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A look at the year's notable local releases

On the surface, the local scene went through a tumultuous year. Bands broke up (Pleasure Void) and were rumored to have broken up (Rosavelt), reunited (Breaker) and were rumored to reunite (the original Pere Ubu, sans David Thomas), got signed to major labels (Sinomatic to Atlantic) and got signed to indie labels (Disengage to Man's Ruin). Clubs opened (the Beachland), closed (Barons), and changed names (Peabody's became Earth). But in the end, these changes didn't trigger any major shifts in terms of the local talent. The kids still went out in droves to see Mushroomhead on Halloween, and the adults opted for the mellower sounds of Anne E. DeChant, Mike Farley, and Tony Lang. The rest of us are still waiting to see what band will finally break out of Cleveland and make it live up to its rock and roll reputation. What follows is a list of the best and worst of the year in local releases.

Best:

1. Cowslingers: Boot N Rally (Shake It) -- The Cowslingers hark back to the time of Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash -- they're shitkickers who play with attitude and don't cater to pop tastes. Here, the Cowslingers deliver their hillbilly blues with the fervor of the Blasters, the great roots-rock band of the '80s.

2. Aloha: That's Your Fire (Polyvinyl) -- Using vibes, congas, and piano in addition to drums, bass, and guitars, Aloha represents the missing link between emocore and the jam aesthetic. Its full-length debut is both beautiful and dissonant.

3. St. Jayne: Evil Bitterness (Cack-o-phone) -- The cover art -- a depiction of Jayne Mansfield engulfed in primitively sketched flames -- suggests the demonology at work here. With gruff, snarling vocals, Chris Yarmock sounds possessed, and he comes off as a cross between David Yow and Iggy Pop. His garbled vocals are often hard to take, but the musicianship is solid, as the band plays with the right mixture of finesse and aggression.

4. Saul Glennon Trio: Music for Three Piece Quartet (Gordon D) -- Slavic Village's Saul Glennon Trio plays what it calls "baroque-style power pop." While its songwriting sensibilities are often buried beneath off-key vocals and sloppy production, the band, which takes its name from an old Batman comic, writes songs with just enough hooks to suggest its latent talent.

5. GC5: Kisses From Hanoi (Outsider) -- The GC5 plays political street punk at its finest on Kisses From Hanoi. Helping get the message across is the fact that the GC5 is more melodic than most punk rock groups -- consider it Cleveland's answer to the Clash.

6. Ripsquad: Illa Godz (Deepthinka) -- Not concerned with rapping about jewelry and cars, Ripsquad is, in its own words, a "throwback to when rap albums not only had replay value, but made you want to listen from start to finish." The duo has the indie attitude and poetic aspirations you'll find in albums on labels such as Rawkus and Ark 75.

7. Disengage: Obsessions Become Phobias (Man's Ruin) -- Obsessions Become Phobias has the same heavy guitars and parched vocals that typify stoner acts such as Queens of the Stone Age, Fu Manchu, and Nebula. But that's not to say that Disengage is derivative -- the group's tight arrangements owe as much to hardcore as metal and feature a unique combination of the two genres.

8. Satan's Satellites: Satan's Satellites (P.O.C.) -- While not particularly original, Satan's Satellites at least score big points for having fun and paying tribute to the garage rock heroes of yesteryear.

9. Qwasi Qwa: Shaking Hands With the Governor (self-released) -- Some of the songs on this record, which was recorded at Wilbert's in July 1999, sound rougher than they might have if the group had used a studio. But the album still captures Qwasi Qwa's enthusiasm for crisp pop harmonies and extended jams.

10. Stacie Collins: Stacie Collins (Rev) -- Whether you're down with Stacie Collins's cowgirl persona, you've got to give her credit for putting out one of the most professional CDs to be released locally. Everything from the artwork to the fine production is meticulously crafted.

Worst:

1. Anything by Rick Ray (Neurosis) -- Euclid guitarist Rick Ray -- a show-off straight outta the school of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani -- releases what seems like a record a month, each as pretentious and godawful as the last. Here's hoping Ray will stop sending the discs to us after receiving the top ranking this year.

2. No Brass: The Crowing of the Sun (self-released) -- Obsessed with '70s prog rock, Brecksville's No Brass evokes the most embarrassing moments of that decade -- think of the sci-fi- and mythology-based albums of Jethro Tull and Rush, then cringe.

3. Byron Nemeth: 2000 (Pacifica) -- Like Rick Ray, Byron Nemeth plays his guitar like it's an extension of his cock, and his noodling is enough to give you a headache that will last a lifetime.

4. Delirious Tremors: Get Used to It (Tremious) -- With electric violins, quirky percussion, and lackadaisical vocals (that never seem to be on key), Delirious Tremors combines the worst elements of the Grateful Dead and Jean-Luc Ponty. Truly painful.

5. Ron Molina: Full Circle (Ballerina) -- Sappy singer-songwriter shit with a semispiritual bent to it, Full Circle sounds as if it was recorded at a church picnic on a windy day.

6. Hearseberry Trio: The Split (Reality Impaired) -- A split disc with Vaginal Discharge; this Kent outfit refers to its sound as "crap rock," and we can't say we disagree.

7. American Rockstar: American Rockstar (self-released) -- The pretentious name says it all.

8. Hawkins: Hawkins (self-released) -- An album of smooth jazz that's so smooth, it makes the aural wallpaper they play on the Wave sound gutsy by comparison.

9. The Raspberries: Refreshed (Legendstar) -- This six-song CD isn't the Raspberries reunion you've been waiting for. Founder Wally Bryson is accompanied by onetime Raspberries Dave Smalley and Scott McCarl, but Eric Carmen isn't involved, and his absence makes this version of the band decidedly incomplete.

10. Zachary Walker Band: Language (self-released) -- They regularly win local battle-of-the-band contests, but their Matchbox Twenty-meets-Creed-meets-Counting Crows aesthetic is insufferable.

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