As the world begins to stir, gently putting the gears back into production, and steadily adjusting weary eyes to the bright new horizon of 2019 (I mean, it probably won’t be that different, other than some cases of lingering hangovers, apparent nationwide incense about a vegan sausage roll, and more than likely international condemnation of whatever Donald Trump does next), we at least have a period longer to contemplate how good a year of music 2018 really did provide us with. However the longer it took to mull over how a good year of music it was, the more frustrating it became to whittle down and distil the ten best. It’s very safe to say EVERY album about to be mentioned was in contention for a top ten position. Tantrums happened and tears were nearly shed. An iron resolve and persistence eventually paid off, and in the settling dust, lay the final ten chosen to represent the best of 2018. Just one of them became the victor and declared ‘the undisputed favourite.’ Continue reading
On the 11th March 2018, something short of ground-breaking was announced on the social media outlets of one of the world’s most renowned progressive metal groups. Tool had entered the studio to record what has become their now fabled follow-up to 2006’s 10,000 Days. While this news has become a revelation and an answer to many a collective prayer (or keyboard warrior whinging, depending on how you view it), Maynard himself put on record at Metal Hammer’s Golden Gods ceremony that the new Tool album will most likely see the light of day in 2019. Affirmation is one thing, and commitment another, and while 2019 is just around the corner, chances are that will be the absolute bare minimum Tool’s global cult following will have to wait for a new sonic masterpiece. One more year after the twelve of relentless internet hyperbole and immeasurable anticipation that proceeded it, is surely doable, right?
Instead of preparing for what may end up becoming a mass exodus from the workplace on the day that album is released, and following the unexpected success of this article’s predecessor, The Soundshark has put together ten more bands from the underground, worthy of your time, until the musical gap has been bridged by the band themselves. To touch upon briefly from previous feedback, you won’t find Karnivool on this list, or any other list on this site themed similarly, as while not entirely known around the planet at present, they’ve had large enough worldwide success to be able to tour anywhere they see fit, which surely evolves beyond underground status.
Semantics aside, let’s begin:
On February 4, 2001 (though broadcasting events 1,000 years in the future), Commander Zapp Branningan of the starship Nimbus suggests piloting Le Palm d’Orbit, a floating restaurant in space that was evacuated moments before as a result of a disastrous karaoke session. Though believing he can commandeer any vessel built, he shortly crashes the restaurant afterwards onto a nearby planet. In the ensuing descent, he curses, ‘You win again, gravity!’ right as the restaurant enters the planet’s atmosphere. Stay with me here. On Halloween the following year, five young gentlemen from Ontario released their self-titled debut album, proclaiming their sound to be ‘Catholic girls in the middle of a knife fight.’ They went on to become one of the most influential voices in post-hardcore and are still often referred to as The Only Band Ever, despite uncertainty surrounding whether they will make new music together. Still following? Fast forward four years to Halloween of 2006, and Meshuggah re-release Nothing, completely remastered and re-recorded with 8-string guitars, of which its all-conquering polyrhythmic riff stagger and use of then recent technical innovations, arguably became the catalyst for the tech metal explosion towards the close of the decade. Understanding the link between a Futurama quote, Alexisonfire, and the advent of tech metal, is crucial to the raison d’être of these five gentlemen from Windsor, who share the same name of the aforementioned quote. And if the cohesion of sublime melodic hardcore and infallible metallic groove is anything to go by, then You Win Again Gravity are absolutely a band you need to be excited about.
