This year, Baltimore synth heroes Future Islands' stunning appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" raised their profile and even, for a moment there, had them going viral, thanks to vocalist Sam Herring's hypnotic dancing. What followed was less of a mainstream-touching moment for the entire city (now six years gone from Rolling Stone declaring Baltimore's music scene the best in the country) than a verification that Baltimore is still doing things right on its own terms, which is pretty inexplicable, really. This quick guide to the scene is vital if you're going to make sense of a scene that makes no sense at all.
Artists To Know
Abdu Ali: Splenetic noise-rapper who performs with punk-rock energy while summoning the communal, cathartic joy of house and club music.
Ami Dang: Pairs sitar with experimental soundscapes and fractured dance-friendly beats to create a style she calls "Bollywave."
Bobby E. Lee & the Sympathizers: Punk-tinged country and hardcore-soaked folk from a group that playfully parses the tradition of Americana, celebrating its music while mocking some of its outdated values.
Brooks Long: Retro soul man still in his early 20s captures the gritty atmosphere of Stax and the heartening grooves of Motown to a dedicated cult of fans from Baltimore all the way to the Delaware beaches.
Caleb Stine: Serious, tough-minded folk and country touchstone whose latest album, Maybe God Is Lonely Too, full of bird sounds and ruminations on mortality, is his best yet.
Chiffon: Slow-jamming duo whose make-out music also nods to Bmore club, space disco, video-game music, and whatever's happening on hip-hop radio right now.
DDm: Trailblazing battle rapper turned art-hop superstar who came out of the closet in 2011, about a half-decade into his career. A colorful performer with unflappable real hip-hop lyrics.
Dan Deacon: Big-deal indie act on a national level with high-concept ideas, whose baroque, sugar-rush compositions continue to define Baltimore's spazzy underground.
DJ AngelBaby: DJ at local rap and R&B station 92Q who has, over the past couple of years, taken up the mantle for the late K-Swift in keeping club music alive.
Ed Schrader's Music Beat: One of the scene's most playful personalities crafts raucous post-punk that invokes the rumbling rage of Joy Division and the sincere askew pop of the Modern Lovers all at once.
Future Islands: The guys that were on "Letterman" whose frontman danced and howled and screamed his heart out on the year's best single, 'Seasons (Waiting On You).' You know the deal.
Horse Lords: Endless (in a good way!) noise jams that sound like the whole "Out" section of your favorite record store (krautrock, space rock, no wave) playing all at once.
J. Roddy Walston & the Business: Good ol' boy Southern rock done right and respectfully, complete with guitar-hero moves. Everybody loves these fellas, for good reason.
Lafayette Gilchrist: Pianist who is both a post-swing traditionalist and an exploratory composer who finds room in jazz for the rhythms of modern dance, hip-hop, and whatever else grabs his ears.
Matmos: Legendary electronic duo about to celebrate 20 years of challenging, deeply conceptual, witty digitized noise. A laptop live show that's actually loads of fun to witness.
Mighty Mark: Formerly Murder Mark, this producer/DJ changed his name to court a more positive image of the city. Fortunately, his techno-tinged club music productions remain as vicious as ever.
Schwarz: Post-everything producer, DJ, sometimes rapper and shouter whose hypersincere, hilarious, and aggressively positive tracks will warm your heart and get you out of the funk of a bad day or week or year.
TT The Artist: Florida-born MICA graduate and tough-talking, female-empowering rapper whose swaggering rhymes and captivating performance style make her a live staple.
Wye Oak: Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack mine the quiet-loud-quiet blueprint expertly, and recently, tweaked it with the more rubbery sounds of synthesizers and angular bass.
Places to Hear
10 E. Cross St., (410) 625-2000, the8x10.com
In Federal Hill, one of the city's most notable drinking spots. This club offers crowd-pleasing soul, folk, jam, and rock acts on a local and national level.
An die Musik
409 N. Charles St., (410) 385-2638, andiemusiklive.org
An idyllic spot for jazz shows thanks to an intimate atmosphere (including very comfortable chairs!) and excellent sound. Also hosts classical and modern classical performances.
124 Market Place, baltimoresoundstage.com
Where cult-ish national acts end up playing on their way up the mainstream fame ladder, with a focus on hip-hop and EDM.
Charm City Art Space
1731 Maryland Ave., ccspace.org
Thoroughly dedicated punk-rock venue that does the DIY thing expertly and has been for more than a decade.
2101 Maryland Ave., (410) 630-4353
With black-light paint on the wall and K-Pop videos looping on TVs above, this small, intimate room is quintessentially Baltimore.
