Last month, we opened voting for this year’s version of the Scene Music Awards. The annual tradition may have taken a break the past few years but the scene itself hasn’t, and we’re happy to be back, recognizing the local singers, DJs, record labels and bands that make Cleveland one of the finest damn cities for music. Sure, we got the Rock Hall and Michael Stanley’s follicles, but more importantly, we have folks making the sounds that bless your years and tickle your brain and stir your soul.
After a nomination round, we beamed out the finalists for your votes. Some 5,000 opinions later (thanks for helping out, guys!), the results are in. No fancy envelopes or ceremonial speeches here, and really no need to even wear pants, and definitely no twerking. Just the best and brightest honing their craft in Northeast Ohio.
Without further adieu...
Best Local Recording Studio: Lava Room
Located in the same building that houses the Agora Theatre and Ballroom, Lava Room Recording (lavaroomrecording.com) has a national client list that includes Joe Walsh, Paramore, R. Kelly, Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers. In fact, just this year, Bieber reportedly stopped by the studio to record vocals for his new single “Heartbreaker.” And when the Jonas Brothers were in town over the summer to play at Blossom, Nick Jonas spent some time there laying down tracks too.
Local Musician/Band of the Year: The Modern Electric
This indie pop band tends to think of its music as cinematic. While cinematic could mean a variety of things, it's more apt to say that the Modern Electric (themodernelectric.com) is just a really good pop band. Comparisons to Radiohead notwithstanding, the group goes for melody over atmosphere in the terrific single "David Bowie Save Us All (Redux)," a wondrous tribute (but not a cover song) to the Thin White Duke. The band’s just released a free mixtape that you can download on its website.
Best New Breakthrough Artist/Band (Up and Coming): Seafair
Seafair (facebook.com/seafairtheband) expanded to a four-piece when singer-keyboardist Chayla Hope and guitarist Joshua Riehl recruited drummer Ryan Kelly and cellist Tara Hanish, both of whom had played in the terrific local act Unsparing Sea, to join them. The group then became even bigger when it added guitarist Mike Flaherty and violinist Andre Belding to the fold. Together, the six create lush sonic soundscapes that sound a bit like the Decemberists. The group played its first show in late 2011 and has been going strong ever since. Look for a new EP to be released before the year’s end.
Best Producer: Mike Brown
The producer, chief engineer and owner of Lava Room Recording, Mike Brown has worked with a slew of national acts. According to the bio on the Lava Room website, he’s handled production duties for Papa Roach, Breaking Benjamin, Social Distortion, Paramore, Three Days Grace, Switchfoot, Saves The Day, The Ready Set, A Day To Remember, Garbage, Pussycat Dolls, Velvet Revolver, Bone Thugs and Harmony and the Ramones.
Best Male Vocals: Brent Kirby
A Wisconsin native, Brent Kirby (brentkirby.com), who fronts Brent Kirby & the Lost Fortunes, leads a Gram Parsons tribute act and plays in the local roots rock act the Jack Fords, has become the face of alt-country in Cleveland since moving to town almost a decade ago and issuing his local debut, The Mean Days, in 2005. He's also part of the Ohio City Singers, the local group that plays original Christmas music during the holiday season. While he's most readily identified with a host of local bar bands that play places like the Beachland and the Happy Dog, he's tried to extend 10 X 3, the weekly open mic night he hosts at Brothers Lounge, to a broad range of local musicians.
Best Female Vocals: Shanna Delaney
Shanna Delaney has fronted the Kent-based alt-folk act Bethesda (bethesdaband.com) since it formed three years ago. On the band’s most recent album, The Reunion, a disco that could loosely be categorized as alt-country or indie pop she evokes Neko Case in the moody ballad "We Grow Old" and sounds a bit like Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis on the fiery "Poison Heirloom." One of the area’s true vocal talents.
Best Local Rapper: Machine Gun Kelly
Though he started putting out mixtapes several years ago, Machine Gun Kelly (machinegunkelly.com) didn’t truly enter the spotlight until issuing his major label debut, Lace Up, last year. Since then, he’s toured relentlessly and hosted a weekend-long festival out at Nelson Ledges this summer. His most recent release, the Black Flag mixtape, suggests the wiry 23-year-old rapper with the distinctive rapid-fire delivery has matured significantly since Lace Up. His next studio album should be out before year’s end.
Best DJ: E-V
DJ E-V (djev.com), a mixtape DJ for 96.5 FM, is a veteran local who’s toured the world and helped launch the careers of hometown heroes such as Chip Tha Ripper and Machine Gun Kelly. His “bootleg edit” of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” is a real treat as it throws some more trance into the mix and puts a funky bridge into the tune’s middle. Look for his new clothing line featuring T-shirts emblazoned with drawings of him that mimic the drawing of Butthead from the Beavis & Butthead cartoon.
