The Soundshark’s Top 20 Songs of 2015

Something somebody said recently struck me as it made an awful lot of sense. Exactly when do you stop saying, ‘Happy New Year,’ to one another? Or at least when does it become acceptable at the least. I honestly don’t know, but for now, I’m still considering it an appropriate time to talk about my favourite songs of last year. Seeming I’ve made a habit of it, and I finally have time to sit down and write about them.

2015 was a challenging year as it more or less marked my transition from degree student to having to fend for myself. Sometimes it sucked, sometimes it didn’t. But something that I didn’t previously have was a companion, somebody that I hold very dear to me and somebody I look forward to what the future holds for the both of us. As such, she has had an impact on deciding this list, just as much as the rollercoaster of emotions I’ve gone through in the past year has. Like I’ve said before, I do these lists for biographical reasons, to show where I’ve been and what’s happened in years gone by. Music and memory are powerful things.

So my rules for the list are as follows: I don’t always pick songs from this year to put on the list, it involves literally anything I’ve listened to in the past year that I’ve enjoyed frequently enough (that said, there are a lot of 2015 entries on this list which makes a change), but I try to avoid putting more than one song by the same artist in. Some of my past lists had more than one or two. You can find them on Spotify if you want to.

I would like to make an honourable mentions list, but there were far too many to include on this year’s list, so I’ll skip that formality this time. Just so many good moments or songs to include the entire list. And if you would like to listen to this list uninterrupted, commentary-free, then head on over to the Spotify playlist instead.

Righty then, on with the show…

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The Maras

So the saying goes that there’s supposed to be no one you can rely on more in this world than your family. Some actually find resentment for their own family enough, pouring venom into the statement that you can’t choose your family, twisting the most important support network to you as a person, into nothing but bitter disdain. It must therefore be a fascinating statistic for the amount of families that are able to completely co-exist and co-operate without a hitch amongst one another. Music definitely is an adhesive that bonds people and their interests together, and family is no exception to this rule. After all, it works for King of Leon and they’re all cousins. It did work for the siblings of The Knife, before by their own admission, the creation of music and performing stopped being fun. It does however currently work for brothers Matt and Eric Mara whom after toiling and honing their floorfilling, pop-infected grunge bursts for five years, are finally releasing their works into the wider waking world. The unsuspectingly titled The Maras Go To The Mall! is their first long-player after a steady release of EPs earlier this year, squeezing the trigger hard for a myriad of aggressively charged bullets to the skull of modern rock. While you can claim that a lot of The Maras’ output revels in the sounds of the past, the breadth of those sounds and pure passion for music of decades gone has rejuvenated that spirit and goes as far to even sound brand new again, testament to their brilliance for writing hooks. Certainly from day one of hearing Ray’s Gun, that bass melody has been nothing but persistent in worming into my ear drums and burrowing deep into the pools of wax that lay within. But such is their talent that in just under two and a half minutes, they can pull off a near-perfect grunge-pit punch-up. Think the Pixies in a disco mood and you’re about there. Sound production has weaponised the drum beats so it carries across as a steady stream of bludgeoning projectiles, while the bassline calmly injects itself into your aural channel. Reminiscent of its era, monotone vocals seeped in reverb soon join the fray, still keeping a composed demeanour to the track. Vocals then take an anguished turn for the chorus and its contagious repetition, again keeping the instrumentation in a slightly numbed state, leaving just enough room to tease some tension for good measure. The mesmerising melody picks back up to start the cycle once more, coming back to that outrageously infectious chorus hook before jolting synth stabs take over and the bass slows the pace to a crawl and concludes. This is just one aspect of The Maras’ songwriting capabilities. Songs such as Church of Mad and Red Hair have far more fleshed out synth elements, and Texas Blood Thirst takes their angst to a far higher level. Ray’s Gun balances these both with just simplicity in structure and a killer series of hooks, and really that’s what The Maras excel at, writing bite-size tracks that have absorbed everything good from their respective 80’s record collections and translating it into a formula that hits your memory as hard as it does your eardrums. A true treasure awaiting discovery. Maybe that’s what the real value of family is..

The Maras Go The Mall!, single Muddy Susan and EP Welcome To Wax Beach are all available from their Bandcamp page for a very reasonable fee. Physical copies of The Maras Go The Mall were recently made available too on Bandcamp, so I’d recommend investing in a copy of that. The album is a real sleeper hit waiting to happen, that’s for damn sure.

