There have been many fine releases out of Merseyside in 2021.
With gigs being sparse for obvious reasons, to hear so much great new music in 2021 from local artists has once again made us proud to be a part of the city.
With a swathe of new releases from artists out of the city, it’s obvious that Liverpool continues to do its own thing, not tied to any other scene or what’s in vogue throughout other parts of the country. Long may this continue.
Like every other music scene around the world since the pandemic, there have been high points and low points.
Where live venues are concerned, we’ve lost Sound Food and Drink along with Phase One – the latter thanks to noise abatement actions from residents opting for a quiet life despite choosing to live in a city centre. Go figure…
Still, there have been positives.
The team at QUARRY are building something truly special with their venue, and it’s a space that we very much hope people will continue to support moving into 2022.
So too, Future Yard – a beautiful space created by a hard working team that has gone from strength-to-strength in the back half of 2021. So much so, that in the not too distant future, it could well be considered one of the finest independent venues in the country.
With live music slowly coming back, local promoters, EVOL, Harvest Sun, and Moonfrog, have been the lynchpins in bringing the finest artists from around the world to the city, with an exciting array of recent announcements suggesting that each promoter is billed for a top 2022.
Regular readers of Sun 13 will notice that the local scene isn’t our primary focus. Live reviews aren’t something that are at the forefront of our mind, and while you will see a live review or two on the site, by and large, we don’t have the resources to actively participate in this space.
Besides, there are plenty of other publications who are better equipped for this. Bido Lito! continues to provide crucial exposure for local artists through their pink pages, while online publications, Popped, and – more recently – New Sound Generation, P3dro.net and No New Wave of Fun are also vital sources for new and emerging artists from around Merseyside and the surrounding North West.
So with 2021 almost at a close, we’re hoping the local scene will continue to grow next year. With the artists listed below, it’s hard not to see 2022 being another fine year for new music across Merseyside.
While our Top 50 Albums of 2021 will be published on Friday, in the meantime, here are our favourite local releases of 2021.
Mitternacht: The Snake
Cruel Nature Records
Mitternacht, the project of Rongorongo’s Jonny Davis Le Brun, returns in 2021, following up the release of last year’s Bask with The Snake.
Inspired by Davis Le Brun’s journey across Snake Passage from Liverpool back to his hometown of Sheffield, whilst contrasting both in sound and feel, The Snake is the perfect remedy for those short days and cold nights as we batten down the hatches for the winter months ahead.
Filled with cold beats, dark ambience and nervous energy, The Snake is a tenuous journey through the hazy world of electronica with sounds and themes melding beautifully across these nine compositions.
The Aleph: Cheshire Cat
Mixing a pantomime pop hybrid amid a backdrop of art deco-inspired videos and utilising old world technology, there is simply no other band in Liverpool doing it like The Aleph.
The Cheshire Cat EP is yet another showcase of inventiveness from a duo that isn’t afraid to think outside the box. It’s futuristic pop music in every sense.
Sara Wolff: When You Left the Room
To regularly gig-goers in Liverpool, Sara Wolff is no stranger. The Norwegian songwriter first came to our attention at the Threshold festival back in 2019.
Earlier in 2021, Wolff gave us her debut EP, When You Left the Room – a release filled with strong folk numbers that slowly drift through the room, providing a glowing ambience.
From opener, Cotton Socks through to the excellent single, Bad Thoughts Compilation, When You Left the Room is an EP that seeps into the pores, enticing the listener to go back for more.
Dialect: Under ~ Between
Andrew PM Hunt has had some year. A part of the Aging ~ Land Trance collaboration, prior to this, Hunt returned with the latest Dialect album, Under ~ Between.
Under ~ Between is like a series of newspaper clippings. Hunt garners a wide array of sounds and ideas, piecing together a sonic collage fit for a fantasy world. If Ghosteen was immersed in a fairy-tale universe with animals and wild colours filling the sky, if one keeps walking through this world then Dialect‘s Under ~ Between will be there to welcome you with open arms.
It takes a while to sink in, but the ideas Hunt commits to tape on Under ~ Between are, indeed, admirable.
GADZOOKS!: Songs From Your Deathbed
For those who have returned to live music around Liverpool in 2021, the name GADZOOKS! should be a familiar one.
