Playback Cleveland

Strange Agent

Caste Away


Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Evan Scharfeld at Habitat Studios in Lakewood, this album of underground hip-hop tunes recalls the best acts from the Def Jux roster of the early 2000s (think Aesop Rock and El-P). Led by rappers Huck Tooey! and Newt Salamander, Strange Agent crafts some tight beats. The sparse "Dripper Jaws" relies on steady drum 'n' bass that's amplified by ricocheting metallic noises. "Thirsty Flower" features perplunking synths that are downright infectious. Too bad these guys don't have anything significant to say: "Booting (Erik's Revenge)" is your typical woman-hating rant, and "They Say" is a routine number about getting picked on as a kid. — Jeff Niesel

The Celebrity Pilots

Hawks of the Lesser Antilles


Utilizing a slew of "budget-basement keyboards," the Celebrity Pilots go for a bigger sound on their third album. Producer Todd Tobias (GBV, Robert Pollard, Circus Devils) lends a hand on their densest sounding album to date. Thanks to its whirring retro synthesizers, the buzzing "Penny Dreadful Can Float" stands out, channeling Pavement's madcap energy and affinity for off-tempo time signatures. "Come on Get Started" has a good groove courtesy of its chirping horn section. And it sounds like a veritable orchestra is backing the band on the lush "Aitch Slash Zed" and "The Lie of a Crucified Eye." This is good stuff from one of the region's most underrated bands. — Niesel

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