Tampa Bay’s best local music of 2019, according to the artists who made it

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click to enlarge OUT OF TIME: The year’s over, and an all-too-short list of Tampa Bay’s best local music—including Joyeater's 'Naysayer'— is here. - Photo by Dave Decker
Photo by Dave Decker
OUT OF TIME: The year’s over, and an all-too-short list of Tampa Bay’s best local music—including Joyeater's 'Naysayer'— is here.

UPDATED: 12/18/19 2:42 p.m.

Each year brings countless hours of new local music to the Tampa Bay scene, and 2019 was no different. In years past, the CL team has done a more than decent job of listening to a calendar year’s worth homegrown records, taking inventory, and distilling them down to about a dozen that demand your attention.


But the truth is that no one hears this scene deeper than the musicians themselves, so we asked locals whose work we loved to tell us what new locally-grown music moved them this year.

The output of a few acts—most notably Clearwater hip-hop duo They Hate Change, St. Petersburg rock and roll band Fever Beam, singer-songwriter Kristopher James and harpist His Hem—emerged as clear favorites, along with releases from punk bands Critical Hits and Joyeater. Click through the links to hear more from the artists who CL loved in 2019, and listen to their own picks for best new music below.

Take some of the rundown with you via Spotify.

Fever Beam, “Young Guns”

When I first heard the song, I had it playing on repeat for a good three days straight. Everything about the single makes me want to put a cowboy hat on and sway around in a swamp. —Amanda Lanier of The Nervous Girls, which released 'Hunger' (stylized “hunger”)

“Young Guns” is on constant repeat in our house. All three members of Fever Beam bring a true rock and roll ethos that harkens back to the glory days of CBGB (which I can only see on YouTube due to the disadvantage of being born in the ‘90s.) Kasey [Maloney]'s vocal delivery is especially infectious and pairs perfectly with the cheeky lyrics. —Kate Miller of Proud Miranda, which released 'Eve Was Framed'

Fever Beam is my wife and I’s favorite new live band, and while “Young Guns” is the only tune they’ve officially released, they rule and their upcoming record should be a banger. Find us near the front at their local shows. —Scott Anderson of Have Gun, Will Travel, which released 'Strange Chemistry'

They Hate Change, “Sniper”

Over the course of 2019 there’s been a lot of OG great local hip hop to come out—from Sam E. Hue’s Easy Tiger with my partner in crime Jordan Patrick, or the low impact flows of Stoney Hoop and Dessasore. It’s been a nice year, but I feel like it’s all coming to a head for bigger and better things in 2020. Stand out though? They Hate Change controlled 2019. Juices Run Clear is my favorite Deathbomb Arc release since Veteran and these guys are really coming into their own and taking the flag wherever they damn choose. “Sniper” is such a hard joint and really shows a crazy blend of impeccable sonics, tactile flows and wit. —Recommended by Gat$, who released “Cardiac Coupe” and '2 Close 2 Robb'

I'm blown away every time I see They Hate Change live and this EP is no exception. —Dane Giordano of Fever Beam, which released a single and limited edition cassette

They Hate Change is my favorite local act right now. Their style is original and their shit is always good. Killer flow, good lyrics, experimental beats, entertaining show. What more can you ask for!? —Alexander Charos of The Venus, which released “Fringe of Evolution”

[Experimental duo They Hate Change] has been working harder than anyone in the local hip-hop scene recently. Juices Run Clear is the third of their three EP's released in 2019, and this time around they really came through with a noteworthy, consistent project. —Liam Bauman, who released 'Passing Through'

Liam Bauman, Passing Through

Another new favorite singer-songwriter, and his brand new record is so good! Liam Bauman, and his buddies Taylor Raynor and Leon Majcen, are all writing great music individually and collaborating on each others’ records and at live shows. They’ve got a cool and unique scene going on, and I hope for big things for all of them in 2020. —Scott Anderson of Have Gun, Will Travel

