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21 Local Acts You Should Pay Attention To In the New Year 

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Mourning [A] BLKstar

The digital clock in our Corolla meanders toward midnight on a cold Wednesday as we skid along the border of Ohio City and Detroit-Shoreway. We eventually land at the rehearsal space for Mourning [A] BLKstar. A ground-level door creaks open. We are beckoned.

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  • Mourning [A] BLKstar

Inside, the members of the group are arranged cozily against a brick façade. Instruments splay out around them. A few friends join in laughter and conversation. A woman knits gently throughout the night. RA Washington, the de facto leader in a democratic and horizontally structured band of Cleveland artists, leans back: "So how do you want this to go?"

It's been a year of uncertainty and pain, but, as we look ahead to a fresh spin around the sun, there's reason to be hopeful, not least because of Mourning [A] BLKstar, the most important band in Cleveland right now.

The story begins with the death of David Bowie in January 2016, an event that kicked off a yearlong storm of innovative musicians passing into the next world. Later that week, Washington was kicking around some beats in the studio. He asked James Longs and LaToya Kent if they'd like to sing on some of his tracks. (They ended up singing on all the tracks.)

"The chemistry was pretty evident," Washington says. Other musicians pointed it out in the studio, too: There was something special here. And so the trio formed a band on the spot, built on the foundation of that first day's rough mixes. Right away, during an early rehearsal, Kyle Kidd joined them to add her vocals to the mix. The band became four.

Peter Saudek joined on drums later in the year, and a rotating horn section complements the band onstage now and then.

As the year has gone on, the band's shows have been picking up bigger and more engaged crowds. Scene was picking up signals this past summer, fervent rumblings among the music community that Something Different Was Going On Here.

"I'm a visual artist, and I'm kinda burned out on it," Longs says. "So this was an opportunity to investigate a new form of art, a new discipline."

There's a purity to what Mourning [A] BLKstar is doing – a will to let the cards fall as they may and to see the beauty in that action.

For many, the introduction to this band came this past spring, when the first single hit Youtube and Facebook: "Field N***as, My Heroes." It's a bold song, unlike anything that's come out of Cleveland in years. The video conveyed an esoteric arrival; these four musicians are seen walking through a sparsely wooded grove, clad in exotic threads and burning sage among the trees. A manic beat spins through the natural setting, as Kent's vocals spell out a message about the past and the future. One minute in, the song shifts dramatically. The beat becomes more immediate, and the video flips over to a catacomb of rusted steel. The piece ends in black and white, with the three singers facing away from the camera for a full minute of airy tones.

It's an arrival. More signals followed.

"The subject matter of the songs is – I hate to say 'politically charged,' because that throws it into a category, and it limits the mind and limits the conversation," Longs says. "But it's conscious-based."

Kidd mentions how the three singers in the band each came from different backgrounds, while originating in the same city's artistic scene. She's a jazz and gospel singer, for instance, who is finding herself broadening her perspectives on what vocals can be. With Washington at the helm, she says that she's grown into her own as an artist willing to both stand out and fit in among this eclectic group.

"It's raw like Cleveland is raw, and it's real like Cleveland is real," Kent says. "It's honest. We're not hiding our emotions. We're not hiding ourselves. We're very open in being ourselves within the music, onstage and off-stage." She adds that the band touches on most genres of Cleveland music from the past several decades; indeed, the underground is well represented with Mourning [A] BLKstar.

And that's sort of the thing here: More than any other band in a good long while (Pere Ubu, maybe? 9 Shocks Terror? This Moment in Black History, more recently?), MAB captures the vibe of Cleveland in a time of cultural growth.

"We have a very renaissance sound, and Cleveland is in the midst of a renaissance," Kidd says. "You can compare it to the Harlem Renaissance. There's a sound, an essence, about that time. We have created a sound that you will be able to identify with the renaissance of Cleveland, the transition, the rebirth. I think that's the beauty of our band."

