The Year in Your Ear

A look back at the best of the year in local recordings

Thinking back to 10 years ago, wrapping up the year in the local releases meant re-examining a stack of CDs and maybe a cassette or two. In 2009, cassettes are long gone but the format choices have broadened — among the best local recordings of 2009 were vinyl releases (of the 12-inch, 7-inch and 10-inch variety), digital, online-only ones and, still, lots of CDs. It’s a safe bet that “physical copies” will be even less common as we hit 2019.

But format, shmormat. The real story this year isn’t how the latest music from Greater Cincinnati was delivered; it’s how it sounded. And 2009 sounded pretty kick-ass if you were a follower of local music.

• Bad Veins – Bad Veins
Though the majority of songs on Bad Veins’ debut for L.A.’s Dangerbird Records were familiar to local fans thanks to live shows and freebie demo hand-outs, there was something magical about the duo’s full LP package. From the overall sound to the design, Bad Veins was a wildly impressive debut. But Ben Davis’ songs — exploding with passion, heartbreak, romance and brain-drilling melodies — and the twosome’s uniquely textural approach were what made it 2009’s best release to come out of Cincinnati, not to mention one of the best overall. (Mike Breen)

• Wussy - Wussy
Wussy’s third album was a culmination of everything the band does well: eccentric but grippingly clever wordplay, crafty vocal interplay and dirty, buzzing Pop songs that bubble with soulful energy and heart-baring/ blasting emotions. The album retained some of the rawness of Wussy’s debut, Funeral Dress, without losing the crispness of its last one, Left for Dead. They shouldn’t just get reviewed in Rolling Stone — put them on the cover! (MB)

• Pomegranates – Everybody, Come Outside!
Pomegranates sophomore release bristles with an engaging Indie Rock energy that simultaneously references and transcends the Poms’ avowed influences, mixing the Talking Heads’ swinging Art Pop rhythms with Brian Eno’s aggressive ambience and a hyper-caffeinated channeling of their various other influences. (Brian Baker)

• J. Dorsey Blues Revival – Get Right Church
JDBR’s debut is a stunning evocation of the energy and diversity that the Blues Revival brings, fueled by every imaginable Blues influence and translated with a raw, soulful edge that incorporates Psychedelia, Hard Rock and chicken-wire roadhouse energy. (BB)

• Eat Sugar - It’s Not Our Responsibility!
There’s a strong New Wave vibe, with buzzing vintage synth sounds and jerking rhythms, but the Pop element is stronger than ever and the bulging beats, electronic creativity and knack for quirky Pop song construction make the EP a magical listening experience. (MB)

• The Seedy Seeds – Count the Days
Forgive the obvious analogy, but The Seedy Seeds truly blossom on Count the Days. In songwriting, performance and arranging, The Seeds’ Electronic Americana has grown exponentially beyond the stark simplicity and naive wonder of Change States, a remarkable accomplishment considering the brief amount of time between releases. (BB).

• Roger Klug – More Help for Your Nerves
Longtime Cincy Pop master Roger Klug’s first release in a decade is the best of the songwriter’s career, with timeless Power Pop and songs so infectiously rich with hooks the CDC might think about investigating. Power Pop is sometimes derided for being a bit too “paint by numbers,” but when the writer is as good as Klug, it transcends the entire genre. (MB)

• You, You’re Awesome – You’re My Superhero (EP)
This Electronica duo spawned a trilogy of EPs, this one released in March. The band’s endearing sound (loaded with chopped samples and big beats) is as addictive and fun as the best video game, helping the band earn a big local following and national attention. (MB)

• mallory - … Before It Grows
On its first release since 2002, mallory crafted a trippy, engaging exercise in sonic fluidity, stitching together seven magnetic soundscapes that roll together like a narcotic dream. The vocals and haunted melodies swim in and out of the waves of dense atmospherics, crafted largely with drums, synths and guitars. (MB)

• Ryan Malott and Kelly Thomas - Ryan Malott and Kelly Thomas
A throwback to classic Country duets, this EP from the singer/songwriter of 500 Miles to Memphis (Ryan) and frontperson for The Fabulous Pickups (Kelly) is a soulful collaboration that put the sound of love and heartache into sonic form beautifully. Released nationally on Deep Elm Records, the EP showed that, like Johnny and June, sometimes two people are just born to sing together. (MB)

