We all know it’s been a tough year for artists. It’s been a tough year for everybody.
Without trying to state the obvious, the arts are hanging on a knife’s edge.
Venues on the bones on their arse, government funding scarce to say the least and those venues and organisations successful in obtaining the government’s financial ‘aid package’ earlier in the year seemingly given the insidious caveat of posting gushing missives of thanks to Boris Johnson and his cronies via social media.
You couldn’t make it up. We know this and to be frank, we’re sick of talking about it.
Not to be blunt on the matter, but we’d like to think that things like Sun 13 are a safe haven to escape from all the bullshit that’s delivered daily from the outside world.
Because we also know this. No matter how much it teeters or dangles on that knife’s edge, you can’t keep good art down. It will always be here.
And this year, despite its challenges, there has been great music to derive from our fine city of Liverpool.
Below are some of our favourite local releases of 2020. As the feature title suggests, these releases are not limited to albums, but singles and EPs, too.
We are aware that our coverage of local artists drifts in the shadows of coverage both beyond Merseyside and the United Kingdom.
We do try to keep our fingers the pulse, however there are plenty of local publications, both in print and online, who are better versed at providing this very exposure. Bido Lito and Popped to name a few, as well as new online publications who have been born out of lockdown, such as The Rattle, P3dro and, most recently, New Sound Generation.
This isn’t a competition for content. We’re all in this together and from Sun 13‘s perspective, we’re just plugging away doing our thing in these murky backwaters of the world wide web. Hopefully, moving into 2021, we can continue.
As an aside, our Top 50 Albums of 2020 is set for publication this Friday so do stay tuned. In the meantime, get down in the dirt and spend the week familiarising yourself with a potential new best friends from around these climes. There’s plenty to choose from and we hope you enjoy.
Claire Welles: Fluke
Claire Welles is the most underappreciated artist in Liverpool. There, it’s been said.
Welles is Merseyside’s answer to Robert Pollard, but unlike the Guided By Voices singer, Welles doesn’t scrape her tunes off the cutting floor.
There’s no better example than Fluke, which was released just before lockdown. Speaking of, Welles did make another album this year, In Quarantine, which could just as easily have made its way onto these pages, so with that, we strongly urge you to give that a listen, too.
Fluke has all the best traits of Welles‘ music. That dry sense of humour nestled between those pop-laden synths that brim with catchy melodies. It’s as much dance floor as it is background music while you cook your tea.
Fluke? Most certainly not.
Rongorongo‘s Jonny Davis Le Brun returns with his latest experimental project under the Mitternacht moniker.
Bask is the latest addition to the project and Davis Le Brun‘s first in five years.
A lo-fi collection of carefully constructed ambient compositions, Bask is a summer time treat in every sense.
Drenched in drones and field recordings, Bask is an album that unashamedly lends itself to open spaces. Something we’ve all come to appreciate more during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sunstack Jones: Golden Repair
Mai 68 Records
Sunstack Jones sound like heroes who have already conquered the known world and are unleashing what will be the most legendary album. The fact that they are yet to achieve the levels of success that are rightfully theirs is something that Golden Repair will hopefully put right.
This is an album that deserves your love and needs to be added to your record collection as soon as possible. If this isn’t 2020’s best album I will eat my headphones.
Lonesaw: Barbed Wire Church
Barbed Wire Church clearly represents Lonesaw both as a live and studio artist – a testament to the band and local producer, Stephen Cole, who meticulously mixed and mastered the song at his Whatstudio, leaving no stone unturned.
The Suicide-inspired creepy motorik beats leave their mark, cutting and bleeding into an ear-splitting drum sequence that causes instant shock, like a chainsaw passing through hanging meat in a butcher’s cold room.
Accompanied by the equally creepy Jon Stonehouse directed video, Barbed Wire Church is a brutal sonic atrocity that Einstürzende Neubauten would be proud of. Equally, it would probably be the soundtrack of choice to accompany Satan on an acid trip.
Psycho Comedy: Performance Space Number One
Silver Machine Recordings
There is such a presence on Performance Space Number One it is hard to believe this is their debut album. There is a swagger, a determination and a huge amount of couldn’t-give-a-fuck about this record that is hugely impressive on album number one.
Psycho Comedy wear their influences on their sleeves and it is easy to hear snatches of Glam-era Bowie, Stooges and The Birthday Party in their music. Powell comes across as an Iggy fan while the guitars sound in thrall to the work of early Rowland S Howard.
For all their grit and sleaze, Psycho Comedy are quite capable of writing pop hooks and memorable, catchy choruses when the occasion demands it.
A suitably noisy and in-your-face closing to a stunning album. – Banjo
Purchase from Bandcamp
Ex-Easter Island Head: Lodge
It’s difficult to fully articulate, such as the weight this piece truly has. It may morph into something completely different in time. The best art often does, shifting the narrative as it pleases.
One could perhaps liken Lodge to a collaboration between The Necks and Jim O’Rourke, but that is doing Ex-Easter Island Head a bit of a disservice, really. They are world-builders in every sense and not many get past the gates which they have erected.
And with that, it’s not a stretch to suggest that Lodge is Ex-Easter Island Head‘s most emotional work to date. It may even be their finest.
Aimèe Steven: Today
Shifting the goalposts somewhat, on Today Liverpool songstress, Aimèe Steven, moves away from the gritty folk-rock leanings of Darling into a more accessible vein, with strings providing a significant backdrop to the track. Steven’s voice is more than capable of combating these orchestral showers with a beautiful chorus that is her finest yet.
With Today, Steven provides us with yet another dimension to her songcraft. It’s the best song we’ve heard from her so far.
2021 will no doubt be another downer of a year, but with the prospect of Aimèe Steven releasing an album, well, that’s something to look forward to, surely?
MC Nelson: The People’s Republic of Liverpool
Following his debut album from last year, Anglosfear, local rapper Nelson Adama (MC Nelson) returned in 2020 with the Scouse anthem, People’s Republic of Liverpool.
“Liverpool is a capital of itself,” starts Nelson in a track that’s a soulful form a conscious rap that bursts with civic vitality, referencing the Docks, the Liver Building and taking aim at the Monarchy while he pieces together a life in a town which he calls our own country.
Perhaps the most poignant part of the track is its ending, with Nelson‘s dose of locality that hits the nail on the head.
“We got lighting in a bottle/that’s why Liverpool’s different/it can make you skint single/It can make a saint sinful/Where the smiles are wistful and the screams are visceral/When you leave they won’t miss you/ But Liverpool’s a place you take with you as you journey on/It’s the country I’m from and you can’t tell me I’m wrong.”
Eyesore & The Jinx: The Exile Parlour
Eyesore & The Jinx released their debut EP, The Exile Parlour, in the last quarter of 2020 and it’s the result of years of hard work the band has put in.
Following the momentum of singles, Gated Community and On An Island, Eyesore & The Jinx are quickly developing a reputation as a band that is immune to creating filler.
There’s wacky Oh Sees homage throughout, but tossed into lens of locality. Look no further than the closing ditty, The Ballad of Big Joe (perfect timing given the circumstances which unfolded last Friday night).
It’s a fine outing here and on the back of their latest single, Accidental Weller, we’re expecting more in 2021, that’s for sure.
The Shipbuilders: Hanging Me At Dawn
Mai 68 Records
Those of you familiar with the live spectacle of a Shipbuilders gig will doubtless recognise this live highlight. The rest of you should remedy both of these situations just as soon as is humanly possible.
Produced by Danny Woodward (Ladytron, BC Camplight), Hanging Me At Dawn is a foot tapper in the vein of Red Rum Club and The Pogues at their drunken best.
The song starts off in a restrained enough manner, with some tremolo guitar work building up the spaghetti western atmosphere. As the marching drums kick in for the verse, the song is lifted and becomes both urgent and atmospheric, a difficult trick to pull off.
The pace is then kept up for the rest of the song, launching us to the singalong chorus that seems tailor made for an audience to shout back at the band. – Banjo
Douglas Savage: Ballerina
Dumfries-born Connor O’Mara has been plying his trade under the Douglas Savage moniker for over 18 months now.
Savage’s cynical pop journeys are ones for all and sundry to lend an ear to.
His precociousness as a songwriter is evident, an aloof drifter possessing an elusive charm. Quite the funny badger, too (anyone who pens a song about fucking bees gets a tick of approval from us).
On Ballerina, the cynicism doesn’t stop, with O’Mara questioning asking the sharp questions of everyday life.
“Life should be sweet/shouldn’t be this hard/I’m just a boy in a leotard/I’ll just keep on dancing like a ballerina,” he sings.
Ballerina is a soulful cut with a sullen, bluesy slowcore ring to it. There’s no one in Liverpool doing what Douglas Savage does and we can’t wait to hear more.
The Tosin Trio: Battle Cry
We first came across The Tosin Trio at last year’s Threshold Festival inside the cauldron of 24 Kitchen Street.
The short set consisted of soul infused hard-rock with chunky chords and wah-wah fuzz, with a swing that had the impact of a wrecking ball.
On Battle Cry, the band’s latest single, singer Tosin Solako begins by singing, “Can’t see the woods through the trees/Not sure who to believe.”
It’s a politically charged number with those same swinging rhythms that are soaked in the good oil of blues-rock and the sub-genres of classic rock. However, The Tosin Trio revitalise these sounds of the past with fresh soulful interpretations.
Where musicianship is concerned, there aren’t too many artists around Liverpool that do it like The Tosin Trio.
John Witherspoon: Showin Up, Startin’ Again
After many years of hard toil around the local scene, John Witherspoon released his debut album, Showin’ Up, Startin’ Again, last week.
What we have here are a batch of songs that are easy on the ear and ooze with honesty.
The tender balladry showcased by the Liverpool songsmith has perhaps gone unrivalled from his local contemporaries in 2020.
Many comparisons have been bandied around in the last week, but with the influences of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen poking through the cracks, Witherspoon unleashes a subtle local charm with his songs.
Quite simply, it’s a beautiful journey.
Bobhowla: Midnight Fears
Despite lockdown, it’s been quite the year for Bobhowla.
With their debut album, Everything’s Wrong, But It’s Alright, set for release in October, the release was pushed back to February 2021 due to the band striking a record deal with new local label, 9X9 Records.
Lead single, Midnight Fears, made quite the impression and with good reason.
Produced by Idlewild’s Rod Jones, Midnight Fears is a melodic folk-rock brawl with skittish instrumentation that has an instant effect on the listener.
Having been lucky enough to hold an ear to the rest of the record (spoiler alert!), things follow in much the same vein.
2021 looks like being another busy year for Bobhowla.