Singles haven’t taken over music just yet — 2019 saw plenty of great album and EP projects from Greater Cincinnati’s finest musical acts

Kim Taylor's 'Songs of Instruction' was released in February 2019Photo: Hailey BollingerIncreasingly, it feels like artists are releasing music in smaller bites, an effort to capitalize on consumers’ short attention spans and instant-gratification needs. But plenty of musicians were still releasing EPs and full-album projects in 2019, including some of Greater Cincinnati’s finest.

This year did see a wealth of great singles as well, some of which you can hear on our “Cincinnati Music 2019” playlist, featuring more than 60 songs by local artists released in the past 365 days.



Here’s a rewind overview of some of the longer recording projects that captured our attention in 2019. 

Like the rest of her quietly impressive catalog, Songs of Instruction is a work of incredible consistency within Taylor's established canon that has resulted from sizable shifts in her professional and personal life. It’s an evocative set of her patented short stories-cloaked-as-Folk/Pop songs, inspired by the ceaseless nature of change and the enormity of irreconcilable loss. Ultimately, as the title hints, Songs of Instruction is a tribute to learning — from other people, through experiences and via the general wisdom one gathers over a lifetime. (Brian Baker)

Soften Forever is a captivating and immersive listening experience. Hypnotic but never sleepy, ethereal but never lightweight, Soften separates itself from other Shoegaze acts (past and present) with the strength of the underlying songwriting. There’s an almost symphonic quality to the song arrangements, largely eschewing cookie-cutter verse/chorus repetition to create a dreamy, stream-of-conscious slipstream of sound, anchored by Brianna Kelly’s enthralling vocals and melodies, which are transcendentally soulful. The music also rises and falls tonally, heart-bursting guitars alternating with mesmeric atmospherics. (Mike Breen)

In the works since 2016, Boychoir is an act of maturity and refinement from a band able to retain their earlier work’s rawness of feeling without making something that could be crafted in just any basement by just any group. The trio makes thrilling use of the exploratory realm of Post Punk, adding vibraphone, choral vocals, birdsong samples and even a washing machine as percussion, without any of it ever coming across as ostentatious. (Brody Kenny)

The only lifelong member of 500 Miles to Memphis, Ryan Malott formed the band in 2003. The group’s mix of Country/Americana twang with spunky Modern Rock/Punk spiritedness has always been an alluring aspect of 500MTM, giving it a multidimensional colorfulness. But it would be far less compelling without Malott’s exceptional songwriting, which has brought an emotive soulfulness and a barrage of ear-latching hooks to each album. Despite the genre-specific touchstones, Malott’s songs have always had a sense of timelessness and Blessed Be The Damned is no different, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with 500MTM’s best work. (MB)

A sense of heartbreak and vulnerability imbues fnExists with a melancholic aura throughout, even when the tempo runs upbeat and the melodies are lilting and catchy, as on the Chamber Pop leadoff track “Question.” Newcomer Shannon Garcia’s enchanting voice has an irresistibly haunted quality that adds a cinematic dimension to tracks like “Seventeen” and “Reminders,” both of which sway like ethereal ’50s girl-group ballads as heard on a dusty old jukebox in a decimated ancient diner that’s been rediscovered after the apocalypse. (MB)

Adventurous Bluegrass/Americana quartet Hickory Robot’s self-titled album opens with the rumbling Bluegrass rave-up “Barn Burnin’ Down,” which, to the uninitiated, sets certain expectations. But Hickory Robot shifts gears consistently throughout the album’s 15 tracks, borrowing from a variety of genres and rotating lead vocalists (with the others layering pitch-perfect harmonies). (MB)

Cincinnati AltPop/Rock band Harbour’s Thoughts on Letting Go is the third full-length from the group, which formed in Lebanon, Ohio in 2014 and has since built a fervent local/regional fanbase with its hyper-catchy sound — think Vampire Weekend meets Walk the Moon meets Bad Suns. (MB)