His Hem, “Get Out Of My Head”

His Hem's music, especially live, is guaranteed to give you chills and bring you to tears—I cry every time I see him perform. —Morgan Burgess of The Nervous Girls

His Hem, “Hair”

My top local pick for 2019 is without a doubt the song "Hair" by multi-instrumentalist His Hem. I've been infatuated with Matt [Dodenhoff]'s sound ever since I saw him live for the first time a couple years ago, and this new song really captures the unique feeling that he delivers in his live shows. The track starts off very delicate with some gentle singing over Matt's melodic harp playing, but as the song progresses it gradually becomes an intense, bass-driven, harmony-heavy indie-folk anthem that is oozing with passion and interesting lyricism. I was also very impressed to find out that all the production was done at home by Matt himself. (Editor's note: "Hair" is the only piece of music Dodenhoff worked on outside his home studio; Todd C. Smith at Paper Sound Studios recorded and mastered the single.) —Liam Bauman

Joyeater, Naysayer

I love Naysayer. Joyeater’s lineup has some packmates we’ve known from various other Tampa bands. This album is a raw, noisy and garage-y punk record that makes me want to plug into a Fender twin reverb and hit my guitar really hard. I was able to get a sneak peak of the record early on while they were recording it, and I loved it immediately. The final product is even better—if a label doesn’t pick it up to put out on vinyl, then the terrorists win! —Michael J. Wolf of Wolf-Face, which released “With Or Without Boof” from a forthcoming new album, 'Still Golden'

Naysayer is catchy, ferocious, in your face and leaves you wanting more. Sharing a melodic dose of Wipers-meets-Metal Circus-era Husker Dü, added with [frontman Jack Jallo’s] sardonic vocal style.. [it all] beautifully reverberated throughout the album. I can’t stop listening. Favorite tracks: “There’s Nothing From You,” “Nailbiter,” “Cold War” —James Pendleton of Rutterkin, which released 'Sanguine'

Critical Hits, “Straight Line”

My favorite song on any local release this year; we played their first show with them in December of 2018 and now I try to catch them whenever I can. Critical Hits writes hooks that get in your head for days after you listen. I've teared up all over town when this one comes on. It's sad yet powerfully hopeful. —Anne Schipper of The Nervous Girls

Critical Hits' self titled EP is Victor Alvarez’s love letter to the world of power-pop. four incredibly intricate, yet simple pop-punk tracks that scream ‘90s a la The Promise Ring and Get Up Kids. Victor is mastermind of pop hooks, melodies and storytelling. Half the album makes you scream with blissful joy, and the other half makes you cry in anguish. A justified combination. Gotta go scream and cry some more. Favorite tracks: “News Feed,” “Straight Line” —James Pendleton of Rutterkin

Reality Asylum, Hyacinth Thrash

The production is fantastic, Ricky Seelbach who plays synth and sings in Reality Asylum also did all the recording and mixing, and he is a brilliant mad scientist. He actually mixed the Fever Beam tape Let's Shoot a Hole Through the Moon, which we quietly released this year—working with him is always insightful. The culmination of moods captured on Hyacinth Thrash while keeping the energy of their live show keeps it fresh every time I put it on. —Dane Giordano of Fever Beam

Glove “Personality Change” and Kristopher James’ Kindness Never Quits

Kristopher James is better than everyone else around here. And the band Glove is miles above all the others—they are totally poised for bigger things. —Billy Summer of Hotel Life, which released 'Had A Few Drinks, Smoked My Mind'

Kristopher James, Kindness Never Quits

Undoubtedly the best record of the year for the Tampa Bay area. It’s wonderfully produced, soulful, and just downright tasteful. It’s a record that I can’t stop listening to. —Shua Harrell of Oxford Noland, which released 'One Take'

