Bandwidth’s Favorite D.C. Songs Of 2014

By WAMU Staff


For a growing share of D.C.’s population, life is comfortable — it’s healthyconvenient, increasingly safe and even luxurious. But luxury rarely produces great music.

Some of this year’s most unforgettable local songs didn’t come from comfortable experiences. They sounded fed up, and particularly urgent in a year marked by growing inequity at home and multiple slayings by police in places that didn’t feel far away.

In one of the year’s rawest rock songs, Thaylobleu cranked up its guitars to tell a personal story of police harassment. Chain and the Gang and Jack On Fire assailed gentrification with wit and hyperbole. Punk band Priests declared everything right wing. Two remarkable hip-hop works channeled frustration and fatalism among young black Americans: Diamond District’s Oddisee cried, “What’s a black supposed to do — sell some crack and entertain?”, while Virginia MC GoldLink rapped about all the glorious things he imagines happening to him — when he dies.

Not that peace and love felt impossible in 2014: In a touching song released two years after his death, Chuck Brown sang of a “beautiful life” enriched by the warmth of community. Promising newcomer Kali Uchis made us kick back with a soulful number steeped in giddy infatuation. Experimentation thrived in D.C. music: Young artists built on the region’s strong punk pedigree and expanded its boundaries. Mary Timony’s band Ex Hex embraced a classic sound and made one of the country’s best rock ‘n’ roll records. Local bands with shorter but distinctive resumes — like Laughing Man, Two Inch Astronaut and Deleted Scenes — sounded better and more creative than ever before. A Sound of Thunder and Gloom reminded us that the D.C. area is still a reliable producer of top-notch metal.

As expected, Bandwidth contributors faced hard choices while making this list of the year’s best local songs, and not only because it’s our first one. Up until deadline, we were still hearing new D.C. songs we wanted to include. But in a place where mounting wealth has created a challenging environment for art, that’s not a problem, really. It’s a testament to a music scene that perseveres despite long odds. —Ally Schweitzer

Warning: Many of these songs contain explicit lyrics.


Bandwidth’s 25 Favorite D.C. Songs Of The Year

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1. Diamond District, 'Lost Cause'