Parallels is a masterful five-track Synthwave EP that builds on Matt Ogden and his longtime Electronic project Black Signal’s diverse previous output. Joined now by Joe Thompson of Cincinnati Noise Rock crew Mala In Se on guitar, the EP features reworkings of some older material, with ElectroPop singer Von Claire and Hip Hop artist Eugenius lending vocals. For the initial physical release, Parallels was made available as a download code with a handmade bottle of hot sauce. (Nick Grever)

Superb Indie Rock trio Pop Empire’s Novena is the band’s first full-length album since 2014’s excellent Future Blues. Album tracks like “Sister Chaos,” “Black Wine” and “For Maggie” wonderfully showcase the group’s mesmerizing Psych Rock sound, in which you can hear reminders of trippy kindred souls from a variety of eras — from the Velvet Underground, T. Rex and early Pink Floyd through contemporary artists like The Black Angels, Devendra Banhart and beyond. (MB)

Longtime Cincinnati Indie Pop/Rock band Culture Queer added another great entry to their spectacular discography in 2019. Named for a bizarre former amusement park in the Middletown area, Fantasy Farm once again showcases the group’s many strengths — expertly- and artfully-crafted Pop arrangements, an engaging (but never overbearing) quirkiness and a non-stop flood of ear-grabbing melodies. While vibrant Pop Rock is the anchor, the band cycles through colors and tones throughout — but never too dramatically, lest they draw attention from the wondrous songwriting. (MB)

You can’t fake a good Thrash Metal album. As one of the first, most venerated genres of Metal, fans have been picking apart every aspect of Thrash releases since Metallica’s Kill ’Em All in 1983. Every riff, drum blast and solo is analyzed with ruthless precision and slackers are immediately ousted. It’s a cutthroat world to perform in, but Cincinnati-based thrashers War Curse instantly defied critics by unleashing a very, very good Thrash album — Eradication. (NG)

Trumpeter John Zappa’s career in the Cincinnati Jazz scene bears at least a passing resemblance to the life of Woody Allen’s title character in 1983’s Zelig. He’s played with some of the area’s biggest musical icons and he’s been a presence in the background from an early age. Zappa’s relatively new band project, Now Hear This, released its eponymous debut album in 2019, a swirling fusion of groove and beat that both respects and refracts Jazz traditions, offering something for every musical taste. (BB)

There’s a notable melodic proficiency on display on Post Hardcore band Friday Giants’ Something Worth Saving EP. The band’s previous music was full of Pop Punk-like hooks and paired with guttural Hardcore vocals to create Friday Giants’ hodge-podge sound. In their current, pared-down state, there’s still the scream/sung dynamic, but there’s more consistency — it doesn’t sound as much like two different bands cut and pasted together. Similarly, the group’s mesh of Metal, Punk and Pop Rock has become much more fluid and less schizophrenic. (MB)

Let Me Know Your Moon is an enchanting and engaging collection of Leggy’s intimate, emotive, slanted and noisy Indie Pop songs. Serpentine, often ethereal melodies slink through Veronique Allaer’s crunchy, sometimes dissonant guitars and the impressively dynamic and creative rhythms of bassist Kerstin Bladh and Chris Campbell (who’ve developed a noticeably tight and telepathic chemistry), as the songs move between an intoxicated punchiness and more woozily-paced soundscapes to create a thoroughly enjoyable, occasionally dizzying experience. (MB)

As part of Cincinnati music legends Over the Rhine’s 30th anniversary, the duo self-released the shiver-inducing Love & Revelation, their first album of new music in six years. The album retains the 2013 double-album Meet Me at the Edge of the World’s quiet elegance, but bristles with a decidedly different tone. “To me, Love & Revelation has a lot to do with not recognizing the place you thought was home,” OTR’s Linford Detweiler says. “I think a lot of Americans, including us, are feeling off balance and we’re re-asking the questions we thought had been answered… we were surprised when we realized there was a lot of grief on the record. The songs made that clear to us.” (BB)

