Ohio Bands to Watch 2020
It’s time for our annual-ish list. Bands in our homestate that are driven and poised to make an impact. Feel free to share, discover new bands, or heckle us for who we missed.
it’s (i): (i) is a bit of an enigma. He is a person as much as an idea. (i) can be seen at the helm of several experiential events, whether they’re music focused or not. At present, he is best known as one of the folks behind Cloud City 614, a festival that answers the question “What if a city was built by artists?” This hip-hop/ambient/electronic/spoken word fusion is thought provoking a bit weird, but compelling all the same.
A Sense of Purpose: This metalcore band is polished, well-produced, and ready for the big time with their massive tunes. Their latest release, “Cougar” has a pleasantly melancholy guitar melody that gives me a sense of nostalgia—a weird thing to mix with breakdowns, but it really works for me. One of their other songs is approaching a half-million plays on Spotify. Not bad!
Atimera: This post-hardcore band is multifaceted and driven in a way that I seldom see. They are about community, networking, and mutually benefiting their peers while putting out a polished product. They’ve opened for a number of reputable artists, and the new year is likely going to be a big one for them. Atimera headlines the first New Age Connect networking event at Flannagan’s Dublin in February.
Bather: If you’re the type of person that enjoys intentionally getting pissed in the dark, Bather will help you with that. I’m trying to remember who they opened for at Donatos’ Basement, and all I can recall is how much they filled up that small room with ribcage shaking angry metal. If there had been a few more people there something in that room would have been broken by the end of the night.
Benjamin Marshall: One of the unsung heroes of the open-mic circuit in Columbus is Benjamin Marshall. I’ll never forget when he volunteered his humble PA system to amplify Kevin Schlereth, Wind Words, and Backyard Sticks in a Mediterrean Cafe in a suburban strip mall. He’s a pretty great songwriter too. As he continues to be selfless and help with events, expect to see his name many more places.
Blend: It’s no secret that the jam band scene in Ohio is a big friggin deal. I respect Blend because they’re unashamed of who they are, yet they refuse to pigeonhole themselves into any scene. My first experience with them was agreeing to headline Big Room Bar with a darkwave band from Brooklyn—two scenes that would never normally overlap. However they did, and fun times and many drinks were had. They know how to pull a crowd, too.
Coastal Club: This Cincinnati band just played a massive show alongside 2019 Band to Watch Motherfolk and Matt Thiessen and the Earthquakes. Their sound is a cheery vibe they call “wavey rock.” I hear they’ve finished a record, and I can’t wait to hear it. Fans of pop music and surf rock should find a lot to enjoy here. I also have to shout out Revelator Sound here—a studio that did a live session with them.
Coma Love: This dreampop duo exists in a pleasant, breezy realm that, well, is good for dreaming. They only have released one single so far, but Instagram is showing signs of life from the Mansfield duo. Their pedigree is strong; one half the duo is Aaron Nicolas, formerly of The La De Les and Trouper.
The_confusions_: This band is a bit off the beaten path, existing in a world that is firmly DIY yet polished. A weird realm with pop meets garage rock. Listening to this band definitely puts me into a contemplative mindset. It’s not something I can completely zone out to, but it’s compelling nonetheless. Word on the street is their live shows are compelling too.
Courtney From Work: This band had the honor of having the favorite band name of Tuned Up Podcast host Joe Leppanen, of all the interviews he endeavored on during his tenure. They’ve built a reputation for high energy live shows. Listen to “Dream Girl” once, and you’ll believe that reputation before you’ve even set foot in the club of their next show. I hope they hit the road.
Dance Furiously: If you guessed that this band is here to make you dance, well then—I’ll have to compliment your astute inductive reasoning! In all seriousness, though, this band is pretty slick, and with only 3 singles to their name they plan to hit the road this year and instill their intentional music community into the hearts of anyone that will listen.
Davis Evanoff: Davis Evanoff is Columbus’ next big producer that no one has heard of. He only has one single to his name, but he’s fixated on making a big impact via strategic collaboration, mixed media, and songs with big hooks. “Cranberries” is a pretty strong lead single that mixes electronica with cinematic pop.
Deep Feeling Magic Being: Other than in a very specific fanbase, I feel that the debut release of post-rock artist and emotional magical dude Jesse Cale’s most recent alter-ego largely went unnoticed by the Ohio scene. It takes post-rock, and makes it cool for the average person. As many hats as Cale wears, DFMB is a project worth paying attention to—who knows what movie one of these songs might end up on the score of.
