Maybe it’s the cheap rent that’s essential for sustaining the vitality and vibrancy of artists and culture in a modern metropolis, or maybe it’s the proximity to beloved landmarks and bit players from The Wire and the movies of John Waters; either way, Baltimore continues to thrive as a musical hotbed, one that retains a fierce loyalty among the many great acts born and bred there. Future Islands count as one, even if they started two states south in North Carolina.
After moving to Baltimore in 2008, they became part of a remarkably welcoming DIY community, one that resulted from the efforts of Dan Deacon and other members of the Wham City arts collective to transform the city from yet another study in American urban decline into a haven for millennials with a taste for maverick sounds. Some of those sounds were dreamy and some raucous, but all were more than a little weird.
Of course, longtime local institutions like Dischord post-hardcore types Lungfish had already done much to foster that spirit, and before its members headed off to NYC and Europe, the teenaged Marylanders of Animal Collective paved the way for freak-flag-fliers like Ponytail and Ecstatic Sunshine. Future Islands weren’t the only imports; Matmos relocated there from San Francisco after Drew Daniel got a job teaching at Johns Hopkins. Wherever their origins, the fertility of the ground occupied was soon recognized worldwide thanks to the success of Future Islands and other Baltimoreans like Deacon, Wye Oak, Beach House, and Lower Dens.
With this week’s release of Future Islands’ fifth album, The Far Field, it’s a fine time to celebrate the city’s indie scene with a playlist of Baltimore acts you may already know and love, and others who deserve more than hometown-hero status, like Ed Schrader’s Music Beat and relative newbies Sun Club. The music by Future Islands’ many side projects—such as Peals, William Cashion’s duo with former Double Dagger bassist Bruce Willen—is further proof that local politicians made a dumb move when they changed the city’s old slogan, “The Greatest City in America.” Keep it weird, Baltimore.