I’ll be among the first to admit that 2017 is now a fading memory in long and short terms of immediate recollection. After all, we’ve reached a quarter of the year in already and only now do I find myself reflecting on and scrutinising the year past, since coming to terms with my current situation. Of which I feel is moving in a more positive direction. That said, while my own personal presence took a negative slant in the seventeenth year of the new millennium, musically, there was such a creative surge of magnificence which resulted in many, many excellent albums being released. Also one such reason for this list being delayed as it is. So, with ever-so-slightly wistful eyes, The Soundshark casts its spotlight on my ten favourite albums released in 2017, and for your listening indulgence:
The state of modern indie is certainly rather interesting nowadays. Although there have been past evaluations on when the last great era of modern indie was, ergo, when bands and artists last made an impact on the charts, where the genre stands in 2017, critically has never been better. Does having the adoration of critics and the music press outweigh greater commercial success? Maybe that’s a question to ask the Mercury Prize committee. While that is a debate for another time, the rise of a new wave of incredibly talented singer-songwriters have arguably become the heartbeat of indie, in this undeniably eclectic decade of music. Up-and-coming bands in the indie-rock vein are on their own battlefront, still rightfully rumbling the live music scenes across the world, and their time will come again. After all, it only seems that musical trends become cyclical, especially as this decade has progressed. As it stands right now, troubadours of a myriad of backgrounds and influences are among the most well-respected of artists, just trying to make music their entire lifestyle. And their emotional honesty, dedication and raw potential undeniably resonates with tastemakers, spheres of influence and those with a willing, listening ear, no matter how they choose to express their craft. Marcus Pike, a one-man indie-folk workhorse from the east end of London, citing the powerful vocal capacities of Bon Iver and Jeff Buckley, the melodic melancholia of Radiohead and the sublime minimalism of The xx as his inspirations, is another joining that order and hopefully soon to be more widely doted upon with his exquisite compositions.
Since his small beginnings, he has amassed over 150 live shows on the London circuit and released his debut EP Grand Piano, featuring the phenomenal gut-punch blues of The Flower And The Fox, earlier in February this year. Now with his as-of-yet to be titled sophomore EP lingering on the horizon, and with the mention of experimentation into the electronic realm, we look to his latest release Ark, as a promising glimmer of things to come. Seconds in, after a near microscopic level of acoustic build-up, we are gifted with Marcus’ heart-heavy, but soulful projection, carrying an extraordinary downbeat atmosphere that only thought possible with man-made instruments. Of course, with his acoustic companion in hand, and the deliberately slow pacing, a perfect balance of soothing and sadness is struck, making his recollection of a love lost and being unlucky in love all the more poignant. Both these elements in isolation cast a spell on the listener, the darkened ambience and pure vulnerability of Marcus’ narrative utterly mesmerising to behold, and that half of Ark elapses in such a sensational, yet sorrowful surrender exhibits the very best of what this young man is capable of. The second half is brought to life by a live band, the chill of soft reverb transforming guitar from acoustic to electric, and gentle percussion giving an added weight and movement to the pace already in progress. This new dimension of atmosphere will feel very familiar in post-rock circles, it lurks within the same haunting, moving chords that can trigger pleasure, placidity and pain in every stroke and heightens this dramatic shift as such. A set of female vocals join in unison with Marcus’ as the last refrain grants the duo freedom to drift away, and Ark gradually does, a subtle choral introduction playing out in the background and those emotive guitar chords escaping from their structure, as everything fades to silence. Lord knows where those four minutes disappear to, but it is among one of the most absorbing pieces of indie I’ve ever encountered. While it can be labeled as romantic, Marcus Pike imbues his soul to the darkness, conjuring a spellbindingly beautiful ambience and sense of sombre with little more than his voice and a guitar, and the impact and resolve of that delivery, clamours for recognition far beyond the London live scene. Inspirations accounted for, there feels much, much more exciting and diverse to come from this fantastic young solo artist.
