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:
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 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.
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:
Let it be said that some things carry on the way they started. In Bullet Height’s case, it carries on the sonic storm previously began by debut single Bastion in February, heading towards potential live dates in the near future and a forthcoming album tentatively inbound for the year’s close. But Bullet Height’s roots date back much farther. Circa eight years ago to be precise. For Pure Reason Revolution, the former band that frontman Jon Courtney had a significant hand in, after the success of their opus The Dark Third and subsequent departure of violinist James Dobson, their songwriting took a turn in a more electronic based direction, birthing second studio album Amor Vincit Omnia; an album that transformed the band’s sound from an atmospheric progressive rock opera, into a punchier, synth-injected rock hybrid, with scaled down but still ever-present progressive leanings. This evolution was completed on third and what would become final album Hammer And Anvil, which in my opinion remains one of the most underrated albums of the decade, and would be the only Pure Reason Revolution album to be published by Superball Music, whom the band signed with prior to its distribution. Pure Reason Revolution were to disband in 2011, a year after Hammer And Anvil’s release.
Fast forward some five years later, elements of the sound encapsulated from Amor Vincit Omnia and Hammer And Anvil, the revival of the partnership with Superball Music and the union of Jon Courtney and IAMX keyboardist and vocalist Sammi Doll in Europe’s second biggest capital, brought together Bullet Height, a duo whose talents can equal the exhilarating and electrifying nature of their music. Though quiet for several months since being hotly tipped as one of the bands to keep an eye on in 2016, the emergence of second single Hold Together is a swift reminder of what whipped up the frenzy and excitement in the first place, and an excellent point of entry for anyone curious about the diversity of electronic rock.
And a reminder and point of entry none more swift and excellent than the blasting of intense volcanic guitar tones, dark and deep synth throbs and a incredibly forceful percussive pattern. Such is the impact and ferocity of the introduction here, that it relegates Bastion to a mere nursery rhyme in comparison. If your eyes weren’t open before, they certainly will be. The cavalry is quietened for the vocals to take centre stage, the warm hum of synth hovering below and the drums remaining as imposing a presence behind them. It’s here we’re also treated to the luscious vocal harmonies that Jon and Sammi are capable of conjuring. Each individual voice has its own powerful merits, but together it produces an intoxicating sensation yet still a hint of menace which serves the aggressive instrumentation well throughout. Especially as it reaches the pre-chorus, where against a thunderous series of drum kicks and synth throbs that devolve into shrieks, adds that extra edge to twist the tension into a truly explosive chorus. Hitting with the accumulated musical force of a tempest, the guitars, synth and drums decimate anything in the immediate vicinity, with vocals picking up a soaring pop sensibility which sounds eerily calming considering the annihilation unfolding before you. The result however is unfathomably satisfying. A quick glitch from the synths and a drum fill later, and you’re thrown head first back into the carnage. Nuances like additional fury vented on the microphone, jagged guitar you can feel the volatility of, synths expanding and growing in character and ambience and even solo moments of formidable gritty synth stabs all keep the soundscape an unpredictable thrill ride all to the very end. Hold Together is much less a song and more an event; a shockwave of inconceivable artistic and musical vision which can be experienced as both punishing and piquant. It almost seems as if Bullet Height had a crack at their own personal Manhattan Project, and boy did they nail the execution. This duo have the chemistry, talent, uncompromising attitude and simply immeasurable ambition to solidify their status as one of the most awe-inspiring bands in the world at this moment, with the potential to supercharge their electronic rock engine into one of the planet’s all-conquering live acts, just around the corner. The world is theirs for the taking. If they don’t destroy it first.
Hold Together is out right now at all respectable music retailers as a digital only single. You can pick up their previous single Bastion at the same music retailers also. The band are in the process of gearing up for live dates in their native Berlin which are yet to be announced, but certainly worth keeping an eye out for. Bullet Height’s debut album has been pencilled in for a release in Winter 2016 which no doubt you’ll hear more about in the coming months. And for a taster of what’s to come as well as back story for the band’s formation, check out this short documentary on them.
Once you’ve digested all of that, go give them your support right here:
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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…
I’ve often looked at band names and wondering if there is a market for bands whose names are questions. In a romantic sense, a fictional band in my favourite film ever is called Where’s Fluffy? A band I wish existed due to how obsessed I actually am with that film, so I could find out how awesome their music is/was. They wrote a song called Black Carnage. Do the math. On the other hand, and on a point I may expand upon at a later date, when you name your band something along the lines of Sarah Where Is My Tea or Did You Mean Australia?… yeah, those bands have broken up now. One of my favourite bands ever are Does It Offend You, Yeah?, responsible for one of my favourite albums ever, but sadly they too will be calling it a day this year. Maybe it’s just the irony of having their band name as a question that gets far too much for them. Pure speculation there. So just who exactly is Who Is Louis? And can people count on them to break this unfortunate curse? The answer seems more positive. Who Is Louis are a Danish electronic-pop troupe with a delicately sassy female vocalist and an ear for hypnotic rhythms and chilling, euphoric atmosphere. Singles of theirs currently float around on the internet if you go in pursuit of them, but they’re looking to the immediate future and to the imminent release of their debut album, which has seen more than its fair share of adversity to reach the surface. They have every right to be excited for the future. First single Fancy Me is a shape-shifting head phase of a track, skilfully blending pseudo-EDM hooks with the cool breeze of mellowed guitar ambience. I’m not intentionally writing a drinks commercial here, but it is like asking for a refreshing cocktail and piling on the ice. Synth with an analogue touch, backs the echoes of a femme fatale in the making, all paced by the gentle plucking of bass underneath to lead the track in. Icy, reverb-soaked synth stabs later replace the moderately warmer pads, like ghosts leaving the body of their hosts and give an air of tension and build-up to proceedings. The drums certainly imply as such too. But what happens as you expect the first club hit of 2016 to drop in, is something far more breathtaking. A wave of guitar brushes past, while its synth counterpart elevates the mood to being within a distant but fond, happy memory. Wandering through a realm of the serene if it were. It certainly livens up the track, as synths become far more grander and confident in their presentation in what follows and drums get rowdier, but just enough without becoming overpowering. Vocals are given more freedom and the stabs from before are allowed back into the mix as an extra hook into the skin, to ensure you don’t forget this track in a hurry. It all culminates in a luscious, surprisingly complex and layered, atmospheric pop showcase that displays the talent of three hungry and compelling musicians. So just who are Who Is Louis? A name you need to be paying attention to. The potential for a tantalising world woven together with an inventive twist on electronic pop music is only moments away.
Who Is Louis’ debut album is expected to be released sometime in January/February 2016, with Fancy Me being officially available at the end of this month. In the mean time, occupy yourself with their Alive EP which can be found on most respectable music retailers. It’s full of good music.
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