Hotel Life, Had A Few Drinks, Smoked My Mind

Everything Billy Summer does inspires me, including the new Hotel Life record, Had a few Drinks, Smoked my Mind, his collab w his ol’ pal Capt Joe. Billy is just brilliant and I love him. —Scott Anderson of Have Gun, Will Travel

Prince Tanuki "Kalibos"

I adore these songwriters and musicians. This jazz-R&B fusion track is drippy and intentional. It feels loose and sensual, but it's able to feel that way because it's so well crafted and purposeful. —Kristopher James, who released 'Kindness Never Quits'

Meatwound, “Elders”

I may be biased but Culero, the new Meatwound album, was one of my favorites of the year. Taking over for Leo Saurez on drums was an honor and a huge challenge. Culero has some of the most fun and creative drum tracks I have had to play in a long time. The album has such a good blend of violent grooves, guttural yelling and noise on top of noise. That being said, there is a clear arch and flow to it all. It’s like Hannibal Lecter beating his victim with a hammer; every swing has meaning. My favorite track is the instrumental “Elders,” which sounds like part of a movie score with heavy droning synths. That is the most fun part of playing in Meatwound, there are no rules. —Andrew Pellegrino of Maudlin Moon, which released a self-titled EP.

Charles Irwin

Charles Irwin released a ton of new music this year, too, and it's all beautiful. That band is the future. —Dane Giordano of Fever Beam

Stoney Hoop, Voices 

Stoney Hoop is one Tampa Bay’s most promising and consistent hip-hop artists, and this is a very cohesive album from front-to-back. I suggest getting in your car, cracking the windows, lighting something, taking a drive and taking it in. He plays an album release at Dojo Sounds on January 11. I feel this album and release will solidify Hoop as a Tampa staple. Sam E. Hues, who released 'Easy Tiger'


An amazing body of work as well. Very groovy and easy to jam too. —Stoney Hoop, who released 'Voices' and 'The Local Stranger' EP

NDO, “Reason” 

The texture of her voice and melodies paired with the groovy production and bass from Rugawd meet in this pocket somewhere between the future and the past. It’s a great vibe, and the album was mixed by Maxx Forman at Dojo Sounds. —Sam E. Hues

Mike Escanor, “Relax” (feat. 7Sinclair)

Dope record, even doper artist. This song slides, with a dreamy guitar, Southern drums, unexpected choice of bass and Mike Escanor’s refreshing delivery. I see a bright future for Mike. You can catch him live on January 4 at Crown Bar for the “Color of the Year” show I’m producing. —Sam E. Hues

Deaudrick Williams, To Have and To Hold

I was just introduced to Deaudrick Williams during a Jordan Patrick listening event at Dojo Sounds. I really enjoyed this new project released on December 14; it’s a must listen. Very soulful, with confident subject matter and clear identity of who Deaudrick is as an artist. I’m looking forward to seeing where his path takes him. —Sam E. Hues

Jordan Esker & the Hundred Percent, "My Own Miserable"

This ‘80s inspired indie-pop track was beautifully produced and it's been stuck in my head since it's release date. —Liam Bauman

Dave Rudolph Quintet, Resonance

All of the players on Resonance are superb, and the compositions are diverse and groove nicely. My favorite cut is “Those Clumsy Words.” —David Manson of O Som Do Jazz, which released 'Go!'

Graven Hag, Satanik KuntKrusher and Blood Ouroboros, “Spears of Execration”

With two weeks to go, 2019 appears to be pretty fruitless. 2018 produced a handful of great local releases (some of which just missed the cut time-wise). While it’s slim pickins around here, I’d say Graven Hag’s Satanik KuntKrusher was a solid release from a refreshing new Tampa band. Honorable mention would be Blood Ouroboros as they released the single “Spears of Execration” off a forthcoming album (scheduled for release in January 2020.) —Tim Anderson of Spit (stylized “SPIT”), which released 'Peasant'

Spit (stylized “SPIT”), Peasant and Meatwound, Culero

Spit projectile vomited Peasant all over Tampa this year, and all I have to say is, “TOTAL SUPPORT.” Meatwound helped keep rock and roll alive with Culero. I am very happy to have them around town to show the uninitiated what's what. —Brian Shields of Clang!, which released 'Whac-A-Mole'

Emily Jones, “Big Birthday” and Spirit & The Cosmic Heart, Memories

Emily Jones has been periodically releasing singles over the last couple of years, and I super dig what she’s doing. Her single, “Big Birthday,” is a favorite of mine from 2019.

