An intriguing year of Merseyside music finds new stars blossoming and a significant changing of the guard, Getintothis’ Peter Guy reflects as staff select the best tracks to emerge from the Liverpool region.
For all the obstacles put in front of Liverpool musicians in the last 12 months it is a wonder they’ve not downed tools or jumped in the fucking Mersey.
With a slew of independent venues shutting, various staples of festival circuit being axed and more importantly practice rooms closing faster than you can say ‘hey Signature Living why don’t you ruin another architectural gem,’ it’s been particularly hard going if you’re an aspiring musician on Merseyside.
With the likes of city centre practice room institution Crash set to close its doors – this marked yet another damning indictment for Culture in Liverpool. Young musicians – who predominantly work low paid jobs to fit around their artistry are struggling more than ever on Merseyside – and it’s frankly a wonder we’re consistently producing such sonic riches. But they go on – and we’re ever thankful.
And what struck us when compiling this list of 25 tracks was just how much the Merseyside music landscape has shifted this year.
The older guard are still present – the likes of Stealing Sheep are brewing a new album and have teased with a few tracks nestled on to their platforms; All We Are, Mugstar and Ex-Easter Island Head continue to tour with consistent plaudits – and of course The Coral returned with a curio of a new record.
However, it’s very much a brand new set of artists that have been setting a new agenda around Liverpool.
Perhaps with no central hub – no Korova, no Kazimier, no Mello Mello – it has been left to the smaller Liverpool city centre basements of Sound on Duke Street and more recently the emerging Jacaranda Records Phase One on Seel Street, that this new breed of Scouse musicians are beginning to thrive.
Even more pertinent to the lack of practice rooms and live spaces giving brand new talent a shot is the rise of the bedroom producer and artists.
No fewer than 11 of the artists listed are solo and have self-produced their track – with the vast majority recording in their homes. Sure, lo-fi production is in vogue but we’d argue this is as much out of necessity than choice. And we’re not including the likes of Bill Ryder-Jones or XamVolo who are well accustomed already to self-production.
Another stark contrast to previous ‘best of‘ lists we’ve produced in recent years is the lack of any coherent communal thread coursing throughout Liverpool music.
This once again goes back to the lack of a central hub – however, for once, this perhaps has provided an upshot – as there’s such a wealth of diversity within the 25 tracks we’ve selected.
Unlike years gone by when the Wolstenholme Square area produced bands which while not sounding like each other were drenched in production and artistic coherence which oozed familial bonds.
These strands could be collected in waves attached to Deep Hedonia‘s DIY electronic crew, the Kazimier collective, or perhaps the Dan Croll finesse of that wave of LIPA graduates. In more recent years Scouse Trap, the psychedelic garage mayhem of Ohmns and co and the more traditional Mersey rock and roll of By The Sea seems to have subsided.
Indeed, you’d be hard pushed to find much of a common music thread in the list below. Instead, this is a collection of 25 tracks celebrating diversity, individualism, singularity, artistic integrity and most of all profound personal investment. We hope you enjoy it. – Peter Guy
25. Mary Miller – I Found Heaven
Mary Miller has slotted seamlessly into a blossoming Liverpool music scene, utilising cutting edge sounds and ethereal vocals that recall the titillatingly spacious work of Jamie XX and Frank Ocean without ever following anyone else’s footsteps.
Deeply rooted in her output, Mary’s a fondness for the sophisticated and refined, she finds space for cinematic strings, choral outbursts and raging horns that ensure her tracks glimmer with a great panache that celebrates both the contemporary and the retro.
In I Found Heaven, Miller finds a superb balance of entrancing vocals and sound, and most importantly, a divine danceability in her moonlight-disco endeavours. – Matthew Wood
Teaching himself the art of synth pop with FruityLoops and a fiery passion for musical design, Yank Scally draws influence from 80’s video games, retro synth sounds and a splicing of the contradictory.
Yano Da is a journey of jaunty bass drums and kaleidoscopic synths that sweep, warp and transform throughout. His work seems to place precedence on exercising exceptional timing and treating the track as almost formulaic, each motif or layer arrives with intent and purpose and does not go unnoticed; there is no filler here, it’s as meticulous as it is down right catchy. Keep em coming. – Matthew Wood
23. XamVolo: Sudden
A man who puts his heart and neo-soul into everything he does, XamVolo is a role model with an exemplary work ethic, one that has shot him to international stardom, thanks to an Arena tour with Paloma Faith, in next to no time at all.
Sudden is the sound of him exercising more experimental forces, a thumping beat jaunts heavily in unison with ghostly vocal samples, creating a spiky rhythm for him to croon and let his voice spread its wings over.
And my, what a voice, spanning all scales effortlessly, harnessing an earthy ruggedness as well as a blissful falsetto, as long as he keeps a mic within reaching distance, he will forever be turning heads. – Matthew Wood
22. Strange Collective: So What
Frenzied garage rockers Strange Collective have been churning out devilish, twisted tracks for some time now, garnering much praise via their explosive live shows and shrewd curation of all day events.
So What is their latest concoction and arrives trudging with intent despite frothing at the mouth as you’d imagine the personification of most of their tracks to do; brimming with thunderous drums, roaring energy and a handful of gallic shrugs. Aggressive yet carefree contemporary psychedelia for those who long to let their hair down. – Matthew Wood
21. Monks: Sundried
“Swimming in a sonic ocean, babe” gasps Monks front-man George Pomford on their understated yet refined single Sundried, and it feels much like you’re doing much the same as a listener.
Aquatic swathes of synth and guitar recall kaleidoscopic titans Pond and Tame Impala, while the quintet skillfully weave disco motifs into their punchy blend of psych rock officially branding this one as dance floor-worthy. The first fruits from a band we’re very much going along on the ride with. – Brett Angle
20. The Fernweh – Is This Man Bothering You
19. The Mysterines: Hormone
The Mysterines are three of the most exciting teenagers to come out of Liverpool. Unlike most teens they have hardly any social media presence but this hasn’t stopped Lia Metcalfe (lead vocals and guitar) George Favager (bass) and Chrissy Moore (drums) from selling out their first ever gig and supporting the likes of The Big Moon and Miles Kane.
Masked in mystery, everyone is wondering “who are The Mysterines?” As they’ve started to create quite a buzz in the North West after releasing their debut single Hormone. It’s loud and it boasts a pure rock ‘n roll punch, ozzing guitar riffs and moody baselines – The Mysterines are 100% feisty energy. – Rebecca McGrath
18. The Gear: There’s A Place
The last 12 months hacve been a big year for The Gear. George Sephton played them over the PA at Anfield as Liverpool FC took to the field while they’ve played pretty much every first-rung venue on Merseyside including our very own Deep Cuts stage.
Then there’s this, their first single, which starts with a rapidly picked, Foals-style guitar riff overlaid with shimmering stabs and Sting-like vocals; it ends, after barely a moment’s respite, with a triumphant guitar solo and an assured crescendo. They’re currently plugging away diligently at the Liverpool gig circuit; keep your eyes peeled for these heads. – Matthew Eland
17. Pizzagirl: Carseat
Synthtastic moment of teenage love’s triumph from the Pizzagirl. Although his obsessively kitsch styling is drowning in Technicolor kitsch and burdensome irony, this belies the fact there’s some real skill and taste going on in the music. This is proper songwriting and some great synth work.
The vocal melodies, sparse harmonies and logorrheic text are most worthy too – but OH! that vocal sound… If stardom truly beckons then there’s work to be done on those vocals – work that a flood of reverb is never going to compensate for. Fix that, and we might have a Scouse Pet Shop Boy on our hands. – Jono Podmore
16. Seatbelts: A World Drained of Wonder
There’s a very real risk Hooton Tennis Club’s James Madden and Ryan Murphy’s new project Seatbelts could well eclipse previous endeavours.
The best pop music gives us an exact glimpse of what is going on right here and now; when we hear The Beatles sing She Loves You we get a three minute snapshot of what it was like to be a teenager in 60’s Liverpool before the hippies came along and ruined everything. You can feel that sense of optimism and freedom, and naiveté, fifty odd years on. What we get with A World Drained of Wonder – well, you can surmise from the title I guess, is our current times in a nutshell.
This song captures 2018 perfectly; so many are living in the grey shadows. Yet it is not a miserable, relentless trawl or yawn. This is no trudging whingefest. There’s an emotional beauty here; like a lovely, hopeful light full of colour. This is what exceptional songwriting is all about, kids. – Cath Bore
15. Baron Farg: Electron Vortex Wave
Liverpool’s Baron Farg is a deep-space electronics producer dealing in liquid IDM grooves. Often exploring ambient techno realms, Rob Alcock (Baron Farg) is inventive, textural and into deep-scale atmospherics.
Electron Wave Vortex bubbles with alien dub-bass swerves and lava-lamp beats, conjuring synth swells and shadowy acid pulses. This is a trip into the deepest aural trench, just don’t get the bends on your return. – Mike Stanton
Resister is the first fruits from new album Revolution of Mind – and what a killer track it is.
Fuzzed-out with rumbling intent and pounding floor toms compete with dark chugs of guitar and symphonic synths as lead vocalist Louisa Roach is in fine form once again with her supremely versatile and already iconic vocal work. If you’ve not invested in that new album check this one for size and go from there. – Burt Backiraq
13. Pharoahe Rocher: 5
Enigmatic beat ninja, Pharoahe Rocher released his fourth self-releaed collection earlier this year; a catalogue of nine instrumentals titled Kpopcreep/Arthasmistakes… Make of the title what you will but this certainly isn’t K-Pop and if there is any mistakes, they sound intentional.
Vintage string samples coupled with super slick, glitchy beats make Pharoahe Rocher a prime contender for those study beats playlists that have swarmed the YouTube algorithms; they’re eclectic, addicting and Liverpool’s answer to a J Dilla incarnation if there every was one.
Selecting one track isn’t really fair as he needs to be heard as whole. He’s set to emerge from behind the impenetrable cloak of social media and treat us to a live performance at a Deep Cuts on Thursday November 8 at Jacaranda Phase One – you’d be a fool to miss it. – Matthew Wood
12. Shards: Reflections
The debut release from Shards comes in the form of the glittering, crystalline track Reflections. Alex McKenzie’s vocals float above lipid guitar and gentle drums to create a peaceful yet energising single.
It is the highlight of their live performance, the most assured track in their set, a band confident in the sound they’re emitting. If similar assurance can be justified for future releases, then we have a band that in style and substance have enough to accelerate towards national recognition. – Lewis Ridley
11. SPQR: Or So I Say
The opening track from the band’s recently released EP, The House That Doubt Built, kicks off as a definite marker as to what you’ll get from SPQR.
Spiky punk, but well layered sounds that range from the utterly berserk to the more nuanced qualities of Peter Harrison’s impressive vocal range. And all of this in one track. It’s the perfect advert for SPQR’s live shows – full of emotion, power and subtlety. – Peter Goodbody
10. The Vryll Society: Andrei Rublev
From The Vryll Society’s long awaited debut album Course Of The Satellite this has the atmospheric soundscapes in likeliness to Teardrop but with less psychedelia and more rich electric guitars.
Compared to other songs on the album, Andrei Rublev, has a lot more instrumentation floating along until around half way where the vocal motif bleeds into a more powerful, electric guitar solo surrounded by a wave of delicate synths making it the ultimate track to drift off into hazy oblivion. – Naomi Campbell
8. Samurai Kip: Mr Void
Mr Void is the second release from Samurai Kip – a six minute six second multi-layered, guitar jazz delight.
Starting with a gorgeous strings and synth arrangement reminiscing of hazy Style Council stuff until a young James Brown husky soul filled vocal locks in.
A free flowing storytelling in psychedelic loveliness ensues until the four and half minute mark where the tempo ups a notch or two with a backing double clap to accompany base and percussion to crescendo, and who doesn’t love a double clap swing in song? – Paul Fitzgerald
7. Bill Nickson: What To Say
Bill Nickson is Merseyside’s worst kept secret. The Wirral (it’s a very happening place these days) singer-songwriter shows prowess well beyond his years.
Released earlier in the summer, What to Say sees a massive leap in confidence despite him staying in his happy place, within the security boundaries of lo-fi bedroom recordings he’s become known for.
Nickson is still safely in that US 1990’s plaid shirt and scuffed trainers arena, it’s dreamy and nice, and while there’s no harm in that, what we’re hearing here a very exciting glimpse of how much further the young man could go. – Cath Bore
6. MC Nelson: By The River
Self-taught rapper and producer MC Nelson embarked on his journey to become a hip hop musician when he was the ripe age of 9. His ambitions led him to join a Merseyside hip hop crew, and later delve into more experimental waters via his bedroom recordings.
Melding his sharp creativity with his black heritage, he aims to tell the ‘untold’ story of the UK’s oldest black population. By The River is a jaunty, jazz and psych-inflected track, Nelson’s expressive style finds its groove while he sits atop a raft and bathes among flowers and oranges. – Matthew Wood
This is the second track to be released from Bill Ryder-Jones’s fourth studio album Yawn available November 2.
The track builds from calm verses filled with Bill’s characteristic raspy voice through to a dramatic Cocteau Twins inspired chorus of guitar melodies and profound word play giving the song an extra dynamic edge.
The overall sombre tone imbues the lyrics with an affecting, emotional pull making for quite an extraordinary listen. – Sarah Pitman
Crow is the first new fruits by Forest Swords since his 2017 album Compassion.
Sat alongside the likes of Dead Can Dance, Neneh Cherry, Vashti Bunyan, Laurel Halo, and Demdike Stare is the sole new composition of Matthew Barnes on his DJ Kicks 27-track compilation.
Drawing heavily on his characteristic tribal dub, Crow is a suitably malevolent march of squalling drones, fractured pulses and a cyclical claustrophobic beat.
Aligned to director Liam Young‘s Tomorrow’s Storeys video, Crow is another brutal, zombified thwack to the senses in the dense Forest Swords canon. – Peter Guy
3. Claire Welles: Leamington Spa
Dark, brooding intimidation is the word here. Built over a simple, stark industrial drum line, and a circular, picked acoustic guitar, Leamington Spa is all twisted vocals, wide choral layers looping around each other, battling each other into submission.
It swirls and swoops to dizzying and delightful effect as it lifts and fades underneath a distinctly Syd Barrett flavoured melody. The central character is pained, only just clinging onto herself, she tries to escape the grim reality of being wronged. She resolves to seek revenge, if only in her mind. A song for the solitary dark hours, when things begin to make sense. – Paul Fitzgerald
2. Eyesore & The Jinx: Gated Community
Gated Community is a terrifying slice of psychobilly prophecy, a garage punk assault on a lead-lined Brexit bunker, a grimly fun-filled 3’01” epic.
If the single sounds like it was self-produced in a slaughterhouse, that’s because it was. Touch points like The Fall, Gun Club and Birthday Party are part of some unholy pentagram from which Eyesore and the Jinx are emerging with unstoppable, jaded fury. – Roy Bayfield
1. Beija Flo: Mary
Beija Flo is a mystery and yet bears her entire soul. She, like many of the best pop stars, is a myriad of contradictions.
For it’s in these contradictions, contrasts of light and shade, enigma and emotional soul sharing – that we, the listener, are able to enter into her world – but just for a short while. On Mary – her stand out track to date – she allows us into this shadowy, often theatrical, usually playful yet remarkably dark netherworld for just two minutes and 29 seconds. It’s all she’ll allow but it’s all we need to be bowled over by a song of starkly brilliant balladic cataclysm.
Once inside, we’re in the grip of a primal force which comes from deep inside her very being. Foreboding, near-psychosis-induced vocals trade with minimal instrumentation that’s almost Birthday Party dueling with Bauhaus and Bat For Lashes.
The intensity of the crash chorus acts like a blunderbuss going off at a wedding where everyone at the altar is massacred and aligned to the superlative video it’s a mini pop masterpiece which will send you into delirium. And as the refrain suggests, that’s probably where she likes it. – Peter Guy