The members of As If were last seen as part of Akron indie-rock group Either/Orgami. In their new trio, they're all hopped up on the 'NCX sound, with enough garage undercurrents to make it fresh and contemporary. "We went for more of a straight-up rock 'n' roll sound," explains drummer Anne Lillith, who could single-handedly smoke any actual Lilith Fair band. "We like [early] Heart a lot." Lillith keeps the beat for the twin-sister team of singer-bassist Abby Powell and guitarist Carly Powell. The three have known each other since grade school; they've been playing together six years. After a year of gigs at under-the-radar spots like Akron's Matinee, they're getting ready to record in 2009. The band has a MySpace page but it includes only pictures, not music. So you'll have to catch them live to experience the shake-your-ass groove of the rawkin' jam "Hey Man." As If is "nothing too pretentious and complicated," says Lillith. "We go for catchy and fun." - D.X. Ferris
In spite of its primitivist ethos, straight-ahead punk is one of the hardest forms of rock music to truly nail. Be too dismissive of pop songcraft and you risk becoming a tuneless thrasher, amusically flailing about. Go too far in the other direction and you're in cloying kiddie-punk territory. Which is one of the reasons the Dimeras are so impressive - despite rocking out recklessly, they never fall off that thin edge of perfectly stripped-down, sneering, aggressive rock 'n' roll. Since their first gig in September of 2007, the band - drummer Timmy Fiorucci, singer-guitarist Kevin McCann and bassist Sebastian Wagner - has caught the attention of the cassette-only label Central Command Center, which will release the band's debut full-length later this winter, with a 7-inch on the Yeti Kegger label to follow in spring. Until then, self-released CDRs are always available at the band's shows, one of which you should see sometime. - Ron Krestch
Dave "Gravy" Felton
Better known to the world as "Gravy," guitarist Dave Felton has been on the frontlines of Cleveland metal for almost 25 years. But whether he's served duty in Mushroomhead, Hatrix or (216), he's always been at the rear of that frontline, as the unsung axemaster and songwriter who hasn't had the chance to really show what he can do. His New Year's resolution for 2009: no more. The five-track Dave's Heavy Duty Demo has all the raw vitality that's missing from most modern metal. Felton plays guitar, bass and drums on three embryonic instrumental cuts, and longtime fans will go nuts for the two complete songs. "Lepers and Liars" and "Wake Us" feature throat-ripping vocals by (216)/ex-Mushroomhead singer Jason Popson and drums programmed by Beyond Fear guitarist John Comprix. The smoking cuts have thrashy animal aggression, Pantera-style mechanical precision and a diesel-burning guitar tone. Felton is currently assembling a lineup for live shows, and the demo is on sale at Mushroomhead gigs. Or take a listen now at Felton's MySpace page. "It's fuckin' heavy," he says. "I wouldn't put my name on it if I didn't think it'd hit you in the chest." So that's where that bruise came from. - Ferris
Sam Goldberg had a busy 2008. In addition to playing loads of gigs around town, the guy's come out with a half-dozen limited-edition solo and split-cassette releases. Yes, the cassette died on the mainstream music scene long ago, but it's still the preferred media for limited-edition ambient and noise releases. Halcyon, which came courtesy of Cleveland's own Wagon label in the early part of the year, recalls the beauty of Brian Eno or even something from Kompakt's Pop Ambient collections. Cycles came later on 905 Tapes and steers Goldberg's sound toward a new level of minimal paradise. Out of Body Experiences - 30 minutes of guitar-delay bliss - was the best of Goldberg's 2008 work, though. It's also the first release on his Pizza Night label, which is named after the Experimental Pizza Night shows he periodically puts on at the Grog Shop. In addition to releasing more of his own work and tapes by six other artists, Goldberg snagged national distribution for Pizza Night. He's currently weathering the Cleveland winter with occasional gigs, as well as recording short guitar improvisations for future release. The latest, Winter Hallucinations: 1, was released recently and has already sold out. Goldberg's 2009 isn't shaping up to be any less eventful. He's already got two East Coast tours booked to support his debut long-player, Current, due out in the spring on Weird Forest. - Jeremy Willets
You might miss the nuances in Hotchacha's music if you first hear them live, even if you're seduced by its dark, driving rapture. It's easy to be distracted by singer Jovana Batkovic, a striking platinum blonde who favors colorful, theatrical ensembles. Also a gifted actress, Batkovic takes the music to the audience literally with her confrontational performances, while guitarist Mandy Aramouni, bassist Heather Gmucs and drummer Lisa Paulovcin provide the stolid backline. But the music on the band's debut four-song EP Rifle I Knew You When You Were Just a Pistol on Cleveland-based Exit Stencil (the same label will release the band's full-length debut this year) reveals more complexity than that first live listen might suggest. "J'accuse" kicks off the disc with chiming, early-U2 guitars that underpin much of the music, while Batkovic delivers her oblique lyrics in a style reminiscent of Patti Smith: by turns conversational, declamatory and incantatory. She's sly and secretive on "Heidi Was Never Good," slipping seamlessly from English to German and back, as Aramouni's propulsively melodic guitar flows around her like a swollen springtime Swiss stream. The jabbering "It's Hard to Be a White Boy in 1992" leads into the portentous, slow-paced opening of "Wir Tanzen," whose faint droning guitar filigrees and clicking percussion accents explode into a full-bodied avalanche of sound to close the album. - Anastasia Pantsios
