From uke punk to dynamic hip-hop, it was an eclectic year of music in Northeast Ohio. WKSU's Amanda Rabinowitz and contributor Brittany Nader pick their favorite local albums of 2018.
Both Brittany Nader and Amanda Rabinowitz have this Cleveland band on their lists. Self-described as “uke-punk,” the group incorporates ukulele into its sound and writes material that is driven by self-assured, feminist, politically aware themes. The debut, full-length album contains tracks like “Title” that make listeners acutely aware that lead singer Willow Hawks is going to shatter glass ceilings — and make a lot of noise doing it. Inviting the listener to discuss important and sometimes difficult topics mentioned in the song, it’s appropriate that the band defines the “sonder” part of its namesake as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”
Brittany picked this dynamic hop-hop band whose star has been on the rise the last five years. The latest release is a full-bodied blend of funk, jazz, spaced-out beats and lush vibes. “Change Your Mind” is a standout track—the mellow flow and dreamy hook are the perfect soundtrack to cruising around Akron, as highlighted in its corresponding music video.
Amanda said she listened to this band the most this year, after they released their debut full-length album recorded with multi-platinum producer Jim Wirt in February. The band was signed to Sun Pedal Recordings. Amanda describes the music as "90's grunge on steroids," as the band has a throwback rock sound that blends distortion and fuzzy riffs. They've been named 2019 Panza Foundation recipients, so more music is on the way next year.
Brittany picked this trio of Northeast Ohio musicians that she says is changing the face of pop music. The group is working as trans-rights activists and incorporating a diverse range of styles into their original tunes. “Mode of Being” is DreamStates’ debut release, although frontwoman Natalie Martin said some tracks have been sitting in the back of her mind for years. “The Best Complex” was written as an instrumental in 2005, and it took 13 years to flesh out the lyrics so it communicated what the musician wanted to say. DreamStates is for fans of artists like Scissor Sisters, Pet Shop Boys and Mika, or those who are ready to hear something a little different in the local music scene.
Amanda has been following this Cleveland singer-sonwriter ever since Finn's band, The Whiskey Hollow, was featured on Shuffle in December 2017. Earlier this year, Finn appeared on the TV show "American Idol," but was eliminated early in the auditions in Hollywood. Since then, Finn has been working on a solo career, and dropped a surprise EP, "Colerain Mansion," in September. She recorded it in Franklin Township, Pennsylvania. Finn still plays in The Whiskey Hollow, but we can expect more solo music from her in 2019.
Brittany Nader's other top picks of 2018:
Stems – “Your Sullen Ways are Getting Boring”
Released on cassette, the nine-track album is a cohesive collection of indie-rock originals written over a three-year span. It’s the band’s first record to include guitarist Joel McAdams as a key player in its songwriting process and the first to feature keyboard as a new element in its sound. Check out singles “Feet In The Fire” and “Werewolves.”
Floco Torres and HR3 – “Free Black!”
One of Akron’s most hyped producers, Holbrook Riles III, teamed up with emcee Floco Torres to create "Free Black!" —the name of their collaborative project and seven-track album. As HR3, Riles specializes in sampling and creating an endless amount of beats on a regular basis. The duo debuted the project at Hive Mind this fall, sharing the bill with Peachcurls.
Backtalk – “Analog Parts”
A mainstay in Akron’s house show circuit, Backtalk released its 10-track album via DIY music label Small Mammal Records. The pair crafts jangly, alternative tunes with an emo flair. Songs on this release contain titles inspired by reptiles, insects and other natural elements. Check out “Reptilian Control System” and “Mind of a Snake.”
Time Cat – “Set The World on Fire”
Time Cat captures the essence of loud, fast, gritty, no-holds-barred rock ‘n’ roll in each performance, and documenting the spirit of their live shows in this 12-track disc invites the listener into the group’s concert experience. Recorded over the summer in front of a live studio audience, Time Cat’s “Set The World On Fire” is an incendiary introduction to the group’s rockin’ sound.
