The 51 Best Songs to Come Out of the 51st State in the Past 365 Days (2022 Edition)

“It was loud and made our house vibrate. But it seemed like people were having a nice time. We did not attend.”
To write about the past year in local music is to test the limits of defiant buoyancy.
Yes, just a few months ago, Des Demonas’ Mark Cisneros told Will Lennon of Washington City Paper, “I don’t think it’s really possible for many music scenes around the world to ever fully recover. . . D.C. has lost a number of notable music artists who have moved away [due to] skyrocketing rents and costs of living.” And yes, Lavender, Near Northeast, Lightmare, and Frass Green all broke up this year. And then there’s the whole “Teen Cobra ditched us to move to FLORIDA” thing. And of course this is all while Live Nation is wrapping its tentacles around the homegrown Broccoli City Festival as headlines like “Live Nation subsidiaries got millions in aid meant for independent venues” are making the front page.
And yet…
I (have) to believe that for every Teen Cobra, there is a Joey Mamlin.
In an interview with Ella Feldman published the very same day Will’s interview with Des Demonas hit inboxes, the drummer to the puckish Crystal Casino Band proffered her (/us) a dauntless reassurance that there is a path forward for the willing and determined. “It’s not Brooklyn, it’s not L.A.—it’s D.C. We have a scene here. And we’re a part of it.”
“I took a class in college that was about the D.C. punk scene. And I always think about it, and how it still lingers in the venues we play.”
Hope floats, if you let it.
As always, praise be to Listen Local First, Hometown Sounds, DCist, DCDIY, Roxplosion, DMV Life, 730DC, City Cast, WAMU, Washington City Paper, r/washingtondc, and the various D.C. music WhatsApp groups that let me leech off their good taste.

Every year, during the process of researching, composing, and culling these best-of lists, I end up with a pocket-sized notebook full of jotted-down thoughts…

  • This playlist is not a top-down ranking. I’d like to think of it more as a John Cusack-in-High Fidelity situation. Flow; thematic narrative; a desire to impress Catherine Zeta-Jones. It’s all in there.
  • You’ll appreciate Kokayi’s song “Ninety 5” from the jump, but at the 1:49 mark, the 46-year-old(!) Tonedeff comes in with a verse so disorientingly proficient you’re reminded why he’s been able to thrive in the game for so long.
  • On a related note, Freestyle, who’s entering his third decade in the industry, comes out of nowhere to elevate Oddisee’s “Ghetto to Meadow” with a verse that includes a melodic allusion to the 1999 classic “Stutter” by Joe. Keep your ears open for that gem.
  • FUN FACT: Bartees Strange flew his band to a studio in Maine the day before his vaulting Live Forever dropped. Explaining the motivation to Pitchfork, he said, “I wanted to preserve the brain I had in that moment because I knew I was going to become a different person. If everyone hated Live Forever, I was going to be fucked up. If everyone loved it, I was going to be fucked up.”
  • It’s not on Spotify, but Bad Moves did a fun cover of The Cardigans’ “My Favourite Game” for a wonderfully-themed compilation called As If: A Songs From Teen Comedies Covers Comp.
  • Do you like go-go (/feel bad that you don’t know enough about go-go)? Check out Bryndon Cook’s essay series for Hii Magazine.
  • Do you like DC punk (/feel bad that you don’t know enough about DC punk)? Check out Persistent Vision, an online exhibition full of recently digitized materials from University of Maryland’s Special Collections in Performing Arts.
  • Another go-go thing. Back in February, PBS aired a really cool special called Go-Go City: Displacement and Protest in Washington, DC. Definitely worth 51 minutes of your life.
  • Props to AU professor/musician Aram Sinnreich and his partner Dunia Best for their Out of Our Shells project, which entailed them constructing a mobile recording studio to give “undiscovered, D.C.-based musicians of all genres a free platform [to] record and perform their music with professional-grade mixing and mastering.”
  • I have never not enjoyed going through a new Empresarios album.
  • Foreign Air has figured out a winning formula. There are multiple songs from Hello Sunshine that could have made this list. I went with “Why Don’t You Feel the Way I Do?” in the end, but “Your Touch” made a compelling case.
  • I almost gave the opening slot to “Audio Murder” by K.A.A.N. because if one isn’t paying attention, it’s easy to miss all the subtle intricacies that make him the most underrated rapper in the country; the rhyme scheme tapestries, the constant flow changes, the symphonic motifs that weave themselves in and out of the beat. Put your good headphones on and give this one the mindfulness it deserves.
  • It’s not often we have back-to-back award winners, but last year Nasim Siddeeq won Most Seductive Cover Art for “You’re Beautiful”:
  • And I dare you to tell me he doesn’t deserve to win again…
  • Priest fans might have been surprised by the vibe of Katie Alice Greer’s solo album Barbarism. A more hack journalist would use the word “vulnerable,” but I am a veteran who knows to go to and employ something like “unassuming” instead.
  • On a related note, I thoroughly enjoyed setting up the playlist so her song “Fake Nostalgia” comes right after “1990something” by Sub-Radio. It’s the little things.
  • “It was loud and made our house vibrate. But it seemed like people were having a nice time. We did not attend.” — a Hill East resident on the Project Glow Festival and its controversially loud Sunday night performances.
  • ADVENTURES IN IRONY: Too-cool-to-still-rep-the-DMV pop stars SHAED covered Nirvana’s “Come As You Are,” a song written by a man who once said, “We’re so trendy, we can’t even escape ourselves.”
  • If you were going to put Flasher’s music in a record bin, you’d put it under Rock. However, there is one song on their new album called “Love Is Yours” that’s not just a departure from 2018’s Constant Image but the rest of the songs on their new album. It has over 200,000k plays, while the rest of the album is averaging 20k. There’s got to be some mixed feelings flying around their band practices, right?
  • Regardless, the song’s got a fun music video that’s an homage to the Nic Cage classic National Treasure:

  • Outerloop are way better live. That being said, “For The People” does a pretty good job capturing the energy they bring when performing…for the people.
  • I once heard from someone I trust that Jay-Z wrote “Welcome to New York” simply because he realized there was a hole in the market for a modern NYC anthem (he’s a business, man). I’m not saying Sean Barna was that scrupulous when he wrote this year’s October dance anthem “Everyone’s a Queen on Halloween,” but there’s no denying it fills a hole…in the market.
  • “An energetic romp through my postpartum depression.”— Sara Curtin, describing her latest EP
  • Remember when Justin Timberlake had to publicly apologize for his poor attempt at Beating His Feat at Something in the Water? Good times.
  • TALES FROM A GENTRIFIER: When I first heard “This Is Not The City I Recall” by Wes Felton, Kenilworth Katrina, Kenny Allen, Marswell, and Phil Cassidy, I really felt like I knew what they were talking about. I am the problem.
  • Just three years ago, Aaron Abernathy was soundtracking the end of his seven-year relationship via the wrenching End of an Era. Now, he’s getting down with his bad self on the groovy, list-making “Looking Up.” For those of you going through a bad breakup, look (up) to Mr. Abernathy. He’s proof there is a funky, hand-clapping light at the end of the tunnel.
  • GUNS ARE BAD: Two promising up-and-coming rappers, the 24-year-old Goonew and the 16-year-old 23 Rackz, were shot and killed this year (the latter while shooting a music video).
  • I only stumbled upon this project thanks to Chris Naoumn and can’t find anything else about it online, but there’s an artist named Nyron who released three albums this year — Locations, Locations 2, and Locations 3 — that are composed of instrumentals named after red line metro stops. I have to assume these are meant to be listened to while riding from Shady Grove to Glenmont. Someone try it and let me know how it goes?
  • Speaking of public transportation, thanks to some smart hiring, more and more must-see acts are getting booked at the venues down at the Wharf, the “Live, Laugh, Love” of neighborhoods. What a pain in the bikeshare.
  • SOMETHING I LIKE: On his Bandcamp page, aerialist (née Lary Hoffman) listed the instruments/equipment/technology he used to make his “virtual videotape” Parallax Scrolls. It’s cool getting that little peak under the hood:

  • An Alexandria-based producer named Krohme has this ongoing project where he links up emcees from different parts of the world and has them rap in their native languages. My favorite track so far: “Counterpoint,” which I’m pretty sure is the first time bars have been spit in Korean and Tagalog on the same track.
  • Pulses. sounds like you put a DC punk/post-hardcore time capsule into a blender…and then buried it in Dumfries, Virginia. The harsh vocals might be too much for some, but if you like to rock and/or roll, you will be floored by the moments when a Q and Not U percussion breakdown slides under a Dismemberment Plan guitar riff as a Minor Threat scream jumps on top of it all.
  • “Bryce, why did you put ‘Lamonica’ by Let the Dirt Say Amen on the list? It was on God Hates Gucci, which was released in 2021, and he has a single that was released this year.” “Because I’m not cool enough to have discovered him when God Hates Gucci first came out, I’m a sucker for rap songs that are in 6/8, and it’s a better intro to this DC artist who’s got a very, VERY high ceiling.”
  • If you have a wedding coming up, do yourself a favor and book Everyday Everybody (see: the live version of “Set Free” they released this year). Stephane Detchou is on my shortlist for best frontman in the city.
  • Last year, I posited that taken as a whole, DC’s female rappers > its male rappers. I’m doubling down on that take and would go so far as to call Rico Nasty the most fascinating musical artist in the area. On Las Ruinas, she pulls off “Watch Your Man” and  “Easy”  with equal aplomb.
  • Raw Poetic and Damu the Fudgemunk, one of the most prolific duos in the city, are incapable of writing a skip-necessary song.
  • GoldLink is featured on Billy Lockett’s “Hard to Follow,” which is why the song first came on my radar. However, it’s the song’s chorus that haunted me for weeks. I kept going back and forth trying to decide whether it was the most perfect chorus ever written or the most basic. I have since realized it’s both. You could copy and paste that thing into a song of any genre, and it would work.
  • “We’re a pop band, but not a feel-good pop band.” — Miri Tyler from Pretty Bitter to Bree Rodrigues-Oliveira of District Fray.
  • I readily admit I’m taking liberties when it comes to labeling some of these bands/artists a DMV band/artist. Some of these list-makers may have since abandoned the area for greener pastures, some may live closer to Richmond than Alexandria. Whatever. Enjoy the music.
  • Thank you to Lindsay Hogan for the header image.


Questions, comments, and concerns should be directed to @brycetrudow, where they will be gratefully received or immediately ignored depending on what you write.

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