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14 Bands to Watch in 2016 

Our picks for the local bands you should pay attention to in the new year

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Listen, Little Man

We last saw Listen, Little Man at the Euclid Tavern a few months ago. They showed up onstage well into the night and threw down an extremely energetic set. Frontman Xe La, hat pulled down low beyond his eyes, screamed and sang into the mic, casting eerie emotions across the band's engaging, often prog-based style of riffs and chord work. There's a great deal of '90s alt-rock and grunge DNA in their blood. "We definitely take stuff away from that," guitarist Jeffrey Hennies says. By the time they hit the stage or the studio, the band blends a variety of heavy influences into a hybrid of rhythms and dynamics. It's been a nice, quiet build for these guys; the band also includes drummer Kevin Patrick Suman and bassist Dylan Tracey. They've found a nice niche at some of the smaller venues around town — the holes in the wall that let people in for free and host a bill of regional bands. That style of gigging plays off Xe La's roster of open mics that he hosts around Northeast Ohio. A few years back now, Hennies ran into him down in Kent at one of those events. The band came together fairly quickly and soon began playing stages as a unit. "The last year or two here, we've been gigging a lot. I'd say we play Cleveland once a month — or at least somewhere in Northeast Ohio," Hennies says. The band pressed 500 CDs of their last album, and sold 'em all. Nowadays, they're working with Bad Racket to get some old and new material back into circulation. (Sandy) listenlittleman.bandcamp.com

Melladramatics

After a number of false starts and various line-up changes in other bands, Melladramatics came together a few years ago to pound out a nice take on punk rock sensibilities. We first caught up with them at an eastside gig this past fall, and their three-piece stylings certainly drew in our ears. Fast-forward to December, which has the band dropping a new album online and, in a good and just world, pulling in even more listeners. This crew has some excellent songwriting chops. The physical album can be found at Heights Music Shop, at 2174 Lee Rd. in Cleveland Heights. Diamond in the Rough, produced by Jim Wirt (of early Incubus renown), sees the band executing spacey punk tunes with self-aware lyrics. "Things," in particular, is a great distillation of Mella's crooning detachment. "It's not such a problem / when you really look at it / things just happen / when you're in the thick of it ... ." With the album circulating now, singer-guitarist Mella and the band are hoping to snag the attention of venue owners around Cleveland. They've been trucking along on the margins of the music scene here for some time, reminding us as concertgoers that there are tiers in this community and plenty of terrific bands throwing down thrilling sets in lesser known corners of the city. Looking ahead to 2016, Mella says there's plenty of new material to keep kicking around onstage and — perhaps — in the studio. (Sandy) facebook.com/melladramatics

Midnight Passenger

Everyone in Midnight Passenger — except for singer Tony Zaro — went to school together, facilitating a number of band formations along the way, Zaro tells us. The chemistry, clear onstage now, has been hard-wired from an earlier time and place. Zaro came onboard a few years back (via a Cleveland.com message board, interestingly enough), making the past three years a very serious endeavor for Midnight Passenger. This past year, the band dropped their first full-length, Calypso, with local producer and figurehead Jim Stewart. It's a statement piece — and a concept album, in a sense — that stakes Midnight Passenger's claim in the local music scene. Both gentle and intense, the music on Calypso showcases a band brimming with ideas. "Beneath the Wolf's Den," for instance, begins with Zaro's full-bodied vocals coasting across a lilting melody. Flipping the song's dynamics, drummer Shane Zigler then leads the band into a wonderful collage of strings and percussion as the song progresses toward its climax. Beyond the bounds of the album, though, Midnight Passenger has certainly created a nice niche in the local music scene. They're buoyed by the mutual support of a number of bands around town, thanks to a shared heritage that criss-crosses the past 15 years or so. "I would say in the past two years or so, the collective efforts of all the bands in the Cleveland area — it's unbelievable how each band supports the rest," Zaro says. "It's an awesome time to be a band in Cleveland." (Sandy) midnightpassenger.net

One Days Notice

A common thread runs through One Days Notice's music: As noisy as their music might be, the guys have a real appreciation for melody. "We've all been huge fans of old-school punk music, Bad Religion and Offspring," says singer-guitarist Jesea Lee. "We're also into Beatles and the Who and Nirvana and Pearl Jam. We gravitate toward the heavier side, but we have a huge appreciate for pop. We strive to write catchy songs." The group actually wasn't certain it would carry on after its previous album, 2013's When Dinosaurs Get Drunk. But the group kept jamming and then started recording with locals such as Joel Grant and Lance Waste and their respective studios, Great White Bear and WSTLND. The resulting album, Blackout, comes out in early 2016. "We pieced it together from four different locations," says Lee when asked about the album. "We even recorded some of the vocals at my apartment." The artist friendly label Remember to Breathe Records will issue the album. Prior to its release, Substream Magazine and Idobi Radio will stream the album's first two singles. A solid pop-punk release, the album commences with the Offspring-like "All That I Know" and then delivers one hard rocking tune after another. High-pitched yelps distinguish "Riot," a tune that serves as a vibrant call-to-arms. "We wanted to go back to our pop punk roots," says Lee. "We went way poppier on our last album, which ended up become more Maroon 5 and less of the Offspring. We wanted to write songs that would be super fun to play live." (Niesel) facebook.com/onedaysnotice