Best Jazz/Blues: Thaddeus Anna Greene
Named after its frontman, Thaddeus Anna Greene (facebook.com/thaddeusagreene) formed just two years ago. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jack White, Greene is a real talent. He’s been playing guitar since he was 14, and he comes off like a seasoned veteran. Originally a trio, the group recently expanded to a four-piece with the addition of singer-guitarist Ryan Augusta. The band regularly plays the circuit of local rock clubs that includes Mahall’s, the Beachland and the Grog Shop.
Best Reggae: Carlos Jones
Roots reggae rocker Carlos Jones (carlosjones.com) puts forth a positive vibe in his music, which he’s said is inspired by a slew of different reggae acts. While Bob Marley is the most obvious point of reference, Jones is a fan of roots reggae acts such as Culture, Burning Spear and Jimmy Cliff, and it shows in his own music, which stays true to reggae’s spiritual tradition of messages. Jones has got the musical chops and songwriting skills to back up his impeccable rep.
Best Rock: Ohio Sky
Ohio Sky (ohioskymusic.com) originally formed as a four-piece in 2006 with a much different line-up and a much different sound. Its first EP, the metal-leaning Apophis, came out in 2009. After several line-up changes and botched recording sessions, the band returned this year with This House is Old and Filled with Ghosts, which it recorded with "South Carolina stoner dude" Dan Millice. The album has a sonic texture to it that suggests their next record, due out next year, will be even more atmospheric.
Best Folk/Americana: Bethesda
Singer Shanna Delaney and rhythm guitar Eric Ling met a few years ago while they were students at Kent State. After a bad first date on which they intended to attend a Badly Drawn Boy concert but never made it to the show, they discovered they had similar musical interests and subsequently formed Bethesda (bethesdaband.com) about four years ago. In the last year, they've had a number of line-up changes prior to recording their latest album, The Reunion. But the dust has settled and the resulting album is a terrific effort that sounds more indie than folk.
Best Indie Rock: The Lighthouse and the Whaler
Things started to snowball for the Lighthouse and the Whaler (thelighthouseandthewhaler.com) after the release of the 2008 EP A Whisper, A Clamor, which caught the attention of an editor at the hipster-approved music magazine Paste. A track from that record eventually showed up on a sampler CD that the magazine released in 2009. The band’s been going strong ever since, and it spent most of last year on the road promoting the Decemberists-like This Is an Adventure, an album the group funded with $10,000 it raised from a Kickstarter campaign.
Best Punk Rock: This Moment in Black History
This Moment in Black History (facebook.com/thismomentinblackhistory) was formed ten years ago during an impromptu jam. Guitarist Buddy Akita, bassist Mike Damico and singer-keyboardist Chris Kulcsar were playing as a Germs cover band when drummer Bim Thomas grabbed his kit and got into the mix; as a result, the multi-ethnic band was born. They made their debut in 2003 with the noisy The Cleveland Finger EP. Damico eventually left and Lawrence Caswell, who at the time was heading up the avant-jazz outfit Vernacular, took his place. It was a perfect fit, and the band's continued unabated ever since, consistently releasing new material and embarking on short tours.
Best Hardcore: This is a Lifetime
Akron’s This is a Lifetime (facebook.com/thisisalifetime) calls itself a “melodic hardcore band that will have any music enthusiast moving their feet any of their shows.” That’s an apt description; the group, which formed in 2010 and has undergone numerous line-up changes since then, has opened for like-minded acts such as Of Mice & Men, Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!, Whitechapel, I Killed The Prom Queen, Bury Your Dead, Comeback Kid, Evergreen Terrace, For The Fallen Dreams, Hundredth and Gideon. Its new song “The Price You Pay” strikes a nice balance between the heavy stuff and lighter melodies and features loud guitars parched vocals.
Best Metal: Fallen Captive
One of many of Cleveland’s hungry new metal bands, Fallen Captive (facebook.com/fallencaptive) technically plays “metalcore” but fans of straight-up metal will appreciate the musicianship too. Songs such as “Remembrance” show just how seriously these guys can shred. The band has a CD release show slated for mid-September at the Outpost in Kent and regularly plays Peabody’s.
Best Promoter: Cellar Door
A local record label, promotions company and studio space, Cellar Door (cellardoorcle.com) is a bright spot on the city’s indie music scene. The organization has just entered an exclusive deal with local rockers Ohio Sky, so it’ll manage them, handle their social media and take care of their booking. And the Cellar Door people are already working with locals So Long, Albatross and the Commonwealth in the same capacity. Cellar Door promotes itself as “all things CLE,” and it certainly lives up to the billing.
Best Electronic/Dubstep Act: Freeze-Tag
On their new EP, Eskimo, locals Freeze-Tag (facebook.com/freezetagmusic), who boast they have “a dance based ‘prisma-chromatic’ sound inspired by retrograde and futuristic tones, as well as the unification of visual art and music” deliver cutting edge electronic dance music that steers clear of current trends. The album’s woozy opening number, “Twice,” features shimmering synthesizer sounds and soulful vocals. While the band might not be a big club act, putting the emphasis on songwriting and vocals distinguishes it from other like-minded artists.