At this time every year, we take a look at the local scene to see which up-and-coming acts stand poised to make some noise in the coming year. Last year was a good one for the local scene. Chimaira and Mushroomhead continued to tour and record, solidifying their respective positions as the city's biggest bands. Indie rockers Mr. Gnome, the Lighthouse and the Whaler and Hey Monea! all had solid years while rapper Machine Gun Kelly dropped a new mixtape and worked on the followup to 2012's chart-topping Lace Up. But what about the newer bands who aren't as well known? Who's about to break big? Here's a look at 10 new acts that look to make an impact in 2014.
In 2012, Cameroon native Lorine Chia released her first mixtape and hasn't looked back since. That album featured "Living in Vain," a collaboration with Chance the Rapper; it generated enough buzz that she signed a deal with Make Millions Music, and her followup, The Naked Truth, arrived to wide acclaim last year. "House on the Hill," the lead single, premiered on the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy arts and entertainment blog, and Chia played a release party at SOB's, a popular New York club. On the album, she channels the late Amy Winehouse on the woozy opening track "Fly High" and puts on gangsta airs for the rousing "Bout It." The eclectic disc features a little bit of everything, including reggae ("Da Fire") and trip-hop ("Lost in My Mind" and "Feel the Music"). She's at work on a new album and promises that there's a good chance you'll hear her making a cameo on some major hip-hop releases coming out in 2014.
Rachel Brown & the Beatnik Playboys
Last year, singer-songwriter Rachel Brown assembled a big band (dubbed the Beatnik Playboys) to accompany her on her solo debut Just Look My Way. It's an appropriate pairing since she's got a big, beautiful voice and the arrangements suit it perfectly. She channels Emmylou Harris/Bonnie Raitt on the luscious, country-ish ballads "Peace in the Valley," "So This is Love" and the title track, and then ventures into Roy Orbison territory on the elegant "Just Words." Featuring organ, piano and horns, "Enjoy the Dance," is a fun roots rock anthem that nicely summarizes Brown's sound. Brown has been singing since she was 10 and that experience comes through loud and clear on this terrific CD which would hold its own going up against any big-budget production out of Nashville. She's slated to start recording her next album early this year.
Led by snotty singer-guitarist Brian Hager, guitarist in local glam rock outfit Vanity Crash, the Chromes evoke the British rock of the '70s on their five-song debut that came out last year. You can hear elements of T. Rex as Hager whispers his way through the chug-a-lugging "Little Evil" and the same goes for the stuttering, bluesy "Talk That Walk." "Situation" is simply a stellar power-pop tune. Recorded, mixed and mastered at the Buddha Basement in Brunswick, the production quality is a bit sloppy; vocals sometimes sound as if they're cutting in and out. But despite those glitches, these songs are terrific and have real swagger to them. Even though he's not a powerhouse singer, Hager is a terrific guitar player who holds his own on the microphone. He even successfully takes it down a notch for the somber power ballad "Nothing to Lose." The band's been through numerous line-up changes but hopefully the group has finally stabilized.
A pre-med student as Case Western Reserve University, 20-year-old singer-songwriter Jordan Genovese sounds more mature than you'd expect on her full-length debut, last year's Green November. The album opens with the poppy "Maybe," a song you could imagine getting radio airplay alongside the likes of Avril Lavigne, Carley Rae Jepsen and Taylor Swift. Genovese has said she doesn't think she's the greatest singer, and her voice certainly lacks the kind of power of many of today's country/pop divas. But Genovese is so young, she still has time to develop her vocal skills. On the album, she actually sounds a bit more confident when she talks (rather than sings) her way through a song, and Genovese, who writes her own tunes, has a good ear for a pop hook. She also displays plenty of personality in spunky songs such as "Won't Lie No More," "Angel Song" and "I'm Not Sorry." She's threatened to move to Nashville to pursue her career; here's hoping she sticks around Northeast Ohio.