The band's first album, BLK MUSAK, will drop sometime in early spring on Blue Moon Records. This is the first time the label is pushing a project with vocals. And with an eye on the future, Washington says the second album is already done (and recorded by Brian Straw). MAB is already working on their third album.

"We just want to keep it moving," Washington says. "This is a punk rock town, and, you know, it's very rare for bands that are coming from an African-American heritage to be able to cross the river. You know what I mean? We don't take it lightly. Pretty much the culture and the way the world feels now is that people are looking for answers and they're looking for places where they can actually be genuine. For some odd reason, the combination of folks in what we're doing kinda provides that.

"And I think that it has something to do with the fact that it wasn't planned. It was authored by something else." —Eric Sandy

Falling Stars

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  • Falling Stars

They're both guitar players and songwriters who have been making music in the Cleveland scene for many years. And as long as Tim Parnin (Cobra Verde, Sweet Apple, Chuck Mosley) has known Chris Allen, he's been encouraging him to explore his rock side. Decades later, the pair finally spent a couple of years writing songs for what would eventually become their first album, Stranded In The Future, which will be released in the spring under the banner of Falling Stars. "It's funny — this seems way overdue," Parnin says. "We've hinted about it in the past, but have always both been busy with our own bands." Once they were able to set aside time for recording, things came together quickly. They laid down basic tracks during three productive days of recording at Mitch Easter's studio in North Carolina. Easter engineered the sessions with Don Dixon producing and mixing the songs. For those familiar with Allen's normal work, both as a solo artist and with the band Rosavelt, it's a slight departure — a purposeful move that both were excited to make. "You've been around the block, I've been around the block — let's see if we can find some new streets to hang out on," Allen says, remembering the initial conversations he and Parnin had at the Happy Dog discussing the potential project. "If we couldn't do that, we were never going to spend the time recording it." Tracks like "Down and Out In Ohio" and "Behind The Blinds" crackle with a fresh energy and plenty of guitars while songs like "Losing Without You" and "The Lonely Keep In Touch" demonstrate the depths of sonic exploration that the pair weren't afraid to indulge. It's an engaging listen that longtime fans will enjoy and they'll probably attract some new ears as well as they begin to play live shows together in the new year. — Matt Wardlaw

Thaddeus Anna Greene

This year, the band released a handful of singles that led up to an EP release in September. The prime example of what these guys are up to these days comes in the title track: "Bleed." A laid-back, hammer-on bluesy riff lifts up singer TJ Maclin's soulful and mournful vocals. There's a sadness in the tune, but the delivery is uplifting — and it makes for some real choice music while cruising around the city. Taken as a whole, Thaddeus Anna Greene's 2016 stuff is exciting as hell. "We went through a lot to create [those singles]," frontman TJ Maclin says. "From recording an entire album and living in a studio for five days only to never hear anything from those sessions, to quitting music, to finally going in the studio with the mindset to record Bleed. The vision for our latest work was to create something that breathes — something visceral, ya know?" Even the casual listener will pick up on that. These are full-bodied tunes that pair catchy refrains with extended musical interludes and fills. "We all are avid students of music," Maclin says. "It's sort of a gift and curse, because it can be safely said that we can't listen to music recreationally; there's always a lesson, a jewel, something to learn from someone else. Our songwriting style is an amalgamation of our individual musical backgrounds. That's the best part about this band, each one of us brings something vastly different than the other, yet we speak the same language in a musical sense." Here are Maclin's parting words as we look ahead to a new year: "Expect growth, expect new sounds. Do not categorize us, because if you do, we'll frustrate you. We refuse to be boxed in." Check them out Jan. 13 at the Grog Shop with Marcus Alan Ward. — Sandy