• Beneath Oblivion - Beneath Oblivion
Beneath Oblivion’s 10-inch vinyl EP on the Covington-based Mylene Sheath label features two experimental, progressive Doom Metal epics. The shrieked lyrics are raw evocations of painful personal experiences, resulting in a very revealing, expressive presentation. (BB)

• iolite – iolite
Singer Arianne Benick’s elastic vocals are the heart of iolite’s passionate, smoky Jazz/ Blues/Soul sound, bringing to mind the varied likes of Tracey Thorn, Anita Baker, Norah Jones and Sade without distracting from the singularity of her approach. (MB)

• Brian Olive – Brian Olive
Like the bands that he has contributed to (Greenhornes, Soledad Brothers), Brian Olive’s debut solo album on Alive Records has a definite Garage/ Blues feel to it, but there’s also an undeniable streak of Memphis/Stax Soul and a little ’60s Psych Pop running throughout. (BB)

• Eagle to Squirrel – Werk
Eagle to Squirrel is one of the more unique acts you’ll find in Cincinnati. Also going by the fitting name The Eagle to Squirrel Variety Hour, the eclectic performance art/spoken word/ Electronic/Jazz/ Hip Hop/Soul/Dance squad’s CD Werk is an enticing sonic stew that brings to mind an ADD-afflicted Beck on a multimedia art bender. (MB)

• Bam Powell - Eat the Fat, Drink the Sweet
In most cases, a nine-year gap between albums would be an indication of writer’s block or substance problems, but singer/songwriter/ drummer Bam Powell has no colorful tales on those fronts. He’s just pathologically busy, recording multiple albums with The Bluebirds and Bucket and playing out every chance he gets. Eat the Fat, his first truly solo effort, is loaded with soulful, down-and-dirty Funk and R&B laced with ace melodies. (BB)

• The Sleep - Never in a Million Years
The sound of the debut album from The Sleep (available as a digital download only) is very 4AD, with ambient, airy soundscapes, a dash of psychedelica, excellent, diverse guitar work and breathy, ethereal vocals. If you dug the M83 album Saturdays = Youth or were a fan of Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins, you’ll find The Sleep’s dreamy sound incredibly mesmerizing. (MB)

• Chick Pimp, Coke Dealer at a Bar- The People Vs. Lemoncello
The People Vs. Lemoncello is all over the place, experimental by nature, but also joyful and playful. Throughout the record, Chick Pimp sounds like a straight-ahead Jazz band, a Free Jazz band, Beck, They Might Be Giants, aliens, Jethro Tull, an Alt Hip Hop crew, Zappa on a laptop, a Bluegrass band, Soul Coughing … and that’s just scratching the proverbial surface. (MB)

• The Read – “Party Lines” b/w “YR Garbage”
In just two songs, The Read’s first “official” release (available on 7-inch vinyl from Phratry Records) whupped other, lengthier releases’ asses thanks to the urgent, visceral intensity of the band’s Funk/Punk firestorm. (MB)

• Rosemary Device – Rosemary Device
The tunefulness of Rosemary Device’s radio-friendly songwriting makes the band highly effective and destined for wider exposure. Though peripherally similar to some of the Pop/Emo music that gets a lot of attention these days, RD’s songs come off less forced and calculated. (MB)

• The Minor Leagues - This Story Is Old, I Know, But It Goes On
Indie Pop collective The Minor Leagues returned with another dazzling, epic album. The Leagues take the history of Pop Rock musicand shape it into their own image, sounding a little like everything and a lot like nothing you’ve heard. (MB)

• All the Day Holiday – All The Things We’ve Grown to Love
ATDH’s lush Dream Pop was introduced to the world via All the Things We’ve Grown to Love, the band’s stunning debut for Linc Star/ Warner Brothers. Ethereal but still powerful, the band’s textural, emotive sound seems destined for even bigger things in the coming years. (MB)

• Lovely Crash – So Close
This EP finds LC offering endearing melodies but shading its well-crafted brand of’90s/’00s Indie Guitar Rock (tighter than ever here) with darker tones, sounding like a natural extension of the soulful, no-BS Rock & Roll of The Gits and Sleater-Kinney. (MB)