Memories, the second EP from Spirit & The Cosmic Heart, picks right up where the first EP left off; I especially love listening to it while driving at night. Both Emily Jones and Spirit & The Cosmic Heart are captivating live. They inspire and motivate me to push myself to be better. I’m stoked to be a part of the Central Florida music family with them. Mrenc, who released 'On & On & On'

Kit Allen Wiley, It's Not Over

An incredible five-song EP that is a sweetly melodic, angsty and an emotional catharsis. —Kristopher James

Copeland, “On Your Worst Day”

The melody of the first verse grabbed me right away, but what draws me closest is that the song listens like a symphony. A breath in and out. A scream and a whisper. It's both familiar and unpredictable. As is life. —Michael McArthur, who released Ever Green, Ever Rain

New Fang, “Dirt”

New Fang exploded on the scene with a debut single "Dirt". The verse melody is so driving and any show we've played with them, the crowd has gone absolutely apeshit for it, dancing and grooving like they're at a Steve Miller show. —Kate Miller of Proud Miranda

Big Kaino, “Ride Around”

My other eye has been on Big Kaino. “Ride Around” is going to be a big big record and he has the charisma of a million snake charmers. Brash voice and a brisk flow, he’s a unique aura in the city. —Gat$

Marty Strange, “Enigma”

I think Marty Strange has a really original style and sound. —Stoney Hoop

The Cast Integral, Fractured Fictions

Vetnough’s favorite release this year from a local band would be The Cast Integral's EP. —Christina Piasecki of Vetnough, which released 'Tired Sounds'

Rebekah Pulley, “Central Avenue: The City”

Rebekah Pulley’s new record [Sea of Everything] is amazing, and the one-two opener of “Central Avenue: The City” is just a beautiful way to start it. —Scott Anderson of Have Gun, Will Travel

Kerry Courtney, "Wes Anderson"

Kerry Courtney is a sort of magic. His airy falsetto and powerful, full voice feels like it's an orchestration of its own. Put that together with an amazing production from The Vanguard Room in Lakeland, and it's easily one of the best songs of 2019. —Kristopher James

Have Gun, Will Travel, Strange Chemistry

A perfectly designed album of everything that makes Have Gun, Will Travel. It's emotional, raw, honest—at moments you hear the indie-rock influence from the band’s past and the progressive alt-country vibe that it’s curated over the years. —Kristopher James

Slap of Reality, Gaslight

I’ve known Frank [Lacatena] and Joe [Kiser] since my earliest days in the punk music scene. They have been a musical team for a long time in projects under many different names, but Slap Of Reality has always been the definitive Tampa institution. Although there is, expectedly, a common thread with all of the music they’ve created together, I would definitely say that there is a maturation of the patented Lacatena-Kiser sound with every release.

This newest couple of songs has all of the hallmarks of how Slap of Reality has sounded for the last decade or so. The thick (but not too thick) guitars, hooks, and call backs to bands we grew up with in that melodic, post-hardcore, not-quite-punk-not-quite-rock era that ended up steering mainstream music away from hair metal.

Rob [Sexton]’s drums also define part of Slap of Reality’s sound. Second guitarist Dave [Peralta] has been with these guys forever, as well, and his sound and style of playing has always perfectly meshed with Joe’s. And the bass playing is really outstanding.