Anyone who makes music knows it's pretty hard to rise to the top. But then again, not everyone is looking to be the next Justin Timberlake. Take Ken Rei. The experimental Cleveland group formed in 2005, making music using Gameboys, various samplers, guitar pedals and keyboards. "[Our sound is] spacey, attention-deficit live electronics," says multi-instrumentalist Adrian Bertolone. "There are beats, but we definitely aren't playing dance music." The trio, rounded out by Ingrid Horowitz and Andreas Tekus, has found its niche audience inside Cleveland's growing noise scene, a movement that embraces spontaneity rather than structure. Bertelone says their sound is influenced by "lots of jazz, '70s dub, harsh noise, '90s hip-hop, gutter rap and all sorts of electronic shit." Of course, you certainly won't hear those inspirations on first listen: They're often buried under layers upon layers of sonic textures. While they're pleased with the hype they've received within the scene, they do wish the number of noise fans would increase. "There are people around here that are into cool shit and support the bands and the touring acts, but there needs to be more of them," says Bertelone. They're now reaching beyond Cleveland, releasing a 12-inch on APOP, a label out of St. Louis. The vinyl is a split with Miami artist Dino Felipe, with whom Ken Rei will be touring for the second time this summer. While their career may be moving at a decent speed, the members don't take themselves, or musical notoriety, too seriously. When asked where they see themselves in five years, Bertelone says, "We will definitely kill each other before the five-year mark." - Eddie Fleisher
Production duo the Kickdrums provided beats for 50 Cent, Ray Cash and Yung Joc. But Cleveland's hottest hip-hop heads aren't content with being known as Cleveland's brightest rap producers, or even just producers. They have expanded into a full musical force on their debut album, Detached ... At Ease. Alex "Fitty" Fitts (formerly of rap group Spittin Image) and Matt "Tilla" Penttila joined forces with Promise Hero guitarist Daniel Weiss on this impressive rock disc. Songs like "Superficial Socialite" are catchy, straightforward alternative fare. Half the cuts are top-shelf, danceable indie-rock with beats you can't ignore. Built on a Roxy Music hook, "Love Is a Drug" is becoming a favorite in local rock and dance clubs. It's also poised to go national with a freshly shot video by Scenario, the director who's helmed clips for Busta Rhymes and Juelz Santana. The Kickdrums plan to play live shows in 2009. - Ferris
Since his single "More Than a Love Song" ended up cracking the Billboard charts last year (thanks in part to a cameo by R&B singer Dwele), 24-year-old Youngstown rapper Pryslezz has had a number of things go his way. "More Than a Love Song" wasn't just a radio hit. The music video, which finds Dwele and Pryslezz crooning while standing on the sandy shores of some tropical-looking locale, also garnered some serious rotation on VH1 Soul and MTV Jams. Last year, Pryslezz, who was nominated for three Ohio Hip-Hop Awards, got an opening slot on the Rock the Bells Tour alongside heavyweights like Wu-Tang Clan, Common, Slum Village, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Nas. He also recently inked a deal with King Ape/Lightyear Entertainment/EMI. They'll issue his new album, Death of a Man, Rebirth of a King, which features appearances by Grammy-nominated R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn and the critically acclaimed Midwestern rap ensemble Slum Village. Pryslezz's steady, breathless flow in tunes such as "Sideways," which pairs him with writer/producer Jason Derulo (P. Diddy, Lil Wayne), recalls the urgency of 2Pac, and references to Youngstown city streets give him all the cred he needs. - Jeff Niesel
Kevin Jaworski has the most diverse résumé in Cleveland rock. From hardcore shit-stirrers 9 Shocks Terror to the wistful pop of Machine Go Boom to a zillion others in between, Jaworski's excelled all over the musical map. So when he set out to get "a kick-ass band with a bunch of ringers," he had the chops and the Rolodex to do it right. He formed Sun God with Insurrect guitarist Josh Durocher-Jones in mid-2006, taking the band's name from a Squirrel Bait song. The pair quickly found the intersection between HŸsker DŸ and the new wave of British heavy metal, and they've ridden that sound with a revolving rhythm section ever since. Their style has reached its apotheosis so far with "(s)pain," a cathartic, anthemic rocker that showcases the powerful capabilities of Jaworski and Durocher-Jones' interwined guitars and vocals. That song will be on a 7-inch to be self-released in mid-February, one of two planned 7-inch releases for 2009. - Kretsch
This Is a Shakedown!