Cincinnati-based Indie/Electro Pop act Dark Colour’s Observer is both a visual and audio album. The visuals are a shadowy, neon trip, based around live performances of the songs that are spliced with glowing, glitchy graphics and edits. Musically, Observer is throbbing SynthPop of the highest order, hypnotic, evocative, melodic and highly addictive. You'll dig it if you have M83, Empire of the Sun, Hot Chip and MGMT's Oracular Spectacular in your heavy rotation. (MB)

Cincinnati Folk musician Mike Oberst has been keeping busy with regular bouts of touring with The Tillers, but he also found time to squeeze in work on a new solo album, Six Feet of Earth. The album contains a mix of traditional Folk ballads from Scotland, England, Ireland and the U.S., as well as a couple of originals. Described as a blend of "murder ballads, love stories, work songs, traditional instrumentals" and more, Oberst sings and plays banjo and a few other instruments on the album, with some friends helping out on the recording on instruments like cello, uilleann pipes and even sitar. (MB)

Lo-fi but lush, Burning Through the Wonder Years often has a whisper-in-your-ear sense of intimacy that draws the listener close, its warm embrace not letting up until the final track. The heart-stirring sound of singer/songwriter Scott Cunningham’s longtime solo project creates a kind of ironic and playful counterpoint to the project’s name — while one would normally associate waking a bear with a violent attack, Burning Through the Wonder Years is much more like a gentle and reassuring bear hug. (MB)

Carriers - 'Now Is The Time For Loving Me, Yourself & Everyone Else'• Carriers – Now is the Time for Loving Me, Yourself and Everyone Else

Over the past two years, Cincinnati’s Curt Kiser, formerly of Indie Pop faves Pomegranates and Enlou, released a string of singles by his current band project, Carriers. Kiser finally experienced the planetary alignment necessary to release his debut album as Carriers this year. The extensively titled Now is the Time for Loving Me, Yourself and Everyone Else came out via Brooklyn label Good Eye Records and would go on to win the 2019 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for Album of the Year. “These songs help me and I hope they can help other people and carry them into a place of healing and safety,” Kiser says of the album’s widespread acclaim. (BB)

A fully engrossing audio/video album, AOKOHIO might just be the most impressive and engaging artistic statement of WHY? mainman Yoni Wolf’s career. It’s a remarkable effort that brilliantly spins together ear-worm melodies and slanted experimentalism in ways that feel both completely fresh and like a culmination of everything Wolf has done so far. Adding to the allure of the project is the visual element, which, like the music, is an artful collage of styles and tones. The film was directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and James Siewert and features actress Tatiana Maslany from the show Orphan Black. (MB)

Cincinnati Outlaw Country music hero Dallas Moore’s latest, Tryin’ to Be a Blessing, was released via Indiana’s Sol Records and, just like his last album (2018’s Mr. Honky Tonk), Blessing was produced by Dean Miller, son of the legendary Roger Miller and a fellow Country singer/songwriter.  In the lead-up to the album, Moore dropped a few singles, including the touching “Mama & Daddy” (dedicated to his folks, who both passed away last year) and “Lodi,” a hearty cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic that turned 50 years old in 2019. (MB)

For veteran singer/songwriter Maurice Mattei’s latest album, Velvet Lined Room, he sat down alone with his acoustic guitar and documented 18 fascinating Folk vignettes. The ostensible double album begins with the Blues-and-Dylan-tinged title track and the chugging, sauntering strut of “Maid's Day Off,” seemingly the tale of a recently paroled captain of industry. On “Sante Fe,” Mattei channels Robert Earl Keen and other similarly talented Texas troubadours, while “Down to Three” is a loping rundown of the day's specials at an upscale restaurant, delivered to a discerning customer by a literate and equally discerning waiter. (BB)

Even a cursory listen to Light In All of It, the debut album from Cincinnati band Sungaze, reveals a wealth of influences that have been absorbed, translated and incorporated into the quartet’s sonic miasma — inspirations that include The Beatles, Slowdive, Alice in Chains, Tame Impala and Pink Floyd. Intense sheets of guitar wash hint at ’90s Shoegaze. Bursts of noisy dissonance indicate a love of Grunge. A hallucinatory vibe recalls the glory days of Psychedelia and the band’s ethereal vocals and melancholy melodic textures are reminiscent of Mazzy Star and Chris Isaak. (BB)