Very stoked that these guys are back at it, full force. Tampa music would not be the same without them. —Sam Williams of Black Valley Moon, which released 'The Baleful Sounds Of Black Valley Moon Vol. 1'

The Path

I'm on the road for work most of the time so I haven't kept up… but the only local band I saw this year that stood out was The Path. They have a great, “big” sound even just using a drum machine. —Financial Ruin Records’ Dan Shook, who plays in Meatwound, which released 'Culero'

Obituary, “A Dying World”

Obituary needs no introduction, really. They seem to be experiencing a renaissance in the last several years, opening for the likes of Slayer and Black Label Society—and I’m totally on board. Though Tampa is home to a myriad of genre-defining death metal legends, Obituary is the most recognized ambassador, I think. The band seems to be taking the genre into new areas of exposure and acceptability in a way that hasn’t been experienced since its heyday in the ‘90s. Some of it has to do with Obituary’s work ethic and personality. They are down to earth guys with stellar reputations that do charity work for cats (as opposed to sacrificing them). Some of it has to do with the brilliant videos they recently put out by animator Balazs Groff (I’m still waiting for the Adult Swim Obituary cartoon series). But I think none of it would matter without the band’s music.

The songs are heavy and extreme enough to comfortably sit within the death metal canon, but they are energetic, catchy, and even hooky in a way not usually associated with the heaviest of metal. Great workout or driving music. Despite the dark imagery and lyrical content, the band’s good nature has always shown through in the music. Believe it or not, Obituary music is actually optimistic, feel good music, by my estimation. And like some of the most classic bands... the Ramones, AC/DC, Motorhead... these dudes always deliver. You know what you are getting when you press play on a new Obituary release, and that’s a good thing. “A Dying World” is just another in a long line of pure awesomeness from this pillar of Tampa… as Floridian as boiled peanuts and Mel Tillis. —Sam Williams of Black Valley Moon

AJ Dee, The Indigo Project

All obvious nepotism aside, the record by my son is simply sounding. Absolutely beautiful musically, lyrically, and production-wise. It is made up of a few different songs but it is definitely one complete work. There are musical and lyrical seams consistent throughout the record, and knowing his life firsthand, and the struggle and journey he has been through, makes the lyrics that much more meaningful. That kid is better than I will ever be.

He played all of the instruments himself—fucking crazy. The album deals directly with very sensitive subject matter, as we have as a family experienced too many pointless deaths as a result of motorcycle accidents, and drug overdoses. It changed him as a songwriter for sure. —Ronnie Dee, whose band the Superstars released the 'North South East West' EP

Anthill Cinema (FKA The Difference), Nobody

My second favorite release is of course my brother from another mother. Delightfully displaying every style imaginable, from Mr. Bungle to bluegrass with some funky shit in between, sprinkled with virtuosity steeped in prog-metal jazz, it is entertaining throughout. The newest release under “Ant Hill Cinema” is fucking incredible. The scope of it is mind boggling. I’m lucky enough to have heard the entire thing, and been listening to it from its inception, being written in the rehearsal studio. So lucky to be a fly on the wall for that one. —Ronnie Dee

Fake Nudes and Human Error

I haven't listened to a lot of local records this year, but I got to play and see some great music; many times that has a greater impact on me. Fake Nudes is one of those bands; they capture the essence of darkwave without sacrificing originality.

Human Error is another band that impressed me. The kid that does vocals has a type of charisma unmatched by most around this area. You can tell he's all in and not just riffing through the songs. The band overall has a depth in punk that hasn't been reached in a while. —Ricky Seelbach of Reality Asylum, which released 'Hyacinth Thrash'

Recreational States, Recreational States

Recreational States’ October release is an all-out punk assault on your senses. The entire album is high energy with killer guitar licks and layering, and the vocals are raw and gritty—just how I like 'em! —Amanda Molinaro of The Nervous Girls