When singer-guitarist Brandon Zano, programmer/laptop maestro Justin Nyalis, bassist Daniel Lee and drummer Stephen Nicholson came together less than two years ago to form This Is a Shakedown!, they shook off the heavier influences that shaped most of their previous bands (including such noted local ensembles as Leo, Tender Blind Spot and a Dozen Red Roses). Instead, they opted for booty-shaking music - "sexy music," says the garrulous Zano - that doesn't just seethe and rage but sparks an outpouring of dance-floor ecstasy. While walloping, electronica-enhanced dance rock hasn't been in short supply in recent years, these guys really pack a punch, pumping up their prominent '80s influences to arena-esque proportions. Zano, a caroming ball of energy onstage, declaims his vocals as if he's trying to bridge the Grand Canyon, propelled by Nicholson's and Lee's rocket-launcher of a rhythm section. Meanwhile, Nyalis's embellishments are the mirror ball revolving above the crowd: flickering, everywhere-at-once starbursts that crank up the excitement level. The band's hard-driving past gives tunes like "Love Kills" and "You Make Me Wanna" a heavy edge, but it's the relentless beats that make them so irresistible. Currently recording at Ante Up with producer Michael Seifert, they'll release their debut this year on Seifert's Reversed Image Unlimited label. - Pantsios
Layers upon layers of beautiful singing - sometimes comforting, sometimes unnerving - intertwined like DNA, drenched in fuzz and reverb, combine to form songs that feel as though the actual act of Christa Ebert's singing is an event that takes place entirely outside of time. Ebert adopted the name and working method of Uno Lady in the fall of 2007 because, in her own summation, "Harmony comes naturally to me, instruments do not." On the songs where there is instrumentation, it's thin and synthetic, more a translucent skin than a skeleton. As such, her performances are sparse affairs, featuring Ebert perched behind a lit-up podium and a laptop, snaking mysterious words through a thicket of her own pre-recorded backing vocals. The effect is stunning, and until she can finish and release her debut album, her MySpace page is a fine place to hear the stuff if you can't make it to a show. - Kretsch
Barberton may not be a musical hotspot, but thanks to the Woovs, that could change. "We basically had to convince Barberton bar owners to even have local music," says keyboardist Bryan Delauder. "Now it seems like every bar in Barberton is doing local music. We're not trying to be cocky about it, but we are definitely proud." Listening to the group's excellent self-titled debut, it's easy to see why small-town bars would let the band entertain their patrons - plus they do a stunning cover of the Rolling Stones "Wild Horses" in their live sets. The group - DeLauder, singer-guitarist Adam Lengyel, guitarist Kevin Hamric, bassist Brant Novak and drummer Dave Dibello - has a sound that's mature beyond the members' years. Describing the music as "heavy mental," the Woovs blend soul, rock, folk and R&B, a mixture of their varied tastes. "We are truly influenced by all styles of music individually, and we each bring these influences into our music," says Novak. While all of the members are skilled at their instruments, it's Hamric's and Delauder's keen sense of melody and Lengyel's distinctive voice that give the group its identity - the three are also the primary songwriters. Beyond the odd spelling of the band's name, there's a sentimental meaning behind the lupine moniker. The guys see themselves as a pack, a brotherhood doing what they love together. The band is also territorial, showing love for Barberton. "We are, if nothing else, a roots-oriented band, and we are proud of where we are from," says Novak. - Fleisher
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