Music » Music Reviews

CITY’s Year in (Music) Review

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Another year is in the books and with it, plenty of new releases from the region’s talented roster of musicians. Several CITY/WXXI staffers weighed in on their favorite songs from 2023, including music from familiar favorites like Danielle Ponder and Mikaela Davis to more recent arrivals on the local landscape like Georgie and Wovenhome.

You can check out the complete CITY playlist here:


“Praise the Sun” by Wovenhome, from Waving Trees
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(Bandcamp/Instagram)
Every track on the “Waving Trees” EP makes earthy tones — like that of the harp-like African instrument called the ngoni — sound transcendental. But “Praise the Sun” is the standout example of Wovenhome’s soundworld, synthesizing global folk music and rap in a cohesive statement of joy. —DANIEL J. KUSHNER
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“Roll the Credits” by Danielle Ponder
(Instagram)

Danielle Ponder’s rising star is impossible to ignore. The local soul phenom’s latest single continues her subtle insistence on hip-hop beats and atmospheric production. The song serves as both a defiant anthem for love and a victory lap for Ponder, but there’s arguably no one who deserves it more. —DANIEL J. KUSHNER

“State Lines” by The Endless Mountain Derelicts, from Good Got Damn
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(Bandcamp/Instagram)
The opening track off the 2023 EP “Good Got Damn” by Finger Lakes alt-rockers The Endless Mountain Derelicts plants the group’s sneering, blue-collar, hard-working, anti-establishment attitude with a twangy, driving singalong that’s part cowpunk, part outlaw country and all piss and vinegar. Singer-songwriter-storyteller Justin Swank sings “Candidates on purple killing spree, black sheep fall to their knees/ Choose a side, let them rot/ It’s all the same.” EMD lets you know right off the bat that they’re sick of societal norms being shoved down their throats, and the only way forward is to burn the traditional playbook and warm your hard-working hands by the fire. —RYAN WILLIAMSON



“New Fear” by Georgie, from Intimacy Hangover
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(Bandcamp/Instagram)
"New Fear" is my favorite song off of Georgie's excellent 2023 EP "Intimacy Hangover"  (among the best titles of anything in recent memory). I love every part of this song: the banjo, the strings, the percussion, the vocals, the lyrics. "Are you being real? Am I being real? Am I real?" Eternal questions, beautiful song. —JACOB WALSH






"Twang" by Eli Flynn, from Running With Scissors
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(Bandcamp/Instagram)
Eli Flynn sings, "I've been testing waters, trying to find the missing piece," and we wade right-in to the musician's inaugural solo effort, immediately benefiting from Flynn's “testing the waters” in regional bands like Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and The Able Bodies. A pensive indie driver with a bit more elbow room, "Twang" leaves the album's front door perfectly ajar, tempting anyone with ears to have to hear what's inside. —RYAN YARMEL

“Dirt” by Bugcatcher, from Go!
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(Bandcamp/Instagram)
"Dirt" arrives about halfway through Bugcatcher's excellent 2023 album "Go!," and it's the one I keep coming back to. Maybe it's the perfectly-sighed vocal hook in the verse, the expertly-placed bass punctuation in the mid-song drop out, or the abrupt ending that makes you wish the song was longer. I don't know, it's magic. —JACOB WALSH



“Parallels” by Kindofkind, from Sustenance Pill
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(Bandcamp/Instagram)
Kindofkind’s edgy new album “Sustenance Pill” is a heady combination of math rock, emo, and hardcore. Fortunately, the music never sounds so cerebral as to be bloodless. “Parallels” contains ample servings of tasty guitar noodling, groovy rhythmic shifts, and cathartic screaming in one spicy dish. —DANIEL J. KUSHNER

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"Cinderella" by Mikaela Davis, from And Southern Star
(Bandcamp/Instagram)
Ever had a catchy guitar riff stuck in your head? What about a harp riff? Mikaela Davis accomplishes this and more on "Cinderella," a deep cut from her "And Southern Star" release. Weaving a new tale for folklore's original bachelorette, Davis showcases both her musicianship and license to groove, not to mention the solid roots psychedelia of her band, Southern Star. —RYAN YARMEL


“Pathétique” Sonata (No. 8 in C Minor), First Movement by Alexander Kobrin, from
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Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1 (Instagram)
Ludwig van Beethoven wrote 32 sonatas for solo piano, and they reflect the many sides of his musical style over the course of his life. Pianist and Eastman School of Music Professor Alexander Kobrin has been playing all of these sonatas in concerts each month this year at Eastman, and he is also releasing them as a series of studio recordings. In addition to Beethoven’s passion and storminess, Kobrin finds in this music “warmth, kindness, sweetness, and humor.” You can hear his thoughtful interpretation in the first album of the project, Beethoven’s first eight sonatas.
—MONA SEGHATOLESLAMI


“Baroque and Blue” by Laura Dubin & Antonio Guerrero, from Baroque and Blue
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(Instagram)
There is such amazing joy to the music that local pianist Laura Dubin and her husband, longtime musical partner and percussionist Antonio Guerrero, play, which has such thought and care put into every turn of phrase. Their latest project is a match made in heaven: Dubin and Guerrero playing the music of Claude Bolling, the French jazz pianist and composer famed for his tuneful, stylish music and crossover collaborations with Jean-Pierre Rampal and other classical artists. This is the feel-good music to keep you smiling into the new year. —MONA SEGHATOLESLAMI

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“The Higher” by Zahyia
(Bandcamp/Instagram)
Zahyia’s eclectic mix of musical styles are synthesized here into a powerful, danceable anthem, inspired by Octavia E. Butler’s novel “Parable of the Sower.” For this groove-based single released this summer, Zahyia said, “I incorporated sound and textures that I imagine dancing to on a spaceship with my ancestors.” Beam me up. And consider making it your new year’s resolution to hear her and her band live; they’re even more otherworldly on stage.
—MONA SEGHATOLESLAMI


“Alot Has Happened” by Negus Irap, from King Pari
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(Instagram)
Emcee Corey Waterman, AKA Negus Irap, reminds music fans why he’s one of Rochester’s top rappers with “King Pari,” the follow-up album to “My Name Is Guss.” The new set of songs finds Irap more upbeat and delivering his most polished performances to date. On the album’s closing track “Alot Has Happened,” the rapper takes stock of his life, including fatherhood and his emotional health, with his characteristically smooth flow and endearing singing voice. —DANIEL J. KUSHNER