2013: The Year in Local Recordings

Highlights from another great year for Greater Cincinnati's original musicians

Dec 29, 2013 at 11:28 pm
click to enlarge Love's a Dog by Cincinnati singer/songwriter/actress Kim Taylor was one of the best releases of 2013
Love's a Dog by Cincinnati singer/songwriter/actress Kim Taylor was one of the best releases of 2013

 Acarya - Reperio Terra Although Acarya’s minimal lineup — Wes Davidson on vocals and acoustic guitar and Liz Wu on percussion and harmony vocals — might suggest something sparse and perhaps even gentle, the group’s chosen descriptor, “Tribal Rock,” comes a lot closer to capturing the full, lively sound the duo conjures on its debut EP, Reperio Terra. With a typical “electric Rock band” lineup, Davidson and Wu’s songs would come off more like a typical Modern Rock band. But with Wu’s huge, textural rhythmic thrust — created on a specially designed drum kit consisting of a variety of worldly percussion instruments — and the intuitive, versatile songwriting, Acarya comes up with a sound all its own. (Mike Breen)

ADM - a delicate motor ADM is the alter-ego of Cincinnati musician Adam Petersen, who studied piano at Cincinnati’s venerable College-Conservatory of Music and is one of the key members of local arts/music creative collaborative The Marburg Collective. With ADM, Petersen experiments with electronics and keys, creating compelling, unique tracks that feature sparse beats and clicks, eclectic song structuring and trippy, layered vocals. The result — as heard on ADM’s 2013 debut full-length — is ambient, psychedelic and strangely melodic, a slanted, otherworldly interpretation of Pop that is often mesmerizing. (MB)

Animal Circles – Eva Lee Cincinnati trio Animal Circles craftily blends together Surf Rock, Punk, Roots/Folk/Country sounds, Rockabilly and other styles into a distinctive sonic smoothie. With the access people have to every type of music these days, it’s a wonder why every band doesn’t have Animal Circles’ sense of eclectic wonderment. AC’s debut album, Eva Lee, showcases the band’s variety and sense of dynamics, keeping your interest not just with the unique ingredients, but also a strong sense of songwriting and melody.  The “Surfin’ Space Cowboy” approach has the potential to get old fast, so it’s to AC’s great credit that Eva Lee is such a consistently compelling listen. (MB)

Archer’s Paradox – Pyramid Lake Archer’s Paradox came out of the gate hard and fast and listening to the young musicians’ debut album, it’s not difficult to hear why they’ve gone over so well. On Pyramid Lake’s 10 tracks, Archer’s Paradox showcases a sound that fits perfectly with today’s radio-friendly Pop Rock, yet doesn’t feel like forced pandering. Though rooted in the now, Archer’s Paradox comes off like an updated amalgamation of The Cars’ synthy quirk Pop, U2 guitarist The Edge’s ping-ponging guitar echoes and the heart-swelling melodies of ’90s hit-makers Gin Blossoms. (MB)

The Cliftones – “Hard Ground,” “Hold Steady” and “Gone (Warn Mi)” In January, just before winning the 2013 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for “Reggae/World Music,” The Cliftones released the single “Hard Ground,” which was mixed by noted producer Jim Fox (who has worked with Black Uhuru, Barrington Levy, Culture and other Reggae superstars and legends). In March came The Cliftones’ “Hold Steady,” mixed by DJ Prophesy (Bassnectar, Glitch Mob) and mastered by one of the greatest Dub producers ever, Scientist. “Gone (Warn Mi),” another Prophesy/Scientist collaboration followed in November. Three top-shelf singles that show The Cliftones are as potent a force in the studio as they are on the stage. (MB)

Dark Colour – Prisoner Using the name Dark Colour (fleshed out with other musicians in a live setting), Cincinnati’s Randall Rigdon, Jr., doesn’t let all of those Electronic music subgenres distract him, instead embracing a variety of Electro styles and putting them together in his own personalized way. The results are delectable. Dark Colour’s full-length debut, Prisoner, is reminiscent of hearing things like New Order, LCD Soundsystem, MGMT or Neon Indian for the first time. Rigdon has solid writing and lyrical skills, but it’s the multi-hued textures, kaleidoscopic array of synth sounds, endearing beats and a shifting ambiance (showcasing his deft ability to create distinct moods) that set Dark Colour apart from the EDM pack. (MB)