Heavenly Creatures

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  • Heavenly Creatures

Like the incidental snags of a kneading cat's claws, Amy Shoff's poignant, witty lyrics expose a hidden snarl beneath the cuddly exterior of Heavenly Creature's indie rock. In "Snow," a track from their 2015 EP Your Record Collection, Shoff sings a clever quip about the woes of going stag: "The guys are outside, stupid pride won't let them say they're chilly/their girlfriends stay inside, they all drink wine and say they're silly/but I am neither guy nor girlfriend/and I'm not sure where to go stuck here in the goddamn snow." Fans of the Vaselines, Bikini Kill, and R.E.M. (Shoff's biggest inspiration) will find Heavenly Creatures the perfect combination of rock 'n' roll power and twee charm. Demonstrated by the band's appointment to several prominent opening spots this past year (including playing with veteran acts Dressy Bessy and Skating Polly), Heavenly Creatures have already established themselves as one of Cleveland's go-to indie rock groups. In 2017, the band will follow Your Record Collection with a new EP entitled The Summer Will Kill Us All. Named after the many hurdles the band faced while trying to record (including RNC-related delays and previous drummer Sydnie Barnette's move to Oregon), the EP features newest member Kristen Burns on drums, Thomas de Cárdenas on bass, and Shoff on guitar and vocals. "Kristen really transformed the songs and made them stronger, and we're really excited to get [them] out into the world," Shoff says. The band hopes to begin work on a full-length almost immediately following the EP's release. If you haven't seen them yet (or even if you have), catch them on Jan. 5 as part of the Grog Shop's Free Weekend. —Bethany Kaufman

Part-Time Lover

Shades of Paul Westerberg cruised through Cleveland last May when newly formed Part-Time Lover dropped Brains Out on the Table, a lively four-song EP that prompted perked up ears from westside to east. It's a breezy, borderline psychedelic collection of tunes that blends the old and new spheres of rock 'n' roll handily. Bringing together members of Prisoners, Coffinberry and Goldmines (more on them in a bit), Part-Time Lover hit some really mesmerizing notes right as summer was unfolding along the north shore. "The band was basically Mandy [Look] and I wanting to do something together musically," singer and guitarist Jason Look says, "and I also had songs that needed an outlet. Roseana [Safos] and Pat [O'Connor] were the first two people we thought of for a rhythm section, and luckily they both agreed to do it." Lucky, indeed. Here at the Scene offices, we've been spinning Brains since those halcyon summer nights. To hone in on what makes the EP so great, cue up "Living in the Past." It's a sprawling, sunny-meets-edgy collage of haunting images and messages. Clocking in at seven minutes, there's a lot of material to soak up. The song dovetails into an extended, dreamy jam at the end, a perfect example of how they've tried to stretch their artistic legs with the project. "The 'outro' on 'Living In The Past' was written because I wanted to leave the song open ended," Look says. "If the song were to be on a full length in the future, I wanted to have the option of maybe writing another song that could come out of it, out of that end progression. Maybe it was a half-cooked idea but I think it works." We agree. Now, the band is working in the recording studio (again with producer Brian Straw). They're hoping to release something around March, and they're booking shows in anticipation of that. Don't miss 'em. — Sandy

New Moon Rising

We've really been digging New Moon Rising, one of Cleveland's busiest young bands this past year. Right before we began work on this list, the band dropped the second of a three-EP series — Surreal, a dreamy and jammy little stash that'll keep you warm in these cold months ahead. Like the first EP, Pura Vida, frontman Terry Campbell envisioned the seeds of a chilled-out, folk rock album with a pop songwriting vibe. He brought the new material to the other guys — guitarist Evan Stone, bassist Justin Chambers, drummer Steve Deurlein — and, together, the band watered these tunes to full realization. "We will just keep playing the shit out of these new songs until all the pieces start to come together." he says. "I think we work really well together as a band, and I am always impressed with what the other guys come up with when I bring a song to them. A lot of times the song will evolve in a way I never could have imagined because of what each member of the band brings to the table." You can hear that sort of process in tunes like "Over Me, Over You," which could easily work as a solo acoustic trip in some westside coffeehouse, but, here, New Moon Rising flexes the full-band muscle and treats it to a patient, ascending musical narrative. "With every new body of work, my goal is for it to be better than the one before — always trying to evolve," Campbell says. "Really my main goal is just to make music that feels good and sounds good. We also want to create something that is somewhat unique or different, something that sets us apart from other bands and sounds." Little touches like the backing vocal washes on "Surreal" get Campbell and Co. closer to achieving that goal each time they hit record. We're excited to see what comes next. Expect another EP within the next six months. — Sandy