Veteran Cincinnati Funk musician Freekbass’ first full-length since 2015’s Cincinnati was also the bassist/singer/songwriter’s first to be released via Color Red, a Colorado studio/collective/label. The All the Way This. side of Freekbass’ new album was tracked at Color Red’s in-house studio in Denver on an analog 8-track machine, which helps the LP seethe with Freekbass’ immersive live energy. (MB)

It’s fair to say that Ass Ponys Chuck Cleaver is not startlingly different from Wussy Chuck Cleaver, and solo Chuck Cleaver follows that same general pattern — lightly twangy, fairly slanted and penetratingly offbeat Indie Rock that leaves a mark. The veteran Cincinnati musician understands the qualities that link all of those creative personas, but he also understands what differentiates them from one another: an elevation in his guitar technique; his improvement as a singer; his constant pursuit of a higher standard of songwriting. But in some ways, Send Aid — his very first solo album — represents Cleaver rolling back the clock to a time when he did whatever he wanted musically. “If you take the stranger aspects of Wussy and ramp them up to 100, you’ve got my solo record,” he says. (BB)

Following a pair of remarkably promising EPs, Cincinnati Indie Rock band Saturn Batteries hadn’t released new music in five years. But that changed in 2019 as the group, led by singer/guitarist Brad Gibson, issued its first full-length, Anything to Get Back. The new album was worth the wait, showcasing an even sharper version of the band’s highly melodic Guitar Rock. (MB)

Root Cellar Xtract’s Lonesome Miles showcases the group’s spin on the rootsy Rock of the ’70s Laurel Canyon scene (as well as like-minded acts affiliated with it, like Ohio’s Pure Prairie League). The songwriting is superb and the musicianship is especially remarkable, with a murderer’s row of players in the lineup (plus some similarly talented special guests). (MB)

Self-described “Tribal Rock” group Acarya’s music has an engagingly organic rise-and-fall dynamic full of drama, romance and mystery and that wide-screen vision echoes works by everyone from Peter Gabriel to U2 to Imagine Dragons throughout The Way Home. The album is a wonderful showcase of Acarya’s expanded lineup of the past couple of years. (MB)

A Ludlow, Kentucky native, Maria Carrelli has built a big local following with her endearing sound, which combines Bluegrass, Folk and vintage Country influences with engaging songwriting. And that fanbase — also enlarged through shows with artists like Del McCoury, The Tillers and Billy Strings, among others — is destined to grow with the release of Strings on My Guitar, Carrelli’s debut solo album. Carrelli’s sound hits similar sweets spots to classic Country revivalists like Margo Price, Joshua Hedley and Nikki Lane. (MB)

Pick Your Poison’s title track is fueled by a classic and rollicking train drumbeat and the smoking guitar leads are certainly twangy. But when the song’s huge chorus hits, the members of the Roots Rock/AltCountry band take things to a different place, untethered by stylistic signifiers. Elsewhere, the moving “Reckless Abandon” is a transcendent ballad with folksy undertones, while “Acts of God” is a driving loud/soft rocker that serves as a great showcase for singer Kelly Thomas’ formidable vocal talents. (MB)

Cincinnati Indie Rock vets Hyperstatic released their first new music in 16 years in 2019. Witness features four great tracks of well-executed, classic-style Indie Rock. If you're a fan of the fuzzy, highly melodic sounds of iconic bands like Guided By Voices, Superchunk and Sebadoh, Witness is right in your wheelhouse. (MB)

Cincinnati Jazz trio On a Limb — featuring pianist Andrew Haug, bassist Noah Simionides and drummer Charlie Schefft — has described its sound as “Umbrella Jazz,” a reflection of the musicians’ broad musical tastes and tendency to interpret music by favorites from Coltrane and Chopin to The Beatles and Sufjan Stevens. The group’s original compositions (largely written by Haug) also reflect those influences and are driven by the musicians’ telepathic improvisational skills. (MB)

