13 Bands to Watch in 2013

A Look At The Acts On The Verge Of Bigger, Better Things

Last year, several Cleveland-area acts made a splash on the national stage. Machine Gun Kelly teamed up with several A-list hip-hop celebs on his major label debut and subsequently traipsed across the country and globe, playing arenas in some cities. The Cloud Nothings played in front of a national TV audience on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and then secured a prime slot as the openers for Silversun Pickups. The Lighthouse and the Whaler got some national ink for their latest album and embarked on a short national tour. Mr. Gnome continued to garner buzz. And that's not counting a slew of other acts ranging from metal to hip-hop that put out great albums and played in and around town. So which bands appear poised to break through in 2013? We picked 13 we think have the best shot, and that have either just issued their first album or are about to make their debuts. Read, listen, learn, enjoy.

1. Cloud Nine Collapse

Though Cloud Nine Collapse doesn't exactly fit into the local scene dominated by hip-hop and hardcore, the band has never wavered from its smooth vocals, intricate riffs and attention to every instrument. Instead, they've pushed the early-2000s emo-rock vibe on skeptical Cleveland crowds and have made waves with their over-the-top stage presence and audience involvement. "We all loved Circa Survive, the Receiving End of Sirens, Taking Back Sunday, and Brand New, so basically all those put together shaped our music," says bassist Bryan Stewart. "We wrote some songs in those first couple months each bringing to the table our influences." The band has just issued an EP and hopes to put out a full-length of all new music, film a music video and play more shows in 2013. "We'd love to get to out of town and play in other cities, like Toledo, New York, or Pittsburgh," says Stewart. "And we would love to get a stage at Warped Tour or South by Southwest." —Nikki Hunt

2. Demos Papadimas

Singer-songwriter Demos Papadimas says he "feels better than ever" about his forthcoming full-length, Wandering Through the Wilderness. "I finally feel like I got the sound I always wanted," he says. The Howland-based musician plays a mix of American roots and Mediterranean rhythms based on his Greek heritage. On his 2011 self-titled EP, he moves from mid-'60s-era Bob Dylan influences to a song like "Soul of a Man" that conjures up a celebratory hora (aka circle dance) while the lyrics reveal his "cynical optimist" worldview. Papadimas grew up on a musical diet of Dylan, Grateful Dead and Neil Young — artists that followed traditions before tearing them apart. "Hearing songs like 'Cocaine Blues' done live by Dylan really made me want to dig into the roots of American folk music and interpret it with a youthful approach," he says. He's found a kinship with modern twisters of American sounds like Old Crow Medicine Show, who blend foot-stompin' bluegrass with a rock 'n' roll attitude. "They're expressing what I'm feeling, the whole idea of being young and jumping back into the roots and making something new out of that." —John Patrick Gatta

3. Free Medicine

After the Sign-Offs and then Dozen Dead Roses broke up, singer/keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Tim Long bought an 8-track Atari tape machine that used to belong to Pere Ubu and started experimenting with new sounds and dubbed his new band Free Medicine. The group's debut, The Pill, has a post-industrial sound the opening track, "ReEvolution" draws heavily from industrial rock but retains a clear melody, and "Leave Me for Dead" has Foo Fighters-like energy but sounds nastier. "Technically, it's not a full-length and we're not sure if we'll put out a full length," says Long when asked about the album, which was released digitally and on a USB drive. "I love vinyl and analogue sound, but I don't have a budget for that. I came up with idea to have a pill-shaped USB drive. I'll continue to do something like that and release batches of music as they come out." The band is looking at booking regional dates in Chicago and Detroit in early 2013. —Jeff Niesel

4. The Heights Band

If you like your Blue Cheer with a dash of MC5, you should investigate the Heights Band. Brothers Ryan and Dustin Dockery lead the Akron blues-psych quartet. The hirsute pair looks like refugees from Marshall Tucker Band but perform with hair-flying punk intensity. After the rumbling bloozy bum rush of 2009's debut We Are EP, they diversified on last December's We Own The Sun EP. It ranges from crunchy highlight "You Can't Say I Didn't Try," suggesting early Afghan Whigs, to "Waiting," which blends Built to Spill and Spoon. They haven't forsaken Yardbirds-inspired rockers either, judging from the chunky, infectious "When God Finds Out." They're about to return to the studio, too. "We're going full-length direction this time, I think. We haven't done the trim-the-fat thing to decide how many we're going to record, but the plan's to do a release this upcoming year," says Ryan Dockery. "Much of what we're listening to is different so it's translating into different music," he says, citing bands like Mudhoney, Pixies, Manchester Orchestra and Modest Mouse. "As we wrote the previous album we started listening to... bands like that and those influences play a more significant role. We're working toward a deeper sound with more layers." —Chris Parker

