Shuffle's favorite local music of 2021
Live music returned in 2021 after the pandemic stifled the music industry for more than a year. Some artists spent time reflecting and working on new material during the lockdown, which they released or performed in front of live audiences this year.
There was no shortage of exciting new material released—while some artists embarked upon national tours this year, others embraced digital platforms to spread the word about their new projects.
Amanda Rabinowitz and Brittany Nader each share their favorite local albums and songs of 2021.
Holden Laurence – Floating, Drifting
Cleveland artist Holden Laurence used songwriting during the pandemic to cope with his mental health struggles of social anxiety, panic attacks and depression. The songs are musically upbeat while the lyrics are dark and deep, addressing issues such as the distorted reality of modern life in the U.S. and environmental concerns. Laurence is a beautiful songwriter, and the vulnerability of this EP makes his music even more impactful. Favorites include “Beautiful Light” and “Memories and Dust.”
Detention – Patchwork EP
Akron four-piece rockers Detention have grown over the last few years as a group of middle and high school students learning the ropes of rock stardom to full-fledged, polished performers. Their 2021 EP showcases the band’s growth, with new original songs that recall power pop and pop-punk of decades past. The band’s sound is the perfect blend of the young rockers’ influences and their fresh take on tunes from the perspective of today’s thoughtful and rebellious youth. A highlight for the band this year was performing with Fred Armisen and DEVO’s Gerald Casale at Devotional 2021. Favorite track: “Not To Go.”
Indré – Misfits in the Sun
Singer-songwriter Maddie Indré was on Shuffle when she was just 20 years old. She quit college to focus on her music career, releasing her debut album "Serenity" in 2019. Now, she’s gone from solo to a five-piece band. Called Indré, the group released its debut album in October. The backing of a full band makes Maddie Indré’s voice soar to new heights and generates the energy that commands a stage. Favorite track: “The Stream.”
Nathan-Paul – Aquarius Lofi DEEZY
Nathan-Paul Davis has been active in Akron’s jazz and soul scenes for years, playing alto sax in Wesley Bright and the Honeytones and serving as bandleader for Nathan-Paul and The Admirables. We discovered how prolific this working musician is on Shuffle back in March after the release of his solo album, “Aquarius Lofi DEEZY,” which he collaborated on with local drummer and producer HR3 and pianist Joey Skoch. The album explores Davis’ foray into hip-hop beats inspired by the various music genres that have touched him throughout his life, including gospel, experimental jazz and downtempo lo-fi hip-hop. A standout track is “My Love,” which blends mellow beats and jazz. Davis released a holiday-themed continuation of the album this November called “Lofi Christmas DEEZY.”
Empty Coats – Hathor
This Akron five-piece of friends formed in 2018, but we just became familiar with them this year when they played Akron’s PorchRokr music festival in August. They released their EP, “Hathor,” this year, which instantly caught our attention. Jim Curtis sings with passion, and the guitars match the emotions on each track. Curtis says the album was recorded during the pandemic. The standout track, “Mercy,” is “about loneliness and finding peace there. Trying to get someone to find that peace with me,” Curtis said.
Spirit of the Bear – Spirit of the Bear
This band of Youngstown-area friends planned to release its third album in 2020, but the pandemic delayed the release until January 2021. It was worth the wait. This talented group of musicians has defined its guitar and synth-heavy sound on this record. Favorites include “The Shape” and “No Heart.”
Peachcurls – various singles
T.J. Maclin’s artistry takes on many forms, from raunchy rap to lowkey ballads to curating music for an online performance video series. Performing as Peachcurls, he seems to be constantly working and hyping up other Black artists in the Cleveland area. In 2021, he dropped a number of singles that show a softer side and sonic growth. His 2020 album, “Meadow,” was a peak in his musical journey, and this year’s songs “Strange” and “Indoors” kick his outputs up to soaring heights.
Rob Kovacs – Let Go
This album from Rob Kovacs, who is a classically trained Cleveland pianist, was more than a decade in the making. Released in February, the concept album takes listeners through Kovacs’ emotional journey of finding love, experiencing heartbreak, and eventually healing. Each song is so beautifully crafted, from the lyrics to the arrangements. Favorites include “Reach You” and “Fizzle.”
Free Black! – Black Tuesday!
Free Black! is the Akron hip-hop duo of rapper Floco Torres and beatmaker and producer, Holbrook Riles III (HR3). They released their third album, “Black Tuesday!” in October. The album explores themes around the economy and working class, and it includes an assortment of features from local musicians. These two eclectic artists complement each other so well, and this album only gets better the more you listen to it. Favorites include “Don’t Make Me” and “Bullets!”