Fascinating

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  • Fascinating

You may have seen Ricky Hamilton play with the Nico Missile, Pig Flayer, and Ma Holos, but it's one of his most recent musical exploits that's gaining exceptional traction. Fascinating, which performed its first show less than a year ago, has already produced not one but two sonic offerings. Dice Game, which received a proper release in September, was a partnership between Hamilton's own Quality Time Records and New York's Greenway Records. "Quality Time Records was started to put out music that otherwise would remain in obscurity," he says. "We have come to describe our sound as gutter pop. It's grounded in the principles of other labels such as Sarah Records, K Records, and Postcard Records, with an emphasis on cassette culture and community building in our hometown of Cleveland." The label has released material by Goldmines and Pack Wolf among other locals. Fascinating's second album, Picture This, is poised for release in early 2017. Like a powerline in a puddle, the band's fuzzed-out garage rock sends an attention-seizing jolt to all who tune in and runs in the same vein as Yuck or Titus Andronicus. The current lineup features drummer Marty Brass, bassist Carter Luckfield and guitarist Adam Spektor. Original guitarist Alfred Hood left to focus more on his own band, the Venus Flytraps. Fascinating will embark on a crusade of the South this winter, with additional spring dates in support of the new album. Later in the year, the band will record yet again. —Kaufman

Walkin' Cane

Hopefully you've seen Austin Charanghat perform many times over the years. The blues guitarist is a staple at bars and clubs all over Cleveland (and the world), slinging Delta vibes and songs both traditional and original, performing under the moniker Walkin' Cane. He recorded a new album a few months back with longtime songwriting partner Chris Allen, as well as Dave Morrison and Fred Perez-Stable. "Nobody really knew the songs," Charanghat says. "I had a good idea of what I wanted, but everybody helped themselves to each tune, and it turned into something pretty interesting." Keep your eye out for an impending release — not only of that album, but of the other projects that Charanghat keeps tucked up his sleeve. "I have a good feeling about this record," he says. "I think it's the best one I've done." As one might be able to glean, Charanghat stays busy and performs in a number of different bands and outfits here and there. (He just wrapped up his annual stint with the Ohio City Singers, a fun little band that brings original Christmas tunes to Cleveland each winter.) Looking ahead, Charanghat's got trips on tap to New York City, Detroit, Chicago and Australia, where he'll return to the Blues on Broadbeach Festival. Charanghat is one of Cleveland's hallmark blues musicians, and he serves as an excellent ambassador for the city wherever he travels. And why not? He's got the best job in town. "I just want to make records and hang out with friends," he says. Check walkincane.com for his full schedule; January 2017 is looking pretty full already. — Sandy

Fuck You Pay Me

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Formed by local underground vet Tony Erba, FYPM exists at the nexus of punk, hardcore and thrash in a city not exactly unfamiliar with those scenes. The band tracks the trajectory of previous Erba-fronted outfits like 9 Shocks Terror and Gordon Solie Mother Fuckers, but here's the thing: FYPM is happening right now, and they're kicking ass up and down the I-77 corridor. "It's nothing more than a chance for me to spew invective while winking at the audience while playing vicious yet somewhat catchy punk-informed hardcore," Erba says. "At least that's what my take is on the band; who knows what the peasants think." The band's next album, Dumbed Down, will drop in March. Expect a good deal of national touring, including a West Coast run, shortly thereafter. (The band received a grant from the local Panza Foundation, which will help fund their journeys across the nation.) And then? "I guess we'll keep writing songs," Erba says. "The next record will be called Colony Collapse, and I want to continue progressing in reverse or 'de-volving.' Each record should be a bit simpler, faster, catchier than the last — instead of the exact opposite, which is what always seems to happen with bands." Can't argue with that; the music scene around Cleveland borders on the soft and heady all too often. With something of a homebase at the venerable punk joint Now That's Class, FYPM maintains the hardcore vigil for the Cleveland set that doesn't mind the occasional brick of firecrackers being thrown into the crowd. "We do what we do with sincerity and work ethic and decent tunes and jumping around like morons on stage, and hopefully people come out," Erba says. — Sandy

