Cincinnati Pop Rock quartet Mixtapes formed about four years ago and immediately hit the road with a relentless dedication. The band’s hard work paid off and it has experienced great success, building a dedicated fan base across the country with great live shows and hook-drenched, nationally-released albums and singles.
As anyone who has seen Mixtapes live knows, the band’s shows are adrenalized, sweaty fun and their music, while growing more mature and diverse with each release, is sheer fist-pumping, singalong joyfulness.
Frontman Ryan Rockwell was living the dream. But somewhere along the way, his life became more like a nightmare. The fact that Mixtapes’ launch coincided with the death of his father certainly played a part in Rockwell’s difficulties. Though details are vague, according to a press release, Rockwell “started to watch himself deteriorate and become the type of person he hated the most. He tried things he never thought he would and got dangerously close to not making it out.”
"I had never felt more alone," Rockwell says in the release. "Friends that I have had for years literally just stopped talking to me, stopped responding, a large number of them. I turned to the only thing I knew, and I started writing about it. I don't know who was wrong or who was right, but I know how much it hurt and people that I have helped and would do anything for left me when I needed help the most. Other people stepped up and saved me. I don't place blame though … I became a different person for awhile.
Rockwell was trying to understand what was going on in himself to make him so unhappy, but found it difficult to express. So he did what he does best and channeled his emotions into writing and recording songs. Working with friends Kamal Hiresh and Zach George and using the name Youth Culture, Rockwell hit the basement and created what would become the 10-track album, I Hate How Normal I’ve Become, an accomplished and eclectic collection of songs that, while still instantly catchy, possess much more darkness than Mixtapes’ jubilant Punk Pop.
Rockwell released the Youth Culture album late last month as a “pay-what-you-want” (yes, even if you want to pay nothing) download.
“This is an album for people going through things they don't like to talk about or know how to express,” Rockwell says. “We did it all ourselves and paid for it all ourselves. First and foremost, we want you to hear it — which is why it's free. If you like it enough, we'd very much appreciate a donation to recoup costs and eventually put it out on vinyl. But as always with everything I've done, I just want it to get out there, so thank you so much for taking the time to listen; there's a lot of bands out there, thanks for giving this a spin."
Listen to I Hate How Normal I’ve Become below, then click the player to grab your very own copy.
Fans worried that Youth Culture might signal the end of Mixtapes, fear not. The band is currently crisscrossing the United States on the massive Vans Warped Tour, which it'll be a part of until August. (The band is slated to appear at the Warped Tour’s Cincinnati stop on July 16 at Riverbend Music Center.)
Heavy Hinges is a new-ish band featuring some faces likely familiar to dedicated local music fans. Guitarist Jeremy Singer and drummer Brian Williamson have played in numerous groups over the past two decades, while singer/guitarist Dylan Speeg and bassist Andrew Laudeman were members of long-running, super-diverse Cincinnati crew Buckra. Maya Banatwala is the relative newcomer in the band, but her soul-drenched co-lead vocals in the Hinges serve as the group’s secret weapon.
Heavy Hinges debut album, Mean Old City, shows signs of some of Buckra’s trademark sonic diversity, but it’s channeled in a more focused manner. Ultimately, Heavy Hinges is a great Rock & Roll band, but its sound is touched by influences from Blues, Pop, Funk and Soul to various other forms of American Roots music. Like Alabama Shakes, Heavy Hinges manages to sound remarkably vital and “of the now” — despite the obvious vintage inspirations — thanks to the sincerity and vigor poured into each note. Mean Old City bristles with a timelessness that has less to do with the classic genres flirted with throughout and more to do with the from-the-heart songwriting and playing.
Here’s a music video for Mean Old City track “Booze May Be Your Lover, Not Your Friend”:
Speeg and Banatwala make for great co-frontpeople, crisscrossing their melodies and harmonies sometimes like X’s Exene Cervenka and John Doe and other times like June and Johnny Cash, with each singer possessing a voice quite distinct from each other, yet still sounding like they were made for each other when they come together. Meanwhile, the rest of the band are flawless and perform with a similar soulfulness; Williamson and Laudeman are a jaw-droppingly great rhythm section, while Singer’s guitar leads and solos are as attention-grabbing as the singers’ powerful vocal one-two punch.
Heavy Hinges host a free release party for the new album Saturday at 10 p.m. at Northside Tavern with DAAP Girls. Read CityBeat's profile of Heavy Hinges from early this year when the band was nominated in the "Best New Artist" category at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
Local MC Puck has unleashed a great new track, “Weekend Warrior,” along with a solid accompanying music video (which includes a guest appearance from Cincy Hip Hop duo Those Guys). The young Hip Hop artist shows the positive effect and influence of Kanye West’s recent experimental work (and there’s even a Kanye nod in the background during the video). It’s a powerful listen/look:
Click here for more on Puck and below to download the new track for free:
You can catch Puck live on June 21 for free on Fountain Square as part of the "Beats by Self Diploma" concert series.