• Giant Wow – Hey Girl
On the Hey Girl EP, solid songwriting (of the melodic Pop/Rock variety) is enhanced by Jesse Gilsinger’s always-impressive and imaginative guitar work (dueling with Keith Adams’ own crafty fretwork), strong vocals and superb harmonies. (MB)

• Tickled Pink – Tinkled Pink
Fans of the pyschodots/Raisins/Bears school of Rock take note: Tickled Pink picks up the Pop/Rock torch and sprints to the finish line with this superb effort. The musicianship is expectedly flawless, but it’s the eclecticism (the songs veer from Blues to Roots Rock to Power Pop) and songwriting that’ll have you coming back for more. (MB)

• The Harlequins - Baron von Headless
Like the romance novels the band is named after, there indeed is a romantic vibe to the music of The Harlequins, thanks to the sky-scraping croon of singer/guitarist Michael Oliva, who sounds like he could be Morrissey’s bratty, punk younger cousin. Baron (and the group’s memorable live shows) established them as one of the top “bands to watch.” (MB)

• Lagniappe - Irrational Exuberance
An authentic but still crafty mix of Zydeco, Dixieland Jazz, R&B, Tex-Mex and many more styles, Lagniappe is the aural essence of New Orleans in one ensemble. (MB)

• Wild Carrot and the Roots Band - Crowd Around The Mic: Live
This 24-track collection is a whirlwind of Roots music forms, touching on Bluegrass, Country, swinging Jazz, Modern Folk and Celtic music with a consistently masterful grace. (MB)

• Nathan Holscher and the Ohio 5 - Hit the Ground
Two years ago, young singer/songwriter Nathan Holscher released Even the Hills, a mesmerizing slab of ethereal Americana. Holscher improved on that with Hit the Ground, using the name “Nathan Holscher & the Ohio 5” to give props to his crack back-up band. (MB)

• The Chocolate Horse – We Don’t Stand on Ceremony
This vinyl release was more uplifting than the band’s debut, if only for its orchestration. strumming upon the heartstrings left behind from the debut, only to relax with more intricate, diverse instrumentation: banjo, flute, tabla, ocarina, acoustic bass (to list a few). (Jim Cunningham)

• Wake the Bear – Player Piano
For his third release, Scott Cunningham’s sound expands with more (and more heavy) beats, more electric guitars (which jar his trademark Dream Pop sound a bit) and more adventures in vocal layering and harmonies. (MB)

• Slow Claw – Grandfather Clocks
Grandfather Clocks features fractured Indie Pop songs with unique rhythms, slanted chords and an overall sense of arrangement that is impressively sporadic and unpredictable. Slow Claw has an imaginative approach to the use of space, layering tracks with hovering sounds that combine to create something oddly ethereal. (MB)

• Rumble Club - The Bad in Me
Cincy Rockabilly heroes Rumble Club twang and twist their way through a rowdy, punky set of tunes about hot rods, girls, guns and trouble on their latest album, The Bad in Me. The band continues to offer a more original alternative to more standardized Rockabilly/Pscyhobilly. (Alex Weber)

• Magnolia Mountain - Nothing As It Was
Nothing As It Was is soulful, haunting and pure, taking the best of Country, Folk and Bluegrass and refracting it through a modern prism. (MB)

• Mack West – Mack West
Calling Mack West a “Country band” can be a little misleading, at least if you subscribe to the contemporary commercial definition. The band calls its sound “Alt-Western,” referring to its unique sonics, which capture a Western/Southwestern vibe and haunting ambiance. (MB)

• Billy Catfish - Half a Jug Full = No Deal
No Deal is a solid, electrified collection of sometimes spare, sometimes rollicking tunes. Catfish wearily sings and strums big chords in front of a rhythm section vibrant enough to make the whole experience feel more like classic AltCountry than mopey Whisper Folk. (AW)

• Maurice Mattei and The Tempers - Straggler
There are moments on Straggler when Maurice Mattei seems to be tapping into Jorma Kaukonen with the same quiet fervor as he channels Dylan, but ultimately all of the musical references get focused into the singularity of Mattei’s creative lens. (BB)