powers, Joe Lally, RA the MC, Gods’Illa, Lenorable, Screen Vinyl Image, SPRCSS, The Plums, Mittenfields, Oddisee, America Hearts, Blue Sausage Infant, The Cassettes, Black Telephone, Black Cobain, Fat Trel, Volta Bureau, Edie Sedgwick, Authorization, The Cheniers, Tereu Tereu, Fell Swoops, Fell Types, Office of Future Plans, yU, Pro’Verb, Bluebrain, Chain & the Gang, Regents, Carol Bui, Pygmy Lush, Pree, Laughing Man, Outputmessage, and Noon:30. There are probably some I’m forgetting.

Not bad, D.C.

The Caribbean, “Discontinued Perfume” (Discontinued Perfume)

This was the most romantic song I heard all year, not too mention the most paranoid and tragic. The title track from The Caribbean’s excellent 2011 album was inspired by two real-life artists with ties to D.C.’s punk scene—-Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake—-who committed suicide within a week of each other. Every Caribbean song matches frontman Michael Kentoff‘s short-story sensibility and deadpan delivery with the band’s creepy, otherworldly, but unmistakably pop instrumentals. But nothing they’ve done slays me like the moment in “Discontinued Perfume” when Kentoff sings, “I was unhappy for 17 years/when I met you at that Christmas bash/out on Sherman Avenue/Remember?” And then a ghostly female voice coos, “I do, I do.”


Wugazi, “Sleep Rules Everything Around Me” (13 Chambers)

It didn’t take long for this project from Minneapolis’ Doomtree collective to cause the Internet to lose its shit. In the end, the overall product wasn’t amazing, but this first song out of the gate—-matching Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” with Fugazi’s out-of-character “I’m So Tired”—-justified the initial hype. Maybe it’s because Fugazi’s simple, piano-driven melody isn’t so many degrees removed from a left-field head-nodder circa 1993.

Phonic Riot, “Run Nikki Run” (demo)

I think this band is defunct now? If so, that’s really too bad: Between Phonic Riot and Lenorable and Screen Vinyl Image and lots of music released by Fan Death, there seemed to be a lot of gothy art abuse going on in D.C. indie rock this year. This explosive first song on the band’s demo cassette swims in early-’80s Sonic Youth space, veering in the direction of Swans; Angela Morrish’s vocals are strained and spectral but massive. If I’d had the courage the one time I saw the group play this song—-there were like 12 people there—-I would’ve head-banged.

Benoit & Sergio, “Walk and Talk” (Where the Freaks Have No Name)

This D.C./Berlin duo got lots of attention when it released an EP through much-vaunted label DFA, but I prefered Benoit & Sergio’s earlier EP from 2011, on Visionquest. Where the Freaks Have No Name‘s best song was “Walk and Talk,” a clackety slow-burner that sort of did to the pop side of house music what late-night mopers like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd did to R&B this year: That is, it got druggy, disaffected, and sad. Take the only lyrics, repeated again and again in deadpan: “My baby does K all day/She doesn’t wash her hair, doesn’t wash her clothes/She just sits on the couch watching television shows.” Damn.

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Deleted Scenes, “The Days of Adderall” (Young People’s Church of the Air)

I wish Deleted Scenes’ sophomore album was as consistently good as its best moments—-and frankly, that’s because the group has given us lots of reasons to expect great things—-but I’ll say this: No D.C. band has defined its voice so clearly. The second song on Young People’s Church of the Air, “The Days of Adderall,” works pretty well as a mission statement: It’s got 1) those lovely echo-box vocals; 2) impressionistic ruminations on the uncertainty of young adulthood and/or light drug abuse and/or treating yourself like shit; 3) tons of sonic doodads; 4) a melody you can move to; and 5) a lulling, gauzy cast. For a band that sings frequently about getting comfortable with discomfort, that feels perfect.

Tabi Bonney, “Sudan Groove” (Postcard From Abroad)

I love that Tabi finally embraced mixtapes. Fine, so his Postcard From Abroad, released in January, was total hipster bait. And the beats he cribbed from Aeroplane, The Knife, Phoenix, and Cults were cool, but nothing moved like “Sudan Groove,” which borrowed music from the Sudanese rapper and pop star Emmanuel Jal.

Beautiful Swimmers ft. John Davis, “Open Shadow” (“Open Shadow” single)

This collaboration between the woozy disco-production duo and the Title Tracks singer was straight-up yacht rock, but it wasn’t too much of a stretch for either party. The real joy is how it takes the whole Loggins & Messina idiom and makes it both hazier and more acute. Theirs is a deliberate glaze.

Cigarette, “100 Tears” (the weather is here wish you were beautiful/total nag)

The prettiest song from D.C.’s quietest band. It turns out slowcore still has things to say. Who knew?

Birdlips, “One in Seven” (One Tongue)

This duo formed in Charlottesville, Va., logged time in D.C., and these days is more or less nomadic. Their “Drift” series has yielded a host of strong LPs written and recorded in short periods in far-flung locals, and for my money, One Tongue is the best. It was recorded in Destin, Fla., and does have something of a tropical cast. It’s also gloomy and menacing, like there’s a murderous breeze blowing through its idyllic setting.

Wale, “Bait”

Wale concocts—-finally!—-the perfect hip-hop/go-go blend. (“Dig Dug” and “Pretty Girls” came pretty close.) Too bad it didn’t make the album.

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