1910 N. Charles St. 2nd Fl, (410) 625-4848, thecrownbaltimore.tumblr.com
Premiere underground music venue in Station North Arts District on the second floor of an office building with two different rooms (usually one free show, one that costs money) with killer Korean fusion if you're hungry.
The Get Down
701 S. Bond St., (443) 708-3564, getdownbaltimore.com
What you probably think of when you hear the word "nightclub." Caters to the college crowd interested in good and proper populist party music.
Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
1212 Cathedral St., (410) 783-8100, bsomusic.org
This musical hall is mostly the home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, though occasionally, a big-name act, more often than not a notable comedian, will come through and perform as well.
Lyric Opera House
140 W. Mount Royal Ave., (410) 900-1150, lyricoperahouse.com
Not as much opera happens here these days, but this recently renovated space consistently books big-name music performers.
Merriweather Post Pavilion
10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, (410) 715-5550, merriweathermusic.com
The closest massive outdoor amphitheater. Where the biggest touring acts from rock to rap to indie perform.
The Metro Gallery
1700 N. Charles St., (410) 244-0899, themetrogallery.net
Sleek-but-not-too-sleek venue that books very cool acts locally and nationally, all the while displaying edgy art on its walls.
2549 N. Howard St., (410) 662-0069, theottobar.com
The idyllic rock club of your mind's eye: lots of flyers and stickers stuck to the walls, dark, and grimy. Upstairs is the home to cool DJ nights and killer smaller shows as well.
1310 Russell St., thedox.com
One of the best dance clubs in the country and maybe even in the world, open until the wee hours of the morning. Two rooms and an outside performance area as well.
Pier Six Concert Pavilion
731 Eastern Ave., (410) 783-4189, piersixpavilion.com
Outdoor venue right near the harbor with a penchant for picking up the latest hitmakers and the aging rock vets who haven't packed up their guitars and amps and gone home quite yet.
Rams Head Live
20 Market Place, (410) 244-1131, ramsheadlive.com
Bigger act-catering venue with a weird-as-hell layout that often spares Baltimoreans a long commute to the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.
425 E. 31st St., (410) 243-6888, redroom.org
Ground zero for experimental music in Baltimore. Run by a collective and housed inside of Normal's Books and Records. Every show there is a moment for the avant-garde.
218 E. Lexington St., (410) 659-4130, sidebarbaltimore.com
Basement-type bar on the upswing, best known for its connections to the punk and metal scene.
The Windup Space
12 W. North Ave., thewindupspace.com
A "Twin Peaks"-themed bar and performance spot (no, really!) that hosts killer avant acts as well as movie screenings, ping-pong, and the typical DJ or rock show from time to time too.
Places to Buy
3853 Falls Road, (443) 478-7681, blackmessrecords.com/home
Incredible, metal-oriented record store that's almost all vinyl, with a focus on the most brutal and terrifying strains of heavy music. Cool, creepy stuff on the walls and in the windows.
3616 Falls Road, (443) 866-9988
Now located next to Atomic Books proper, the place for indie, punk, and metal records has its own space and shares it with Atomic's used selection. The most dependable niche record store in the city.
Dimensions In Music
233 Park Ave., (410) 752-7121
Impressive and longstanding collection of jazz, soul, R&B, hip-hop and even Baltimore club records. One of a kind. A throwback to an earlier era when record stores enabled social gathering.
1709 Aliceanna St., (410) 276-5455, elsuprimo.com
Though it's focused on heavy music and psych, this place carries all other kinds of music, at reasonable prices with lots of stacks to dig through. Makes the most of his basement location.
Normal's Books and Records
425 E. 31st St., (410) 243-6888, normals.com
Important local institution whose variety of records almost matches its book selection, especially if you're into jazz, experimental music, and in general, aural oddities.
The Sound Garden
1616 Thames St., (410) 563-9011, cdjoint.com
The place for newly released and reissued vinyl, though over the past year or so, it's been expanding its used section. Also, the best place in the city for other physical media: CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and video games.
Trax On Wax
709 Frederick Road, (410) 869-8729), traxonwaxrecords.com
Located in Catonsville, also known as "Music City," this dependable record store caters to the newbie collector looking for the basics and the vinyl nerd willing to dig through dollar bins for an undiscovered gem.
The True Vine Record Shop
3544 Hickory Ave., (410) 235-4500, thetruevinerecordshop.com
Carefully curated record store that often ends up on lists of the best in the country and deservingly so. Go here if you're looking for a sonic adventure. And keep your ears open to what's playing overhead.