ThatKidFrom94 – “Snub City”
Canton’s Nick Kern turned passion, grief and perseverance into a cohesive, socially and emotionally conscious rap/R&B record. ThatKidFrom94’s debut would fit nicely on charts alongside Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Kern filled Musica to the max during his album release show this summer, introducing his tales of “Snub City” to the Rubber City. Check out the album’s fourth track, “Money To Make.”
Biitchseat – “Grow Up”
The Cleveland quartet blends the most engaging elements of riot grrrl with surf-rock guitars, intoxicating harmonies and an energetic live show that, altogether, create a wildly compelling musical experience. “Homebodies” is a standout on the band’s six-track release, while “Biittchseat” is the perfect introduction to the band itself.
Geronimo Blakk – “Blakkamania!”
Geronimo Blakk (a.k.a. G-Blakk) released the second installment of his “Trakk Season” rap album series this year, filled with songs inspired by a childhood obsessed with professional wrestling. The album title itself is a nod to Hulk Hogan’s fan base, and songs like “Super Heavyweights” and “World Champ” play into the theme. “Smell What I’m Cookin” features Floco Torres of the aforementioned “Free Black!” project.
Amanda Rabinowitz's other top picks of 2018:
Mourning [A] BLKstar - "The Garner Poems"
The sense of community and out-of-the-box influences are what have given this Cleveland group its unique sound and ability to bridge genres while not falling into any one particular style. The group’s new album, “The Garner Poems,” directly references Eric Garner, who died as a result of police brutality. Garner was placed in a chokehold and famously said the words, “I can’t breathe.” The band said those words are symbolic of the feeling many black citizens continuously feel as a result of racial tensions and injustice.
The Angie Haze Project - "May My Stories Be Worn Like My Coats"
Haze is known as Akron’s one-woman band. A couple years ago, she had a vision for her series she's called "May My Stories Be Worn Like My Coats." It's her personal and often painful journey told through 12 EPs and 24 music videos. This year, she released volumes 1-4. The songs are woven between brief monologues where Haze shares her experiences. The result is a heartfelt, powerful musical journey that showcases her immense talent and passion.
By Light We Loom - "Canopy"
Husband-and-wife indie-pop duo By Light We Loom has made a name for itself with creative electronic beats, lively performances and a sound that serves as a stark contrast from the members’ previous music project. Shanna Delaney and Eric Ling led the six-piece folk band Bethesda for seven years before it dissolved in 2014. Unsure of where to take their music career next, the couple reinvented themselves and developed a new style. The duo released its third EP, “Canopy,” this year. Tracks like “The First Goodbye” and “Alive in The Cove” sound like entirely danceable numbers, but the lyrics contain deeper, more introspective aspects.
Floco Torres - "Nobody Cares News"
Torres has been building his hip-hop career after moving to Akron about two years ago. He's recorded more than two dozen projects throughout his career, and dropped this album earlier this year. The song "Bounce Back Like Rubber" is a celebration of his new home of Akron, and really connects with audiences when he performs it live.
The Cory Grinder Band - Cahoots and Other Favorites
The Cory Grinder Band dropped its debut album, “Cahoots and Other Favorites,” Aug. 17. The release contains 13 original tracks, which frontman Cory Grinder describes as “hillbilly music that’s easy to play, fun to dance to and goofy.” He captures both the style and essence of country heroes of the ‘40s and ‘50s for a modern audience.
The Ohio Weather Band - "Don't Try"
Akron rockers The Ohio Weather Band released this EP in July, the third release for the trio that's been friends long before they were bandmates. The first single on the EP is its title track, 'Don't Try." Singer/guitarist Corey King says his lyrics channel the late writer, Charles Bukowski, who has "Don't Try" etched into his gravestone.
Marc Lee Shannon - "Walk This Road"
Akron musician Marc Lee Shannon has performed all over the country, most notably as the longtime guitarist for Cleveland rocker Michael Stanley. In May, Shannon released his first solo album in 10 years. Recording for the new record took just about eight days and included musicians from a number of local bands, including Welshly Arms, The Speedbumps, The Vindys and Ray Flanagan. Shannon says the theme of the record is transformation.