The biggest music news to come out of Cleveland in 2011 had to do with a skinny white rapper who likes to stir up trouble for suburban mall cops. After two popular mixtapes and a handful of buzz-worthy festival performances, Machine Gun Kelly signed a record deal with Diddy's label at Interscope. His debut album drops early in 2012.
The other big music news to come out of Cleveland this past year had to do with another skinny white kid. Cloud Nothings, the indie-rock brainchild of Westlake's Dylan Baldi, released their debut album and made good on Scene's January prognostication that they were a Band to Watch — an honor Rolling Stone is about to drop on them next month as well.
"The past 12 months have been pretty hectic," says Baldi. "We've been touring constantly, with very little time at home. That's generally been a positive thing. We get to see people in England make faces at us when we say fries instead of chips, so I can't complain." Cloud Nothings' second album comes out in a few weeks.
Will 2012 continue the good fortunes for MGK and Cloud Nothings? Check back next year at this time. In the meantime, you should use some of those holiday gift cards you got to pick up the best albums Cleveland had to offer in 2011.
You'll find everything from low-fi indie pop to late-night torch and twang to we-have-no-idea-what-the-fuck-to-call-it.
Twenty-year-old Baldi started Cloud Nothings as a one-man-band in his parents' Westlake house. The group has since expanded onstage, but Baldi still calls the shots on Cloud Nothings' self-titled debut, a low-fi record of DIY indie rock — part Guided by Voices, part Wavves — that still sounds like it was recorded in a basement. Eleven fuzzy songs whiz by in less than 30 minutes.
Jessica Lea Mayfield
The 22-year-old Kent singer-songwriter got some help from Black Key Dan Auerbach, who produces, plays guitar, and adds texture to Mayfield's moody gloom. Her second album is a collection of late-night confessions about heartbreak and hope at the end of the dark tunnel. Mayfield's achy twang pulls in the emotional distance that often collides with her vulnerability.
Madness in Miniature
Northeast Ohio's best band — husband-and-wife duo Sam Meister and Nicole Barille of Chardon — makes music that's so unclassifiable that at times it recalls the artsy aesthetic laid down by Cleveland bands of the 1970s. Their third album is a carnival of sounds — goth, pop, punk, and prog, for starters — that winds through a surreal trip across the stratosphere.
It's been seven long years since these sludgy Akron metalheads released an album, and apparently it was time well spent. Thorns burns with an intensity that tears across the senses. The sound is thick and guttural, as if the band was just freed from a dark and muddy cellar and needs some space to shake off all that mental, physical, and aural debris.
Scarcity of Tanks
These Cleveland punks fronted by Matthew Wascovich rarely take the easy way out. Like Pere Ubu (whom they opened for earlier this year), Scarcity of Tanks make art-inspired noise rock that hides quite a lot underneath its surface. Scrape away, and you'll expose new sound patterns with each listen. Sensational Grade is a hurricane of surprises and the best of their three albums.