The Year in Greater Cincinnati Music Releases: 2018

Read excerpts from some of the many write-ups we did about local music recordings over the past 365 days

Dec 21, 2018 at 10:47 am
click to enlarge A sampling of some of Greater Cincinnati's best music releases from 2018
A sampling of some of Greater Cincinnati's best music releases from 2018

Scroll to the bottom for a playlist of more than 100 songs released in 2018 by artists from the Greater Cincinnati area.

Moonbeau – Moonbeau

Cincinnati Synth Pop duo Moonbeau — led by Claire Muenchen and Christian Gough — is making some of the best music of the new wave of New Wave. On the twosome’s 2018 self-titled debut full-length, Muenchen and Gough offer 10 tracks of powerful Pop potency that transcends the instrumentation. If the album were simply their vocals and an out-of-tune piano, it would still be a melodic tour de force. Opener “In Love,” for example, might recall, say, A Flock of Seagulls, but it isn’t hard to reimagine it as a Bruce Springsteen song (and hard not to hear it that way once you do), down to the Patti Scialfa-like harmonies. All of the songs are instantly memorable — by just the second listen, it feels like you’ve known them for years. The resplendent Synth Pop presentation is highly enchanting in its own way; wrapping it around an impeccable Pop core makes for an exhilarating combination. Moonbeau won the 2018 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for Album of the Year. (Mike Breen)

Ampline – Passion Relapse

Passion Relapse is Indie Rock trio Ampline’s first album since 2010’s You Will Be Buried and fifth full-length overall. It’s also Ampline’s best work to date, which isn’t completely shocking given the musicians’ experience and extensive history. Giving the album a raw immediacy and intensity, that economical, workman-like approach to recording is also reflected in the writing. The songs on Passion Relapse never meander, which, matched with Ampline’s musical tightness, creative and propulsive rhythms and much-developed melodic muscles, makes it one of the best Indie Rock/Post Punk albums released in 2018. For anyone bemoaning the decline of “Guitar Rock” albums in the Indie music world, let Ampline ease your fears and assure you that the legacy carried over the years by bands like Dinosaur Jr., Built to Spill and Hot Snakes isn’t in danger of dropping off anytime soon. (MB)

Vacation – Mouth Sounds #2699

Cincinnati-based quartet Vacation — which currently includes guitarist John Hoffman, drummer Dylan McCartney, vocalist/guitarist Jerri Queen and bassist Evan Wolff — has dropped a torrent of releases via various indie labels since surfacing in 2009, nearly all of them anchored by Queen’s first-person-laden lyrics and a brand of Rock & Roll they call “Grit Pop.” Mouth Sounds #2699 is a whirlwind ride, spitting forth a dozen songs in 27 minutes. Album opener “Action Road” seethes with urgency as corrosive guitars and a driving rhythm section frame Queen’s vocals, which have grown more nuanced and expressive over the years. Mouth Sounds #2699 is not just honest; it’s one of the best Rock & Roll records emanating from the Queen City this year. (Jason Gargano)

Dan Karlsberg – Tales from the Winter Solstice

Besides his inscrutable performance chops (heard regularly in live venues around town), now-veteran Jazz pianist Dan Karlsberg also flashes his abundant arrangement and composition skills from time to time on studio recordings by different bands he leads. Tales from the Winter Solstice finds Karlsberg among his comfortable sphere of influences (like Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, who gets an extra nod on Winter Solstice with “Chorale for Bud Powell”), but, as always, there are new wrinkles. Karlsberg says the music was composed and adapted specifically for the musicians he worked with on the album — JD Allen (sax) and Tom Buckley (drums). The instrumental lineup in itself was a bit of a self-imposed creative challenge, resulting in yet another flawless entry in Karlsberg’s bulletproof catalog of dynamic studio recordings. (MB)