Heart Attack Man

Last we heard, the debut album from Heart Attack Man has gone missing. Missing! The anticipated fall 2016 release has been postponed until some act of divine intervention returns the masters to these guys. Let's hope it happens soon, because what we've heard so far is promising and badass. "Surrounded By Morons," the ostensible single off The Manson Family, is a nice ode to the sarcastic middle-finger vibe of late-era emo rock. It helps, too, that the tune works a nice melody behind those bummed-out lyrics. "All my problems would go away, if I just moved to New York or LA," Eric Bishop sings, reflecting back the sentiment that all too many early-twentysomethings adopt here in Cleveland. The tune features a cool video to boot. (1,000 bonus points for the slick Peking Restaurant cameo.) — Sandy

Goldmines

Sporting a heavy dose of psychedelic garage rock and a fine blend of open-chord strumming and tight indie-rock riffs, Goldmines has seen a great year in the Cleveland music scene. We're pretty eager to see where they take this project. Part of various Venn diagrams in the community (guitarist Mandy Look and drummer Roseanna Safos also perform in Part-Time Lover, for instance), Goldmines shares that burgeoning vision of Cleveland independent rock 'n' roll — part reverb, part distortion, a notch along the same double helix of, e.g., Northeast Ohio's Black Keys DNA. Check out their self-titled EP, released this past summer. It's a breezy listen that works as well with a bowl and a couch as with a grungy dance floor in Cleveland Heights. We dig the peaks reached during the chorus of "The Incomparable" and the Liz Phair-esque insouciance of "September," a real road trip of a song. — Sandy

Bre Vibez

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  • Bre Vibez

The multitalented Bre Vibez has been recording since 2014 but has been a musician for much longer. She played percussion in her school band from 6th through the 12th grade and also plays guitar and the keyboard. She cites artists like Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino, Chance the Rapper, and Lauryn Hill as influences in addition to local artists Tae Miles and Ezzy, whom she considers friends.

Bre Vibez's upcoming project, Vibrationz. is set for release on New Year's Eve. "I've been working on this tape for nearly two years and i must say it feels great to have finished something, even if it took me two years," Vibez says. "'Vibrationz' is exactly what the title says, the tape gives off several vibrationz and I went through several vibrationz while writing and recording. It features 12 tracks with features from Aphiniti and Kennedy Blaq. Huge shoutouts to them, because a lot of people didn't want to collaborate with me because I was so new, but these two artists in particular saw my talent and really wanted to be a part of the project." That project, she says, was an experiment of sorts. "I didn't know anything about recording when I began this project. I didn't know anything about the mixing process, or what dubs were, or reverb. I didn't know the importance of adlibs. Things were all new and I'm so glad to have dope engineers at The Coast with Adi Rei and Johnny at Vibe Studios that could teach me and explore things in order to find my sound." In 2017, Vibez hopes to collaborate with more artists and hit the festival circuit. — Emanuel Wallace

