Meet four young cleanup hitters sure to click in the coming year.

Rookie Roundup '04 

Meet four young cleanup hitters sure to click in the coming year.

These dapper dudes make Lovedrug one of Northeast - Ohio's most promising acts.
  • These dapper dudes make Lovedrug one of Northeast Ohio's most promising acts.
If we could grip a Louisville Slugger the way we grip a Budweiser, we'd be the Tribe's next third baseman. Last year at this time, we went three for four in our annual "bands to watch" roundup. Among the highlighted artists were popsters Kiddo and the brusque indie-rock combo Roué, both of which went on to drop two of the best albums to come from these parts in 2003. Though an LP didn't materialize for the Chrome Kickers, the gutter-punk knuckle-dusters kicked a lot of ass in concert. Our only whiff: righteous rapper Sestor, who hasn't been heard from since. Now we're back to the plate for another swing at the best new local bands to look out for in '04:

Lovedrug
Actually, Lovedrug is already becoming one of the hottest properties in Northeast Ohio, having sold close to 3,000 copies of its two EPs in just over a year and garnered interest from a dozen major labels. Listen to the band's latest, the stunning "The Rock and Roll EP," and it's easy to hear why. The Akron-based quartet has its roots in the earnest expressionism of emo forebears Sunny Day Real Estate, but spikes its heartrending pop with a flair for the exploratory. Frontman Michael Shepard's voice is both beatific and bloodcurdling, his pliant timbre backed by a shifting landscape of pastoral art rock and acoustic strum. "Down Toward the Healing" encapsulates it all: One of the most affecting songs of the year -- local or otherwise -- it begins as a Bic-in-the-air ballad with a lilting chorus before climaxing in a din of pounded piano and overheated amps.

Drew Heff
Formerly associated with the popular Cleveland bass troupe 71 North, Drew Heffner now shakes his fists instead of his booty. His debut, Respect the Game, is as decadent as 71 North is danceable. "I'm in the streets like pavement" Heff spits on "Passing You By," coming with a deep, fleet flow that's like a scowl set to wax. Heff wrote and produced all the tracks on Respect, and he demonstrates as much promise behinds the boards as he does on the mic. Clichéd cuts such as "Pimpin Goin Down" and "Money" prove he's human, but highlights like the sobering gangsta epic "A Little Sunshine" show he's got enviable Game.

Stereotoxic
Don't let the worst band-handle this side of Audioslave throw you: This young metal quintet more than compensates, with a deluge of teeth-gnashing thrash. Taking its cue from Show No Mercy-era Slayer, Stereotoxic mates a chugging, mid-paced grind with bellowed vocals, yielding a sound it likes to call a "battering ram to the balls of your soul." Led by aptly named Clevelanders the Savage brothers (Brendan on guitar, Clay on drums), Stereotoxic is centered in Athens, where four-fifths of the lineup attends Ohio University. The band has laid down a five-song demo (available by sending an inquiry to steretoxic@hotmail.com), which features enough torque and testosterone to power two full-lengths. A blend of circle-pit riffs and the occasional gang-vocal chorus, it's a gut-check for longhairs, a sprained neck waiting to happen.

The Faint of Heart

Fronted by the self-proclaimed "Casanova of Sleaze," the Faint of Heart is a debauched doo-wop group that's equal parts cotton candy and cyanide. According to legend (and the band's website, www.faintofheart.net), the band started when a group of drunken ex-girlfriends got together one eve to serenade frontman Cleft S. with the Rollins Band song "Liar." Faint's blend of pretty three-part harmonies and lovelorn lyrics from the sentimental smartass Cleft comes across something like Nick Cave backed by the Supremes. The band hasn't released its debut yet, but is already making a name for itself with its theatrical live shows, where the group performs in front of a fiber-optic backdrop, inviting audience members onstage to play "Wheel of Heartache." "The Faint of Heart is an experiment in reverse sexism," Cleft explains. "Not everyone gets it or believes me. Sometimes I don't either."

  • Meet four young cleanup hitters sure to click in the coming year.

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