Chelsea Ford and the Trouble – Stonehouse Road

Cincinnati-area Americana/Bluegrass newcomers Chelsea Ford and The Trouble features Ford on banjo, with Jonathan Ford on acoustic guitar and Matt Crone on upright bass. The collection of tunes on their debut, Stonehouse Road, breathes in kicked-up red dust from rural paths and exhales stark, confident Americana, drifting from melancholy reflections to up-tempo, string-band Folk with Bluegrass inflections, complemented with violin, dobro and steel guitar. There are songs about killing a man alongside lover duets and laments about drinks holding on a little too closely. They are heartfelt tunes — played with top-notch skill — that are like pulling open photo albums to present both joyous and distressing recollections. (Bill Furbee)

click to enlarge It was a big 2018 for Cincinnati Hip Hop group Triiibe, which included the release their debut album, 'III AM WHAT III AM" - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
It was a big 2018 for Cincinnati Hip Hop group Triiibe, which included the release their debut album, 'III AM WHAT III AM"


For a group that hadn’t released an album, Triiibe had established a prolific presence in Cincinnati’s Hip Hop scene. Over the course of about a year, they maintained a busy schedule of DIY shows and single releases, finding time to contribute three guest appearances to Bootsy Collins’ 15th studio album, last year’s World Wide Funk, a collaboration that bridged two generations of Cincinnati natives. The album drought ended in 2018 with the phenomenal full-length debut III AM WHAT III AM, which showed Triiibe from a whole new perspective, buoyed by the strong, anthemic songwriting and lyrical abilities evident during the trio’s uplifting live performances, but pushed to new heights by creative and nuanced production. The trio scored multiple Cincinnati Entertainment Awards in 2018, including Artist of the Year honors. (Jude Noel)

Noah Smith – Long Cut

After using a bevy of Nashville session hotshots on his 2014 EP, Cincy Country singer/songwriter Noah Smith opted to use his touring band (Michael Moeller, John McGuire, Drew Phillips and Joe “Rico” Klein) to record his debut full-length album, Long Cut, resulting in a spark and an immediacy that may have been muted on the EP, a testament to the chemistry between the players. “I’ve always loved being part of a band,” he told CityBeat of the process. “We went back to the garage and made this record, that’s what was cool about it. The concept of the record is there are a lot of road references. We spent a lot of time traveling, getting to know each other and building relationships.” (Brian Baker)

Comprador – Downstream

Led by hyper-talented singer/songwriter Charles D’Ardenne, Indie Rock band Comprador sculpted an engaging and engrossing piece of art with Downstream, and it’s worth every second of the “double album” release’s extended run time. Ambitious, yes, but this isn’t an overlong LP stuffed with filler. Each song is well crafted and shaded with fluctuating tones and colors, and there is so much diversity from track to track, the release never feels weighted down or meandrous. Very few double albums in the past 25 years have needed to be double albums, but once you get going with Downstream, you’ll want to keep following the sounds to see where they’ll go next. (MB)

The Tillers – The Tillers

Folk/Americana band The Tillers’ follow-up to 2013’s acclaimed Hand on the Plow was also its debut for well-distributed area label SofaBurn Records. The album was informed by numerous factors: the group’s extensive touring; band members’ adventures in fatherhood; the addition of fiddler Joe Macheret; personal tragedies (including the loss of former Tillers bassist Jason Soudrette, who died in 2014 after a battle with leukemia); and America’s flirtation with fascism. “It’s been a lot of slogging through negative and hard, sad things that have happened, but also really joyous, life-changing, life-affirming things as well,” singer/songwriter/banjoist Mike Oberst told CityBeat. “This record feels to me like some sort of statement of ‘We’re back,’ but also ‘We never left.’ ” (BB)

Flocks – Flocks

Flocks is three top-notch Cincinnati musicians exploring and experimenting with sound at the crossroads of Electronic music, Jazz and other styles. The fusionary results on display in their self-titled debut album make for an exhilarating and provocative listen. Flocks is a piece of digital art crafted with an analog mindset, with not only jazzy elements within the tracks’ structures, but also a Jazz-like mentality driving the proceedings, showcasing both fluid, improv-like movement and a sturdy compositional base. While Electronic music is often stigmatized as cold and rigid, in Flocks’ world, the musicians give it a vibrant sense of humanity — the music sounds “played” and not merely “initiated” with a button. (MB)