Hiram-Maxim

Indie rockers Hiram-Maxim — electronics-singer Lisa Miralia, guitarist Dave Taha, singer Fred Gunn and drummer John Panza — initially formed for the Lottery League, the festival that randomly places Cleveland musicians in bands with one another. At that point, the band decided upon an approach — it would make dark post-punk music. Recorded and mixed by John Delzoppo at Negative Space in Cleveland and mastered by Chris Keffer at Magnetic North, the band's debut, the first release to come out on Aqualamb Records, the imprint run by graphic designers Eric Palmerlee and Johnathan Swafford, mixes elements of noise, post-rock and punk. A new studio release, Ghosts, comes out in March. Recorded and mixed by Martin Bisi at his New York studio, it features a cameo by singer-guitarist Oliver Ackermann, frontman of the noise band A Place to Bury Strangers. "When we recorded the first record, we had only been a band for about five months," says Gunn. "On Ghosts, we have had a lot more time together as a group and have grown. This record is far more brutal and focused than our self-titled debut and explores themes of social and political injustices haunting our world." — Jeff Niesel

Cereal Banter

Cereal Banter's Joseph Joseph has played drums since he was a teenager (he was even featured in DRUM! Magazine). After spending some time in the Youngstown-based punk band You Are the War That I Want, Joseph would start a short-lived alt-weekly in Youngstown before moving to the Cleveland area and joining Scotfree & the Guilty Plea. The concept for the artsy, Flaming Lips-like Cereal Banter formed at that point. Its debut single, 2010's "Edible Confetti," a song that features squiggly guitar riffs and echoing vocals, established just how off-kilter the band could be. Recorded in Greenpoint, New York, at Lone Pine Road Studio and engineered/mastered by Guardian Alien bassist Eli Winograd, the band's 22-minute song/album, Sties of Pigs Flying with Flowers, Fields of Green Watered by Showers, represented another step forward. The song/album offers good, noisy fun that starts slow with some stuttering drum beats but picks up serious steam by song's end as Pamela provocatively screams "we're all animals" over pulsating synthesizers. Last year, Joseph teamed up with singer-bassist Nicholas Gunzburg, a local musician who was a fan of the band. They collaborated on the cassette-only Oatmeal Outburst and quickly recorded another album, Junk Jazz, that's due out in January. "The intent is to write compositions and put out more of a concept than two guys thrashing," he says of Junk Jazz. "If you listen to Junk Jazz, we want it to be more sophisticated and pop tune heavy but retain the improvisation and drum fills going to the next part and stuff like that. That's what makes our music special. You don't know what will happen next. It's conceptual not so much lyrically but musically in the sense that there's a similar theme in the opening as there is in the closing track. We use a different synthesizer on every recording just so you can identify which era of the band you're hearing." — Niesel

Joey Aich

Music has always been a tremendous part of Joey Aich's life. He sang in his school and church choirs as a younger child and found his passion for poetry and hip-hop when he was in middle school.

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  • Joey Aich

From that point on, Aich focused on writing lyrics to either vent about or emulate what he saw some of his favorite artists doing. It wasn't until after leaving Orange High School that Aich began to release music to the public. With the encouragement of some positive feedback, Aich decided to keep pushing forward. He released a project just before his sophomore year at Denison University. He admits that it was less than stellar, but it planted the seed. Since then he has released two projects, College D.egree (2014) and AichFiles (2015). "I get to use my voice as much as possible to promote positivity and ultimately change the world," Aich says. "I enjoy being able to share my world with others and open up my book and allow people to learn about me."

Aich's latest project, If Money Grew On Trees, is coming sometime in 2017. "Currently, the project has about 10 to 13 tracks on it including songs I've released this year, 'Emoticon' and 'GED 7249,'" Aich says. "I'm beginning to feel more comfortable with myself and my sound on this project. It's extremely Joey Aich and authentic to my life. I'm not very flashy and flaunting false realities I'm telling my story.  On some of my previous works I've tried to be myself, but by doing my own version of other people like ScHoolboy Q, ASAP Rocky, and others. Now I'm having fun creating and being myself." — Wallace

Cloud Nothings

With 2014's Here and Nowhere Else, which was recorded in Hoboken at Water Music over an eight-day period, the band opted for a poppier, cheerier sound than 2012's Attack on Memory. That trend continues with Life Without Sound, the forthcoming studio effort due out Jan. 27. Last month, the band issued the lead single "Modern Act," a caffeinated tune that features raspy vocals and sharp power pop sensibilities. The band also announced a run of North American and European tour dates; the jaunt includes a Jan. 26 date at the Beachland. "A thing I like to do with all of my records is drive around with them," says frontman Dylan Baldi. "In high school, I would listen to music for hours like that — just driving through the suburbs of Cleveland. And if it sounds good to me in that context and I can think of high school me listening to it and saying, 'That's okay,' I feel good about the record. This is the one that's felt best." Baldi worked on the songs for a good year before putting the finishing touches on the tunes with his bandmates, drummer Jayson Gerycz and bassist TJ Duke. They then joined producer John Goodmanson (Sleater Kinney, Death Cab for Cutie) at Sonic Ranch in El Paso for three weeks in March of 2016. "Generally, it seems like my work has been about finding my place in the world," Baldi says. "But there was a point in which I realized that you can be missing something important in your life, a part you didn't realize you were missing until it's there — hence the title. This record is like my version of new age music. It's supposed to be inspiring."— Niesel

Olathia

Local metal band Cellbound had a great eight-year run that resulted in three albums and several regional tours. The group even released an impressive, professional looking video for the tune "Fallen Angels" that was shot at a cemetery off Pearl Road. In 2015, Olathia emerged out of the ashes of Cellbound. The group, which includes singer Chris Emig, guitarist Jake Nicholson (formerly with Black Valor), guitarist Steve Albenze (also with Idleblack) and bassist JD Donatelli, raised some eyebrows with its debut, Hunters. The album's title track features a surging guitar-based intro that gives way to Emig's soaring vocals. "Hunters did well for us and defiantly opened some doors," says Emig, adding the album charted on the CMJ charts. "At the start of 2016, we changed our lineup and brought in JD Donatelli on bass to add a heavier groove," Emig explains. "The songwriting for our 2017 release combines thrash and straight up metal along with a touch of progressive. We focused on keeping the arrangements and song lengths tight so that the melodic parts and bang your head elements don't get lost. There are eight tracks ready for the new album, but you never know if there might be another addition by the time all is said and done. That's the great part, being musically ready and having a focus and a goal, but not boxing yourself in. Metal has so many branches that you gotta climb a few and see what's hanging there and expand yourself." The band aims to record the new album at Brainchild Studios in Akron. It doesn't have a title yet, but it should be out in late spring/early summer. — Niesel

Wesley Bright and the Honeytones

Singer Brent "Wesley Bright" Wesley and a different backing band played its first gig a few years ago and he's been going strong ever since. Because of its terrific live show — sharp-dressed Wesley is a real dynamo on stage — the soul/old-school R&B band is suddenly in high demand. Songs such as "You Don't Care About Me" feature a steady bass beat and soulful, Otis Redding-like vocals. This year, Bright reemerged with a new backing outfit, the Honeytones. "We're still drawing from the familiar soul tradition," he says. "The Honeytones are going new places musically, exploring a more diverse, funkier and nuanced sound." The band will release a series of 45s throughout 2017, the first being "You Don't Want Me/Work it Out: Part 2)," a cheeky soul pop tune that Bright says sounds like Sam Cooke meets Vulfpeck. "It has gotten entire crowds singing its hook while I sing it at live shows," says Bright. "'Work it Out: Part 2' shows the band's explosive side, calling upon the feeling of James Brown's classic funk." The first single comes out this spring, with a "giant release party" at the Beachland to celebrate. — Niesel

