Can an intrepid explorer pan for musical gold in his first half-year in Cincinnati?

This newcomer's 'Top 9 Discoveries' for 2013

CINCINNATI -- It’s a mixed blessing WCPO is Channel 9 instead of, say, Channel 2. Our lists of things we’re rating, ranting about or recommending—always nine of them—would often be easier to fulfill if we anchored a lower number on the VHF dial.

But in highlighting Cincinnati’s music scene in 2013, I could have met the demands of the entire cable spectrum—and that’s covering only the half-year I’ve lived here.

As far as I'm concerned, if it happened before June, it didn't happen.

These are my “Top Nine Discoveries” about local music, artists, events and cultural oddities that shaped and sharpened my appreciation for the scene here:

9. CincyMusic.com—Courtney Phenicie and her two brothers, Nathan and Ian Bolender, took over a dormant URL and turned it into a colorful wiki for local music . You’ll find a great gig calendar, free downloads and basic info on virtually every active local artist. Bookmark it.

8. Tweens—Bridget Battle leads this bratty, catchy pop-punk trio. I first caught Tweens by chance this summer at the Northside Festival and just haven’t been able to make the timing work yet to produce a video feature on them. Trust me—between their first full-length record and some big tours already booked, you’ll hear a lot from me and others about Tweens in 2014.

7. Southgate House Revival—I’ve heard some grousing about people missing the “old” Southgate. But this version, within eyeshot of Newport’s entertainment district, is certainly unique in the national landscape: Three performance spaces in one converted mansion make for a singularly fantastic festival venue. I caught CincyPunk Fest there.

6. Ohio Knife—I fell in love from the first riff. You’ll hear bows to Monster Magnet, Motorhead, Queens of the Stone Age and the obscure Seattle grungesters Tad. Ohio Knife are going into the studio in early 2014, and one way or the other, my camera will be there.

5. Knife the Symphony—Continuing down the cutlery aisle, this disjointed, dynamic hardcore outfit falls in the vein of Fugazi and other bands from the Dischord Records catalog. I dove into Knife the Symphony in my research for CincyPunk Fest and can’t get enough. Though they haven’t recorded in a few years, they still tour—and I’m hoping for new music in 2014. Side note: Drummer Jerry Dirr is also the founder of Phratry Records, a small but energetic local label.

4. Buffalo Killers—Knives might as well lead to killers. Buffalo Killers won me over at Bunbury 2013, and I’ve since picked up their latest two albums. Groove-heavy comfort rock that slides easily between the Black Crowes and Screaming Trees. 

3. Free shows—I wrote a column about this last month, but it bears repeating: Cincinnati is a rarity among cities with fertile music scenes in that the clubs serve up almost all live local music without a cover charge. So there’s no cost, beyond time and loss of sleep, to make some discoveries of your own at MOTR, Northside Tavern, Comet and Southgate’s Lounge, among other spots.

2. Festivals—Bunbury , MidPoint , Psych Fest , Punk Fest , Iron Fest. There isn’t another city in the country offering up as many multi-day festivals anchored by local indie rock. There’s a feedback loop here between these festivals and the free local shows along the club scene. Combined, they deepen the sense of community among musicians here and build an energy for local music that’s hard to find elsewhere.

1. Pop Goes the Evil—Pop Goes the Evil  is my local artist of the year and a first breath whenever I sing the praises of Cincy rock to anyone who will listen. Singer-guitarist-mastermind Lucas Frazier wowed me from the opening chords and croon of “I Got Crazy.” I bought the self-titled debut record, and my girlfriend and I have sung verses and choruses back to each other ever since. Frazier is only in his mid-20s, but he’s one of the few indie rock musicians here you can call a true artist. His lyrics alternate from heartbreak to heartfelt, venomous to virtuous, and each song has an ebb and flow that belie traditional song structure. You’ll hear Elvis-styled vocals and surf rock with the guitar tone and riffage of Smashing Pumpkins. They're up for two Cincinnati Entertainment Awards by City Beat. A new record is planned for early 2014. I can't wait.

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