Ernie Johnson From Detroit – Ernie Johnson From Detroit

Powerhouse nine-member ensemble Ernie Johnson From Detroit’s self-titled full-length is a glorious representation of the band’s infectious mix of Funk grooves, Jazz flourishes and, most alluringly, hypnotic, percolating Afrobeat guitar and percussive pulsations, plus a sprinkling of various other influences. Anyone who has witnessed the power of EJFD in concert can attest to the group’s spellbinding attraction. But where the live experience often manifests itself in a sweaty, dance-imploring manner, the take-home version offers a more cerebral experience. While it certainly still has party-starter capabilities, Ernie Johnson From Detroit also has an almost meditative quality, the kind of album you can put headphones on, kick back and get lost in the captivating flow. (MB)

Audley – Pink

Getting his start performing on Hip Hop bills around town, singer/songwriter Audley gradually expanded his bookings to include shows at Rock clubs with local Indie bands like The Yugos and Sylmar. Like the most recent funkadelic work of Childish Gambino, Pink also moves away from a strictly Hip Hop format, exploding like a Technicolor dreamcoat threaded with elements of Neo Soul and modern/classic R&B and Pop. (MB)

Tooth Lures a Fang – Sharon is Karen

Tooth Lures a Fang falls in the “lo-fi” category, but on Sharon is Karen, the raw recording element is mostly only evident when the duo’s loud/quiet dynamic leans loud via over-driven guitar distortion. Album opener “Last Year” kicks in with a blast of Garage Rock fuzz surrounding TLAF’s greatest attribute — high-impact Power Pop melodies and harmonies. The duo’s melody magic is sometimes akin to the ’90s work of bands steeped in the archetypal Beatles/Beach Boys/Big Star Pop stylings, like Superdrag and Teenage Fanclub, as well as more recent hook-centric rockers like Rozwell Kid. But just as the sounds shift to softer, more spacious atmospherics, the hooks are sometimes structured in a breezier, less compact manner that brings to mind artists like Grandaddy, Pedro The Lion and acts associated with the Indie Pop collective Elephant 6. (MB)

Dallas Moore – Mr. Honky Tonk

If hard work guaranteed success, Dallas Moore would have solid gold cabanas surrounding an Olympic-sized swimming facility behind his mansion, and his pool boy would have a pool boy. Moore routinely gigs around 300 dates annually, a number that includes multiple shows on a single day, solo or with his talented band. Moore’s single “Mr. Honky Tonk” was sent to Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country channel and immediately became one of its most requested tracks, leading to the decision to include the single in a five-song EP, so Moore and longtime guitarist Chuck Morpurgo returned to Nashville to record an additional four songs. That session’s success led Moore to scrap a planned EP and schedule a third session to complete the well-received eight-song mini album. (BB)

Electric Citizen – Helltown

The creative partnership of singer Laura Dolan and guitarist Ross Dolan has always driven Electric Citizen’s winsome spin on old-school Proto-Metal. And the couple pushes that partnership into high gear immediately on the band’s latest full-length, Helltown, with opener “Heart Attack,” which acts as a kind of “Welcome” or “Welcome Back” to listeners new and old, respectively. The track ignites with rapid-fire jabs that feel like an amped boxer climbing back into the ring, then glides into the slip-stream of one of Ross’ crafty, always-morphing riffs. The guitarist’s sound is like a floodlight piercing heavy fog — his playing swings and slashes, but also retains a vintage dirty, mossy tone. Laura’s soulful, laser-beam vocals and melodies have always been Electric Citizen’s most distinctive edge and she’s in great form on Helltown, sounding like the long-lost child of Ann Wilson and Ozzy Osbourne who’s come back to borrow some money and won’t take no for an answer. (MB)