Matthew Leeb

Singer-songwriter Matthew Leeb's new album Life Ain't Light first developed as a rough demo about five years ago. He was playing in a band in Cleveland called the Jesus Freaks at the time and guitarist Danny McDonnell and he wrote the song "Life Ain't Light." Unfortunately, those sessions were lost and Leeb, thinking the title was still very appropriate, decided to try to recreate the songs. "At the time I thought, 'Wow what a perfect way to sum up my music career,'" he says. "Life isn't light, nor is attempting to narrate your life through music. I loved that title and decided to use it at some point down the line when the timing was right, but for the time being put the idea in the back burner." Leeb, who also plays in the local neo folk act Texas Plant, started writing songs for the album with "the idea that I would be as completely honest as possible about my trials and tribulations with life and love thus far." The resulting album features a range of music. Highlights include the Beck-like "All This Time" and the rootsy "Lonely Man." Cleveland native Adam Korbesmeyer of White Out Audio (who now works in L.A.) served as producer/engineer for the project. "With countless hours devoted to focused songwriting, I crafted this project to tell the story of myself," says Leeb. "Life Ain't Light is me, summed up as clearly as possible. Whatever the fuck that means. Here I am. I called on my friends and family, for additional instruments, Danny McDonnell is featured on the guitars on nearly every song and my cousin Peter Boyle aka Boy Howdy on bass. The rest of the record is my own composition and lyrics. I wrote it for myself but more importantly for listeners to hopefully get a unique perspective into my journey so far and most importantly find a common bond." — Niesel

WOULF

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It was a trip to a Lil Wayne concert in 2012 that showed WOULF (an acronym for Working On Uplifting Life Fully) what becoming a legend can do. The show inspired him to take his music more seriously. After two near-death experiences in car accidents, falling out of college and being put out by his mother, WOULF released The Rebirth, which was subsequently followed by Last Night in Town and I'll Be Late. By 2016, WOULF saw himself performing with the likes of huge stars like Devin the Dude.

Last year also saw the release of WOULF's greatest work to date, Wolves Amongst Men. "It's my biggest project yet because not only did I finally make a full length debut mixtape, but it was on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, etc., for streaming purposes," WOULF says. "I also toured around Ohio for the summer." WOULF calls his supporters Rebels and his movement the Rebel Nation World. In 2017, in addition to recording a new project, WOULF plans to expand beyond this region and take his merchandising to the next level. "I have a busy year ahead," he says. "I plan to be everywhere. There's a lot of new music, new visuals and a lot more shows. I have Rebels all across the country now. It's time to spread my wings and do some shows in different states. More branding. More and better merchandise, quality over quantity I want my Rebels to feel proud wearing my clothes to the point where they can wear it every day not just to my shows." —Wallace

John's Little Sister

"John's Little Sister originally got together really seamlessly," singer Jess Sikon says. "It all kind of just fell into place. It started when Brandon (bass) and I were playing around with getting some really simple recordings of my original songs. Eventually we just decided to start playing shows." The band's EP, Keep It Safe, came out this summer, right as the band was really picking up steam on the local circuit. It's a nice collection of tunes, and words like "dreamy," "airy" and "folksy" come to mind as listeners relax to Sikon's voice and guitar and the handy musicianship of her band mates. Sandy

MAZ

MAZ says that she's been creating since birth. Her mother was a portrait artist and her father a producer, so it would seem almost predestined that she would always follow a creative path in her life.

She was always auditioning and began writing songs when she was six years old — mimicking her favorite artists at the time, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. "It wasn't until high school when I started to try and carve my own aural footprint," she says. "I didn't release anything as MAZ until my 21st birthday." But her performance roots go back years, like one at the Rock Hall in fifth grade. "Seeing Michael Jackson's sparkly glove almost invoked tears and I knew that maybe one day I could be immortalized through my music as well and leave a little piece of me in my city forever," she says.

The city of Cleveland has definitely been an inspiration when it comes to her art. "Although I was spoiled with culture I came from very humble upbringing and the inner city was not pretty, it almost seemed dark and gritty like Gotham," MAZ recalls.  "I wanted to escape and find sunnier passages without realizing that the darkness is what drove me to create light." MAZ's upcoming project, Pale Moon is expected to be released in January and has been in the works for about a year. "Pale Moon was incepted in the summer of 2015," MAZ says. It's the bridge I'm building for listeners to come into my world — one that I call tender.land. However, it does come with a few warnings. As for how it sounds, I'd rather you listen for yourself." — Wallace

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