5. Lifeline

We live in a world where the word "legend" is used far too loosely. But on the local hardcore scene former Spudmonsters frontman Don Foose is a legend. For 25 years now, he's withstood all sorts of musical trends and remained relevant. Foose formed his newest band, LIFELINE, at the beginning of the year with former Boy Sets Fire bassist Robert Chatterjee in Nurnberg, Germany. "It's just the two of us that are heading up the band," explains Foose. "They recorded all the music on our debut, Civil Disobedience, in Germany. When we play in Europe, we'll play with those guys and when we play here we'll use guys that I play." On his Facebook site, Foose explains that "LIFELINE stands for vegetarianism, living a clean, healthy lifestyle with pure intent." Whatever you think of the philosophy, there's no denying the band plays with power. "All my songs are always about the philosophy of life," says Foose. "This is just up-tempo punk rock with a New Age twist. It's Misfits meets Pennywise. At least that's what people are saying. I think that's cool." The band's debut is every bit as politically charged as anything by Bad Religion or Rage Against the Machine. "It's starting to sell well in Europe," says Foose, who says the band has European dates in March. "We just did it for fun but people are really digging it and we love playing the songs." —Niesel

6. Light Years

Though singer Pat Kennedy and bassist Tommy Englert started playing in high school, they didn't meet the other half of Light Years — guitarist Andrew Foerst and drummer Kent Sliney — until they were in college at Kent State University. After dropping out before last spring's semester, the foursome spent the year touring the U.S. and Europe and finished recording its first full-length, I Won't Hold This Against You, this November. Kennedy thinks it's the Cleveland foursome's "less-girly" approach to pop-punk that makes it stand out from the basic boy band version. "We're not reinventing the wheel here, just trying to make it our own," he says. With influences like Blink 182, New Found Glory, and Saves the Day, Light Years stick to a more rough-around-the-edges style. Kennedy's raspy vocals stand out amidst the jumble of guitars and drum that sounds more for punk than pop in songs like "To Live or To Die." With another European tour already planned for January, and their debut record set to release in the spring, Kennedy says the guys are taking it month by month. — Hunt

7. Night Sweats

Night Sweats features members of the punk/blues/rock band Living Stereo, but it's a different project with its own sonic identity. Like Hüsker Dü, Night Sweats delivers guitar/bass/drums post-punk urgency and smart, catchy songwriting with a diverse range of attitudes and personalized style. The trio has been playing out for nearly two years but still has virtually no Internet presence or music in circulation. Drummer/lead singer Brandon Abate explains, "We've been practicing patience by not letting the public hear demos as we write songs. The Internet is a great vehicle to spread the word about your band, but I think it's made a lot of bands too quick to start letting everyone hear everything you're doing." From its earliest gigs, the band has demonstrated strong instrumental/vocal skill, maniacal energy, and unpredictable compositions. In 2013, the band plans on finally releasing its first full-length record as it tightens its live musicianship and refines its visual staging and presentation. It should feel transparent to audiences, but making enduring, seemingly anarchic rock and roll is a lot of thoughtful work. In a world of underdeveloped and under-produced digital music, the wait is welcomed. —Michael David Toth

8. Ohio Sky

Ohio Sky's name reflects their expansive music. While the first two EPs suggested a band with feet in both metal and hardcore, last year's full-length debut, Curses, displayed more nuance and texture. Recording was a torturous process spanning involving multiples studios/producers, and a Christmas Eve robbery. Their newest member was assaulted as crooks made off with equipment and their masters. Undeterred, they went to Suma Recording in Painesville and knocked out Curses, an album triangulating post-metal, stoner rock and dream pop. The result is spacey cinematic music with great dynamism, going from feral sludge-chug through prog intricacy to ambient ethereality. The sound's still evolving. They recently returned to Suma and changed things up for the forthcoming This House Is Old and Filled With Ghosts EP. "It was written all with acoustic guitars and a shitty Casio keyboard. We just put the ideas together as band all in the bedroom, just like the writing process. We took them to our rehearsal space and turned a couple into electric songs," says frontman Vinnie DiFranco. "There's one really heavy instrumental reminiscent of our last record, but a portion of the EP is very organic with acoustic guitars, grand piano, viola, violin even trombone on a track." — Parker

9. Ragers

A local hard rock band that formed last year out of the ashes of the heavily hyped This is a Shakedown, Ragers sound pretty fired up on their new Amnesia, which kicks off with the howling vocals of "Blood on the Dance Floor," a stop-and-go anthem that has elements of Marilyn Manson and Buck Cherry. Guitarist Brandon Zano has a distinctive voice and the shimmering pop of "Glitter Girl," and the gritty title track show off the band's musical range. The band has been picking up momentum, too. "Right now, we're working on doing college radio promotion for the EP and we're booking our tour for February. We got on this college radio show out of Long Island, New York," Zano says. "It's like a Howard Stern situation where you go in and they fuck you and then promote your music." In February, the band will play the Millennium Music Fest in Harrisburg; the guys are already writing new songs and hope to head into the studio in early 2013 to record a full-length. —Niesel