Write them a love note of some description:

https://www.facebook.com/Themarasbrothers/?ref=hl
https://twitter.com/TheMarasBand

I am also welcoming of love notes too, but that’s entirely your choice:

https://www.facebook.com/IAmTheSoundshark/
https://twitter.com/The_Soundshark

 

Eyes Of The Nightmare Jungle

There’s a stage in life, where I wish I were able to understand or sympathise with, where decades after establishing a band, making music, recording albums and seeing a little of the world before posthumously calling it quits, you can look back with a fondness on what you once did. General sensations such as hindsight and nostalgia are a similar thing, but I’m not a musician, so I can’t experience the same feelings associated with once having a short-lived band that had a mild success story. If your name is Russell Webster however, and you were the mastermind behind once one of the most influential independent recording studios in the country, and a cult status electro-goth rock band with notable club hits in central Europe, it’d be an achievement to be proud of. What Russell is now known for however is his work as a voiceover artist, having lent his voice to audio book and self-guides, on a one man crusade to make the world a better place. But what I admire from the small amount of research I’ve done, is that he is refreshingly honest about the success of his band Eyes Of The Nightmare Jungle. He claims that they bombed after their second album because they decided to be too clever, but in my opinion, they may have been a bit ahead of their time. Eyes Of The Nightmare Jungle are for the best part, your archetypical goth rock band taken very much from the 80’s, drum machine, heavily distorted guitars, grinding basslines to make the earth tremble, booming spoken word that later expands into gang chants, keyboard hooks that sit on top of the brain. But despite a sound getting on for thirty years old, it sounds like it hasn’t aged a day. In select circles, their calling card Shadow Dance is a club staple and it’s easy to understand why. From the effects-soaked chords of the beginning, leading in the endearing programmed beats and the haunted wail of the keyboard, there’s an overflow of deliciously dark melodies and smoke-filled atmosphere across the five minutes, that wrap you head-first into the spider’s lair and injects you with a euphoria, designed for the dancefloor. That keyboard, or guitar line, I’m not entirely sure which, is also worth its own mention, for in each appearance is a shimmering. delightful breeze that despite its twanginess, adds a real extra dimension to the track and the sheer infectiousness of it, elevates it beyond just being another streamlined goth floorfiller. Eyes Of The Nightmare Jungle were class songwriters, and with a producer at the top of his game at the helm of the project, it’s incredible to hear that it hasn’t aged a day since 1988. What’s more outstanding, is the appeal and allure that their excellent back catalogue awakens from not just the most hardy of all gothic fans, but from a much wider musical audience too.

Because we’re talking a band from over three decades ago that never had real mainstream recognition, you’d expect them not to have the latest and greatest in music dispensing tools. But digital and occasional physical copies of their work can be obtained at most respectable music retailers still, if this intrigues you as such.

Go give them a like on social media:

https://www.facebook.com/Eyes-Of-The-Nightmare-Jungle-150814181624559/timeline/

And if you liked this retrospective piece, why not sling some love in my direction, like follow, subscribe, however you want to, if you even want to at all:

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Scarlet Soho

For myself, still somewhat as a beginner to the vast array of sights and attractions that London has to offer me, the district of Soho is still somewhat of an area of mythical proportions I have yet to experience. I imagine streets bathed in the warm glows of neon and shop windows adorned with the letter X aplenty, along the cold, cobbled paths you tread upon. The reality is probably not that exciting really, its real face best known by those who pass through or by everyday. In any case, incorporating this infamous area into a band name, of which the other half just happens to be the stage name of this group’s smoking red-headed bassist, makes for an eye-raising phrase most certainly. The Southampton duo are somewhat of a modern take on The Human League if they’d decided to become an indie band. Filled with the lavish modular synths and concise percussion of the 80’s that we’ve grown to know and love, there’s an attitude and sass to their songwriting that becomes inexplicably addictive the longer you’re exposed to their punchy beats and synth lines. That said, there are moments of menace in their practice, some of the slower-moving songs almost shifting into dark wave territory. I wanted to focus on I Dare from 2009’s Warpaint for this piece, which I hold as their best song, but YouTube lacks in decent quality versions, so I went with the next best thing in Speak Your Mind instead. A cutting wave of synth is blasted at you to begin with, a demonstration of that menace that lurks in the machinery of Scarlet Soho, before brighter keys take over, prominent vibrating bass backs it up and the stylised popstar performance almost apologises for the inconvenience. But the content afterwards is filled with the attention-grabbing hooks and delicious melodies that would fill the floor in your local discotheque 30 odd years ago. The ending even gets a little raucous to boot. Also, the lyric ‘Hook, line and lip sync’ is brilliant might I add. Synth-pop is in a great state of health, even if the demand for it is faltering, and its groups such as Scarlet Soho, taking a contemporary but confident tweak on a monumentally successful formula to pour as much passion and dedication over a decade into it as possible, to break down the door into commercial success once again.