The Building – Indianola Pizza Dough
Recognized for his work with for world-renowned rock band The War on Drugs (who released the excellent track, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” this year), Anthony LaMarca’s solo project The Building is personal, intimate and paints a sonic portrait of the artist’s life. LaMarca has joined us on Shuffle twice, first to discuss his album “PETRA,” which was both inspired by his dog and dealing with his own serious medical issues. This year’s album is a love letter to his family, his hometown of Youngstown and the area’s rich history putting polka music on the map. The entire album is an aural collage of sound clips captured from inside a pizza shop, LaMarca’s family and other bits and treasures intended to sound like a radio show. Key tracks include “The Ballad of Indianola Ave.” and “Beautiful Ohio.”
The Sonder Bombs – Clothbound
This was another album that was delayed because of the pandemic. The Cleveland rockers decided to release it at the end of January. It was the long-awaited follow-up to their excellent debut album, “Modern Female Rockstar.” Willow Hawks’ vocals (and lyrics) are a force. Favorites include “Crying is Cool” and “The Brink.”
Uno Lady – Grounded
Christa Ebert is more than a musician—she’s an artist whose experimental output is boundless. Her 2021 release, “GROUNDED,” was recorded at her home during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It features recordings from her garden, guided meditation from LaToya Kent, mantras and other mindfulness exercises. It’s been experienced alongside Ebert’s accompanying video series for those interested in meditation or simply to experience the beauty and surreal imagery that is an Uno Lady project.
Elijah Bisbee – Therapy
Cleveland ambient musician Elijah Bisbee is very active in the music scene. Before the pandemic, he hosted regular concerts at his home. He’s also launched a series of songwriting retreats for aspiring musicians. This year, he also found time to release his EP, “Therapy,” in October. The eight tracks feature some popular artists in the region, including Emily Keener and Jenna Fournier. The standout track on the album, “Together,” features his new side project, “wldrnss.” It’s a tender, reflective song that perfectly captures the emotions and desperation we’ve all been feeling during the pandemic.
ZOD1AC – Yesterday & Tomorrow
ZOD1AC has been making beats in the Akron area for several years, but “Yesterday & Tomorrow” is much more than just 15 tracks of “vibes.” The album is the personal story of Val Murray’s gender transition, taking place over the course of three acts. The tracks begin with self-revelations Murray experienced during the onset of the pandemic to summer 2021 when she reached self-acceptance. The producer collaborated with Floco Torres, oxela, Mirrorish, floridomi and CLWDWALKR on tracks throughout the album, resulting in a diverse, deep and introspective collection of glistening, ambient and triumphant songs. Highlights include “Dysphoria Sunshine” and “The Girl in the Mirror.”
Terrycloth Mother – Terrycloth Mother
This is a relatively new Cleveland rock band that popped up on our radar when they played Akron’s PorchRokr music festival in August. The band assembled during the 2019 Lottery League, in which more than 150 Cleveland musicians were broken into about 40 bands that made music together for two months. They released their debut LP Oct. 15. This is a group of excellent musicians who put on a great show through their rich soundscapes. Favorites include “King of the Wasteland” and “The Dancing Plague.”
Mo Turk – The Storm
Collaborating with Mimar Sinan on 13 raw, cutting hip-hop tracks, Akron’s Mo Turk does not let up on energy, flow or lyrical prowess. The album’s opening track “The Storm Forecast (Intro)” is a chaotic mesh of news broadcasts and voices that ease into the starkly honest and relatable “They Not Looking For Me and I Don’t Want To Be Found,” which cleverly and seamlessly references the intro. Simply put, Turk’s brand of rap is relevant, necessary, fresh and exciting. Standout track: “Hope My Soul Don’t Change.”
Ben Gage – Now You Know
Ben Gage has been the backbone of the local music scene for quite some time, hosting intimate concerts at his house. During the pandemic, he launched his Gage House Sessions online, investing in cameras and equipment to give local artists a way to perform safely. In November, Gage shifted a bit of the focus to his own music, releasing the 17-track album, “Now You Know.” Gage says all the songs were recorded live in a church, with no tracking. These stripped-down folk songs are simply gorgeous. Favorites include “Wish Me Well” and “Florida Sand.”
Jeff France is a multi-instrumentalist and runs the cassette label Imperial Emporium Sound Options in Akron. Known as Fej, he’s recorded and put out music by HR3, Stems, Actual Form, Talons and others. He recently released his solo album, “Holidays for Heathens (The 12 Beats of Christmas),” but earlier this year it seemed as though the whole music scene in Akron was buzzing about a video project he dropped this past spring. “For Friends and Loved Ones” is an ambitious piece of visual art that’s more than 30 minutes long and is accompanied by an audio version broken into seven ambient, experimental tracks. The project is also available in a VHS HIFI version. Each version was recorded differently and performed live. It’s best experienced in its complete audio-visual form.
Shuffle's favorite local music of 2021
1. Holden Laurence – Floating, Drifting
1. Detention – Patchwork EP