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…

Continue reading

Who Is Louis

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.

Tell them their music is wonderful by going here:

https://www.facebook.com/GretaLouis/?fref=ts
https://twitter.com/_whoislouis

And if you feel telling me I’m wonderful at all, be it through a like, a follow or subscribing to the blog, you can do so here, but at your complete discretion:

https://www.facebook.com/IAmTheSoundshark/?fref=ts
https://twitter.com/The_Soundshark

Mechanical Vampires

I’m semi-proud of this post, as I feel like I’m near the very front of the line for a group on the cusp of their emergence into the wider world of underground music. This is about as new and exciting as I have possibly ever gotten to a write-up of a group I have had next to zero interaction with previously, bar a chance encounter on Instagram. Like my namesake suggests, I do my homework and have laid in wait ever since. Seriously, the name isn’t just for show ladies and gents. It’s a lifestyle. If you interact with me over social media, even if you work on a follow-for-follow mentality, I do pay attention. Anyway, I digress. New Jersey’s Mechanical Vampires, after a promising ambient-industrial etched teaser known only as The Lynchpin and what seems like months of masterminding since early this year, finally unveiled their first full length song in Gemini and I sit here only 24 hours or so later, telling you why you should be excited by this enthralling new duo in the doorway of electro-industrial. If the minute of freezing cold keys against harsh distortion and air-tight percussion in The Lynchpin didn’t whet your appetite, then Gemini is by far the entrée you should be sinking your teeth into, literally. Obviously it fleshes out the icy atmosphere to a greater dimension, being nearly three minutes longer than The Lynchpin, but there’s a contagious pop undertone that partners so well with the thundering beats and muted abrasion from the guitar too. Sawtooth synth stabs enter like footsteps through that aforementioned doorway before bursting into life from dense percussion, echoing strong enough to hit straight through you, soft arpeggios to give some frostbite to the ambience and bass that rumbles the pit of your stomach. A male voice of reassurance cuts through the soundscape, but suits this colder, darker electronic manifestation perfectly, truly doing the scale of this track justice as gigantic as it becomes. There’s something about his spoken demeanour that is as soothing as it is inspiring, bringing a mesmerising human warmth to a mostly frozen atmosphere. And when it comes to that chorus, it glows brightly enough to bask in. Adding that vocal hook into the mix also, is just one more reason for Gemini to seep deep into your skin. The effect only becomes greater with each listen until it reaches maximum infatuation point. You could make a lazy comparison and claim that Mechanical Vampires are a more industrial-sounding PVRIS, but whilst PVRIS resemble an electronic-tainted Paramore, Mechanical Vampires already breach atmospheric and emotional depths far greater than they realise on the strength on a single song. Gemini is a stunning composition, a beautifully produced electronic master stroke that delicately reaches beyond the barriers of both industrial and pop music and seduces any onlookers with its alluring gaze. When is more on the way?

Despite being developed over the course of the year, Mechanical Vampires is still a project in its infancy, so they need all the support they can get. Gemini can be bought from CDBaby for a hardly change bothering sum, or they are generously giving it away for free from here at the exchange of sharing the song, which you should definitely be doing anyway.

Go send some love in their direction:

https://www.facebook.com/mechanicalvampires?fref=ts
https://twitter.com/MechVamps

And if you are feeling especially generous, why not consider sending some love in my direction too? You don’t have to, entirely optional:

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

Ambra Red

To follow on from a point made in a previous post on this blog, although there are parts of the industry that are highly successful for women, there are some still in which women still struggle in, or there is a real lack of a presence in. Formerly I talked about rock and metal, now I’m talking about electronic music producers. There are some that have made substantial contributions to electronic music a la Ladytron’s Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo or Freezpop’s Liz Enthusiasm and Marie ‘Christmas DIsco’ Sagan, that’s an indisputable fact. But I’m more referring to solo ventures, fearless females that near single-handedly produce all the content they make. Bjork is a famous example, as is Sister Bliss of Faithless fame, but they seem very far few and between prominence. I already have given notice to organic ambient maestro Hannah Davidson a.k.a. Mrs Jynx from Manchester previously on this blog, but it’s high time I gave plaudits to another. Enter Ambra Red from Sweden. It’s no secret that the European synth-pop scene is one of the strongest in the world, and despite disappearing off of the face of the earth, her collection of singles she produced in the period of time she was active is near an immaculate quality. Purposing producing lavish melodies like an arrow to the heart of popular music, while one foot strays into dancefloor territory and her tongue a sharp enough implement to slash at contemporary culture. Her career lasted an undisclosed amount of time, according to the shreds of evidence surrounding her on the internet, but long enough a timespan to produce 20 songs to be compiled onto what seems to be her only studio album, Electronic Creations For Special People. Many of her songs are impeccably written in the manner of synth-pop’s greatest, and Beauty 606 is personally one of the best the album has to offer. The twist of a radio dial into a punchy disco beat with a low-riding bass line starts the show, with Ambra’s hushed but sensual tones digging at perceived model beauty standards. Her calm, near reaching siren-esque demeanour makes her criticisms even more effective against the vibrant, cheery synths and layers upon layers of intricate percussion driving the track along. Special attention has to be given to the chorus’ inescapable hook line, as it’s one that burrows hard into your brain. Once its there. you’ll have a difficult time being rid of it as you’ll be whistling the melody for a good few days. As I said, an unsung hero of the modern synth-pop scene, with such carefully constructed, clean-sounding production and a midas touch for writing excellent pop songs that not only could seduce the dancefloor republic, but could nestle into any of the playbooks of the best to grace the mainstream with fingers on keyboards.

Having disappeared into the nether for around five years now, social media for her are hard to trace, but she still has a website up with links to where you can listen to and buy her works. So I’d highly recommend using that as your port of call, only because Amazon sold physical copies of her album beyond ridiculously prices.

And if you enjoyed this little piece, perhaps maybe show me a little love too, like, follow, subscribe to the blog with the button at the bottom, it’s all good but entirely optional:

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

Formalin

I don’t know if those who are reading this right now are into science much, but if you ever need a go-to name for a band or musical project, chemistry more often than not, will not fail you. Alkaline Trio kinda leaps out at me straight away as the most well-known example of a chemical reference in mainstream music, as well as my personal favourite Bullets And Octane, but lurking deep within the realms of the musical underground, there are many names derived from the periodic table of elements, chemical reactions, biological chemistry and so on and so forth. Sometimes that name can stand out so much, it starts to become educational. In the origin of Formalin’s name however, it’s not only scientifically educational but culturally educational, if you are familiar with the works of a certain Damien Hurst. Formalin, is also known as formaldehyde solution, of which formaldehyde is responsible for Hirst’s notorious shark exhibit being preserved for as long as it has been. Sorry, you came here for music, not A Level Science. But the synthesis of formaldehyde into formalin, shares a common property with the band itself, in their music is obtained through the synthesis of wavelengths and frequencies to create a aesthetically darker electronic pop hybrid. The production duo from Berlin are a growing name on the European electro-industrial scene for their fusion of clean, air-tight percussion and gritty but entrancing synth lines, all drizzled with a little sleaze for dancefloor seduction. There are some nuances from EDM and commercialised dubstep in there too, just to give a little harder edge and sharpness to the electronics, but there’s a whole realm of lavish future-pop melodies to take command of the exquisite rhythms and atmosphere. This year’s Supercluster is a testament to how crisp every note, beat and vocal comes across from these gentlemen, and by far one of this year’s most enchanting synth-driven albums. The empowering Above The Sun is perhaps the strongest case for this argument, its deep, penetrating drum pulse powering the architecture and precision of each synth layer for maximum effect. Some sparkle, some twitch, some scream and shout, and some throb, but all thread together to move your body in ways you had no idea it could. Of course this all plays into the hands of the vocals which speak directly to your aural channel, playing the devil’s advocate if it were, persuasive in tone but with a devious intention. There’s true substance in the Formalin recipe, a dazzling but ocean-deep formula, complete with the marvels and menaces of the marine kingdom to boot. The duo from Berlin are providing a sterling addition to the electro-industrial underground, produced with laser-precision calibre and with an addictive sensibility that deserves to breach forth into the spotlight.