10. Sun Spots

Former Good Touch Bad Touch singer-guitarist Ryan Wilkins originally released a Sun Spots EP four years ago. "That was just me doing this stuff all by myself," he says. "Two years ago, I decided I wanted to do something a little louder and we wanted to make a bunch of really loud pop songs and build a wall of sound." Sun Spots makes quite an impression on Stay Blank, a vibrant debut that recalls the indie pop of the 90s. Featuring contributions by members of local acts such as Village Bicycle, Voxcaster, the Dreadful Yawns, and Spacer Ace, the album took the group a full year to make; it's a meticulously crafted collection of brittle but high-energy pop tunes. Songs such as "Rapid Transit" and "Snowblind" are rambunctious numbers with echoes of Guided by Voices, and album opener "Catastrophe Headwear" has aspirations of Posies-inspired power pop. The ballad "Flutter" falls a bit flat, but this is an otherwise fun and engaging listen that the band rightly advises is best appreciated with a pair of headphones. The release is currently available only as a digital download but Wilkins says it'll come out on cassette in 2013. —Niesel

11. TeeJayy Lewins

When budding singer-songwriter and guitarist TeeJayy Lewins returns to Cleveland within the next few weeks, this town's going to hear about it. The Rocky River native is spending his New Year honing his craft in the mountains of Colorado, seeking solace from the tumult that this time of year brings for him. Two years ago, the sudden death of Lewins's younger brother Micah brought his own life to a screeching halt. Drugs, strong drink and the allure of women kept the darkness at bay for a little while, but visits to area psych wards and the looming storm of madness brought his tattered mind to the rocky shores of music and the bliss of the guitar. "I really didn't start finding my voice until the grieving process started taking place," he says. With a string of four songs recently released online — and the promise of 25 or so when he returns to Cleveland to record — Lewins deals in honesty and the shared experiences of tragedy and hope. He's seen quite a bit of both in his young life, but he's seeking the hopeful stuff wherever he looks these days. "I want to help anyone I can the way I was helped. It changed me for the better," Lewins says. "I've got the gift of music, so why not use that as a tool?" Fellow musician Taylor Netzler, of Waterband and 28 North, reached out and offered the kid a spot on a national tour recently. He showed Lewins the ropes and, more to the point, boosted his confidence and changed his life for the better. You can check out Lewins's latest material, including a tribute to Netzler and Waterband, via Facebook and Soundcloud. -- Sandy

12. Thor Platter

With a busy 2012 in the books and an even busier 2013 on the horizon, Thor Platter — frontman in the alt-country act The Whiskey Lock — has got a lot on his plate. He's looking forward to a brief regional tour in the spring, followed up quickly with the release of his first solo album. "I've enlisted the help of some of the best musicians available in the Cleveland area for this record," Platter says, referring to Billy Crompton, Chris Hanna, Brent Kirby, Matthew Knott and others. The release will serve as the culmination of years of hard work for Platter, who moved from Buffalo to Cleveland four years ago. He's spent his time honing his craft, gigging with The Whiskey Lock and rubbing elbows with Cleveland's finest. His forthcoming album promises an expansion of his Americana roots rock and soulful good vibes. "Cleveland is a great town to be a musician in," Platter says. "Though most of the local radio stations won't play any local music, almost every night you can find great live, local performers and many touring acts performing at some of our beloved venues." We couldn't agree more. He's scheduled a CD release show for April 5 at Brothers Lounge. —Sandy

13. Wesley Bright&the Hi-Lites

The clear frontrunners from year's pack of Bands to Watch, Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites feature one of the city's most engaging front men in Bright, a former salesman that bassist Bob Bason and drummer Nick Fritsch recruited when they formed the band in 2011. "Bob and I spent time touring with the Patrick Sweeney band," Fritsch says. "We were on that gig for a couple of years. We discovered each other's passion for soul music and there was this particular cassette that was a live Otis Redding recording that we listened to while touring. We started talking about Stax and Motown and that it would be cool to start a soul band." Based in Akron, the guys seek to emulate the Northern Soul sound that was so popular decades ago. Black Keys live sound engineer Jason Tarulli recorded and mixed the vinyl 7-inch "Get It Right/Love I Got It," the band's only release so far. The band is currently working on a set of songs for a full-length due out in 2013. "We're taking our time with this one because we really want to capture that Northern Soul sound and we have all these extra percussion parts and bell parts and all this stuff." —Niesel

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