The members of Impending Lies all played together in heralded local hard rock acts such as Scalera, Vendetta Point, Resist, Puppet, Ground Lift, Element, Rikets and D-Rail before coming together in 2011. Last year's Until the Lights Burn Out, which they recorded at the locally based Empire Recordings, isn't as heavy as, say, the Deftones, but is more melodic than most hard rock acts. "In Time" features roaring guitars but balances the heaviness with melodic vocals, and the break-up song "Over Again" is a power ballad on steroids. "Fall to Pieces" has a more industrial edge to it and recalls Disturbed or even Nine Inch Nails. The band hired new management late last year and has recruited producer Chuck Alkazian (Bobaflex, Trust Company) to remix Until the Lights Burn Out.
If the band's name makes it sound like the guys in this band are a group of old-timers, well, that's appropriate, because they are. Produced by guitarist Ronnie Silverman, a guy who's old enough that he can claim to be an original member of the late, great James Gang when it first formed in 1966, this instrumental outfit includes a number of great local players who perform with other bands. Released last year, their self-titled debut shows that the guys are equally capable of playing surf rock ("Pipeline") and funk/jazz ("Watermelon Man"). They're at their best when they let it fly, like they do on the rollicking original tune "Mind If I Smoke?" Great chops don't mean much without great production, and the James Gang's Dale Peters deserves a shoutout for handling those duties. He makes the whole thing sound razor sharp. Look for the band to make its live debut sometime this year.
Rapper Jus Mic has a lot to say on last year's Indefinable. On "Fight," he practically sounds out of breath as he raps about "driving to my destiny" over an orchestral flourish of samples. The song is just one highlight on this ambitious and diverse album. As much as Mic sounds ready to rumble on "Fight," he taps into his sensitive side on the 2Pac-like "Traveling Man," a contemplative love song that sounds surprisingly soulful. He also mines similar territory with "Carrys Me," a jazzy tune that features a nice spoken word bit by guest Tierra Khali. "No Church" has gospel overtones and "Your Turn to Burn" benefits from its piano riff. Both could play well on commercial radio. Mic could have easily delivered a straight-up rap record. It's a testament to his ambition that he successfully delves into so many different genres and teams up with such a wide range of producers. Mic's also a member of the local group 10,000 Cadillacs, which has a new album due out early this year.
This young Cleveland act has been around for a couple of years now and has slowly started to raise eyebrows. It finished in second place at the 2012 Tri-C High School Rock Off and has opened for acts like Flobots and iPhonic. Last year, it finally delivered its debut, Bring Down Babylon. The band describes itself as "progressive rap," and it has plenty in common with current hip-hop sensation Macklemore & Lewis. The atmospheric album opener "Earthless" features some deft rhymes, but it also includes a lengthy instrumental interlude and a shimmering guitar solo that shows just how well these guys can actually play their instruments. The title track is a bit bluesier and even delves a bit into psychedelic rock. All in all, a solid effort. The guys promise their follow-up will be released "soonish."
So Long, Albatross
It's hard to pinpoint exactly where to classify this local trio. The songs on last year's self-titled debut alternate between melodic garage rock ("Wolves") and heavy stoner rock ("Flash Around"). Album opener "Out of Focus" has a loose, grunge-y feel while "Head for the Sky" aspires to the kind of epic-ness that typifies acts such as Queens of the Stone Age. The jittery "Outlasted" benefits from a groovy mid-song bridge and what sounds like a ringing cowbell (more cowbell please!). While the tunes tend to settle for sameness and sometimes devolve into white noise, singer-guitarist Keith Vance carries himself with a certain swagger that's compelling. And it sounds like he's having a helluva good time. With local label and promotions company Cellar Door Records working on their behalf, the band stands to have a breakthrough year.
Welshly Arms singer-guitarist Sam Getz grew up listening to British Invasion rock and that eventually turned him onto the blues. He put together the Sam Getz Band when he was only 14 and opened for acts such as Mick Taylor and Peter Greene. Getz then became a session guy before joining singer-songwriter Kate Voegele for her 2006 tour. He spent four years on the road with her and then hooked up with indie rockers Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers and toured with them for three years. In the fall of 2012, Getz put together Welshly Arms and the band played its first show last year. Anticipation was so high, it even managed to sell out the Beachland Tavern. Released earlier last year, their debut EP Welcome is informed equally by blues and classic rock. Album opener "Two Seconds Too Late" is every bit as raw and rocking as anything by the Black Keys. The guys are currently at work on a full-length due out this year.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.