Joel's top 10 local releases of 2021
A rundown of some recent Columbus favorites
1. Joe Peppercorn: Darkening Stars
I hesitate to even mention Sgt. Peppercorn’s Marathon here, since singer and multi-instrumentalist Joe Peppercorn was writing fantastic songs in the Whiles long before he began performing every Beatles song in one day with his friends. But I’d argue that conducting a collection of musicians through every part of all those legendary (and not-so-legendary) songs — the harmonies, the transitions and bridges, the creative bass melodies, the seemingly throwaway riffs that are actually crucial to the song — can’t help but worm their way into Peppercorn’s own songwriting. Which isn’t to say Darkening Stars sounds like a Beatles album. It does not. But it does reveal how Peppercorn’s already impressive command of melody, arrangement and lyricism has sharpened in the last several years, culminating in one of the best albums of his career.
2. Powers/Rolin Duo: multiple releases
It’s a great year to get familiar with the self-described “weird and maximalist” sounds of guitarist Matthew J. Rolin and hammered dulcimer player Jen Powers, the musical and life partners Alive named the Best Musicians of 2021. There’s The Dreaming Bridge, Rolin’s solo album that got the vinyl treatment earlier this year. Then, as a duo, Powers and Rolin released Strange Fortune (Astral Editions), an entrancing, boundary-pushing release featuring loop pedals and amplifiers rather than strictly acoustic performances. As an improvisational trio with Cleveland drummer Jayson Gerycz, Powers and Rolin released albums Beacon and Lamplighter, which culminates in “Jars of Glass,” a 15-minute journey from serenity to blissful, cathartic mayhem. And don’t forget to regularly check Rolin’s Bandcamp page for a smattering of one-off recordings, like the just-released “For a Better Year,” a whammy-filled improv jam on Fender Jazzmaster, or the peaceful “Cabin,” an eight-minute acoustic tune Rolin wrote and recorded in the woods of Southeast Ohio. Just pick a starting place and dive in. You won’t be sorry.
3. Twoaym: Unsolicited
Unsolicited is the debut of Twoaym, aka Tiara Hill, a former drum major at Eastmoor Academy and recent University of Toledo grad. Over 10 tracks with vintage and modern beats, Hill raps with a chilled-out flow while balancing external and internal realities, calling out the racism around her and getting real about mental health struggles. She also recorded the album herself, marking the arrival of a talent sure to make waves in the coming years.
4. Sam Craighead: OK Computer Room
Whether indie-pop maestro Sam Craighead is getting nostalgic for his jawline, taking aim at toxic masculinity or wrestling with the killing of Casey Goodson in relation to his own relative safety as a white man in Columbus, Ohio, Craighead's songs connect on a range of emotional levels, eliciting laughter and gut punches in equal measure.
5. Brian Damage: Yesterday’s Slime
Based on his releases with Brat Curse and a billion other bands, we already knew Brian Baker could write hooky garage-pop songs in his sleep. But Yesterday’s Slime, Baker’s solo debut as Brian Damage, is on another level. Playing just about all the instruments himself, Baker wrote and recorded a dozen bangers that range from hilariously self-deprecating (“Juicy Secret”) to socially conscious (“Thoughts of a Dying Police Chief”).
6. Souther: Creature
After years of sitting on the long-in-the-works album from rock trio Souther (a 2018 Band to Watch), singer/guitarist Carly Fratianne came to a realization: “I didn’t really want to parade it around. I just wanted to give it away.” So that’s what she did in the spring, dropping eight tracks of raw, guitar-driven rock that marked the official end of Souther in fitting fashion. The silver lining here is that while Creature may be Souther’s swan song, Fratianne’s music career is still in its infancy.
7. Kneeling in Piss: Types of Cults
“The only thing jarring was how loud it was when we finally returned to the practice space and were all playing together for the first time, because I don’t think I’d heard a loud noise for a year,” Alex Mussawir told Alive in April, describing the experience of reforming Kneeling in Piss as a full-band project after the more solitary, insular process of making the Music for Peasants EP. Types of Cults is a raucous affair touching on conspiracy theories and digital dangers, all packaged in KIP’s perfectly imperfect sonic world that meshes the avant-garde with minimalist pop.
8. Palette Knife: Ponderosa Snake House and the Chamber of Bullshit
Carrying the local emo mantle alongside labelmate snarls, pop-punk trio Palette Knife fills Ponderosa Snake House with self-deprecating humor, confessional admissions, cathartic screams, huge guitars and double-time crescendos. And if recent single “Jelly Boi” is any indication, the band has plenty of creative fuel still in the tank.
9. Soulucien: This Makes Me Feel Better
“I never understood what a mental breakdown was until I had one,” Lucien Wright III, aka Soulucien, told Alive earlier this year. That new understanding comes through in unfiltered form on This Makes Me Feel Better, which at times makes for a gut-wrenching listen, especially on closing track “Still Smiling,” which finds the rapper describing his relationship with his ailing mother, who still smiles when she sees him.
10. Moviola: Broken Rainbows
Few Columbus bands have aged as gracefully as Moviola, the bandmates easing into middle age with a casual, art-over-ambition approach that suits the five-piece group’s lived-in sound. Songs like the title track and “Rise” recall The Band’s easy camaraderie, while rowdy, fuzz-forward leadoff track “Expat” gives voice to a sentiment familiar to many Americans in the last few years: “I wanna be an expat.”