While Marcus’ sophomore release is yet to have a certified release date, you can purchase Ark, and his previous EP Grand Piano from his Bandcamp page, as well as all other respectable music retailers. As a stalwart of the circuit, you’ll no doubt be able to find Marcus at a London show, at a time to suit you, so keep an eye out for when you can catch him live on his social media.
Speaking of social media, here are a few places where you can tell him, you love him:
And if you wish to tell me that you love me too, then consider leaving me a like, a follow, or by subscribing to the site (totally free by the by), by clicking the link that appears somewhere on this page:
Without wanting to cast bull-china shop aspersions off the bat, dealing with emotional abuse is more often than not, a difficult ordeal for those affected, but it’s a far more common place subject matter in music than most realise. Arguably the most famous song on the premise, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, a classic, near four minute disco romp, detailing the breakdown of an abusive relationship an unknown female character found herself in before finding the strength within herself to leave the perpetrator, is considered timeless as no doubt its chorus will be forever etched on the walls of the musical Pantheon. Its optimistic tones and grandeur made this such an uplifting listen, that in some respects, it could be considered easy to forget the subject matter entirely. Just as famous an example, widely acknowledged to be one of the most misinterpreted songs ever, is The Police’s Every Breath You Take, a portrayal of a stalker-type obsessive whom claims ownership over their past lover, never allowing them to move on. The calm, soothing demeanour of its music, along with the misconstrued lyrics of Sting’s impassioned croon has oft been taken as to be a love song for decades, before being publicly debunked by the Police frontman himself. In that respect, thank goodness for pop artists of the new millennium, such as Ke$ha, whose titanic but transparent ballad Praying released this year, brought to life the torment and nightmares faced under her captive producer, after arduous legal proceedings and years in the media spotlight for this reason alone. While currently building a loyal following of his own, Montreal pop sensation Randay is taking the same page from his contemporaries and making the message loud and clear, as well as highlighting another tale of emotional abuse in the process.
Putting aside the lyrical content for just a moment, Manipulation serves as an impeccably produced electronic pop number that teases crossovers into the EDM and electronic house forays, all to give his sultry charm room to soar. Repeatedly plucked guitar chords, with a very marginal overdub of synth open up the song, give it a cooling ambience, a calm mood and a steady tempo, as we then phase shift into the song’s main body. Enter a realm of pounding bass pulse, dampened hand claps and understated but beautifully layered synth harmonies that bulk out an otherwise minimalist atmosphere, that all lend themselves to Randay’s honeyed tone marvellously. There’s a small touch of hi-hat added to the mix as the verse progresses and a slight delay on the vocals, on which the echo sounds particularly effective against the beat, utilising the less-is-more approach well on a primarily vocal-heavy song. However it is at the chorus where Manipulation is at its strongest. Where once Randay had a lot of vocal processing on previous tracks, stripping the first chorus down to almost entirely vocals, bar delay and some minor ambient synth, has really given his voice a chance to shine on its own merits and it makes the chorus and its hook all the more memorable for it. Quickly building up the drop underneath the vocals, slyly introducing an acoustic guitar amongst the claps and keys, brings a short rush of excitement as you feel a gear shift about to transpire. But while the music doesn’t quite burst with the bombast you would expect from a modern dancefloor filler, the subdued nature of the drop actually fits really well with the overall tone of the song, whilst still having a beat and a bassline for even the most casual of club goers to move to. Throughout, there are little tweaks, production effects and instrumental additions so subtle, you’ll barely notice them at first, that make the song feel all the more complete, and there are more moments along the way where Randay’s vocal talents are isolated but ultimately accentuated as a result of intentional songwriting. Manipulation’s climax brings that memorable chorus hook against the beats, and Randay delivers it with such authority and empowerment, perhaps channeling an inner Gloria of his own, that you begin to realise the potential star power once the music retracts and his voice is left once more on its own, besides the thumping of bass and a melancholic but deeply fulfilling piano chime to close.
Sadly, I was informed that shortly after this song was written, Randay found himself on the receiving end of his own words, and I do extend my sincerest best wishes to him, and hope that he has found peace and closure from such terrible circumstances. But let that take nothing away from what he is capable of vocally, and his ear for piecing together pop music with a punch. Randay has all the tools necessary to become a breakout star and the blossoming process is well under way with the advent of Manipulation; a smartly produced, electronic dancefloor curiosity. with equal parts passion to attitude and a rightful claim for a spotlight to call his own.
Randay is soon to release a brand new track in the coming weeks, having just entered the studio to record vocals for Manipulation’s follow-up. A second album is also due to be announced at some stage in the near future. For everything else currently out including his first album Renaissance and recent remixes of Manipulation, you can find them all at most respectable music retailers.
Can’t get enough of him? Then here’s some social media links to follow for you:
And if you can’t get enough of what I do either, then you can give me a like, a follow or subscribe to the site using the link below, always appreciated:
And one more thing, if you do feel you are in a place where you feel like there is no escape or nobody to talk to, and you can’t channel your inner Gloria Gaynor, then I urge you to call whomever your local crime line, victim support or mental health charity is. Be brave. The Soundshark has faith in you. You can do it. You can get through this.
Normally, any piece highlighting new and emerging musical talents on this site begins with a tale, an anecdote or even a little music history, eventually tying the two subject matters together in a philosophical or whimsical manner. Such may not ring so true this time round. Instead, this begins with honesty. Truth is, this site has been out of sync, almost out of touch, with the pulse of brand new, underground, independent, and unsigned music for some time now, that what little reputation has been building has dissipated from existence. To put it simply, and to quote Jesse Lacey of Brand New – life is a test, and I get that much, so much so that all motivation and production of content stood frozen solid in time. Whether it would ever thaw again, remained a worry for the best portion of four months. But something that kept the tiniest of embers ablaze, was the genuine warmth of kindness. Despite absolute silence, PR companies and musicians alike continued to reach out to the site. I rarely contact artists or their correspondents preemptively, so to have a one-way overflowing direction of content without ever asking for it, goes beyond words and has kept the gears in a functional state in lieu of their dormancy. The ember truly came to life however once Nicole Gibson of the titular Montreal duo came into contact. Her authenticity and heartfelt words, with regard to what this site has accomplished so far, were a moving read and most certainly a reflection on her songwriting partnership with Chris Kelly. Hell, they’ve just been nominated for Best Adult Alternative Song by the Hollywood Songwriting Contest if that’s any indicator.
The pair have an incredible work rate, releasing weekly covers of recent music chart entries on YouTube, but their own songwriting endeavours, of which their debut EP is due for release in the coming months, captures their chemistry, versatility and sheer talent better than someone else’s words can. Their most recent single, Ghost of You shows the upbeat, poppier side of their capabilities, both Chris and Nicole’s contrasting, reverb-touched vocals, in a realm of grumbling bass, understated percussion and airy electronics, delivered so refreshingly, and with a hook so catchy, you wonder how it is yet to crack the airwaves. Arguably however, it is Out of The Dark’s moodier, minimalist soundscape that has a far greater impact and establishes exactly why the pair have a songwriting nomination in tow. Immediately, Nicole’s dulcet tone welcomes you in, as does the slight melancholy of piano keys and programmed but subdued kicks and snares. There is a marginal breeze of ambience ever-present also, but it all culminates in a formidable emotive vehicle, for the lyrical premise of never giving up hope. The tale is not complex, but it doesn’t need to be. They are simply the right words for the greatest effect. Their voices unite for the chorus, emanating true passion and belief in their message, with Chris’ solo bellow between each line sounding almost pained, but powerful nonetheless. Piano also gently builds behind them, furthering the big, emotional right hook of a chorus; it’s ultimately a subtle touch but again contributes massively to tone and overall delivery. Chris takes the lead for the second verse, showing his softer, soulful voice, with the now more prominent piano accompanying him, right up to a second chorus where after we are treated to a wailing guitar bridge, adding an extra ambient dimension without being intrusive. The song closes on its chorus, yet there is a refrain with only vocals and piano just before, that may rank among the most tear-jerking 15 seconds you’re likely to hear all year. No doubt Chris Kelly & Nicole Gibson have a prosperous career ahead of them both, with their attention to detail transforming the insignificant into the extraordinary. But it is their authenticity and emotional resonance in their music, that will make them stars. To borrow a quote from the duo:
‘In order to never quit, you have to see hope, and in order to see hope, you have to never quit.’
Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Nicole. It’s taken some time, but it feels like the site can come out of its own dark. And this masterpiece has been instrumental in guiding it through.
Chris Kelly & Nicole Gibson have a fabulous YouTube channel which houses all of their various covers so you can see how wonderful they are as musicians. They’ve also just launched their own website, in case there is any other content your heart desires you wish to view. As already mentioned, their debut EP is due for release really soon. Keep your eyes peeled.
In the mean time, give them a like or a follow on their social media right here:
And if you feel like doing the same for myself, then you can do so by giving me a like, a follow, or by subscribing to the site using the button below, and we can give each other a virtual hug:
It seems very few people utter a breath about 2016 any more. Probably for good reason, it seemed very much like a culling of revered figures and idols of popular culture, let alone a universal gasp of disbelief at what idiocy we may have unleashed on the world. 2017 isn’t really fairing any marginally better in that department, by a hair strand at best. But whisper it: The music is fantastic. If you want to invest in it of course. Admittedly, this list was compiled at the inset of 2017, but as the halfway stage of this year rapidly approaches, it still holds as an all-star ensemble of killer bands you may have overlooked, some yet to release their brand new material and some you may never have heard of. It seems like a solid enough foundation for this article to still exist, while maintaining some resemblance of relevance. That, and you may be reading this, looking for some new music to listen over the summer. Let’s get started, shall we?
While this is the very first of the end of year posts for this site and officially the first time anything like this has been on the site before, it gives me great pleasure and happiness to write a piece, giving a greater emphasis on an artist that has been a constant for this year. Limitations are boring and if locking a piece like this solely to any artist’s accomplishments in one year, it doesn’t grant the necessary freedom to write something engaging enough. So take this as a love letter to the one artist or group of artists whose music has been cherished through thick and thin this year, and would like to dedicate this year’s piece to self-proclaimed ‘suicidal synth-pop’ artist Forrest Avery LeMaire a.k.a. Mr.Kitty.
If you want to talk about 2016 for Mr.Kitty, then it hasn’t been as active as past years. Despite playing numerous shows over in the States, we were expecting what was to be Mr.Kitty’s sixth album in as many years to be released in October, making him certifiably in the conversation as one of synth-pop’s hardest working artists around. Sadly but understandably, the album was put on hold until next year as health concerns became a priority into the latter half of the year. But that does not speak for the quality of the music that Mr.Kitty has produced over his six-year plus lifespan as a recording artist. Far from it.
Channeling the mechanical heart of classic 80’s electronica and the drum machines of the great original goth movement, into chilling dreamscapes and darkened dancefloors, narrated by the oft distorted and reverb-drenched lullabies and shrieks of Forrest; the output of Mr.Kitty is an emotional outpouring of a vulnerable soul against an array of unforgettable analogue synth dialects. His first four albums form part of a quadrilogy of works known as the Dark Youth collection, spanning both light and darkness which broadcasts and touches upon many subject matters in that time frame, moving and macabre. It also serves as the perfect window or measuring post to show how much Mr.Kitty has grown and matured as an artist. But every release is its own separate universe, with its own atmosphere and a complete anthology of melodic masterpieces.
Arguably the greatest of his works is Dark Youth’s final installment Time, which although is one of the darker albums of that collection, is uncompromising in its vision, truly emanating the rawest feelings of every song, no matter how black its subject matter. How so many of these songs contain the musings of a mind much darker than you can imagine, but are entangled in some of the most memorable synth-pop written this decade is a true wonder and testament to Mr.Kitty’s abilities as a songwriter, let alone a fascinating juxtaposition. Although we have had snippets of a new album this year, how Forrest has tirelessly spun such outstanding retro-contemporary electronic webs together year after year is commendable. Each one is more enchanting and enrapturing than the next, and there is absolutely no hesitation in saying that everything that Mr.Kitty has created is consistently among the best music heard all year.
So if Mr.Kitty does get to read this, thank you so much for your music, with love and kind regards,
Five Essential Mr.Kitty tracks:
The vast majority of everything Mr.Kitty has ever produced can be found on his Bandcamp page, and if it can’t be found there, then it can be found on his Soundcloud page instead. Though unconfirmed, a 2017 release window is pencilled in for A.I., to be Mr.Kitty’s next album of which this site will take great interest in. You can shop here if you are in need of any t-shirts or the likes in the near future.
And finally, you can find all news and the means to give him a virtual hug right here:
And if you wish to give me a virtual hug at all for whatever reason, then you can do so at these social media channels, or by subscribing to the site using the link below:
In our darkest hours, when we feel we have little left to turn to, music has become a light in which we can take our solace in, and a source of hope when our knees bear heavy the burden of what humanity has in store for us. Without diverting too far from the subject in question, these are troubled times we live in, no matter what walk of life you’re from. The world feels on the brink of a new political and economic Ice Age, and whatever transpires in the months to come, global census on the matter seems right to be worried that the timer to doomsday is quickly counting down. The Mayans would be only five years out with their prediction, should it come down to that. The Middle East, with Iran (or the Islamic Republic of Iran) fixed in the centre, has never really been known for its musical endeavours, at least sparsely in the Western world and if you were to speak of rock music, a positive response may need to be heard behind closed doors. And one such positive response can be heard behind closed doors, of a certain rusted variety. Despite being near the epicentre of turmoil troubling the region, Tehran’s Rusted Doors (formerly Rusted Doors of Heaven) base their music not on the surrounding conflict claiming so many lives, but on a different, more human conflict that can be just as fatal. The conflict inside the body. Physically and emotionally. This conceptual basis lends itself to some of the most incredibly evocative and stirring instrumental compositions post rock has spawned in recent years.
Their album Tale of a Departure scores the story of a character simply known as ‘Nobody’ and chronicles his struggle with depression and illness before succumbing to death, leaving his spirit to observe the suffering and sorrow of his loved ones left behind, unable to protect them. There’s no two ways about it; this is a bleak, haunting depiction of a scarily real scenario that happens every single day, which makes what music accompanies it that much more absorbing and affecting. Something else that makes Rusted Doors’ music that much more fascinating a listen, is their cultural interpretation of a widely renowned genre of rock and its most notable instance, is in their most recent single Huntington. Named after the titular disease that degrades the brain’s cells, it is an unraveling of nine and a half minutes of melancholy, simmering to a boil through the means of funk-driven bass, soft reverb-kissed strums and skins bashed in such a manner that pace and tone matches neither celebration nor ceremony. Around two minutes in, an aggressive fuzz swamps the guitar tone and the drums begin to make headway, bass kicks leading the charge to where you feel the journey will take flight. But quick as speed picks up and volume skyrockets, it’s silenced just as fast. A wave of ambience hushes the beat to a simpler meter, while what previous warmth the music was building is subjected to a sudden chill and into more ethereal territory. The guitar slowly starts to bring abrasion back to the forefront and the drums creep back to tribal levels of complexity in this new found realm of frost. But as duration stretches to seven minutes, fragile tension is finally broken and a flood of emotion explodes forth, sorrowful in its timbre but startling in its execution. All phases of this song illustrate what a roller coaster fighting illness can be to your very last breath and the effect on those closest to you, right up until the final note. It gives perspective to how others cope with this situation. Rusted Doors chose to write a song about it. You may go for a walk or a quiet drive to help you reflect or distance yourself. But whatever life’s challenges throw your way, music will be always be a tool to give people reassurance, comfort and hope in those moments where there seems to be none, and Rusted Doors are a prime example in both a world similar and dissimilar from our own.
The album Tales From A Departure and Huntington can be found on Rusted Doors’ Bandcamp page on a very kind pay-what-you-want basis, although please give generously if you feel this is tremendous music as much as I do. The band is hoping to play live more into the New Year and looking into potential festival appearances if possible, but your best source to find out for certain is on their social media.
If you have enjoyed what you have heard of this talented group of musicians, please let them know via the following channels:
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