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1. Diamond District, 'Lost Cause'
March On Washington has other big bangers and other dexterous dissections of what it means to be black in America, but 'Lost Cause' integrates both tasks seamlessly. The all-work/no-play beat and energized, self-aware rhymes speak the same language: Oddisee discourses on aspiration and perseverance, Uptown XO arrives like a preacher and leaves like a prizefighter, and yU bounces against the groove as if it’s a debate partner. The piano riff and percussion, meanwhile, don’t stop. —Joe Warminsky
2. Kali Uchis, 'Real'
No one in the D.C. area is making music like Kali Uchis, and no one nationally is doing what she does the way she does it. Reared in Alexandria, Virginia, but spiritually bonded to L.A., Uchis channels vintage soul, hip-hop vernacular and a lovesick gangsta vibe into her funky and honest songs; 'Real' had her cooing over a track built for the flyest low riders. If we start seeing trunks popping in Del Ray, thank Kali. But we should thank her now for bringing fresh ideas and style to music from the nation’s capital. —Ally Schweitzer
3. Ex Hex, 'Everywhere'
Three-minute burners are suddenly Mary Timony’s specialty, and this one ends with a rave-up that leaves air molecules thrashing long after the chords die down. It’s not the only showstopper on the D.C. rock trio’s strong full-length debut, Rips, but as garage-rock tunes go, it’s the coolest one at the party. —Joe Warminsky
4. Priests, 'Right Wing'
Every song on Priests’ Bodies and Control and Money and Power punches social injustice square in the gut — but 'Right Wing' delivers the blow in a way we haven’t heard the D.C. punk band do it before. Katie Alice Greer’s snarl is still present, and she only gets louder and wilder as the song progresses, but the tune’s hummable riffs and surprisingly polished harmonies show that Priests’ righteous rage has more than one setting. —Valerie Paschall
5. Two Inch Astronaut, 'Foulbrood'
In a recent interview with Bandwidth, Two Inch Astronaut bassist Andy Chervenak called his band’s best song of the year an 'ass-kisser.' No, 'Foulbrood' is not the acrobatic, frazzled stuff we’ve come to expect from the daring Silver Spring rock trio. But if this fully grown, hook-packing single is just Two Inch Astronaut’s way of buttering us up, pass more of that Land O’Lakes, please. —Ally Schweitzer
6. The 1978ers, 'One-Nine-7-T-8'
Diamond District member yU and producer SlimKat named their hip-hop duo after their birth year; the song extends the reference playfully, with a fusion-funk foundation and Daisy Age vibe supporting yU’s rubbery flow. The message? The best trips start with respect. —Joe Warminsky
7. Art Sorority For Girls, 'Man With A Van'
This was a great year for punk rock in D.C., but it’s extra special when a local artist nails pop music as expertly as Art Sorority For Girls did this summer. Songwriter Daoud Tyler-Ameen’s 'Man with a Van' is the first single from his band’s album Older Boys, and it captures the mix of naivete and sprouting wisdom that comes with the transition into adulthood. Oh, and it’s the catchiest pop song to come out of our city this year. —Alan Zilberman
8. Chain and the Gang, 'Devitalize'
Fans of Ian Svenonius already know what they’re getting into when they play one of his records: smart, tongue-in-cheek social commentary. Fully fleshed out music, on the other hand, can take a backseat. But 'Devitalize,' the hyperbolic anthem that opens his band Chain and the Gang’s 2014 LP Minimum Rock N Roll, has both. It reaffirms Svenonius as a sharp commentator on D.C.’s gradual occupation by the wealthy — and it slays so hard that 1 percenters might not even notice they’re in its crosshairs. —Ally Schweitzer
9. Thaylobleu, 'Locked'
It’s rough around the edges, for sure, but this ripper’s scrappiness arguably complements its sonic urgency. Punk rock in theory, hard rock in practice and informed by a supremely sour interaction with police, Thaylobleu’s 'Locked' existed well before Ferguson happened. Not that anybody was listening. —Joe Warminsky
10. GoldLink, 'When I Die'
At just under two minutes long, GoldLink’s 'When I Die' leaves a deeper impression than its short length would suggest. It stands out from the upbeat energy on the Virginia rapper’s excellent tape The God Complex, finding the 20-year-old musing about the things he hopes to achieve before he departs this Earth — from the superficial ('I need a hundred b*****s to call my phone') to the sincere ('I just want my father to apologize'). The song’s video brings it all home, with a story that feels wrenchingly real in the aftermath of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. —Briana Younger
11. GEMS, 'Scars'
As the heat from D.C.’s punk-rock summer rose, dream-pop duo GEMS released 'Scars,' a spacey, somewhat sparse track that served as a perfect counterweight — antidote, maybe — to all those blast beats and heavy guitar riffs. While a big portion of D.C.’s underground music scene was sweating it out in a basement, GEMS gave us a moment to roll the windows down and let the cool night breeze wash over us. —Ron Knox
12. Laughing Man, 'Brilliant Colors'
The D.C.-focused episode of Dave Grohl’s HBO series Sonic Highways offered a quality tribute to D.C.’s musical past, but any story about its musical present needs to include Laughing Man. The visceral, punk-inspired urgency of 'Brilliant Colors' would suit any fans of Grohl’s mid-’90s output with The Foo Fighters: Its slinky, swirling guitar and jarring shout-sung vocals show both a deep understanding of punk’s underlying agitation and a vision of the exciting directions in which it can go. —Valerie Paschall