Mark Messerly – Inert

With Mark Messerly’s album project Inert, the singer/songwriter from Roots rockin’ duo Messerly & Ewing and bassist/multi-instrumentalist in Wussy brings the many facets of his musical persona together in a very unique way. Inert can conceivably be called a “solo album,” but Messerly shies away from that term, instead dubbing it “a collaborative music project.” To record the album, Messerly set up camp in the recording studio and invited his “exceedingly talented friends” (including members of Wussy, Vacation, Lung, Swim Team and The Afghan Whigs) to join him over the course of just two and a half days. With minimal direction, overdubs or rehearsal, the songs were recorded quickly but not hurriedly in order to capture the essence of the collaborative spirit, enabling the guests and Messerly’s chemistry with them to shape each track. (MB)

click to enlarge Synth Pop duo Moonbeau won the 2018 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for Album of the Year with their self-titled debut full-length - Photo: Devyn Glista
Photo: Devyn Glista
Synth Pop duo Moonbeau won the 2018 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for Album of the Year with their self-titled debut full-length

Sorg & Napoleon Maddox – Checkin Us

Veteran Cincinnati MC Napoleon Maddox’s latest creative endeavors have included his duo project with French producer/DJ Sorg. Sorg is a dazzling beat-artiste, crafting a rich, layered backdrop on Checkin Us that masterfully blends Soul, Funk, Electro and other elements and vibes into something colorful and imaginatively unique. Maddox has long been a world-class MC and this collaboration shows him at the top of his game, as much a showcase for his untouchable vocal and lyrical skills as anything he’s done up to this point. Drawing discriminately from seemingly every major era of Hip Hop, his rhyming schematics and flow on Checkin Us are like a clinic in creative but foundationally flawless MCing. (MB)

Common Center – Invisible Ropes and To Swallow Something Half Your Size

Seven-member Northern Kentucky ensemble Common Center’s debut album in 2015 introduced its voraciously eclectic sound, a lysergic swirl of the musicians’ vast spectrum of influences, which range from Modern and Classic Rock and Indie Folk to Classical, Jazz and an assortment of World music. That same range manifests itself again on the band’s two 2018 EPs, but To Swallow Something Half Your Size and Invisible Ropes further showed how deft Common Center has become at working those seemingly divergent flavors into its increasingly distinctive musical personality.  The music is often psychedelic and the spirit of Prog is evident, but unlike many artists associated with Psych and Prog Rock, Common Center has an anchoring songwriting core that gives its EPs their magnetic sense of cohesion. (MB)

Siegelord – Covered In Blood

Metal trio Siegelord introduced itself with 2016’s debut album, Ascent of the Fallen, a deep, dark concept album full of characters and storylines derived from the members’ personal lives. But this year’s EP told a different story — of the group’s influences. Alongside covers of songs by bands like Mastodon, Immortal and Amon Amarth, Covered In Blood included Siegelord’s reworking of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” “We deconstruct ourselves in that song,” the band’s guitarist Therod told CityBeat of the cover. (Nick Grever)

Abiyah – “Crylike”/”Masked”

Adventurous Cincinnati artist Abiyah’s “double A-side” single featuring the tracks “Crylike” and “Masked” represents the best work yet for the veteran local musician. The songs — produced by Dave Rohs (formerly of Cincinnati Electro bands Chalk and Kry Kids) — are the culmination of Abiyah’s explorations in genre-fusing, bringing together slinky, ear-commandeering AltPop melodies and darting Electronic grooves with sensibilities ranging from Hip Hop and Dancehall to New Wave and No Wave. (MB)

Wild Carrot – Between the Darkness & the Light

Before “Americana” became a buzzword for the broad spectrum of American Roots music, Wild Carrot’s music exemplified it. Singers/multi-instrumentalists Pam Temple and Spencer Funk have been making music that lovingly and gracefully combines elements of vintage and contemporary Folk, Jazz, Blues, Bluegrass and other Roots stylings since the late ’90s. The duo’s latest, Between the Darkness & the Light, is a wonderful display of Funk’s deft musical abilities and Temple’s songwriting prowess, which is at peak strength on tracks like the silky, flowing “Talking with Ghosts,” “Now I Fly,” the billowy “Cold December Day” and “(The Power of a) Pancake Breakfast,” a homey ode to things like community and interrelatedness that is particularly resonating in our digital age. (MB)

A Delicate Motor – Fellover My Own

A Delicate Motor began as a looping songwriting outlet in the early ’10s for CCM-trained Cincinnati musician Adam Petersen, growing with the enlistment of gifted fellow musicians like Ben Sloan and Stephen Patota, who helped enrich his hypnotically enchanting soundscapes on Fellover My Own and during subsequent live performances. Recorded in 2016, the album received a wide release via the local SofaBurn Records in 2018 and the band also got to enrapture new fans with its appearance at The National’s Homecoming festival in April, the only local act on the Indie Rock stars’ hometown event. (MB)

Heavy Hinges – Lonely

Together as Heavy Hinges since 2012, the band’s Roots- and Soul-inflected Rock sound has only gotten more sublime with time. A newcomer when the group started, Maya Banatwala has emerged as one of Cincinnati’s finest powerhouse vocalists, and Lonely again serves as a showcase for her elastic, soul-drenched voice. While the incorporation of ingredients borrowed from other styles has always been a key part of Heavy Hinges’ appeal, as the foundational songwriting and arrangements get stronger, so does the band’s own distinct identity. Lonely presents Heavy Hinges’ charm and personality exquisitely. (MB)

Dawg Yawp – Doubles Vol. 1

After earning national acclaimed with their 2016 self-titled debut album, Indie World Folk Pop duo returned in 2018 with a two-song single under the title Doubles Vol. 1. “Tearin’ Up” is another brilliant example of Dawg Yawp’s powerful and unique Psych Pop sound, which is made all the more endearing by a rootsy Americana undertow and streaks of Indian music via Tyler Randall’s magical sitar ornamentation. “Tearin’ Up” is also marked by potent melodies and some swirling electric guitar riffing, as well as an unexpected sample. Laid atop a rising hootenanny stomp is Howard Dean’s impassioned and infamous 2004 speech in Iowa which ended with a rally-cry “Yeeeawh!” voters deemed so awkward it somehow ended his presidential run. (MB)

Grey Dogs –Watching the World Go to Hell

Singer/songwriter/guitarist/harmonica-ist and Greater Cincinnati Roots music hero Dave Gilligan’s latest album under the Grey Dogs banner is partly a response to the weirdness of society in the Trump era, tempering seething outrage with sly witticisms. He sets the tone bluntly with opening track “I Don’t Like the President,” delivering the titular declaration in the chorus with an amusingly dry matter-of-factness, while his conversational critiques are made all the more biting by Gilligan’s sing/speak “talking Blues” vocal style. (MB)

Oids – Zonked!

The influence of synth-infused (and other) bands of the ’80s are noticeable on Oids’ debut full-length, Zonked!, but with three-fourths of the creative minds behind former Cincy Progressive Pop act Injecting Strangers running the show, the end product is ingeniously constructed with an evident sense of experimentalism. The musicians take those New Wave and Post Punk elements and artfully twist them into their own distinct, slightly warped image. Zonked! is inspired by ’80’s “Alternative” music, but Oids don’t merely mimic the sounds of old XTC, DEVO or Cars records. They chase the spirit of how those classic songs make people feel and maybe borrow a few tricks and tools from the era, but the glaring originality of what they build out of those (and other) parts makes it an almost anti-nostalgic, wildly stimulating carnival ride. (MB)

Carriers – “Peace of Mine”/“Daily Battle”

Curt Kiser (formerly of local Indie Pop greats Pomegranates and Enlou) has been honing his craft with his latest project, Carriers, over the past year-plus both on local stages and on the road. The debut Carriers release via Old Flame Records was a two-song cassette (also issued digitally) featuring “Daily Battle” and the earthy yet dreamily ethereal gem (sounding a bit like Tom Petty fronting a smoky, psychedelic Dream Pop band) “Peace Of Mine.” (MB)

Marjorie Lee and the Lovers – Ohio

Based around Marjorie Lee’s songwriting and superb voice, Ohio is an endearing listen, brimming with Folk-tinged Pop Rock that has an alluring warmth and depth, sometimes bringing to mind a mix of ’90s AltRock bands like Belly with the more Pop-minded work of songwriters like Shawn Colvin or Suzanne Vega. As with those artists, the full-band approach lifts Lee’s songs out of  “coffeehouse singer/songwriter” territory. Bassist Jon Lattier and drummer Kristin Agee are virtuosic on their instruments and give Lee’s already strong songs an extra dynamic. According to the bio accompanying Ohio, a thematic thread of the album is the internal struggle that comes from living somewhere you love but don’t always feel welcome. That’s exemplified most clearly on the title track, which opens softly and plaintively before bursting into a rockier, more defiant march. (MB)

Mark Brasington – X

In February, veteran Cincinnati musician Mark Brasington released his latest solo work, X, a meditative, ethereal collection that showcases a different, piano-based and uniquely emotive side of his highly melodic songcraft. In March, Brasington — who has worked in local bands like Clabbergirl and Odd Man Out and crafted five solo albums over the past decade and a half — released the playfully minimalistic video for the album track, “The Next Song.” Actually, it’s one of “The Next Songs” on X  — the 10-track collection kicks off with “The First Song” and ends with “The Last Song,” with all cuts in between titled “The Next Song.” That matter-of-factness is part of the album’s emotional/sonic aesthetic, which seems to float between muted melancholy and a kind of resigned serenity. (MB)

A.M. Nice – End of an Era

A.M. Nice’s 2016 debut release introduced the trio — singer/guitarist Adam Nice, bassist Nick Hill and drummer George Marshall Jenkins IV — with a whirl of punkish hyperactivity, manic Post Punk rhythms and dynamic song shifts, all threaded with exquisitely magnetic melodic barbs. On End of an Era, much of that is still in place, but the blustery vigor, distortion and pace are often dialed back. Curtailing the noisy caterwaul brings Nice’s sharp writing skills (which bring to mind Ted Leo at times) to the forefront, with especially strong cuts like “I’ve Done It” and “Mind Right” emerging as album highlights. (MB)

The Corner – The Corner

Aimed at children ages 3-7, each of the seven silly tracks on the Hip-Hop-for-kids project The Corner (with music from area Hip Hop artists Vernard Fields and Adam Hayden and illustrations by Charlie Padgett) is a different vignette, often dealing with fundamental early life lessons, such as on “Pick Up Your Towel” and “We Like to Share.” There is “grown” Hip Hop that has kid-appeal, but for Hip Hop designed for children, The Corner should be your first choice. For educators, it can help connect kids to things like storytelling, poetry and rhythm. For parents, it’s all of that and an opportunity to knock The Wiggles and Barney out of the playtime playlist. (MB)

Frontier Folk Nebraska – Foolish Frank

Foolish Frank is a crisp four-song EP issued through Cincinnati-based Old Flame Records that shows the foursome at the height of their Rock & Roll powers. The EP includes FFN’s cover of Superchunk’s “Driveway to Driveway,” from the indie rockers 1994 album Foolish (hey, that’s half of the EP’s name!), and “Fill Up My Cup,” a classic FFN song that exemplifies everything great about the band — sublime, unpretentious songwriting, soaring, sky-tickling vocals and hooks and a grounded, timeless Rock & Roll candy center. (MB)

Mira – Mira

Talented local singer Kelsey Mira — who performs as simply “Mira” — is a regular presence in the venues of Greater Cincinnati, playing a selection of original songs and covers that pull from Jazz, Pop, Soul, the Great American Songbook and beyond. Mira showcased her songwriting and arrangement skills on her first full-length album, a 2018 self-titled affair, which also draws from those wide-ranging influences, resulting in a unique collection of songs. The album is reminiscent of Norah Jones’ output, but primarily in the way Mira’s technically proficient, Jazz-based vocals are expertly transferred to a distinct sound that transcends that genre or any other simple categorization. (MB)

Check out our “The Sounds of Cincinnati 2018” playlist, featuring over 100 songs released by Greater Cincinnati artists in the past year, from the above releases and beyond.