It'd take a lawn mower to trim the abundant chest hairs the Cleveland music scene sprouted this year. With more than a dozen national releases from local punk and metal acts, the town definitely lived up to its "Cleveland rocks" sloganeering in 2001. Of course, there were also plenty of quality releases from those who don't crush empty beer cans on their heads. Here's a rundown of the albums of the year:
1. Keelhaul, II (Hydrahead) -- "No matter how you look at it, it's a 360-degree son of a bitch," Keelhaul singer/guitarist Chris Smith barks at the onset of II, and his words prove prophetic. An algebraic ass-whipping, II is as precise as it is pissed. Buoyed by the claw-fingered guitar playing of Smith and Dana Embrose, the swollen larynx of bassist/bellower Aaron Dallison, and the rubber-armed drumming of Will Scharf, II is a technical marvel that runs circles around its competition.
2. Chargers Street Gang, Holy the Bop Apocalypse (Get Hip) -- Their live shows are inspiring. Total exorcisms of sweat and tension. But the real question surrounding the Chargers was whether they could capture that fury in the studio without an audience's beer and b.o. to feed off. They did. Recorded in Austin, Holy the Bop Apocalypse brings all of the Chargers' barroom grit and grime right into your living room.
3. Jahi, Furious Styles (Slam Jamz) -- "Kill the jibberjabber, I'm coming with something that really matters," Jahi spits on his latest. True to his word, this AIDS activist cum mic-wrecker dispenses with the lyrical foreplay to spread hope rather than legs.
4. Six Parts Seven, Silence Magnifies Sound (Troubleman) -- It's easy to dismiss this record as background music. With blithe e-bow and viola fading in and out of pretty, pastoral arrangements, the Six Parts Seven will never possess the same command over attention spans as they do their instruments. Still, their intricate, beautifully woven numbers are worth the time it takes to fully grasp their subtle charms.
5. Florence Dore, Perfect City (Miss Ruby's Records) -- As an English professor at Kent State, Florence Dore has a command of words like few of her alt-country peers. Dore's unadorned, autumnal prose is as vibrant and natural as the turning of October leaves. As a result, her ambling country goes down like warm cider on a hayride.
6. Chimaira, Pass Out of Existence (Roadrunner) -- Remember that scene in Raging Bull where Joe Pesci keeps slamming a car door on some poor lout's head? That's what listening to this disc feels like. Brutal.
7. Blush, Blush (Mimi's Dragon) -- Shirley Manson ought to be the one doing the blushing, as the latest from her band is damn near outshined by this surprisingly slick local effort. Boasting amazing production that's of major-label caliber and a 17-year-old frontwoman with enough self-assurance to avoid overextending herself, this helping of svelte, whip-smart modern rock could very well posit Blush as the band to take out the Garbage.
8. The Volta Sound, Everything's Alright (www.voltasound.com) -- The Volta Sound is not a group for folks whose employers practice random drug testing. This band's laconic psychedelia is so wondrously stoned and blissed-out that it nearly provides a contact high. Its latest is total '60s worship, but without the snarkiness of the like-minded Elephant 6 mob.
9. Integrity, Closure (Victory) -- On its final disc, Integrity's last words are kind of like those of Asshole-in-arms Bob Knight. "When my time on Earth is gone, and my activities here are past, I want that they should bury me upside down, so my critics can kiss my ass," Knight once said. This same sense of defiance in the face of one's demise saturates Closure. With scarifying samples, oceans of malfunctioning effects, and vocals that sound as if frontman Dwid swallowed the mic at times, Closure is Integrity's violent last gasp before being laid to rest. Face down, of course.
10. New Terror Class, Did You Hear That We Fucked . . .? (Troubleman) -- There's shit to do in a "city" where the tallest building is a grain elevator, and Kent's New Terror Class takes all its hick-town restlessness out on the remnants of punk. The band's debut is a disjointed, off-kilter gem, with strangulated keyboards, lots of broken guitar strings, and song titles like "Nearly Named Bits of Chick Tits," "Flying Fuck for All," and "Hunks . . . Did You Call Me a Fag?" Duck.