GospelBeach, Let It Burn

My most played artist of the year has been Gospelbeach (stylized “GospelbeacH.”) The new record Let it Burn just came out a couple months ago, but I celebrate the entire Rademaker [Brent, of Beachwood Sparks and the Tyde] catalog year round. The brothers left Tampa Bay a long time ago for California, but they took Tampa Bay vibes with them, and continue to do cool shit and own both left coasts for me. —Scott Anderson of Have Gun, Will Travel

Glaze, Danny and Alex, Vetnough

For those who had 2019 releases, and who I’m not affiliated with (meaning I worked on their project in some way), I’m always looking at Danny and Alex and Photo Fire, and they both had super original and creative releases this year. Of course, I’m also always excited to see what Glaze and Vetnough have coming out,, too. I just love local bands that I think would stand out in any city for their professionalism, originality, and great recordings and I think all of these bands represented themselves well this year. I even made a Spotify playlist. —Jordan Esker, who released the ‘Normalcy’ EP

Clang!, Prince Tanuki, Photofire, Joyeater, Perse and Ahleuchatistas

I, of course, love the Clang! album, for reasons that we’ve talked about before. I love the new single from Prince Tanuki (FKA Garden Club), and I’m excited to hear their album. I love “Lilac” by Photo Fire. Joyeater just released a rad album. I think perse’s EP came out this year. I listened to that a lot. I’m upset because I know I’m forgetting 50 other things. I didn’t get a response from the other guys, but Danny has done some amazing work this year, including “Mister Rogers’ Waters”, a new track from Ahleuchatistas. —Alastair St. Hill of Throat Puncher, which released ‘The Importance of Hydration’

Dick Hyman, Counterpoint: The Lerner and Lowe Project

Dick Hyman (who lives in Venice, Florida) dropped a nice one with clarinetist Ken Peplowski called Counterpoint: The Lerner and Lowe Project on locally based Arbors Records. Two maestros at their best.—Mike Cornette, Jazz Director at WUSF 89.7-FM

Jack Wilkins, The Rundle Sessions

Also, Jack Wilkins, Director of Jazz Studies at USF, had a very strong release, The Rundle Sessions, with some great guest players like Corey Christiansen and Sara Caswell. Some outstanding arranging and musicianship all around.—Mike Cornette

James Suggs, You’re Gonna Hear From Me

I have to buck the trend here a little and give props to trumpeter James Suggs, whose You’re Gonna Hear From Me recording technically came out in December of 2018, but ended up being our most played overall of 2019. We certainly have heard and believe in Mr. Suggs!—Mike Cornette

Rutterkin, "Sanguine" 7-inch

Each song is boisterous yet heartbreaking. The band finds ways to take you on a journey and affect you. It’s an absolute killer 7”. —Victor Alvarez of Critical Hits

Cess, Duality

One of the members of the no longer active group, Feature Ink. After years of rapping, Cess finally put out his first solo effort, which reads as a pretty strong, cohesive project. —Jon Ditty, who released “Safe Music”

Hagan Lee, Three The Hard Way

Produced by the Bartenders crew, the branding and execution of this release was criminally slept on. Three The Hard Way was gradually put out, over the course of 2019, in three, three-song segments: “Mindset,” “Ethics,” and “Legacy.” Not too many locals taking this type of creative approach to dropping a project.—Jon Ditty

Eyeznpowa, Dudikoff

Easily one of the dopest and underrated emcees in the Tampa Bay area (as he doesn’t play out much). Dwight’s unreleased catalog is outrageously extensive, but thankfully, he quietly released this gem to the world in 2019. —Jon Ditty

Acoupstix, “New New”

This dude always makes me laugh, and this song/video is successfully comedic, entertaining, and creative.—Jon Ditty

Follow @cl_music on Twitter to get the most up-to-date music news, concert announcements and local tunes. Subscribe to our newsletter, and listen to us on WMNF 88.5-FM’s “Radio Reverb” program every Saturday from 4 p.m.-6 p.m.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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