Almost a year and a half ago I published my first local music blog post on Experience Columbus, a list denoting 10 Columbus bands to know with local household names like MojoFlo, Damn the Witch Siren and Electric Orange Peel representing the talented crop. While the rhyme and reason to my original post was to create a sort-of entry-level guide to some of the hardest-grinding acts in the local scene, I wanted to make it a yearly tradition with a heavy focus on acts that will be making a lot of noise in Columbus and beyond over the next 12 months. While making this list, I started to realize the vast assortment of talent that exists within our city. It was a difficult time narrowing down this group to 10, but I think that the following acts are a solid showcase of what the local music scene has to offer as a whole.
BareFuzz proved to be a force to be reckoned with in the Midwest jam scene in 2019, and they show no signs of slowing down this year. Two of the psychedelic rock band’s major accomplishments include the release of the seven-track album Half Way Down and winning Summer Camp Music Festival’s On The Road Tour competition at Woodlands Tavern. On record, they display an expansive array of influences. They channel Tool’s progressive face-melting jams, the fun-loving spirit of the Grateful Dead and the innovation of rock acts like The Allman Brothers Band, Rush and Jimi Hendrix. The band has a pair of marquee local events coming up, which include a return to Summer Camp’s On The Road showcase at Woodlands on Jan. 24 and a set at the annual Winter Werk Out Festival at The Bluestone on Feb. 7 and 8.
The Cordial Sins have been a source of pride within the Columbus alternative community for a few years now, and the rest of the world has definitely been catching on as of late. The group’s spacey, resonating shoegaze rock has been turning heads outside of central Ohio after sharing the same festival stage with The Flaming Lips in 2018 and finishing a tour with Elvis Depressedly in 2019. Along with the release of the six-song EP In Memory this past October also came some of singer and guitarist Liz Fisher’s most poignant and emotionally-revealing lyrics to date. The group is also continuing to prove that they’re one of the most talented guitar-driven acts to come out of this town in the past five years. Make sure to catch their performance at Steadfast 2020 at Strongwater Food and Spirits on March 14.
Bringing impassioned power to pop-rock, Hello Luna is fronted by the potent lead vocals of singer-songwriter Kenzie Coyne. Paramore may be taking a vacation but Hello Luna is more than willing to fill that emotional void in your life with live performances that rival any of the alternative rock acts that pass through Columbus’ PromoWest subsidiaries. The band even heard Bunbury Music Festival’s call to perform in 2017. The group’s second EP, Dear Demons, was released in the final quarter of 2019 and carried heavier energy and passion than 2017’s breakthrough Ghost of You. The life experiences that Hello Luna brings to the table in their songs is a shining example of the touching and elevated lyricism that Columbus bands are presenting to the world. Hello Luna will be releasing electronic reimagined versions of songs off of Dear Demons in early spring and new singles throughout the year. The band will also be playing a local show at Rumba Cafe on Feb. 22 as part of a CD102.5 showcase with Kansas City rock band Hembree.
One of the most inventive groups in Columbus at working synthesizers, Ghost Soul Trio has been blazing through the local circuit ever since the band’s atmospheric indie-pop landed in 2015. Their debut album, Too Many Futures, landed in the first quarter of 2019 and displayed the group’s signature jazz and electronic-minded sensibilities at a very heightened and mature level. The songs are very polished and abstract, bringing a sense of urgency to the sci-fi love story being crafted by vocalist James Harker. For a band that is working on formulating a specific sound that can attract an audience outside of Columbus, they’ve shown over the years that they’re not afraid to experiment. Ghost Soul Trio was even picked to open for Lizzo at WNCI’s summer concert this past year. Make sure to check out the band’s latest music video for the undeniably groovy “Potassitorium” and upcoming live performances at Wonderball 2020 at the Columbus Museum of Art on Jan. 25 and Steadfast 2020 on March 14.