13. Chuck Brown ft. Wale, 'Beautiful Life'
It’s bittersweet that a song called 'Beautiful Life' came out two years after Chuck Brown’s passing, but it serves as a reminder of just how truly beautiful the Godfather of Go-Go was as a person, and how beautiful life is in general. I visited the Dominican Republic over the summer, and found myself awakened by the song being played loudly at the resort’s pool. I woke up and smiled because in that moment, I realized how Chuck Brown touched the world with his music. —DJ Heat
14. Deleted Scenes, 'House of Dust'
Last year, Deleted Scenes’ madcap single 'Stutter' contorted the band in positions most trained yogis would not attempt. But 'House of Dust,' also from the band’s newest LP Lithium Burn, slowed down, dug in and reached remarkable heights — without Deleted Scenes pulling a muscle in the process. —Ally Schweitzer
15. Beautiful Swimmers, 'Sleepyhead'
Sweet synth frequencies, viscous basslines, sublime hi-hats, sneaky samples: D.C. electronic duo Beautiful Swimmers is at its finest here, clearly defining where dance music can be sophisticated — and even slick — without sounding snooty. —Joe Warminsky
16. Ace Cosgrove, 'Burning Slums'
As the Maryland and Virginia suburbs emerge as the D.C. area’s true hip-hop strongholds, Gaithersburg MC Ace Cosgrove is a sign of what’s to come. Don’t be fooled by the classic sounds on this Black Diamond-produced track: The 23-year-old is just using yesterday’s bricks to build his own path. —Ally Schweitzer
17. Protect-U, 'Time 2 Technique'
How do you cope with the theft of all of your gear while on tour in Paris? First, let your friends and fans raise you some dough, regroup, then come back with a relentlessly funky techno track. (Oh, and in the summer, share a delightfully bizarre double bill at Fort Reno with D.C. hardcore band Give.) Protect-U’s 'Time 2 Technique' is ever-shifting in its four-on-the-floor beat, atmospheric synths sliding just out view. —Lars Gotrich
18. Mark Meadows, 'Once Upon a Purple Night'
The title promises the vivid, ethereal colors of an impressionist painting. It delivers. Layers of luminous sound — Mark Meadows’ piano, Warren Wolf’s vibes, Brent Birckhead’s alto, Christie Dashiell’s wordless vocal — overlap as they glide through Meadows’ curiously affecting jazz fantasia. —Michael J. West
19. Anthony Pirog, 'The Great Northern'
Is Pirog D.C.’s best rock guitarist right now? Whatever the case, this is the splashiest track on Palo Colorado Dream, his debut as a bandleader. Indeed, there’s still a place in this world for mountain-sized solos. —Joe Warminsky
20. More Humans, 'Mt. Oblivion'
D.C. indie-rock bands have never had a problem sounding smart. More Humans follows in that tradition — but there’s more going on here than just witty ideas. What’s their secret sauce? Nothing new: just great songwriting. —Ally Schweitzer
21. A Sound of Thunder, 'Uduroth'
On its crowdfunded album The Lesser Key of Solomon, Northern Virginia power-metal band A Sound of Thunder delivers a punchy hit with 'Udoroth.' The band takes the song’s fiery start and fans it into a scorching frenzy. A Sound of Thunder visually amplifies 'Udoroth'‘s forceful tone with its animated music video, mirroring the song’s lyrics with scenes of demon battles and an ambiguous ending, hinting that there may be more to come for this story. —Catherine P. Lewis
22. Fat Trel ft. Wale, 'In My Bag'
'In My Bag' may be Fat Trel’s biggest (and best) song since his 2011 breakout, 'Respect With The Tech.' For the lead single on his Gleesh tape, Trel linked up with fellow Washingtonian Wale — and threats, sex and flex rarely sound more enticing. Wale flips Terio’s 'ooh kill ‘em' meme into something menacing for the bridge, beefing it up for maximum impact — and catchiness. The two MMG signees trade bars over minimal but magnetic production in what feels like a competition that listeners are just eavesdropping on. —Briana Younger
23. Gloom, 'Entity'
Gloom hacked its way into the D.C. area’s death-metal scene with its self-titled debut back in June, and in less than three minutes, its standout 'Entity' showed off the full range of Gloom’s versatility. While the band incorporates sludge and black-metal elements, it’s the riffs in 'Entity' that bring this death metal to life. —Metal Chris
24. Br’er, 'Masking'
I grew up listening to Nine Inch Nails; The Fragile is my favorite album ever. So when I heard the punishing title track on Br’er’s forthcoming album, Masking, it felt like a homecoming. Although unique from the band’s earlier work (it’s less classical and more aggressive), the song is no less frightening or beautiful than what I’ve come to know and love from the eclectic ensemble. Given the ferocity of Br’er’s live show, this is a track I can’t wait to see performed in the flesh. —Keith Mathias
25. Jack On Fire, 'Burn Down the Brixton'
Jack on Fire’s 'Burn Down the Brixton' zeroes in on a divisive moment in local culture right now: the upscaling and whitewashing of D.C. neighborhoods. With a Le Tigre-style mix of punk and electro, the fiery ditty from musicians 'Jack' and 'Jackie' spits bile at its target — pricey, popular U Street pub The Brixton, which one Washington Post writer accused of 'swagger-jacking' in 2012. With this song, Jack On Fire reminds us of punk rock’s most vital role: watchdog. —Alan Zilberman