Cleveland's next generation of top musicians walks among us today, but you might not have noticed them yet. Not much makes them stand out on the street — maybe it's the long hair, the leather jackets, or the look in their eyes that says we're hungry.
But on weekend nights, they pick up their guitars, grab their microphones, cue up fresh mixes, and turn Northeast Ohio's clubs into seas of pumping fists and bouncing bodies.
Already a few are earning national acclaim, and perhaps someday they'll all be known everywhere. Each of these 10 area artists are set to hit their stride in 2011, and most are slated to release new albums in the coming months.
Have a chance to see them live? Do it now, before all your friends are talking. After all, bragging rights are everything these days.
Last year at this time, Dylan Baldi was an 18-year-old kid making skuzzy power-pop songs in his parents' Westlake basement. By the end of 2010, Baldi — better known by the recording moniker Cloud Nothings — saw his homemade debut EP, Turning On, reissued on Carpark Records, home of 2010 buzz band Beach House. He toured with Wavves and Les Savy Fav, and put the finishing touches on his full-length debut, which comes out on January 25.
"The new album sounds very underground — probably the most underground album out there," says Baldi, who once again plays every instrument on the album. Cloud Nothings' lush, loud, and low-fi noise pop has already caught the attention of The New York Times and Pitchfork. An expanded lineup will tour Europe and the U.S. all year, including a stop at the influential South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
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Catch them in 2011: Cleveland dates will be announced early in 2011, but you can usually catch them at the Beachland, Grog Shop, and Musica.
When Elaine Richardson isn't lecturing at Ohio State or taking care of her three children, she escapes to Cleveland's club and bar scene to sing sweet soul music as Dr. E. Last year, the singer, songwriter, educator, author, and mother released her debut album, Elevated — a smoky R&B cabaret on which she channels Billie Holiday and Erykah Badu while confronting her hopes and demons with beauty and groove.
"My music and my life are about love and education," she says. "I survived sex trafficking and abuse, and I write and perform from places of pain and triumph." Richardson is due to release a hip-hop-flavored mixtape with New York DJ KidRelly. An EP will drop in June on her Give Us Free Records label.
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Catch her in 2011: Stay tuned to Dr. E's website for upcoming performances, but you can often catch her at unique Cleveland-area venues ranging from Gibb's Lounge to the Savannah.
Emeralds create distant worlds that erupt in nebulous synthesizers, droning guitars, dreamy vocals, and dense atmospherics. The Cleveland trio has been crafting awesomely cosmic instrumentals since 2005, releasing more than 30 records using mostly synths (you won't find any drums here).
"It sounds like music from a dream," says John Elliott, one of the band's two synth players. "The overall vibe is both hopeful and at times dismal." Emeralds' ambient electro is catching considerable buzz these days. They have a European tour planned this year to promote a series of seven-inch singles and a reissue of a cassette-only release (The Overlook) they put out a couple years ago.
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Catch them in 2011: Local Emeralds shows can be tricky to find. (In the words of Elliott: "We don't play in the U.S. a lot, because it's bullshit.") The band's preferred local venues are the Grog Shop and area art museums. Like what you hear? Follow them to Europe, where they've already booked shows in Spain, England, and Poland.
Don't let their look fool you. "We're normal guys, but we'll attack you," says Herzog singer and guitarist Nick Tolar.
The Cleveland four-piece bombards audiences with its sinister style of radio rock (two members are also part of the instrumental group Megachurch). The band plans a pair of new records this year — a double EP and an album.
"The first side of the EP is darker musically," says Tolar. "The other side will be a continuation of that first record, which is melodic, loud guitar rock in the vein of Built to Spill and Weezer." Expect more of that on the album.
Learn more at: myspace.com/herzogsounds
Catch them in 2011: Watch for dates to pop up at venues including the Happy Dog, Beachland Ballroom, and the Grog Shop.
The Lorax Tree
The Lorax Tree's sound is as large as a twisting timber, firmly rooted in rock but branching out into electro, prog, and even dance music. "When people hear our music, they swear that it's the same stuff they hear at the club," says bassist Matt Brower.
The trio's latest mixtape, The Light and Sound Spectacular (which was recorded at the Grog Shop over Labor Day weekend last year), travels through a forest of the band's influences — from Phish and Sound Tribe Sector 9 to LTJ Bukem. In addition to all those guitars, bass, percussion, keyboards, drum machines, and multiple loop stations, the Lorax Tree pull in painters, DJs, and filmmakers to complete their live experience. Their third album will be released in the fall. "It will be intense, epic, laid-back, psychedelic, groovy, and thought-provoking," says Brower.
