Arts Desk

’10 Will Get You 8: D.C. Musical Acts You Can Bet On

Hays and Ryan Holladay's latest electro-indie-pop project is Bluebrain, whose debut album drops next month.

The 2000s saw a strange reversal in the District’s music: The pulse of its indie rock became barely perceptible while its rap scene began to emerge from go-go’s shadow. As for the new decade, we’ve already loved one record, rapper X.O.’s One. One. Ten. Here are eight more acts we’re excited about in 2010.

Bluebrain
Back in September, the electro-indie-pop band Bluebrain—made up of brothers Ryan and Hays Holladay, both formerly of the Brooklyn band the Epochs—handed boomboxes and cassette tapes to several dozen volunteers and made organized chaos around Dupont for half an hour. The participatory work was called "Cakeblood," and it elicited bemusement—and strangely, some goodwill—from passers-by. On the group’s debut record, Soft Power, out in February on Lujo Records, the entropy instead comes in nuggets—in sudden breakbeats, in tsunamis of synthesized strings, in crunchy, funereal dirges. For the most part, though, the Holladays keep things glossy, poppy, and digestible, if densely produced. It’s like Pop Rocks and Coke, only smart.

Bluebrain performs with Outputmessage at the Fridge Gallery on Saturday.

Casper Bangs
Rob Pierangeli blogs Kanye-style, minus the caps lock: On the Web site of his indie-pop project Casper Bangs, you’ll occasionally read about music, but mostly you’ll see clothes, like a cashmere blazer by Loro Piana or an audacious tartan bowtie. Appropriately, Casper Bangs makes pop songs that are clean, neatly woven, and above all stylish—characteristics that ought to clash with the band’s occasional penchant for glacial noise but instead mesh with it seamlessly. You can download the group’s 2009 EP for free, and Pierangeli’s promising much more in 2010—for starters, a series of new tracks he’ll release gratis in regular installments. You’ll probably have to buy his upcoming album, I Woke Up, however. That $575 Tsovet wristwatch won’t pay for itself.

Casper Bangs performs at the Rock & Roll Hotel on Friday, Jan. 29.

D.C. Don Juan
The Bronx-born, Capitol Heights–raised D.C. Don Juan showed great potential as both a hitmaker and a very personal writer on the mixtape circuit last year. Though his self-absorbed dance-rap favorite "Lookie Lookie" didn’t quite find its legs nationally in ’09, the ink on his deal with Jive Records’ Battery imprint is still fresh. Hopefully, he’ll be able to maintain the more thoughtful aspects of his work on a label that broke party hits like "Stanky Leg" and "Get Stupid." If not, the ringtone money will surely ease his conscience.

Hume
Every band dreams big, but Hume dreams bigger. Each iteration of guitarist/bassist/composer Britton Powell’s constantly metamorphosing prog-punk band has been more spectacular than the last. Which is saying something—Hume used to play shows in a giant octopus sculpture, and last summer the touring lineup included two drummers and three saxophone players. This latest incarnation—a quartet that includes members of D.C.’s much-loved and sorely missed Mass Movement of the Moth—should be the finest yet. At the very least, it’ll be the best-rehearsed. The band has apparently been in seclusion for months now, woodshedding its harmonious Big Star/Afropop/spiritual jazz hybrid.

Hume debuts its new lineup at the Black Cat on Friday, Jan. 22.

Medications
Medications has never been at a loss for a cool riff. The band’s self-titled EP and debut album, Your Favorite People All in One Place, had enough King Crimson–inspired wailing to fuel a year’s worth of Guitar Player columns. But sometimes—between the shredding and the constantly fluctuating time signatures—the onslaught of chops was a bit oppressive. A new, as-yet-untitled record due this spring is just as ambitious in its musicianship, but it’s a whole lot catchier. Here, guitarist/vocalist Devin Ocampo eschews post-hardcore intensity in favor of sweeter melodies and concise, if complex, song structures. It’s taken five-plus years, but all of those riffs seem to have finally softened into hooks.

Oddisee
A long-time underground favorite, rapper/producer Oddisee firmly established himself as the hardest-working man in D.C. hip-hop in 2009: He dropped the Mental Liberation full-length, a series of instrumental EPs, and the acclaimed debut from his Diamond District crew. For the new year, Oddisee’s continuing to drink deep of the workahol, having already handled a large chunk of the beats on his Diamond District partner X.O.’s One. One. Ten. But that’s just the beginning: Oddisee has full-length production efforts for both Los Angeles’ Trek Life and Detroit’s Finale on deck.

Outputmessage
As Outputmessage, Bernard Farley makes dance music that falls squarely in the retro-futurism camp: Think Kraftwerk, think Aphex Twin, and definitely think Daft Punk. But on a trio of EPs in 2009, and now with his sophomore full-length Autonomous, Farley has finally found his footing in the present—a pulsing, muscular, singular sound highlighted by his airy, sometimes Auto-Tuned vocals. The album drops in February on Farley’s own Output Noise Records, and you can catch him at multiple DJ nights each month, including Flat Out at the Rock & Roll Hotel. There, he plays the best songs you’ve never heard from 1985, 2010, and probably 2071.

Outputmessage performs with Bluebrain at the Fridge Gallery on Saturday.

Title Tracks
At some point, every career musician writes a breakup record. But it’s hard to tell who or what, exactly, broke John Davis’ heart on Title Tracks’ debut record, It Was Easy. Was it a girl? A band? Both? Whatever the case, enduring bitterness and popular song often make good bedfellows (See Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors), and they serve Title Tracks pretty well here. The tough times add some extra bite to the band’s jangling hooks on "Found Out" and "Every Little Bit Hurts." But a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s "Tougher Than the Rest"—accompanied by Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell—proves that even though Davis may have some hard feelings, his heart is still tender.

Title Tracks performs at the Black Cat on Thursday, Feb. 11.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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