The electrifying charm of Columbus-by-Woodmere-Village hip-hop artist Joey Aich is just one of the few qualities that makes his brand of music so intoxicating. His style can be matched up against contemporaries like YBN Cordae and Anderson .Paak who are both known to fluidly and effectively balance conscious, introspective lyrics with party bars. You can usually catch him flowing over an old school, jazzy beat and laying out new-age, sharp-witted wordplay. Since he started calling Columbus the home for his music career, his voice has become one of the most sought-after in the city. He was even able to land a set at Breakaway Music Festival in 2017 and released one of the most charged-up local projects, If Money Grew on Trees, in 2018. Make sure to keep a bookmark on Joey Aich, who will be announcing a show in late January soon and will be releasing a lot of new music leading up to an album drop this upcoming spring.
risik’s brings what cyberpunk embodies to life with her innovative music. Her colorful blend of dubstep, DnB and IDM represents some of the most unique bass music coming out of the Midwest. Her music brings a refreshing, darker twist to the dancefloor, slightly reminiscent of the futuristic, exhilarating bass of acts like Eprom, Rezz and Bleep Bloop. It’s hard to even come up with a comparison that will help you sleep at night because her brand is distinctively her own, but her craft is definitely on the same level of those aforementioned artists. The DJ is also known for her contributions to the mental health community, curating playlists with other artists and musicians comprised of songs that serve as personal ways of coping with mental health issues for a project called airplane mode. She also hosts and organizes a women’s DJ workshop. After a busy last few months that included an NYE performance with Mija at Otherworld, risik is clearing her calendar of performances and shifting her focus on finishing her debut album.
Another dreamy rock act that has received well-deserved praise all around Columbus, snarls capped off 2019 with a huge accomplishment. The gritty four-piece alternative rock outfit announced that they were signing with Massachusetts-based independent music label Take This To Heart Records. Their first full-length, Burst, is also slated for a spring 2020 release. Their pensive, contemplative rock has produced songs that serve as road maps to navigating life and that stand up to premier acts like Snail Mail and Big Thief that have gained national recognition recently within the indie community. Their sound has very wide appeal and is extremely tight, making them one of the hottest tickets in town. If you haven’t had the chance to catch snarls, you’re in luck. The quartet is playing at Mouth Movements EP release show at Big Room Bar on Jan. 24.
Even though Columbus soul legend T.Wong was included on our singer-songwriters to know list at the end of 2018, he’s special enough to be mentioned twice. His 2017 project, The Upside Down, stands the test of time as one of the most wide-ranging displays of local talent. The music video he released for “Wild,” the smooth-yet-alarming second track off of the LP, is also one of the most stunning cinematic feats to come out of the Columbus music bubble in 2019. The enigmatic energy that he gives off in his live performances fills up and resonates with whatever room he is performing in. His R&B chops range from Lenny Kravitz-level entertainment to Frank Ocean-level art. T.Wong is also one of Columbus’ top-tier civilians; he is the director and co-owner at the Thomas Ingram Law Group and a brand ambassador for Art Makes Columbus. He is shooting to have a new single out by February or March.
The Worn Flints may be the longest-tenured Columbus act on this list because their emotionally-heavy 2019 release Gloria Avenue catapulted the psychedelic rock outfit to the forefront of the Columbus music scene once again. Kenny Stiegele—who handles piano, vocals and guitar—brings major Matt Shultz vibes to the most recent Worn Flints record along with the polished stoner rock of Queens of the Stone Age. Deep and heavy guitar tones often dominate the group’s songs, which are delivered to you at an amazing pace set in motion by drummer Jake Smith. Swooping choruses and crafty guitar solos make an appearance on almost every track the group has released in five-plus years. If you’re longing for the glory days of 1970s rock, the Worn Flints will definitely scratch that itch.
Wandering Stars is bringing the beautiful phrenetic nature of Nine Inch Nails and the transportive essence of Portishead to Columbus’ backyard. Look no further than 2019’s The Minor Fall to find traces of Pretty Hate Machine and Dummy. 2019 was quite the busy grassroots year for Wandering Stars, which included four releases and giving out their music for free, hiding it around town with the message, “i am not lost. i am free.” and a call to better the world and better yourself. Derek Christopher and Gregory Stokes have shown over the past year that they have their fingers on the pulse of the Columbus music community and of a wide variety of epic composers. The atmospheric and ominous anthems and unique drum patterns crafted by Wandering Stars make you think of producers like Jon Hopkins, James Murphy, Thom Yorke, and Kanye West. It’s industrial music that’s soothing for the soul. Be on the lookout for a forthcoming EP titled Self. The title track is based on a photography piece by a local artist named Dru Battle and will be used as the album’s artwork as well. The other songs on the EP will be Wandering Stars’ takes on songs from the 1960s.
Photo Credit: Adam Berta (BareFuzz), Ross Theisen (Hello Luna), Nick Fancher (Ghost Soul Trio), Kendra Lee (Joey Aich), Jacob Potzner (risik), KVIZHWL (T. Wong), Wayne Ellison and Heather Ross (Wandering Stars)