- Ringworm: Finally, White Chicks and clean livin' have given us something worthwhile.
Of course, plenty of veteran groups are represented here, with some mainstays having released career-defining albums. And plenty of deserving bands were narrowly left out (Dropgun, Saul Glennon, Boatzz, American Werewolves), as there were dozens of notable regional discs. In a memorable year for local music, here are our favorites.
1. Ringworm, Justice Replaced by Revenge (Victory): In Revenge's liner notes, Ringworm frontman the Human Furnace thanks everything that sucks for giving him "an endless well of inspiration and hate." Finally, White Chicks and clean livin' have given us something worthwhile. In a year when hardcore became more and more hybridized and watered down, Ringworm reaffirmed the genre's fortitude with concussive double-bass-drum-pounding, blazing Slayer-style leads, a frontman who sounds like Satan with a sunburn, and absolutely no clean singing. We can only hope the band's labelmates are taking notes (we're looking at you, Atreyu and Comeback Kid).
2. Spittin Image, Re-Introduction (firstname.lastname@example.org): "We keep it fresh by keeping it so old-school," Spittin Image MC Verbal announces at the outset of this disc, a high-water mark in blue-collar Cleveland hip-hop. Taking a cue from '70s-inspired hip-hop classics like Supreme Clientele and The College Dropout, the album throbs with nasty horn sections, warm organic bass lines, and vintage soul shouts. Boasting production from the Kickdrums (who recently landed a track on the Get Rich or Die Tryin' soundtrack), this is by far the best-sounding local hip-hop disc in recent memory. It all helps enliven these self-effacing tunes about struggling to pay the rent and angering waitresses with lousy tips. "The only thing lackin' is the cheddar stacks," Verbal claims at one point. We bet that'll change soon enough.
3. Coffinberry, From Now on Now (Morphius): As effortlessly as Pavement encapsulated sunny Cali-stoner ennui, this band embodies dreary Cleveland fortitude. After years of promise, Coffinberry has ripened into one of the city's best groups. The quartet's tunes are both pretty and pained, with chiming guitar coaxing along frontman Nicholas Cross as he wearily asks Jesus to cut him slack. It's the stuff of late nights, large bar tabs, and too many cigarettes -- in other words, it's stuff that never grows old.
4. Midnight, Complete and Total F@#cking Midnight (My Mind's Eye Records/Shifty/Outlaw Recordings): This is heavy metal's id unleashed, one primitive rager after another, each revolving around tearing flesh, shagging maidens of ill repute, and gettin' down with Satan. "Unholy and rotten, that's what I am," frontman Athenar (aka Boulder's Jamie Walters) growls in a hoarse bray, sounding like a gargoyle with tonsillitis. Essentially a one-man band, Midnight churns out raw, devolved, early '80s thrash steeped in legends like Venom, Hellhammer, and Master. Fucking essential.
5. Roué, Upward Heroic Motive (Exit Stencil Recordings): Roué's songs often start out unassuming enough, with frontman Justin Coulter singing in a disaffected mumble while scratching at his guitar. But by the time these dissonant jags of feedback and sarcasm reach their midway point, you're looking for something sturdy to hide under. The densest batch of guitar jams this year, Roué's full-length debut veers from jagged funk to sardonic post-rock to full-on punk blasts -- the lone common denominator being the stack of blown amps piling up in the corner.
6. Filament 38, Unstable (Negative Gain): Dancing to Filament 38's dour EBM is like busting a move in a funeral procession. "I feel nothing," frontman Ash growls in a stentorian, disembodied voice over woofer-rattling beats and clanging machinery on this soundtrack to a bad day in hell. But the band is careful to underscore its grim industrial sturm und drang with ashen hooks and anthemic synth lines. So it's OK if you don't own a sleeveless KMFDM T-shirt or you've smiled more than once in the past 10 years -- Filament's pulsating misanthropy is palatable to rivetheads and regular club-goers alike.
7. Interfuse, Closed Doors Open Tracks (Tragic End Records): When Interfuse singer-bassist Lisa Cardarelli announces that it's "time to start a riot" on her band's full-length debut, it's this year's sweetest call to violence. Cardarelli's plaintive coo takes the edge off singer-guitarist Sean Djuricic's throaty pinprick of a voice. Complemented by a buzzing wall of guitars that could swallow most bands whole, they mete out tough and funny rock and roll. You won't know whether to laugh or run for your life.
8. The Vacancies, A Beat Missing or a Silence Added (Blackheart Records): The Vacancies sound like Red Bull personified, all high-energy hooks and punchy guitars that never take a breather. These dudes sing earnestly of the power of rock, and they come across as true believers, alternating poppy come-ons with blazing hardcore shit fits. Unlike many of their Cleveland punk contemporaries, the Vacancies are more giddy than grizzled. "It's hard to explain/ Ain't got no money, but I can't complain," frontman Billy Crooked sings over a near-disco beat on the standout "Hey Man." With an album this solid, the Vacancies deserve to feel good about themselves.
9. Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys, Git (Ghostly/Shinkoyo): Pere Ubu's spiritual heirs, Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys seem like four bands squished into one. The Oberlin collective channels gobs of jittery, manic energy into amorphous art-pop prone to lots of hairpin turns. The group employs every manner of instrumentation -- flutes, trombones, chimes, short-circuiting electronics, various metal objects to bang on -- with a Zappa-style flair for nonlinear jams. Git drifts from doo-wop to avant-garde funk from one bar to the next, and while you never know where this trip will end, it's a pretty thrilling ride nonetheless.
10. Various Artists, Force Majeure (Four09): The reason that IDM can be so intimidating to newcomers is that you get the feeling that the musicians making it are way smarter than you -- how else can one make sense of all those asymmetrical beats and irregular rhythms? But what makes the Force Majeure compilation a standout is that no matter how progressive the music gets, most of the artists here are skilled at finding pockets of melody and subtle groove in their heady laptop experimentations. From Masaru's fractured, glitchy hip-hop to Mmodule's sprawling, celestial soundscapes, this is a strong introduction to one of Cleveland's most inventive labels.