Cincinnati Alt Funk/Dance Rock quartet Founding Fathers have built a buzz locally over the past few years with their energized live shows and infectious, slanted grooves. The band has been hard at work lately in the studio, recording those grooves for a forthcoming full-length.
Earlier this year, Founding Fathers gave the public its first taste of the new recorded material in the form of a music video for the track “Stop, Drop and Roll.” The clip, directed by Bangout Films, mixes some cool live performance footage with woozy visuals that show a blurry, surrealistic night of barroom debauchery (including some creepy, hallucination-worthy dudes with smiley faces for heads). The video wonderfully matches the blustery, more rocking side of Founding Fathers’ sound, which also shows elements of avowed influences like LCD Soundsystem and Talking Heads. If you remember — and loved — Columbus, Ohio's Funk Punk greats Royal Crescent Mob, “Stop, Drop and Roll” should be right up your alley.
Founding Fathers performs a free show this Saturday night at MOTR Pub and fans in attendance will have a chance to hear even more of a preview of the forthcoming full-length. The band is offering up a special four-track EP/album preview to those in attendance. Saturday’s show starts at 10 p.m. Vito Emmanuel is also on the bill.
For more on Founding Fathers, click here.
The album is an endangered concept in music, with MP3s and streaming encouraging more and more people to listen to tracks “a la carte.” If people aren’t listening to a collection of songs intentionally put together by an artist in a specific order, why should the artist bother trying? It’s one of the reasons releasing EPs seems to have become more popular than issuing full-lengths.
With some exceptions, the “album as art” concept has long been dwindling amongst Hip Hop artists, many of whom have more fully embraced the hodge-podge “mixtape” format, which is perhaps more in tune with our ADD/social media-plagued culture.
So it’s beyond refreshing to hear the new release from Cincinnati MC Sleep, Branded: The Damon Winton Story, a collection of eight tracks that tells the story of a young man’s troubled upbringing. It’s not just that Sleep has compiled eight songs that kind of fit together; Branded is a fully envisioned tale that requires the listener to hear the entire album in order to get the total impact. And it’s quite an impact.
It helps that Sleep’s “concept album” is based on some excellent storytelling skills, contains some fierce rhymes (with a flow and timbre that recalls Jay-Z at his peak) and is supported by the excellent, often hauntingly atmospheric production of Dope Antelope, which brilliantly reflects the dark, chaotic, heart-breaking nature of the story. The way Sleep — half of local duo 2-Man Cypher — lays the story out is also sharply clever. In lieu of titles, each track is labeled as simply “Question,” followed by the track number. The album opens with a police officer hitting “record” to begin his interview with the main character’s social worker about “what could have led up to what transpired with him this past weekend.” To kick off each track, the social worker is asked about a different aspect of the trouble the young man had experienced and been in.
Working backwards from the incident (which isn’t revealed until “Question 8,” so the listener is left to wonder what transpired), Sleep creates evocative, harrowing slices of life, usually told from the main character’s point of view, but with other voices popping in occasionally to give an even bigger picture. The young man’s horrific surroundings are revealed gradually; the listener learns that he has self-mutilated himself, been molested, lost (or never had) faith or religion and had family involved in drugs. Sleep’s brilliance is turning the smaller stories from the big picture into vivid, cinematic tales in themselves — “If this is grown folks’ business/Then why when you conduct it, there’s a child as a witness,” he raps after it’s revealed that the main character’s mother had substance abuse issues. When the social worker tells the officer that the young man had been bullied over his clothes in school, Sleep echoes that pain with lines like, “The peer pressure to be above the status quo/It’s never ending, it’s never taking sabbaticals.”
By the last track, the listener is primed to hear just what happened to the main character, but when his fate is revealed, it’s not what most would expect, making the album that much more powerful. (In the spirit of not ruining the final act, I’ll refrain from giving away the ending.)
Sleep’s Branded shows just how much power Hip Hop still has to tell a realistic story poetically but without hyperbole. It’s an incredibly moving piece of work that stands as one of the best Hip Hop albums to come out of Greater Cincinnati in recent memory. And Sleep shows that if he ever gets tired of the Rap game (which itself would be tragic becomes the genre needs more voices like his), he’ll be able to find some kind of career as a writer, be it an author, a journalist, a filmmaker or whatever field he decides to lend his talents to.
If you’re a fan of intelligent Hip Hop or just great storytelling in general, you must download (for free or whatever you’d like to kick in) Branded immediately at sleep513.bandcamp.com.
