Racermason/Low in the Sky

Racermason (Patternbased)/Dear Birds (Patternbased)

The minds behind Akron's Patternbased label created the region's last hip-hop troupe to have a following as big as its bass lines. Label head Joe Minadeo was one of the driving forces behind Poets of Another Breed, the live-band rap group that Scene readers anointed band of the year in 2000 and top hip-hop act in 2000 and '01. Along with Poet drummer Pat McNulty and Honeypot singer-keyboardist Krista Tortora, bassist Minadeo headed up the Beatmakers 913 collective, which briefly rallied the Akron and Cleveland hip-hop scenes. As the rap scene died down, Minadeo began concentrating on his internet-based label and Low in the Sky, a predominantly instrumental soundscape project featuring McNulty, Minadeo, and Tortora.

The trio recently completed its second release, Dear Birds, a soundtrack without a movie. The disc is composed of short pieces that don't need structure to convey an entire mood or scenario. With repeating keyboard loops and a loping beat, "Cool Sanson" is the audio equivalent of a cloudy night sky. If Air's Talkie Walkie is starting to bore you, put this disc on your shopping list.

Minadeo also brings us Racermason's new, hotly anticipated, self-titled LP, which he produced and played bass on. Beats are slightly less central on Racermason than on Birds, but only because singer Mandy Lashua (née Lascko) has developed from a tentative crooner into a velvet-voiced siren. On the band's second disc, McNulty and Minadeo have stepped in as Racer's rhythm section, reducing the group's electronica in favor of subtle, jazzy elements, while guitarist Derek Lashua traces lines around the singer's bittersweet lyrics.

Racermason's first release, 2002's With Everything, established the band as Akron's possible answer to Portishead. Now, the group has moved beyond trip-hop and created an original ambient-pop sound that begs for further development.