Though happily being a presence on the UK live scene for a number of years, their work rate suddenly amped up with 2016’s three track EP What’s Left Of The Distance, which lends its laser-focused trio of punchy, nautically deep, progressive hardcore hits to the much larger Anonymity released late last year. Seamless is among the latest of the band’s studio output, refining their already killer formula, while lending more volume to some of their broader influences. First filtered through lo-fi radio, Seamless’ core hook broadcasts to the listener, drawing on those tech-metal leanings of theirs and playing a technically simple but astonishingly addictive pattern of notes that requires extra thick bleach to scrub free from. Not to mention a drum performance that is certainly a technical marvel. Bursting through into full stereo moments later, the third guitar produces a more ambient overtone that gracefully blankets atop an already captivating opening sequence and quite frankly, they could’ve still made as stellar a song staying within these boundaries. Yet the progressive dynamic of You Win Again Gravity turns everything they touch into an immersive musical narrative. That triumphant tone mellows, giving all guitars an ambient piece to play, and room for Jack Jennings’ entrancing vocal talents to perform poetry, on the everyday pantomime that is life and trying to find the one. Cleverly and carefully placed too, are soothing secondary vocal harmonies with Jack’s own melodic delivery that although subtle in execution, accentuate so much more passion and nuance in the meanings of every word. The chorus soon storms in, unifying all instruments in a steady headbang, complete with gang shouts and volatile potential to create chaos in a larger live environment, given the breathing space. Call it a breakdown if you will. In the truest of rollercoaster fashions, the mood continues to switch between a calming recital and a tidal wave of emotion, verging on fury at points, setting up for a far greater instrumental pummeling near the climax. Time signatures are thrown around with reckless abandon and vocals once harmonious, become hair-raising growls seemingly fuelled by bitter contempt, the combination of which comes off as the musical equivalent of a descent into madness. The bombardment of riffs comes to a crawl, tension soaring like invigorating light dispelling all previous negativity, and we find ourselves back at the opening sequence, as if it were all a lingering thought in our imaginations.
Make no mistake, You Win Again Gravity are a thinking man’s hardcore unit, but their finesse and songwriting ability are phenomenal, so much so that listener experience is mandatory to even grasp at how talented these guys are. Anonymity will get them on the track to success at last, as no doubt what else they have to offer the UK hardcore and metal scenes remains just as exciting a prospect. After all, they still have yet to release a full-length album, but in their wealth of EPs, lies one of the UK’s best unsigned bands hands down.
I once wrote a lot shorter exposé on these fine gentlemen if you want a TL;DR version of You Win Again Gravity. It might actually be better than this piece. Might. Anyway, I must insist you watch the video of Seamless, as it may be the funniest music video produced in years. They have all their material on Bandcamp, as well as all respectable music retailers, and they’re even on the bill of UK Tech Metal Fest this year, fancy that.
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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:
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The following account is of factual events that took place on the 27th October 2016, between the hours of 7 and 10pm. No details of this account have ever been made public. Until now.
I’m early. I’m not often early for a lot of things. In fact, I’m so early I have to wander up and down the street and take refuge in one of the cheapest London pubs I’ve ever set inside, waiting for to validate my invitation. But a little after 8pm, a gentleman sporting the Black Futures insignia arrives outside Wandsworth Town station, I weave the password into my conversation with him and he presents me with a blindfold, and told to await transport to the secret location. Of what I know of Black Futures media, their imagery resembles some kind of VHS propaganda reel, but nothing that was to resemble the theatricality of what was about to happen.
Once enough attendees had gathered, the chauffeur asked us to enter the transport and put on our blindfolds. In the brief journey towards the venue, around about 5-10 minutes in length, there was music playing under the guise of Black Futures Radio; short instrumental MIDI renditions of songs, interspersed between stingers and amusing interjections from its monotonous host. I seem to remember the best one about ‘having a funny feeling in my nether regions,’ or something similar at least. Little were we to know at that time, that what was unconsciously infiltrating our ear drums was a mere taster of the sonic assault to come. While the radio provided some light relief and entertainment, it didn’t stop the feeling of foreboding, being driven around on London streets, in a vehicle full of strangers, to a location you knew nothing about.