East 9th: These pop rock dudes are regulars in the Youngstown scene—they’re pals with Spirit of the Bear and Ghost Soul Trio, both of which are Bands to Watch alumni. They’ve played regional festivals and are becoming more known in Columbus. Their endorsement by BlazingChakrams Photography (who is literally at all the shows) is a pretty strong reason to include them on this list.
EUVOIA: Jared Condon has undergone a reinvention of sorts as he laid his previous project Graceful Closure to rest, in favor of a new shimmering indie pop project for the “beautiful thinkers” of the world. It’s a new quirkier side of Condon that is just as accessible as anything he’s ever released. With Condon touring alongside high profile artists, look for more attention to shift the way of EUVOIA in 2020.
Fables: Existing in the same indie realm as Ohio favorites CAAMP, Doc Robinson, and The Cordial Sins, Fables are here with folk-driven indie rock to warm your cold heart suffering from Seasonal Affective Depression. Debut single “Simple” is driving, rich, lush, and down to earth. If they don’t make a big impact in the Midwest in the next couple of years, I’ll be surprised.
Faye: Faye Marie is on this list for a few reasons, the most obvious of which she is one of twelve featured artists on our own Steadfast Festival. Over the past several months, I’ve observed a lot of hustle with purpose from her, and her first formal release “god” is a solid powerpop bop. She also makes regular appearances on the Nashville circuit.
for your health: It figures that we’d still be working on this article when this band gets a music premiered on freaking KERRANG. That’s a monster of a rock driven music blog/zine, if you didn’t know. This music will probably piss you off at some point. Good.
Frankie Soleil: I have to credit Bryan Ream, formerly of Threat Level Midnight, for turning me onto to this dark pop artist. Think of Frankie Soleil as a more rock driven PVRIS or Banks. She already has one national tour under her belt, and it’s doubtful she’s slowing down anytime soon. I respect how she wasn’t content to build a following the old fashioned way; she just hustled and hit the road.
Funk Worthy: When I went to write this section, I went on Spotify and saw this band has been discovered via playlists titled “Lofi Mellow Wake Up” and “Songs to Have Sex To.” I thought that juxtaposition was pretty great. This sound is really smooth and sultry, actually. I also respect the band’s drive to be versatile and their unassuming entry into the consciousness of music lovers in the Midwest.
Gabrielle Solange: This gal is driven and wears several hats. She’s a talented vocalist, songwriter, spoken word poet—and recently she even dove into stand-up comedy for the first time. I haven’t experienced her comedy, but I have seen her perform her unique hybrid of spoken word and indie pop in a living room. Her persona is hard to forget.
goodnightgoodnight: Cinematic pop has been all the rage lately, especially if you’re a music blog! This band is somewhat ironically titled, as the music definitely isn’t going to put you to sleep. Just dive into the song “Control,” and you’ll be shook. The band cites Cigarettes After Sex, The Cure, and Beach House as major influences—a trifecta if you ask me. Look for tour dates in the near future.
The Great Transparency: I’m kind of cheating by including this act here, but I was so impressed with their comeback performance in Newark I had to. Yes, I said comeback. They have charted on Billboard before, and toured the country coast to coast, but they are back with a new mindset and new material. 2020 is going to be a significant year for this band—go stream their happy powerpop/pop punk and get uplifted.
Henry Blaeser: This electronic artist has had a big 2019, poised to continue that momentum into 2020. Recently, he opened for Animal Collective at the popular art installation meets venue, Otherworld. “Divey” is an excellent single that is one half a split with fellow ambient artist CoastalDives, a song that puts a downtempo twist on a Tycho like dreamscape.
heyohwell: I first got wind of this indie pop project from a Steadfast Festival application – sadly, we didn’t accept them that year, but name recognition and further conversation led me to revisit for consideration for this list. The Cleveland group is capable of making you dance and enveloping you like a warm blanket – somewhat ironic when the latter happens during a song called “Coffins.”
Holden Laurence: We’re a little behind the times since Laurence released a full length in 2019, but we have to commend his efforts to bring new wave into the present. This is full on, New Order inspired tunage. Strong vocals with a slight waver. Light yet assertive guitar tones. And the synth – oh, the synth. You didn’t think we were going to leave that out, did you?
