Best Of 2009

Perhaps the best-known theater in the growing Cleveland Cinemas empire, the Cedar Lee is the heart of Cleveland Heights' other cool restaurant and retail strip, Lee Road. The theater screens some mainstream releases but tends toward art-house fair, stuff you've heard of (Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story) and stuff you probably haven't (Die Walküre — yes, the opera!). But the Cedar Lee serves seriously unserious film fans as well, keeping the light at the place lit for The Rocky Horror Picture Show (first Saturday of every month, 20 years and counting) and offering the Cult Film Series (coming soon: Weird Al Yankovic's UHF, Friday the 13th in 3D and The Big Lebowski). The Lee abides. (2163 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216.321.5411, clevelandcinemas.com) — Lewis

A happy accident that came out of a jam session, Freedom formed while the ashes of Roue, one of Cleveland's best bands of the decade, were still smouldering. Featuring Roue singer-guitarist Justin Coulter, Freedom — which also includes singer-guitarist Anthony Merritt, synth player Chris Kulcsar, and drummers Steve Mehlman and Jason Gintert — live up to their name on a recent split 12-inch with the Deathers. "Cougaresque" and "Bombay" are epic jams that bridge the gap between math-rock and psych-rock. The band reportedly has enough songs for a full-length, so look for something more substantial from the group in the coming months. (myspace.com/freedompizza) Niesel

Better known for his hundreds (maybe thousands) of often brilliant illustrations and flyers immortalizing the many weird dimensions of the local music scene in black marker on paper, prolific artist Jake Kelly has lately displayed some remarkable works on glass, made using only smoke (we didn't ask what kind). Kelly's hallucinatory images of catastrophe, mayhem and horror emerge as he blows a lungful past the tip of his brush, deftly shaping the elusive medium. Nuked cities and vampires were among the subject matter explored at two recent showings at Kelly's studio in the Left Bank Building in Ohio City. He was in the company of talented artists StepheDK and Ian P.E. at a place we'd also like to applaud as Best New Alternative Gallery: Collinwood's Low Life Gallery. (16001 Waterloo Rd., 216.486.2202, myspace.com/lowlifecleveland)

Douglas Max Utter

Artists have never been shy about their trash-foraging habits. But Zero Landfill takes the idea to a citywide level, working with architecture firms, designers, construction companies and others to rescue usable supplies, like samples provided to companies, and make them available to artists and teachers as raw material. This summer, the project rescued 25 tons of material from landfills. Supplies range from carpet tiles, paint-swatch decks and laminate chips to upholstery swatches, flooring samples and three-ring binders. Zero Landfill is part of a project spearheaded by David Fox, who recently started similar programs in Columbus, Minneapolis, Louisville and Boston. (zerolandfill.net) Gill

One of only a handful of vinyl-pressing plants still operating in the U.S., Gotta Groove Records started taking orders in August. It isn't capable of putting out 7-inches yet, but the 12-inch machines are state-of-the-art (well, they date back to the 1950s, but that's as new as these things get). Owner Vince Slusarz is devoted to the local scene and has already pressed the Freedom/Deathers split album (he has other local artists on the way). He plans to offer one-stop shopping too, so all artwork and mastering will be done in-house. (3615 Superior Ave., 800.295.0171, gottagrooverecords.com) Niesel

It's astounding. Time is fleeting. Madness takes its toll. Does this sound like your life? We all need a psychic reboot from time to time, and nothing combines gleefully childish behavior like screaming and dancing with grown-up perks like staying up late as beautifully (or raunchily) as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Non-virgins know that Rocky Horror is no mere movie, and at the Cedar Lee's monthly screenings, Simply His Servants provide the floor show necessary for the full experience; it is to musical theater what pro wrestling is to sports — unabashed, subversive fun. SHS are all volunteers but they take the performance seriously. Prospective new cast members must earn the right, through repeated viewings and rehearsals, to portray the movie's singing, dancing, boffing characters. The rest of us can just enjoy the late-night double-feature picture show. We want to go. (simplyhisservants.com) — Lewis

This Lakewood-based music blog is worth visiting multiple times daily for multimedia diversions and local and national music news. Site founder Matt Wardlaw has long been a fixture in town — formerly as host of WMMS' The Metal Show, more recently as a DJ at 92.3 FM. Despite his metal past, Wardlaw is a musical omnivore. He and a growing number of contributors expound on pet passions and debate topics from Bruce Springsteen's Human Touch album to Brit-folk singer Frank Turner to Chicago bootlegs from the '70s. Every week,the Cage Match poll pits artists like Kenny Loggins against Cinderella and Heart against Cheap Trick. Each Monday, ATV posts a downloadable mix submitted by a reader. Past themes have included rock nuggets, trip-hop also-rans and radio-related songs. Says Wardlaw, "It's for anybody like me who's a music fiend that breathes, lives, eats and sleeps music 24/7." (addictedtovinyl.com) Ferris

Calling Hot Cha Cha a girl group is like calling Mushroomhead a boy band, but the arty, all-woman indie-rock quartet deserves every single accolade it's gotten. After two years together, the group is poised for a breakout. Their full-length debut, The World's Hardest Working Telescope & the Violent Birth of Stars, captures their raw-nerve hybrid of garage-pop, melodic punk and jarring alt-rock. Bouncy frontwoman Jovana Batkovic occasionally sprinkles some French and German lyrics in among the English ones. You can find the band at local rock clubs like Now That's Class, the Beachland and the Grog Shop, which will host Stars' CD-release party on October 16. Be sure to check out the video for the first single, "Bob Has a Better Cow," a slow-mo romp that approximates the band's reverb-drenched ambiance. (myspace.com/hotchachahotchacha) Ferris

American Greetings' former creative studios on West 78th Street have attracted artists and galleries for years. Ever since the old 1300 Gallery left, owner Dan Bush has managed to court a long list of artists and studios, all coming together for open-house events that amount to art walks under one roof. You'll find Kenneth Paul Lesko Gallery, Kokoon Arts Gallery, Rachel Davis Fine Arts and others there. Bush also coordinates quarterly events that not only keep his building occupied, they're also an integral part of the scene that's happening just west of the revived Gordon Square Arts District. (1300 W. 78th St., 440.503.5506, 78streetstudios.com) Gill

The East Wing galleries begin in the glass-walled jewel box that shows off the museum's Rodin sculptures, and it's hard to imagine a better space for them. Walk north, and you go forward in time through the dramatic evolution of European painting of the 19th and 20th centuries. Smooth traditional portraiture and landscapes give way to works where brush strokes matter. There are Monet water lilies and Degas dancers, Picasso's multiple perspectives. You wind up among the wild experiments by of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, sleek sculpture by Constantine Brancusi and a comically large tube of toothpaste by Claes Oldenburg. You'll also see a room dedicated to Cleveland artists — a first for one of our city's most important institutions. (11150 East Blvd., clemusart.com, 216.421.7340) Gill