At the location, I just about made the shadow of gates opening before the path, and driving down to what looked like an abandoned film set of sorts. Outside, flanked by personnel in hazmat suits taking photographs of every attendee, heavies in suits instructed us to place our phones in envelopes or we would be refused entry. Happy to oblige, I did so without first telling my other half that I wouldn’t be able to be contacted for an unspecified amount of time. You can imagine how that went, especially after telling her the last thing that happened was that I was just given a blindfold. Anyway, we were directed left into a room, filled with more hazmat personnel and two giant dispensers filled with ‘social lubricants’. The drinks could only be dispensed by ringing a bell, or honking a horn, dependent on which you wanted. The folk in the suits and googles remained silent throughout, pulling glasses from underneath which they kindly filled and only once pouring half a litre of gin, to top up the more popular of the two dispensers. Yikes. The room itself had little in the way of furnishings with two sofas, in a room filled about thirty odd people, but was filled with very curious paintings, photographs and instruments around. It seemed elaborate, like a lot of thought had been put into the decoration of this venue, deliberately like some kind of scientific experiment and we were the test subjects.
After a period of time for guests to mingle with one another, the room opposite in the hallway is unlocked, and we are welcomed inside a studio, outputting a frequency that feels like its properties could brainwash onlookers if exposed to in the right circumstances. Maybe that was the idea. But beyond the mixing desk and monitors, lay drums, microphones, a keyboard and a guitar, and a curious wall in the background which had a screen display inside what resembled a large sewage pipe opening. The door is then closed, the frequency is shut off and with the onlookers and myself all making ourselves as comfortable as possible, the producers known only to the world as SPACE and VIBES slowly emerge from the darkness and start the show.
With their first song, distorted, crunchy guitar opening up proceedings and thunderous booms of bass, before erupting into an apocalyptic big-beat bombshell that would bring a tear to Liam Howlett’s eye. The scathing refrain of ‘ten minutes to the end of the world,’ is unnervingly relevant, given the earth-shattering size of the music that surrounds it, and the visual element of strobe lighting in the performance really enforced the urgency and magnitude of their two-pronged attack. After three and a half minutes of electrifying energy, the storm subsides and you could be mistaken for thinking for more of the same is on the way. But this is where things begin to change, instead revealing a whole new dimension of influences that made for a truly mesmerising listen. Straight into now brand new single Karma Ya Dig!?, waves of reverb and delay wash over both sets of vocals and synths, unveiling a strangely soothing psychedelic ambience that certainly caught me by surprise. These two gentlemen’s vocals also harmonise so well together, that the phrase ‘I’ll see you on the other side,’ has lingered ever-presently in my subconscious since this day. A pseudo-industrial stomp gets us underway with a near punk-like sneer taking vocal duties, marching us towards a titanic guitar riff that wouldn’t go amiss in Britpop’s heyday and an overall vibe that feels reminiscent of The Chemical Brothers, albeit slowed to a pace you can headbang to. It certainly affirms that the big beat era of dance music circa 1990 onwards, has had a profound effect on this material. As if today’s electronic music producers and a punk band recorded together in a garage. It’s gritty, intense and energetic but without sounding lo-fi or unpolished. Astronomically far from it.
I must admit, that while their eight song set was nothing short of inspiring, it moved in a blur. I recall one track that had a dancehall style beat, some later present indie rock style influences and one track that which reminded me firmly of Does It Offend You, Yeah?, which in their own whirlwind of genre-smashing, is nothing but a compliment. They are an absolute sum of the parts of the people that work as the unit. SPACE, an in-demand punk and hardcore producer, with a reputation in the desert rock community to boot, and VIBES, a multi-talented instrumentalist and electronic music producer, that works with an abundance of live acts in and around London. Their union has formed something undeniably unique, and witnessing the translation of their chemistry together in the flesh with such a striking and impactful live performance, and the interactivity before the performance even took place, has made me fall in love with these gentlemen and get overexcited over what was to come. It truly was a privilege to be invited along and be part of this undoubtedly intriguing and involving movement.
The opportunity to see it for yourselves, lies on the 5th October at Bloc in Hackney, 8:30pm start. Prepare for an immersive dance experience unlike any you’ve ever encountered. If you want a further testimonial, I left that night with new friends, whom I realised I shared a closer connection to, than just being attendees to this exclusive performance. And I’m often a painfully awkward individual. If that isn’t something that asserts the power or the spiritual significance of the Black Futures experience, then I don’t know what will.
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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.
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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.