Learn more at:theloraxtree.com
Catch them in 2011: The Lorax Tree will return to the road in February and March, including a March 5 engagement at the Grog Shop.
Machine Gun Kelly
Colson Baker is one of Cleveland's deadliest wordslingers. Wielding wicked tattoos and a rat-tat-tat rap style, the skinny white kid known as Machine Gun Kelly released two mixtapes in 2010, 100 Words and Running and Lace Up, building tons of buzz on the streets. His biggest song, "Cleveland," is all about — yep, you guessed it — his hometown. "Cleveland-bred, Cleveland-fed, my Cleveland girl give me Cleveland head," MGK rhymes. "And anybody saying that Cleveland's dead, fuck ya'll, tell 'em that's what Cleveland said." That supreme local love guarantees a spot for this Rust Belt spitter on our mixes.
Learn more at: myspace.com/machinegunkellyak
Catch him in 2011: Kelly's next area shows go down on January 20 at Club Thunder in Akron and January 21 at the Outpost in Kent.
Youngstown is a burgeoning hub for experimental pop duos like Pictora. The husband-and-wife team of singer Aspasia Lyras and multi-instrumentalist Sean Tress marry many musical styles with their romantic chemistry — especially doe-eyed electro, jazzy bossa nova, and '80s-style dance sounds.
"It is electronic," says Tress. "But it's pop at times, dance at others, unintentionally low-fi, and conceptual." Comparisons to Stereolab and the Bird and the Bee will surely follow the release of the duo's debut, which is set to come out in the spring. "The working title has something to do with astronomy or colors or countdowns or whatever Aspasia is in the mood for," says Tress.
Learn more at: myspace.com/pictoramusic
Catch them in 2011: Spring stops on their itinerary will include the Grog Shop, as well as visits in Youngstown (Cedars Lounge), Columbus (Carabar), and Toledo (Ottowa Tavern).
Prisoners' infectious garage-rock anthems are equal parts talent and trouble. They took a road trip last year that included a gig in "a Minneapolis basement with a crab-walking transvestite," in the words of seemingly wounded singer-guitarist Jason Look.
The Cleveland five-piece sounds something like a sick subterranean version of the Replacements cranking out retro rock at the weirdest party you've ever been to. The band released its debut album, Back in the USSA, in June; its follow-up, Pass the Stone, is due soon.
"The new album is better than the first one," says Look. "It's still the same vibe as the first record — maybe a little crummier-sounding, but that's the cool thing to do nowadays."
Learn more at: myspace.com/clevelandprisoners
Catch them in 2011: Their next local stops are scheduled for February 11 at the Beachland Tavern and March 12 at Now That's Class.
The Speedbumps specialize in indie folk sounds, so they're right at home in Kent's pastoral music community. Using acoustic guitars, cello, upright bass, ukulele, and drums, the quartet creates awesome Americana that recalls the Jayhawks and Megafauns.
"We play groovy acoustic music," says singer-songwriter Erik Urycki. "But our sound is unique too. We use classical instruments as much as modern." Last year, the Speedbumps released their second album, which they recorded in Nashville with Grammy-nominated producer Mitch Dane. They're prepping their third album, which is due in the fall.
Learn more at: myspace.com/speedbumps
Catch them in 2011: Their next stop is January 7 at Panini's in Canton.
Metallica, Slayer, Overkill — they're all appropriate points of reference for South Amherst's Vindicator and their upcoming third album of classic thrash, which is due out later this year.
"It'll make metalheads praise only the darkest of lords and sacrifice to only the satanest of satans," says guitarist and songwriter Vic Stown. The four-piece unveiled their evil inspirations on last year's The Antique Witcheries, a frenzy of shredding guitars, crazed percussion, and vocal rage. "Even the old jaded sect of metalheads who hate young bands playing what they grew up on will admit our music is catchy," Stown says.
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Catch them in 2011: Vindicator will join the California metal outfit Cauldron when they visit Cleveland in January or February. Their schedule thus far consists only of Canadian tour dates, but you can usually see them at Now That's Class and Peabody's when fellow thrash bands rumble through town.
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