Formalin’s three albums, this year’s Supercluster, 2012’s Wasteland Manifesto and 2010’s Bodyminding are all available from most respectable music retailers. A select few of their tracks are available on Soundcloud for your listening pleasure and they are due to be touring later this year too.

https://www.facebook.com/formalin.music?fref=ts

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

Continues

Coupling seems to be very much the main life objective, the desire to find company so you don’t spend your years on this planet alone. For some people that means friendship, or a relationship, sometimes both. In the case of Los Angeles electro punk legends Babyland, the precursor to Continues’ one man tour de force, they shared a long lasting friendship and a business relationship that lasted over a 20 year career. Daniel Gatto, the voice of Babyland, since 2009 went in a different direction, and toned down the jittery synth strokes, industrial strength percussion and throat-run-raw shouting, into a smoother, refined synth pop operation. The same impassioned delivery is there, verging on almost desperation at times, and the same production values remain, sticking heavily with an array of modular synths and drum machines, but the formula has been distilled into far more digestible nuggets of electronica gold. Love On The Run, by far my favourite song of this week, is an exceptional seance of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, bar extra eerie, chilling synth lines and Jimmy Somerville’s falsetto range swapped for the spirit of punk in a spoken poetry rehearsal. But there’s a groove that the coincidental inspiration lacks that Continues makes up for in the precision engineered synths and drum pattern working in unison that edges it out very slightly. VERY, very slightly. At times, the 2012 self-titled debut recalls The Cure, but if Robert Smith abandoned the gloom of goth to make perfect electronica an elder crowd swore they remembered, and that is a compliment of the highest order. For a one man show, Continues is utterly fantastic, pure and simple.

The 2012 debut can be found on Mattress Records’ Bandcamp and at most respectable music retailers, for a reasonable sum. Also, for your own amusement, Love On The Run was edited into a loop of Noel Fielding dancing in The Mighty Boosh, if that seems like something you might be entertained by. Go YouTube it.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Continues/140361789324344?fref=ts

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

Fucking Werewolf Asso

If somebody said to you the words Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf, what would your immediate reaction to these words be? In the eyes of one Dennis Wedin, half of the brains behind ultraviolent romp Hotline Miami, you get it tattooed on your arm, then you make a music video for it. Of course this is three years or so late to this party, but Dennis Wedin, as well as co-creator of video game Hotline Miami, is also the voice of Fucking Werewolf Asso, the Swedish group that his music video belongs to. Where to start? Imagine an acid trip filled with your favourite 8-bit Nintendo characters at a music festival, and watch them get murdered and disembowelled by demented punk rockers with axes. It happens in the blink of an eye, but if you can bare it, it becomes an entertaining horror show. There is a musicality for writing catchy pop tunes underneath all the bleeps, boops, abrasion and screaming, it just so happens to be so frantic and hell bent on shock factor that it occassionally gets lost in translation. They still go strong to this day, having released a new album this year, but they remain a Marmite experience. I happen to find them deliriously entertaining, others may call it electronic noise torture. Your call.

The tune in question, known as Keep Your Adresse To Yourself ‘Cause We Need Secrets, can be found on 2011’s album Nittiotremo, but is available as a free download on their Bandcamp. All their other recorded material including this year’s Why Do You Love Me Satan? can be found in the same place. And for your enjoyment, the music video is also an interactive game which you can download from here, or you can watch here. It’s a bit special.

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

NTRSN

There’s a trend of bands or groups taking vowels out of their names, the problem is, it’s getting harder to distinguish if they are words or abbreviations. My guess with this Belgian electronic duo, is I haven’t a clue. All I’m interested in is the blurring between the boundaries of 80’s synth-pop, industrial and some colder, darker electronic ambient compositions. Sadly, the group have split has of 2012 (I’ve had a real morbid obsession with dead or defunct bands recently, fuck), but their music could just as easily score a factory production line as it could an EBM club. Although their murky, gritty synths and basslines prowled the seedy underbelly of the latter 00’s and early 10’s, there’s a satisfying timelessness to the drum machines and keyboard arpeggios. Not to mention, whilst the vocals take upon a harsh tone, it’s not excessively aggressive nor drenched in unnecessary distortion, unlike so many of the genre’s stalwarts. There isn’t an abundance of their material around the internet, but People Like Gods from the 2009 album of the same title, emphasises that perfect reproduction of the synth-pop/cold wave sound, whilst bleeding through shades of that EBM club floorfiller personality that other songs personify better. A true underground gem, this pair of Belgian producers, although gone on to pastures new, had a winning formula on their hands, it just seems a shame it never gained greater exposure.

2009’s People Like Gods and 2011’s Hardlines are available at most select online retailers, in a noticeably expensive physical format or digital mp3.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/NTRSN/428006670669438?fref=ts