Scarlet Soho’s three albums, this year’s In Cold Blood, Warpaint and 2004’s Divisions Of Decency as well as various EPs, singles and a best of and rarities can be bought either via their webstore or via most respectable music retailers.

https://www.facebook.com/scarletsoho?fref=ts

Track of The Week: Autopsy Boys – Song For Deberra

Following my original article on Leeds electropunk outfit Autopsy Boys and my over excitement to share my words with them, they got in contact and they were impressed with my musings and tipped me off about the first preview of their forthcoming new album Return Of The Acid Casualty Auto Humans. So as you might expect, I was poised waiting, and a little over 24 hours later, here I am writing about that new song. Titled Song for Debbera, in tribute to B-movie legend and now music video curator, Debbie Rochon, is the beginning of a five-part narrative depicting a day of urban anarchy, in the style of the 80’s horror flicks they so cherish. The scene and the stage are set strongly, both the Queen of Scream introducing her illustrious career and the tale about to unfold, and the band start at pace with a subtly catchy guitar hook, whilst synth throbs like the Blob below. It’s really from this point onwards, you can really marvel at the lyricism at work, billowing with 80’s references that flow off the tongue like water bursting from a dam. There’s also not so much of a chorus of sorts,  but one particular moment that a well-informed crowd could harmonise with beautifully. Moments that recall a certain Mr. Gary Numan in his prime, then again, Tubeway Army were a punk band, just not in the strictest sense of the definition. As you expect, amplitude starts to ramp up and vocals cease to focus on instruments building tension, coinciding nicely with the on-screen imagery of a party dispersing from some sort of humanoid attack, as well as insane scientist back story in the process. Furious chords play out as synths turn haywire and drums keep that panic and hysteria constantly moving, culminating in the first person camera being thrown into the boot of a car. As an introduction to the work of Autopsy Boys, this could be no more perfect. As a fan, I can no doubt imagine that they already hunger for the next instalment, as well as more new music in tandem. On the basis of this first track alone, this Leeds four piece look set to continue and build upon the already stellar synthpunk slasher sound, and with visuals in tow, only confirm their status as one of the country’s most exciting under-the-radar bands around.

Song For Debbera is out now via all good music retailers, taken from their forthcoming new album expected sometime this year.

https://www.facebook.com/autopsyboys?fref=ts

Autopsy Boys

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MUSIC VIDEO MAY NOT ENTIRELY BE SAFE FOR WORK. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

Let me ask you a question. If given the choice to live on a diet of popular culture in the 1980’s, could you be persuaded? Bearing in mind this is the same decade that popularised video games, cartoons, comic books and slasher flicks. Doctors advise that living on such a diet may cause frequent outbursts of electronic-infused punk rock, with an explosive tendency to cleverly inject this experience into lyrics at every given moment, pen choruses with melodies that writhe like parasites in your grey matter and an obsession with snuff film themed music videos. If you answered yes, you’re either in, or will most likely enjoy the work of, Leeds’ Autopsy Boys. Already a sensation from their chaotic live performances across the country and superb horror homages, these gentlemen are deservedly garnering acclaim for putting literal blood and sweat back into punk. No Ambition, a guaranteed contender for one of my songs of the year (despite being out for at least a year or so already), is the culmination of a super-violent fight sequence and a fiery, no-prisoners-taken hardcore clinic, oozing with delicious synth undertones that urges replay after replay. I implore you to seep deeper into their self-proclaimed suburban nightmare of a world, Autopsy Boys may come across as psychopathic in nature, but their heart is truly in the right place. On the floor. In front of you.

Everything Autopsy Boys can be found on their website, or singles can be found at most respectable music retailers, all for a reasonable fee.

Bourgeoisie

An old saying goes that you never really know how much you miss something until it’s gone. That seems to be the curious case of the retrowave explosion, a movement of electronica producers embracing the warm synth driven beats and hooks of the 1980’s. Oft caught somewhere between a night’s drive mixtape and the score to Tron, the meeting of old school production values and modern age music distribution has truly helped this scene to thrive and flourish. And it shows no signs of slowing, garnering more mainstream attention year on year.  Onto Florida residents Bourgeoisie, two brothers near the frontline of the movement. Neon Black, perhaps one of their most well known efforts from their self-titled debut of 2012, is everything you could ever ask for in a faithful reconstruction of the 80’s sound. Though more cinematic in its scope, the classic Moog modular synthesizer sound is present, more refined a la digital technology but as powerful as it ever sounded. The three minutes you spend are woven lovingly with layers upon layers of glowing analogue, ranging from the bright, complicated hook to striking detuned pads to add authenticity to the visage made here. Bourgeoisie are just two of the hundreds of producers now out there, but they are among the apex of the scene’s brightest and best.

Their self-titled debut and 2013’s album Space Tapes And Vice, as well as a few odd singles, can purchased for a reasonable sum on the brothers’ Bandcamp page.

https://www.facebook.com/bourgeoisiemusic?fref=ts