Idle Achiever: Noah Reineke and Chase Myers are two friends who want to be your friend too. They’re an indie electronic duo, yes. But they’re more than that. They both sing and rap. They both drum and play keys. They’re both eager to entertain you. They’ll play just about any live show they can get their band on – whether it’s an indie festival in Illinois with mostly metal bands or a DIY show in Mansfield, OH with politically minded punk acts.
In the Pines: The header of this band’s Facebook bio proclaims in all caps “CINCIPSYCHHORNHYPE.” That alone is intriguing, along with the endorsement of several musicians that I respect. At this point in putting this list together, I’m thinking to myself that I really need to pay close attention to what’s in the water in Cincinnati.
James Michael Meadows: Shame on us for not being more on the ball with promoting this singer-songwriter. Not only are his songs down to earth and earnest to match his personality, he also has a cutting edge side that comes out in the way he is releasing his solo material. One three song EP has a comic book, with more to follow.
Kalifornia: I first heard of this pop artist via Cloud City 614. I knew she was one to watch after discovering KIITA while I was booking for Steadfast 2020 (the stars didn’t quite align this time… all good, though) and seeing that Kalifornia was an artist she follows. “Worth It,” her latest single, pulses with an earnest vibe and some tasty electric guitar to give an organic element to an otherwise modern, futuristic pop tune.
The Katawicks: Many bands on this list are here because I started to see their name everywhere. One such act is The Katawicks, who mix slightly deadpan vocals with airy arrangements and warm toned melodies. “Don’t Leave Me High” was a song that left me wondering “Where was this song for me all year?” Find this self-proclaimed indie-soul duo hanging out around Dayton and Nashville, and in cities in between.
The Katy: This trio has roots in Memphis but is currently based in Cleveland. The vocals are soulful but the instrumentation is groove based in a way that subtly reminds me of Mutemath. I’ve been seeing this name pop up more and more on flyers in recent months, and The Katy recently was announced as an artist for Cleveland’s annual Brite Winter Festival, headlined by Ra Ra Riot and previous Ohio Band To Watch The Vindys.
KIITA: KIITA has all the ingredients to be the next artist to put Columbus on the map. As corny as the phrase “put Columbus on the map” is, I’m perhaps the most bullish on this artist of everyone on this list. Catchy, unique pop tunes with attitude? Check. A bigtime booking agent? Check. Hundreds of thousands of Spotify streams? Check. A clever music video? Check. A major label deal? Check (or so it appears – a recent Instagram post tagged one such label in the description).
Klashing Black: This duo from northwest Ohio makes a shimmering brand of indie pop and is both driven and classy. They have big goals, but they don’t let it go to their head. Don’t write them off as a twenty one pilots knock-off – they’ve got more for you than you realize. They aren’t always stadium sounding either – they also can craft good minimalist pop.
label me lecter: This duo would have been a candidate for the past few years of doing this list had it not been for my wack brain having a fart of farts. They played to the most packed room of the day at Steadfast Festival 2019. They’re consistently catchy, fun to watch, and polished. They plan to hit the road in a big way in 2020. Watch out for this alternative hip hop duo to appear in several rock and roll settings in the very near future. There’s also new music in the very near future. How near? Pay attention and find out.
Liberty Deep Down: Liberty Deep Down have been a well known name in Columbus for a few years – let’s be real. However, I chose to include them on this year’s list based on a conversation with their drummer at a networking event. He mentioned that they’re looking to reinvent their sound somewhat, going for an older Maroon 5 inspired vibe. “Dangerous” isn’t as “Songs About Jane” as much as I expected, but that crunch is present enough to appease rock fans like me without losing the swoon-appeal to their core fanbase.
Like Serpents, Like Doves: [Photo credit: Ross Thiesen] When I turn on Voices, the first thing that comes to mind is August Burns Red. Listen to “Carpe Diem” and tell me that doesn’t remind me of their layering. LSLD isn’t as brutal of a band that you’re ever going to hear, but sometimes a fist-pumping, big riff/big hook metalcore song is all you need. I already feel like I’ve been seeing this name for a long time – before I know it this band will be veterans of the Ohio metalcore scene in the true sense of the word.