Northern Kentucky rockers Frontier Folk Nebraska’s Freaks is a concept album about becoming who you are without losing who you were. An important part of Freaks as a conceptual piece is framing the songs with the tracks “Freaks Prologue” and “Freaks Epilogue.” Vocalist/guitarist Michael Hensley originally wanted to end the album with a song provisionally titled “Joy,” but ultimately he didn’t like it. Guitarist Travis Talbert had written a brief piece called “Freaks,” with spoken word passages about old times spent hanging out in the basement, watching movies and jamming, which he emailed to Hensley for his consideration. With its vivid details and reflective musings, along with giving the album a title, it ended up setting the tone for Freaks, conceptually. (BB)

This EP showcases Cincinnati sisters Caitlin and Courtney Combs’ endearing, acoustic-based Indie Pop, which is marked by entrancing melodies and some truly amazing vocal harmonies. Fans of artists like Jenny Lewis and Brandi Carlile will likely dig the EP's earthy but transcendent demeanor. There’s an almost haunted quality to some of the songs, but the sisters also exhibit a sharp sense of humor, as evidenced by the EP’s title. (MB)

Colorful, hyper-catchy melodies abound on You Have Always Been and are given extra oomph by Whitney Szabo’s vibrant vocals. Each of the musicians’ contributions is crucial to the LP’s creative success, though. Kent Meloy’s consistently impressive guitar work moves between sharp-edge punchiness and churning expansiveness. On the rhythmic end, Mark Szabo’s bass is high in the mix and for good reason — the bass lines often have a McCartney-like melodic might that makes them operate like another lead guitar. (MB)

Aztec Sea Snakes makes for a completely absorbing listening experience, the kind of album that's easy to get lost in, in an almost meditative way. Ambient, tranquil and evocative, the bewitching tracks are gently layered with guitars and electronic atmospherics, with Rob Hamrick's distinct, ear-grabbing vocals and airy melodies rolling atop the mesmerizing sonic waves. Sea Snakes feels like a culmination of all of the veteran AltRock players' past experiences, building on the past while looking to the future. (MB)

Black Tractor - 'The Wonders of the Invisible World'• Black Tractor - The Wonders of The Invisible World

The Wonders of The Invisible World is a metallic multimedia affair that includes an accompanying comic book created to look like those religious pamphlets left in public bathrooms to convert lost souls. The pseudonymous band members star in the comic, which, like the tale on the album, unspools a story involving Black Tractor solving their cash-flow problems by signing up to become traveling missionary troubadours. Despite the jokey nature of the powerful Hard Rock band, the musicianship is seriously good — as much as they want to play up their “drunk lunkhead” image, the writing is sharp and smart and the playing is tight and impeccable. (MB)

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In 2019, singer/songwriter/guitarist Rachel Maxann released her first album with her band Fickle Hellcat. A Cincinnati native, Maxann got her start fronting a Funk/Rock band in Athens, Ohio, then went on to pursue projects while living in places like New Orleans and Los Angeles, before forming Fickle Hellcat upon her return to the Queen City. The band’s debut showcases Maxann’s alluring, emotive vocal style, which adds extra weight and depth to the songs’ strong melodic pull and fluid blend of Pop, Folk, Soul and Rock. (MB)

Earlier this year, Billboard famously decided to make Lil Nas X’s ubiquitous hit “Old Town Road” ineligible for the Country music charts, saying it didn’t qualify because it didn’t contain enough elements of the genre. It could be argued that most hit Country music today doesn’t contain enough of those vaguely defined elements. But one person who’d never be denied a Billboard chart entry for those foundational reasons is Wilmington, Ohio native Shawn Bell, whose latest album with his group Blowin’ the Damn Fuses is defiantly Country, steeped in the grounded, no-bullshit fundamentals of the genre’s pioneers, from early Honky Tonk trailblazers like Hank Williams to Outlaw renegades like Merle Haggard. (MB)

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