Polars

Songwriters Justin Miller and Kurt Eyman started this terrific indie rock group last winter when Miller bought a house in Lakewood and started building a home studio. The two began collaborating on songwriting duties and then independently recorded the group's debut album, Into the Pines, which draws equally from folk, indie rock and pop. They've described the band as a "journey to share its unique blend of songs that embody the landscape, cultural identity and sound of the Great Lakes region." "Lyrically, a lot of things are inspired by the environment around us and the different emotions that brings from the region," explains Miller. "We try to play on that. Musically or instrumentally, I don't know if that applies as much. We're trying to develop what our sound will be, but I want to move toward more ambient music and more abstract and darker music that comes from the wintertime and how that shapes our thoughts." The band cites Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes as influences, and the music certainly has an atmospheric quality as in a song such "Indigo Kids," where the band puts earnest vocals up front in the mix while presenting a balance of acoustic guitars, vintage sounding keyboards and piano. "Laniakea" features a vibrant violin riff courtesy of Molly Connolly, who's collaborated with the like-minded local indie rock act the Lighthouse and the Whaler. Miller says fans should expect to hear more of the ambient textures the band explores on "Klop," a track that includes percolating synthesizers. "I want the sound to become more dynamic," he says. "We just added a trumpet player, and he knows some of the string and brass players in town." The band has started writing songs for a new album it hopes to put out in 2016. (Niesel) polarsmusic.com

The Village Bicycle

Guitarist Liz Kelly and her band share a vision — namely, to keep writing and performing badass music among friends. Keyboard player Karah Vance concurs: "[Liz's] lyrics touch on parts of us that we love," referring to shared interests in politics, feminism and the general meanderings of life in our 20s and 30s. They certainly achieve that — tapping the vein of polyrhythmic punk rock and energetic live performances — based on the shows we've caught this past year. Drummer Debbie Randazzo, who drives the songs toward incredible feats of turn-on-a-dime shifts in rhythm, joined the band after jamming with them at their West 96th Street practice space a while back. "She blew my mind," Kelly says. After picking up some experience as a band, they display a very strong foundation in musical harmony and the technical side of songwriting. Listen, they're a team — greater than a sum of their parts — and they maintain a commitment to working together. "We're just really ready to have this recorded," Kelly says of the new material, a forthcoming collection of tunes that we insist you keep an eye out for. Also watch out for upcoming shows, as we expect the band to continue making a big splash around town. "I think Cleveland is one of the most supportive cities," Kelly says. We totally agree. (Sandy) thevillagebicycle.bandcamp.com

Wanyama

We've called them Cleveland's "best party band" before, and that moniker still holds up quite nicely as we coast into 2016. They're equal parts jam, funk and hip-hop, with dashes of more esoteric ingredients thrown in for good measure. "The jam scene in Cleveland is unique to itself because it seems more like a giant group of friends," the band members tell Scene. "Every concert is like a party or get together where you're guaranteed to see someone you know. Wanyama — originally the Cleveland Zoo — is an idea or concept of bringing members with diverse musical influences together to create a brand of music with no 'genre' or 'style' boundaries." With none other than Cookie Lowry spitting rapid-fire lyrics alongside sax man Charles Wilson, and the rest of the band throwing down a collage of funk melodies, Wanyama shines onstage as a beacon of soulful dance grooves. "2016 will be our busiest year yet," the guys continue. "We're currently getting ready to go back into the studio; we have a brand new set of songs we can't wait to get out to people. This album will have a completely different feel than our last one, Cleveland Zoo, focusing on a driving beat and a more intense experience." Check them out at the Funk Nasty New Year's Eve show at the Grog Shop. (Sandy) wanyamaband.com

Marcus Alan Ward

A proudly self-taught multi-instrumentalist and singer, Marcus Alan Ward issued a pair of EP's under the Freeze-Tag name before issuing his debut full-length album, Last Night I Grew Tentacles, in 2014 on his own Long Division Recordings. Regarding the name change, Ward says, "it really draws distinction to the fact that I'm a one-man composer and that it's just me, it's more honest." Ward has gradually gained traction throughout the region. An ambitious effort that draws from soul, hip-hop, electronica and jazz, Last Night I Grew Tentacles features Ward's distinctive falsetto and dense layers of synthetic and organic instrumentation. "I wanted to get back to that feeling when most R&B is not dominating the female. I wanted to say I'm shy and just be vulnerable," Ward explained in an interview with Scene when the album was first released. The struggle between personal growth and deviation from societal norms plays a pivotal role in Ward's declaration of individuality. "I know my place in music history and I know where I want to be," he says. "And of course you compare yourself to other black artists who've done this before and you want to differentiate yourself. So, I don't know many black artists who are making music like what I'm making. And I know my place in that and I know my place in mainstream black music. I have a lineage that I am driven to carry on the tradition of." Ward has just released the EP Marcus in Wonderland, featuring his soulful take on tunes such as Santana's "Black Magic Woman" and Sade's "Kiss of Life." Now that he has a booking agent, Ward plans to tour the region more frequently. He launches a Midwest tour Jan. 6 in Chicago and performs Jan. 10 at Mahall's as part of the 12-day Capricorn Tour. (Niesel)marcusalanward.com

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