Lindsay Jordan: When your facebook feed is full of a pediatrician shouting out a particular local artist over and over, you know she’s one to watch. Lindsay Jordan hit my radar in a big way over the past year; first as co-founder of the music blog For: Blue Eyes and later as a country artist with attitude. Her sound may be full of twang, but she’s a rocker at heart. Jordan strikes me as someone not only to experience live, as someone that would be fun to hang out with in general.
Lowlights: Hey, you. Go watch this Mug & Brush Session of Erin Mason of Lowlights performing right freaking now. Mason sings with an at times hypnotic cadence. This isn’t your typical sad girl with a guitar. I honestly have no clue what her plans are but she’s certainly friends with all the right folks to make a significant impact.
The Manatee Room: Unfortunately, this powerpop group doesn’t have any formal music released yet, but they’ve been quietly making their way up the totem pole in the Columbus indie scene. Their cheerful demeanor translates over to the music and their willingness to play in most environments is going to get them far.
The Mean Somethings: This trio is backed by the uneffortlessly cool Chelsea Ravenn (I love that name, don’t you?). She mixes indie pop with attitude and a bit of hip hop. Chelsea is still developing a true presence to be reckoned with, but it’s promising enough to be included on this list. The Mean Somethings’ sound and demeanor is both worthy of your attention and friendship.
Miir: Miir sings a distinct brand of R&B influenced by downtempo and chillwave. Seth Bain of Mister Moon (a previous Ohio Band to Watch) can be seen performing alongside Miir from time to time. Cloud City 614 chose her as one of their artists to showcase a paradigm of under the radar artists in the city. I’d love to see Miir get some more PR and hit the road.
Monarchs to Oblivion: [photo credit – Steve Malone Photography] My first experience with this band was listening to them perform at a recent White Collar Sideshow concert in Newark, OH (sidenote: WCS released one of my top records of 2019). They have a sound that takes me back to my high school days, when I played Pillar, Disciple, and Decyfer Down LOUD. For a new band, the recording and songwriting is top notch. If big riffs and big hooks are your thing, give Monarchs to Oblivion a listen.
Mouth Movements: This punk pop band left yours truly an impression a year or two ago with their cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me.” 70s meets emo, baby! “Queen Size” is a pretty rad indicator of what’s to come from the band, as the lead single from their EP. Look for a more in depth review from us in the coming weeks.
Ol’ Sport: Joe Leppanen has been a longtime supporter of this blog and brand, and now it is our turn to put the spotlight on his creative outlet. Ol’ Sport only has one single released, but it’s an emotional banger and he has plans to hit the road hard in 2020. His trusty fur pal Gaston will serve as a mascot to win people over, if nothing else. I kid, I kid – this guy has some serious chops.
P2I: This hip hop group is technically based in Miami, FL now but they’ve still got their roots firmly planted in Columbus. They have a thoughtful yet fun flow and stage presence that is made all the more endearing by their personalities. You never know what will happen, especially with a guy who goes by Big Stove (yes, Stove. Not Steve) at the helm of the decks. Word on the street is they’re releasing an EP soon, and they are working some magic at Vaughn Studios in Columbus.
Paco is Desperate!: I have to be in a very specific mood to listen to math rock or emo music – especially when the two overlap. The whimsically named Paco is Desperate! seems to be making a name for themselves in Northwest Ohio. I came across them recently when mindlessly scrolling through a DIY booking group on Facebook. Any band putting themselves out there is in a decent position. Their sound is just lofi enough to keep the indie DIY cred, but accessible enough for the more casual emo fan to appreciate.
Papi K: One of the most prolific curators in Ohio is Sam Rothstein – an artist himself. So, when he told me to check out Papi K, I listened up. Papi K fits seamlessly into today’s hip hop environment, but my standards. The more I dug into what he’s been up to, the more I thought to myself “Why haven’t I heard of this guy before?” Well, now you have. Crank “Wrist Piece” and test the limits of your car’s subs.
Passeport: A new Ohio band inspired by M83? Sign me up! I actually first heard of this group just within the past few days – Band to Watch alumni Bliss Nova played a show in Cincinnati alongside Moonbeau for an evening of synth-driven goodness. With songs this strong and polished only two singles in, I have to assume this band has big plans.