Darlene - Shiny and Bright The eight-song Shiny and Bright is the follow-up to Indie Pop trio Darlene’s 2009 release Studio of Beauty and follows along the same sweet/sour lines, with irrepressible melodies and harmonies bursting like fireworks around the magnetic rhythms and sideways blasts of guitar dissonance. (MB)

Electric Citizen – Electric Citizen Calling themselves “Witchy ’70s Metal,” Cincinnati’s Electric Citizen debuted earlier this year, hitting the road and building a following amongst fans of the burgeoning Psych Rock scene (as well as other bands that play it) from all over the world. The group also caught the attention of L.A. indie label The Crossing, which released Electric Citizen’s four-song, double 7-inch vinyl EP, a great intro to the band’s fuzzy, spooky Psych Metal rumblings. (MB)

Fists of Love – I Sang My Heart Out to a Snake Once Given the history of the members of Fists of Love (who’ve played with the likes of The Fairmount Girls, Snake Punching Contest and other acts over the past couple of decades), it’s not surprising that I Sang My Heart Out is an impressive first effort. The album is a sonic voyage and a great recording to absorb as a whole (like how “albums” used to be). The arrangements on each track take the listener through unexpected twists, turns, textures and rhythms, showcasing a psychedelic spirit that is mesmerizing. The album touches on the “Psych” Rock, Pop and Folk of the past half century, but never sounds emulative, as the musicians turn it all into something uniquely Fists of Love. (MB)

The Frankl Project – Standards With its first three releases and about a decade’s-worth of live shows across the region, The Frankl Project has honed a sound that has earned notice for its crafty blend of Rock, Pop, Punk and Ska. But the Cincinnati trio’s album Standards showcases the sound of a band finding its own unique voice and running with it. Unlike most Pop Rock bands (especially ones that have a “Punk” element or pedigree), The Frankl Project doesn’t try to overload its tracks with giant-sounding guitars that fill every nook and cranny, opting instead to leave lots of space to create a distinctly airy aura. Allowing the tracks to breathe and rise and fall without resorting to predictable dynamics recalls the less-is-more approach that Indie Rock stars Spoon do so well and makes Standards a gripping listening experience. (MB)

Injecting Strangers - Nightmare Nancy Injecting Strangers’ elastic Indie Rock sound is impressively — but never cloyingly — theatrical, with the arrangements and sonics bending with the storylines in the lyrics. The tracks “Nightmare Nancy pt. 1” and “Nightmare Nancy pt. 2” show this Rock Opera-esque attribute most clearly, but the tale of murder, medicine and a disgraced doctor, which flows like scenes from a film, begins with the EP’s “single,” “Lucky” and the jarring refrain, “I’m a lucky little fucker.” There’s a lot of violence in these songs, but the sonics and performances are buoyant and sometimes downright jubilant-sounding. Injecting Strangers has a frisky flair for the dramatic, but thankfully steer clear of melodramatics. (MB)

The Kickaways - Show Yr Teeth Not a ton has changed for The Kickaways since 2011’s America! America! full-length debut. The Cincinnati/Dayton quartet still features the same lineup — vocalist Charlie Lynn, guitarist/vocalist Rémi Glistovski, bassist Jacob Ittle, drummer Adam Lambchop — and they continue to make a raucous, righteous racket in the key of Garage Soul, with hints of Glam and crunchy Rock, all of which is plainly evident on their latest full-length, Show Yr Teeth. (Brian Baker)

Ma Crow and the Lady Slippers - Wayward Daughter The debut from Ma Crow with her Lady Slippers, Wayward Daughter, is a stellar collection of Bluegrass/Americana/Country standards delivered in Crow and Co.’s flawless, soul-stirring “mountain music” style. The musicianship, arrangements and vocals (melodies and harmonies) on the album are impeccable. (MB)

Magnolia Mountain – Beloved; Mark Utley – Four Chords and a Lie Mark Utley has proven to be pretty great in the songwriting department; perhaps less so on the editing end. The last two Magnolia Mountain albums were legitimate double-albums, packed to the very edge of a CD’s load limit. Thankfully, Utley’s songwriting acumen has totally overshadowed his lack of editing skills. Magnolia Mountain has always exhibited a broad sonic diversity, moving easily from Country to Folk to rootsy Americana to twangy Rock. Utley decided to use his solo debut (which also features his side band, Bulletville, on a handful of tracks) as a repository for the more Country aspects of his writing spectrum, leaving the heavier, bluesier, funkier tracks for Magnolia Mountain. Beloved and the solo Four Chords and a Lie prove that, so far, the segmented approach is working out beautifully. (BB)

Arlo McKinley and Friends - Spirits of Hank Spirits of Hank is a live recording featuring numerous local Country/Roots musicians playing the eight songs music legend Hank Williams recorded at Cincinnati’s Herzog recording studios in the late ’40s. Arlo McKinley and talented friends Tim Carr, Tyler Lockard, Sarah Davis, Moriah Haven Lawson, Sylvia Mitchell and Kelly Thomas teamed up at the former Herzog site, downtown at 811 Race St., in August to record the songs in front of a small audience. The songs themselves make this album a “must-have,” but the “narration” by Ed Vardiman of local Honky Tonk heroes Straw Boss takes it to the next level, making it an indispensable historical document for the ages. In his introductions throughout the performances, Vardiman provides context and tells the stories of Williams’ visits to Cincinnati in a way that is both thoroughly entertaining and informative. (MB)

Over the Rhine - Meet Me at the Edge of the World 

Veteran Cincinnati Folk Pop duo Over the Rhine’s gorgeous, sprawling double album, Meet Me at the Edge of the World, is the group’s 15th album and stands amongst its best work. Produced in L.A. by singer/songwriter and Grammy-winning producer Joe Henry, the album — split up as a four-sided double vinyl LP — was inspired by the natural surroundings of OTR’s creative core, married couple Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist’s rural farmhouse located about an hour east of Cincinnati. The album’s 19 tracks (including one cover, a rendition of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference”) are among OTR’s finest yet — beautiful, soulful and often transcendent. It also marks the emergence of Detweiler as a vocalist, as he harmonizes (and even duets) with Bergquist frequently on the new release. (MB)

Allan Pray – Race: The Portrait of a Town This year, the prolific Pray, a tennis-pro-turned-maker-of-compelling-music, released his latest album, the sprawling, ambitious Race: The Portrait of a Town, a four-CD set that he wrote and recorded himself. The songs are about an intricate miniature town his mother built in her attic; Pray wrote the songs about all of the people, places and things within the imaginary city. Pray performs the radiant, intimate Art Folk songs live with his brother and sister, as well as a nine-piece string ensemble. (MB)

Kelly Richey - Sweet Spirit The 10-track Sweet Spirit is singer/guitarist Kelly Richey’s 10th studio effort and first to feature the always-impressive bass playing of Chris Sherman, aka Freekbass from Freekbot and local Funk group Freekbass. Sherman and studio drummer Robby Cosenza (formerly of the D.C.-spawned Indie Folk Rock band These United States) give Richey’s muscular, riff-laden songs a serious groove upon which the ever-soulful musician dazzles with both her six-string and vocal chords. While a powerful record, there are also lots of varying shades and subtleties to the album, showing Richey’s composing and arranging skills in peak form. (MB)

Seabird – Troubled Days Although it took a year for Seabird to stabilize after vocalist/keyboardist Aaron Morgan assembled the band in 2004, Ryan Morgan’s addition in 2005 solidified both the lineup and the band’s Coldplay-meets-Snow Patrol sound. The Morgan brothers — Aaron on vocals and keyboards, Ryan on guitar — had success on EMI/Credential but felt forced down a marketing path by the label that they had no interest in pursuing and courageously chose to determine their own destiny with their self-released third album, Troubled Days. (MB)

Annette Shepherd - I Only Have Eyes For You Fantastic local Jazz vocalist Annette Shepherd’s first new album in more than a decade, I Only Have Eyes For You, is a soul-stirring collection of unique arrangements of mostly standards, featuring a slew of top-shelf local players, including Brian Lovely, Jim Connerley, Teddy Wilburn, Marc Wolfley, Don Aren and Paul Patterson. (MB)

Shiny and the Spoon – Box of Bullets The latest benchmark in the saga of Shiny and the Spoon is the band’s sophomore album, Box of Bullets, the follow-up to their brilliant 2010 EP and acclaimed full-length, 2011’s Ferris Wheel. Box of Bullets marks a significant shift for Amber Nash and Jordan Neff, as they welcome the talents of upright bassist Pete Brown and drummer Matt Frazer to the fold.  In addition to being a more collaborative effort, there is a definite Indie Rock/Pop buzz on Box of Bullets that nods in the direction of Neko Case and Clem Snide. Shiny and the Spoon certainly haven’t abandoned the quiet Americana elegance that has defined them from the beginning, but the volume has been nudged upward. (BB)

Skeleton Hands – Gone After a couple of singles and EPs on esteemed (and diverse) Electronic/EDM label Racecar Productions, local Electronic Coldwave/Darkwave duo Skeleton Hands’ Gone was the culmination of their work so far, wonderfully produced and showcasing the growing songwriting talents of Skeleton Hands as they begin to develop their own more distinct identity. The album’s atmospheric glaze is mesmerizing. Along with the more rhythmic synths, the hovering aura anchors the songs on Gone, allowing the group to drizzle their delicious guitar trickling and deep, melodic vocals atop with artful elegance. (MB)

The Sleepin’ Dogs - Moon Over the Mountain Excellent Northern Kentucky Country Rock quartet The Sleepin’ Dogs’ second full-length, Moon Over the Mountain, has a kickin’ energy and dynamic Rock power; while the Country influence is still strongly evident, it’s blended a little more artfully than on the band’s debut. Lots of artists these days are mixing Rock and Country, but The Sleepin’ Dogs do so in new and unique ways. Moon Over the Mountain finds the band in top form, ready to take their music to the next level and find a well-deserved national audience. (MB)

Kim Taylor – Love’s a Dog In 2013, brilliant singer/songwriter Kim Taylor released her stellar album, Love’s a Dog, and watched as the indie film, I Used to Be Darker, directed by Matthew Porterfield and featuring Taylor in a lead acting role, became a darling of the indie film festival circuit. With Love’s a Dog, recorded in New York with longtime musical cohort Jimi Zhivago and drummer Devon Ashley, Taylor maintained her signature Folk/Pop style while infusing it with a slight uptick in swing and propulsion. It features some of Taylor’s finest songs yet in a catalog full of amazing songs. (BB)

Terminal Union – Making Arrangements The debut full-length from Terminal Union, which began as the duo of singer/songwriters David Faul and Ian Mathieu and is now rounded out by bassist Lynette Mathieu and drummer Mark Becknell, was a wonder of AltCountry, capturing the heart and soul of vintage Country but showing a wide spectrum of other influences. The songs are wonderfully composed and have a strong sense of timelessness, but the eclecticism and emotional weight the frontmen inject into the writing and performances creates a start-to-finish engaging listen — a true “great album,” in the classic sense. (MB)

Those Guys – For Good Reason In only eight tracks, coming in under a half-hour, Those Guys transformed themselves from just a local group of rappers to a legitimate Hip Hop duo on the brink of something greater. The entire album is solid, but the true gem is the first track, “Dear Kanye,” a culmination of all the hard work the group has put in over the last year. The production has a smooth, almost Electronic Hip Hop feel to it and ends with more samples than a trip to IKEA.

The verses provided by both Jova and J.Al are smart yet still captivate the listener. In every great tag-team there always seemed to be one person that carried the group (i.e. Shawn Michaels to Marty Jannetty, Bret Hart to Jim Neidhart), but Jova and J.Al have seemed to find that Road Warrior mentality, one working off another.
(Blake Hammond)

The Tillers - Hand on the Plow The Tillers’ Hand on the Plow stands to reach the wider audience it deserves thanks to its release through Muddy Roots Records, the label branch of the organization that puts on Tennessee’s popular Muddy Roots Music Festival every year.  With Hand on the Plow, The Tillers prove their chops aren’t just instrumental — the songwriting and arrangements are  the best of the group’s career so far. The Tillers use the same tools as Folk’s pioneers — banjo, stand-up bass, acoustic guitar, fiddle, harmonica, accordion, spoons — and essentially work within fairly standard Folk structures. But a lot of people do that. What makes The Tillers special is their ability to turn that simplicity into something magic. And Hand on the Plow is loaded with magic moments. (MB)

umin - ativ umin is the solo guise of Cincinnati musician Kevin Poole. On the 2013 album antiv, Poole combines acoustic and electronic sounds with a ukulele, programming and samples. The release features collaborations with numerous Cincinnati area musicians, including Matt Mooney of Koala Fires, Nic Powers of The Sweep and Elle Crash of JetLab, and also contains long distance collaborations with former Cincinnati artist/musician Matthew Shelton (now based in Chicago), umin’s labelmate on Abandon Building Records. (MB)

Vacation – Candy Waves Local musicians Peyton Copes and Jerri Panic had quite the year in 2013. One of their bands, Tweens (with Bridget Battle), was one of the most talked about bands in Cincinnati, eventually inking with Frenchkiss Records. But their other band is no afterthought side-project. With Vacation (in which they are joined by Evan Wolff on bass), the musicians released their sophomore LP, Candy Waves. Highly melodic and equally noisy, Candy Waves is appropriately titled — the listener gets sucked in by the sweet catchiness, then swept away in the waves of distortion, feedback, lo-fi production and driving Punk rhythms. (MB)

Tracy Walker - Coetaneous Vibrations Tracy Walker has been such a consistently popular presence on the live music scene, it’s hard to believe the Cincinnati singer/songwriter hasn’t put out a new release in a decade. Ten years after her sophomore album, All This Time, Walker entered the studio with super-producer Erwin Musper to record Coetaneous Vibrations. Walker’s recorded material was always hard to describe, with elements of Folk, Pop, Soul and Rock dancing together for her own singular style, but on Vibrations, Musper fleshes out many of the tracks with a classic Soul/R&B vibe, enlisting some top local players to create the crisp musical backdrop to Walker’s spine-chilling vocals and songs. (MB)

Young Heirlooms – Young Heirlooms The twosome — featuring Kelly Fine and Christopher Robinson on vocals and guitars — cites contemporary Indie/Art Folk groups such as Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes as influences, and if you love those bands, you’ll definitely dig Young Heirlooms. But where those acts are often marked by their roaming, sometimes jarring arrangements, Young Heirlooms’ most magnetic elements are the songs, the melodies, the vocal arrangements and Robinson and Fine’s precise harmonies. The album is impressive in its organic, natural feel — the vocals are such a focal point and the musical backing is so energized and full, it’s easy to forget that the songs are performed exclusively on acoustic instruments. (MB) 


Buffalo Killers – Ohio Grass

BoyMeetsWorld – Do What’s Best For You

DAAP Girls - Tape Songs

Denim Road Band – Blame it on the Stars

Rob Fetters – Saint Ain’t

FlowHio - We Dropped Out of School For This

Grey Host - Dawn for Vultures

The Harlequins - Sex Change 

Vaughn & Co. - Play It Again

Hide&Seek - FlyingPigs&Steamboats

Jamwave - Brighter Days

Austin Livingood – The Weightless Anchor: By Plane (I)

Mangrenade - Lions in the Parking Lot

Mardou – Cardigan EP

Maurice Mattei and the Tempers - Stray BellesRagged Dolls: Darker Angels

MC Forty & Clutch - Sleeping Showers

Moonbow - The End of Time

Dallas Moore - Blessed Be The Bad Ones

New Vega – Exit Ocean

Playfully Yours – Colorvision 

Pop Goes the Evil - White Cream Soda

Pure Predicaton - Junk Shit For Brains

Radio Rescue - The Soundtrack to Second Place

Red Beard’s Revenge - Jim Jimmy James

Revenge Piñata – Neon Eyes

Rumpke Mountain Boys - Moon

Saturn Batteries - Ever Been in Love

SHADOWRAPTR - Love of Good Mystery

The Socials – The Beast Bites

Strangetunge - Tunge in Cheek

Trademark Aaron – For the People 

The Tigerlillies – In the Dark

Valley High – 90’s Tape

Various Artists - Music for the Mountains 2: A Benefit to Stop Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Roger Yeardley - The Same But Different