Here is a music video for the track, "Question 2":
After launching last year locally at the MidPoint Music Festival and nationally at New York’s CMJ conference, the intuitive and comprehensive music industry e-book Musicians’ Desk Reference has relaunched with a new format. Created in Cincinnati by longtime local musician and promoter Brian Penick (also the founder of The Counter Rhythm Group, which has helped numerous local acts garner national attention and work), MDR is moving from its original, one-time-purchase approach to a monthly (or annual) subscription plan.
For those who may have been cautious about its upfront cost, Musicians’ Desk Reference, which is customizable to the user’s needs (no matter where they are in their career) and features information, templates and advice relating to everything from touring, promoting and recording to radio and press campaigns and well beyond, is now available to test-drive for free. The no-cost 30-day trial doesn’t even require a credit card; click here to get started.
Artists serious about pursuing a career in music will likely become more interested in MDR as they dive in and look at all it has to offer. After the 30-day trial, MDR can be accessed for $10 a month or $100 for the year.
Visit musiciansdeskreference.com for complete info.
If you are a betting man or woman and the bet is “What Cincinnati band will be next to break out into the national spotlight?” putting your money on Indie Pop/Rock trio PUBLIC would be one of the safer wagers you could make. The three gifted young musicians craft some incredibly catchy music that would be right at home on any AltRock radio station’s playlist, as evidenced especially on a brand new track the group just unveiled, the danceable, hook-laden “Make You Mine.”
The new track is a part of series of new songs planned for a forthcoming release that will be rolled out over the next few weeks. The band (which released its debut EP Red in 2012 and has since performed at big-time tests like South By Southwest and CMJ) will stream a new track every week though its Bandcamp page leading up to its first local show in a while, on May 2 at Rohs Street Cafe’s Sanctuary in Clifton Heights.
PUBLIC will be joined by The Yugos and Harbour for the all-ages show, which is the trio’s first official headlining gig ever (so if you attend and they blow up, as industry buzz suggests they just might, you can tell your grandkids you were there). Tickets are available now here.
For more info on PUBLIC, visit the group’s Facebook page here. And check out CityBeat's interview with PUBLIC from 2013 (when the group was nominated for New Artist of the Year at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards) here.
Local faves Buffalo Killers are gearing up for the May 13 release of Heavy Reverie, the trio’s first record for Warner Music Group subsidiary Sun Pedal Recordings. Today the band revealed the new album track “Poisonberry Tide,” a delicious slice of Pop Rock that is reminiscent of Guided By Voices and Superdrag and is one of the catchiest songs the band has ever released.
The label still has a few limited edition “bundles” of the new album available for pre-order. The bundle includes Heavy Reverie on CD and vinyl, as well as a digital download that includes the unreleased song “Don’t Cry to Me.” The package also includes a vinyl test pressing (with hand-drawn artwork by the band members), a T-shirt and a poster. Click here for more info.
Buffalo Killers will do some regional dates in April (including a Cincinnati album release show April 12 at MOTR Pub) before heading out on a wider tour in May and June. Dates so far include a performance at Pioneertown, California’s Freaks for the Festival II. At the fest, the band will perform right before the solo project of Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes (Chris Robinson Brotherhood); Robinson has been a longtime, vocal supporter of the trio.
Cincinnati native Tom Berninger’s film that follows his older brother Matt’s band, The National, on tour, Mistaken for Strangers, is finally opening in Cincinnati this weekend, after making the film fest rounds and racking up mounds of positive press (it currently has an impressive 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
The movie — which follows The National’s members (all Cincy natives) on their tour behind 2010’s High Violet album, but is really more about Tom and Matt’s relationship — makes its Cincinnati premiere this Friday at the Esquire Theatre in Clifton at 7:30 p.m.
The Friday screening will be followed by a Q&A via Skype with the Berninger brothers. Following Monday’s 7:30 p.m. screening, there will be an in-person Q&A hosted by Jim Blase of Shake It Records and featuring Tom, Matt and The National’s drummer, Bryan Devendorf.
Here's the trailer for Mistaken for Strangers:
The release of the self-titled debut album from Cincinnati trio Tweens is just about a month away now. The music site Stereogum recently premiered the trio’s first music video for new album single, “Be Mean,” a great introduction to the band’s classic-Pop-meets-classic-Punk style (or “Trash Pop,” as they like to call it).
The buzz around Tweens, which scored the “New Artist of the Year” award at the 2014 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, continues to grow across the nation, with more and more music press and online outlets heaping praise on the both the band's recordings and live shows. That buzz should be almost deafening when Tweens’ debut LP is finally released on April 8 through Frenchkiss Records. The band’s usually packed tour schedule is about to get extra-busy with the new release just on the horizon, beginning with a head-spinning six performances during next week’s South By Southwest music fest/conference in Texas.
Click here to read CityBeat's most recent interview with Tweens.