Pearly: This duo from Cleveland I first got wind of when I was seeking bands to support darkwave favorites Weeknight for a winter show in Columbus. Unfortunately the duo wasn’t ready yet – however, I’m glad they took the time to get their sound and image honed, because the songs they’ve released thus far are very cool and somber. Dark chillwave. Dark shoegaze. Dark dreampop? All these labels would apply here. They’re starting to tour more often and Gorilla Vs. Bear premiered their debut single. Nice.
somedaysoon: I have to give this emo-rap artist credit for having a Spotify bio that consists of little more than a screenshot of Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting and a few emojis, typed out. This is a scene that feels like it hasn’t been tapped into a lot yet in Ohio, so somedaysoon might be poised to break out by putting out emotional bops in a market without a lot competition. His influences are eclectic – Sade, Capstan, blackbear, and more.
Starlit Ways: Chris Glover and Rose Nkechi might be one of the most versatile couples performing in the Columbus area right now. Rose’s background growing up in the French-speaking Gabon lends an air of further eclectic class to the couple’s stage presence. Even when they perform at a costume party, you can’t help but be sucked into their performance and receive an air of formality. That’s a unique presence – being able to do that when not taking themselves seriously!
Strobobean: Wintertime brings out my appetite for post punk, and Strobobean is here to deliver. Well, I guess they’re not really that post punk, but they certainly fall under that emotional umbrella for me. It’s avant garde and driving at the same time. I could as soon see this band on a bill with Diet Cig as I could with IDLES or Shame.
Sylmar: Sylmar is one of those bands that no one seems to know, but those that do are usually also musicians – and they won’t shut up about how good they are. Sylmar has a lowkey presence that sneaks up on you. Once you’re in, you’re in. They have a knack for fitting on many different bills. I’ve seen them on bills with math rock (Mister Moon), psychedelic rock (Joshua Powell) and country rock (Lindsay Jordan).
Teamonade: I don’t know what to say other than I need to dig into the Bowling Green scene more, judging by how stinking catchy this band is. “Void” is a really great tune that reminds me of both 90s alternative and Jimmy Eat World. Find these guys on the road, probably. I’ve been seeing their name on many a tour flyer.
TRIIIBE: This is the second band on this list that is here, in part, from the recommendations of BlazingChakrams Photography. This eclectic hip hop collective spells their name with three i’s – don’t you forget it! I’m reminded of a lot of different things right away – a tiny bit of Lizzo, a larger amount of Tank and the Bangas, and a whole lotta glitchy beats dumped on top. Doing further due diligence means this Columbus dude needs to dig into their activism as well – I suggest you do the same.
Uptowne Buddha: Another name to know on the Brite Winter lineup is this collective, with atmospheric jazzy hip hop that is extremely compelling. The production is so crisp I feel obligated to like it, but gladly so. I was struck by something I read on their Instagram – “We been at it for a min. Not focused on blowing up. But just advancement daily.” I have to respect that. Slow and steady wins the race.
Wandering Stars: If industrial rock is your poison – look no further. This, the passion project of Derek Collins, has been hanging out under the radar for quite awhile now. However, the name “Wandering Stars” is beginning to circulate in the underground and as the weeks fly by, the more I’ve gotten to know the sheer depth of Derek’s inspiration. There are several layers to the inspiration behind each track, and he has several ideas for 2020. His aspirations for collaboration and distribution are boundless.
Wasp Factory: I heard about this project via Jules Jeffers, who I first met as a journalist for OSU publication the Lantern. Now, Jules is part of a noise rock, post punk inspired trio yelling into the void (and many house basements) their woes and grievances with the current state of the world. I have to wonder if “Wasp” is any way a tongue in cheek reference to “White Anglo Saxon Protestant” – given their sound and lyrical content, this would be on brand. Probably the thing I like the most about this band is the almost ironic danceability of their songs. [Editor’s addendum: the band clarified the meaning behind their name as follows – “wasp factory is not a tongue-in-cheek reference to the acronym WASP but is in fact a very serious reference to wasps the creature and our band’s respect and fear for one of nature’s most merciless killing machines. also it’s a reference to Wasp Factory the perfect band name i thought up with no outside help whatsoever.”]
Zonezero: Numetal. The word itself is polarizing. But don’t deny it – at one point in your life you’ve listened to a track from this genre and enjoyed yourself. Zonezero is here to bring that genre back to coolness – at least in Ohio. Turn on their latest pair of singles and get turnt.
Follow our playlist highlighting each act below: