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 me this year. Limitations bore me 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. For me anyway. So take this as a love letter to the one artist or group of artists whose music I have cherished through thick and thin this year, and I 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 I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that everything that Mr.Kitty has created is consistently among the best music I have heard all year.
So if Mr.Kitty does get to read this, thank you for your music, and a Happy New Year, with love and kind regards,
The Soundshark xox
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.
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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.
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All through out the mainstream, backstage, behind curtains and face-to-face, musicians take risks for their art. Risk is something at the very fabric of our being, a primal fear or instinct that can separate us from doing something good, and doing something great. Musicians are far too familiar with this concept. Some of the most famous and infamous moments in music history were all made on taking a risk. Bob Dylan’s switch to electric guitar attracted the ire of the folk community, but it did nothing to dent his legacy as most of the most acclaimed songwriters in music history. Iggy Pop, despite being great friends, rejecting David Bowie’s production of Raw Power in favour of his own and becoming one of the great rock albums of all time. In a reversal of fortune, Capitol Records wanted more airplay from Megadeth in 1999 and the band released the critically divisive and experimental album titled Risk, often considered to be the band’s worst work and could have even ended their careers. So where do The Schoenberg Automaton fit onto this scale of risk? Well, artists and musicians are often known to relocate to places where they feel their creativity can best thrive. But how many of them move to the other side of the planet? Relocating from Australia, one of the global hotspots for deathcore right now, the band opted to take their monstrous tech-death juggernaut and establish themselves in Canada, a land known in underground circles for its outstanding death metal exports. No matter what walk of life you come from, a career and life decision that gigantic is gutsy. And that’s a word that sums up The Schoenberg Automaton’s output perfectly. Gutsy, driven and unflinching in the pursuit of your passion.
Second studio album Apus certainly seems to have benefited from the change of scenery, as the maturity and confidence has certainly grown in the years of development between Apus and debut album Vela. But it continues the same plotline from the end of Vela, exploring philosophical and science fiction themes as the ground concepts of the band’s storytelling and lyrical content. That story is woven into the fabric of an expansive death metal powerhouse with a dizzying amount of shifts in tempos and time signatures, performed with the heaviness and ferocity of a butcher in open-heart surgery. The universe that The Schoenberg Automaton have crafted is one of surprising atmosphere given the carnage they themselves create, but an enthralling one as Apus progresses and from the outset, it is opening track Swarm that is the greatest footnote to this revelation. Though Year Zero paints the scene, the first few chords of Swarm set up a metal rampage for the ages, drums below generating energy with swift beatings and fills to transfer into a frenzied full frontal assault. Double kicks rain down furiously, while the punishing, distorted blades of guitar rev up the engine, strum by unrelenting strum and deep, petrifying growls set the tone and the journey’s course. As statements of intent go, it certainly leaves very little to imagination as a tremendous display of fortitude and showmanship. Melodic wails spill from the guitar following a guttural, primal howl just as drums enter a sugar rush of tempo clashes and meter shifts, peeling the veil off just a mere fraction of the band’s technical ability. A brief, bone-shattering breakdown even gets squeezed into the action. But a lot of the chaos is dictated by guitars and drums going mano a mano, matching pace and intricacy by every individual note and beat running parallel one another, spawning harmonies and melodies to stir heightened emotions in their listeners. Much as the sight or experience of a swarm should feel. A delicate symphonic undertone is subtly introduced into the final minute, amongst the full effect of the metal barrage that is only in its first full-length track, which grows in grandiose as Swarm closes out, making the transition into what is to follow all the more satisfying. Though a balancing act of extremes could be said of Apus, given the unbridled aggression of chords and the complex, but emotive layering of their guitar work, a hyperactive level of drum technique and the frankly terrifying growls that tell the tale, it does nothing to detract from the spectacle of one of the most courageous and fascinating metal bands around today. An album worthy of both Canada and Australia’s death metal lineage.
Apus is out now at all respectable music retailers now in physical and digital formats. The band’s previous two releases Vela and their self-titled EP, are available on their Bandcamp for a reasonable fee as well as T-shirts and the likes via their webstore. They are actively touring, having just finished their first headline tour of the UK, but if you wanna see them at a venue near you, hit them up. You won’t regret it. They’ve just releases a brand new video for Vengeance too which you can find here.
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Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on this one, but it seems as if British indie has stumbled into a bit of a rut of late. Since arguably the last golden era of indie bands this country has produced, which by my estimates was around the mid-00’s, the amount of them has shrunk considerably since the turn of the decade. Some bands no doubt were able to consistently duplicate their success upon each album release, most notably the Arctic Monkeys, before they decided to turn American, and more recently Foals who seemingly been able to evolve critically from strength to strength. There are several bands hanging in there and have been for several years, like your Ashes, your Fratellis, your Cribs, your Subways for example, many bands whose glory days seem long gone but persistently release music to a loyal, adoring fan base, who continue to turn out to shows and keep motivation and spirits high to look forward to the future. Sadly, as the nature of technology and commercial success in the industry shifts so frequently, there are several bands who’ve become causalities in the musical landslide, as sustaining a career stretches further and further out of reach for those previously thrust in the spotlight and airwaves. These are dark days for British guitar music for sure, but under the surface, what you could classify as an underground resistance is currently producing some of the best indie you’ll have encountered in years. Useless Cities, hailing from the nation’s capital, are among that resistance with an ache in their hearts expressed exquisitely through a mournful touch of the piano and a melancholic pounding of the guitar.
Though their emotions are not exclusively wired to wallow in sorrow, there is an ethereal and transcendent nature to Useless Cities’ music that melancholy brings the best out of. Their Stay EP though only three tracks long, is a wave of sonically cold but breathtaking musical splendour, combining unforgettable melodies seeped in calm composure, with an unexpected fury that riles their initial breeze into a hurricane of heartbreak. No track illustrates this exclamation point better than Follow. While Stay is a gorgeous piano-driven stroll through arctic plains and To Be Ruined, a far more spirited tumble through dreams that take a turbulent turn, it’s Follow that finely balances the band’s strengths perfectly. Delay-drenched guitar leads Follow in, with the booming of a near-tribal tom pattern from the drums, and the lightest touch of low end entering not long after, painting the scene for solemn reflection. Vocals wander in, listing things to do to an unspecified character, with his settled bellow against the melody of the guitar a strangely hypnotising presence throughout the song’s course. A bright shimmer of keys layer atop the instruments, sending a chill down the spine of the listener but adding light to this arguably greying atmosphere. This brings in the cymbals and snare of the drums, gradually shifting the tone into the subtlest of build-ups, masked well by the vocals and instruments while the grace and beauty of the piano becomes more prominent as the song progresses. Then in the song’s twilight, the guitar bursts into life with an eye-opening intensity and drums are beaten hard into submission, serving as a backdrop for the male and female chanting in harmony and the piano trying to restore a sense of tranquillity to this sudden gale of musical force. And the piano gets its wish, closing out Follow in the manner it began, a series of notes against the echo of the guitar, jerking the strings of your heart as the final note fades into the distance. What Useless Cities offer more so than a collection of songs, is an aural palette to paint your own stories from the emotionally stirring compositions they lay before you. How it affects you is left to your own semiotics, but know that they are exploring rarely traversed ground in indie and their own bittersweet twist on the sound we’ve known to grow and love, ranks among the best and most unique bands the indie scene has to offer.
Useless Cities’ Stay EP is out now at all respectable music retailers. Any more information you wish to know about them can be located on the band’s website. The band are also playing frequent live dates in and around the capital right now so keep your eyes peeled for a date near you, or bring them to your doorstep and book them for your own show.
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It seems like somewhat of a mystery to me for reasons I can’t get to grips with, but I’m not really much of a fan of the 70’s when it comes to that discussion of the best decade for music. This all boils down to opinion and personal preference of course, so personally speaking, there will never really be a definitive answer, unless you feel compelled to survey the population of Earth that can comprehend musical eras and have functioning hearing. Make no mistake, the 70’s birthed some important music, such as Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, sited as one of the heaviest albums of all-time and most likely responsible for pioneering the ‘doom metal sound.’ But you know what was the most important music that the 70’s was able to birth? Punk. It served as a counterpart to the state of mind and a form of practice through fashion and action, but given how vital its tendencies and ideologies were, especially now, rife in the age of self-publication and self-production, the music and its spirit live on through countless bands and artists. Aspiring and established alike. The faces change over time, and its sound distorted, twisted, disfigured and transformed in endless shapes and evolutions, so when you encounter a gang playing punk as it once was, as raw, uncompromising and unapologetically honest as its roots implied, the outcome is as invigorating as you’d hope it would be.
For the best part of over a decade, Blackpool’s Litterbug have kept the very essence of punk alive by keeping a lo-fi, bare bones approach to writing triumphant bursts of social critique and defiance that could’ve been ripped straight out of the punk revolution at its apex. It is the embodiment of three gentlemen with a message, getting together and thrashing out music that you can feel the passion and heart of in every chord and every word. This isn’t one-dimensional punk either. Instances of the surfing 60’s guitar movement can be felt here, as well as a healthy injection of grunge, most evident by their roaring cover of Pixies’ Planet of Sound. Their most recent long-player Artistic Harassment, an album from front-to-end that flies faster than bullet velocity, punches as hard as a water cannon to the chest but remains as exhilarating as a shuttle ascending into the stratosphere, poses a monumentally difficult task to highlight a standalone track of a stellar punk blueprint. If pressed enough though, I’d settle for Codeine. While there are many, many irresistible hooks best illustrated through ditties I Will Not Explain, You Don’t Want What I Don’t Want and Bash My Brain, the slower-paced, sub-two minute showcase of attitude in Codeine brings out what Litterbug do best. From the outset, guitar performs as a handsaw over a gas-guzzling, chain-bladed one, but that methodical practice serves well with the scuzzy tone, chords almost morphing into riffs from the speed switch. The vocal delivery is undeniably snotty, without being obnoxiously so and serves as one of the album’s most perfect analogies of telling life and society where to shove its predicaments and insecurities. Think Sex Pistols meeting the Buzzcocks on Fistral Beach and you’re pretty damn close. The soft grumble of bass does surface to the forefront throughout and fleshes out the texture of the sound and that illusion of recording on eight-track in your garage, as old-school and pure as music production can get. A pseudo-guitar solo even gets a brief see-in in the short duration of the track, perhaps giving a quick nod to Chuck Berry and the rock and roll greats in the process. But just as you feel the engine revving up, the ignition is gradually turned back off and you can’t help but crave more. You can’t realistically experience the full capacity of Litterbug’s arsenal based on a minute and 49 seconds worth of material, however repeated listens do make for excellent profile building. These three gentlemen make music that is as full-blooded and unrepentant as punk and its pioneers were heralded for, and each collection of songs they commit to record is another kick-ass footnote on why punk never died, it merely went on vacation.
Litterbug’s latest album Artistic Harassment can be found on their Reverb Nation page with the vast majority of that album, generously available as free downloads. A handful of other tracks are also available as free downloads too, including that aforementioned Planet of Sound cover. Otherwise, physical and full digital copies of their other albums are incredibly scarce, besides copies of their 2005 and 2009 re-release of the acclaimed Speaking Through The Gaps which can be found on most respectable music retailers.
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History has gone to show it is infamous for remembering and celebrating the individuals and the cults of personality that have walked among us at one time or another. I’m sure that you really don’t need me to go above and beyond to name a few here, you could all name a handful of people off the bat. Their influence and importance of course relies entirely on you as a person, which is perhaps why I’d say it’s unfair to suggest that one person is of far greater importance than another. It’s all subjective. On the other hand, history has shown that it can be just as good celebrating couples and pairs. You may be a little harder pressed to name some off the bat, but I can give you a few of varying life paths. Bonnie and Clyde, Torville and Dean, Brad and Angelina, Elvis and Costello, Jack and Jill… You get the idea. The point is they’re all remembered for something, no matter their significance to you as a person. You’re aware of them regardless. At first glance of the pairing of Randolph and Mortimer, you could assume they operate as a construction firm, (like Gibbs and Dandy if you hail from the UK) or the surnames of serial killers, or war criminals. The truth kind of combines the two in some capacity. Dependent on how you label bankers and politicians.
The name actually derives from the film Trading Places, where two stock brokers, going by the names of Randolph and Mortimer switch places with two gentlemen in less fortunate social and financial circumstances, as an experiment to experience life on the other side. Which in today’s political climate we seem to be calling for a lot, to the governments and fat cats who more likely have never struggled in everyday social and financial situations. It certainly makes that name far more poignant. The Sheffield three-piece (yes, despite going under the moniker of a duo) practice a manifesto of condemnation and repulsion, punctuated by a series of electronically driven, industrial rallying movements. Powered by the analogue synths and percussive might of the 80’s, it only makes sense that visuals match the sonics, with wireframe silhouettes and what resembles Thatcherite Britain providing the backdrop for the ire unfolding. Most recent single Citizens isn’t so much a feast for the disenchanted, more a capitalist brainwashing broadcast if such an occurrence were to play out. Brought to a marching pace by booming snare hits and dampened synth arpeggios, the beat very much tribalistic in tempo and timbre, the checklist for what constitutes a valid member of society is rolled out, as well as quasi-motivational slogans in how to do so. A heavily distorted voice calls out in the distance, reaching indecipherable levels but certainly adds a touch of unease and morality to this otherwise calming instructional narrative. Later, a ferocious sawtooth synth wave cuts through the rhythm, near stopping it in its tracks, while a brighter counterpart, still as abrasive as its bass-heavy contemporary, layers atop before bringing the beat back and ushering in a new breed of arpeggios to meld with the originals. In the end, all of the individual synth lines piece together and play out increasingly chaotic percussion, to one last eerie inquisitive dialogue against a wall of noise. This is best experienced as an audio-visual sensation to truly get the best feel for the message Randolph and Mortimer wish to convey, but the music itself is just as an exciting head-trip in its own right. Though the political agenda is unmistakeable, these guys are producing stellar industrial in the veins of the old blood and will most likely not remain an underground sensation for much longer. History has every right to remember the constructs of these gentlemen.
Citizens has yet to see a release date, but no doubt will have a digital release at some stage in the near future. In the mean time, their $ocial £utures €P and single Enjoy More are available from their Bandcamp page, in addition to other singles and numerous remixes of theirs that can be found on most respectable music retailers.They are also playing the Saturday line-up on the main stage of Resistanz Festival 2016, but look out for a gig near you soon.
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