Taken under the wings of lovely local oddities, Tepid Days and Beija Flo, Ollie Roper has his own unique voice in this splendidly absurd sound world, and that voice is clearly showcased on his debut EP, Songs From Your Death Bed.
Those forever engrossed in the world Fat White Family, Insecure Men and Goat Girl will extend their love to GADZOOKS! Based on Songs From Your Death Bed, it’s not disingenuous to suggest that, in time, Roper may surpass such purveyors of the New-Weird Britain movement. Of course, only time will tell, however this is a fantastic beginning from one of the new unique voices out of Liverpool.
Bobhowla: Everything’s Wrong, But It’s Alright
Howard Doupe’s Bobhowla project has been active for well over a decade now.
Initially presenting these songs as a solo artist, Doupe expanded the Bobhowla dispatch, enlisting guitarist, John Brindle, and bassist, Graham Fletcher-Hill, who now operate as a three-piece.
The songs that comprise of Bobhowla’s debut album, Everything’s Wrong, But It’s Alright, are better for it. Brindle’s effortless guitar licks and subtle ranges of tone (Million $ Man) along with Fletcher-Hill’s driving bass lines (Music Keeps Calling) adding a fresh backdrop to Doupe’s storytelling, culminating in beautiful fashion with the tender closer, Own Ghost.
The Sandoz Tapes: The Sandoz Tapes
Regardless of any mystery surrounding this release, it is a record that deserves your time. And more than that, it demands your commitment.
The Sandoz Tapes is a sprawling, immense album that takes us on a journey through psychedelia, Kraut-rock, ’60s grooves and epic rock. It sounds like the creation of people who have lived a long and varied musical life and are somehow channelling their entire journey into a single offering.
It is only when we get to the end that we realise the album has been completely instrumental. The music contained in The Sandoz Tapes is so complete that at no time are the vocals missed, the music here has enough to hold your attention and your imagination.
Words by Banjo
LONESAW: Lay in the Salt of the Soil
With LONESAW’s live performance brimming with such unbridled menace, it was hard to imagine them replicating that searing energy within the confines of the studio walls. However, with Lay in the Salt of the Soil, the band’s debut EP, they do so emphatically.
It’s an aural bludgeoning in every sense, starting with the paranoid freak-out of Yet I Am – a song that sounds as if it were conceived from the depths of a mental asylum.
Lay in the Salt of the Soil is 22 minutes of belligerent extremism. An original snarling mess, with very few artists in the U.K. dispensing music as arcane and vibrant as this.
Claire Welles: Dazed
Having released 33 albums, it’s fair to say that Claire Welles is Merseyside’s answer to Robert Pollard.
Over the past five years Welles has well and truly honed in on her songcraft, producing her finest work. Releasing two records in 2020 (Fluke and In Quarantine), Welles has continued this stellar run of form with arguably her best yet in Dazed.
To our ears, Welles occupies a similar stratosphere to Sleaford Mods and, more recently, Billy Nomates. Welles has always possessed a dry sense of humour and unafraid to call it how she sees it and, in effect, we need more artists like her.
Bargo Farg: The Enchanments
Baron Farg is the project of Liverpool producer, Robert Alcock. On his latest EP, The Enchantments, Alcock covers a great deal of ground, exploring deep into the terrains of krautrock, hip-hop, and Eno-inspired ambience.
The final results are a thick cinematic fog enveloping the world of psychedelia; the very kind that the likes of Grails explored on 2017’s Chalice Hymnal.
It’s a sound world that no other artist in Merseyside has explored, with Alcock providing the kind of perceptive and agile soundscapes that could find a home amongst many scenes and styles around these parts and beyond.
Tom Ashbrook: Solitudes
The Other Song
Having released his debut album, Sensibus last year, composer, Tom Ashbrook, swiftly returned in 2021 with Solitudes.
This is neo-classical splendour at its finest. Solitudes is filled with rich compositions that are tailor-made for film scores, as Ashbrook balances drama with tenderness as good as any around. For fans of anyone from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson to Nils Frahm, it’s time to enter into the world of Tom Ashbrook and his beautiful creations.
Liverpool has welcomed a slew of great experimental releases in 2021 (many of which are in this feature). With Solitudes, we can welcome Ashbrook into the fold as one of the most promising composers to emerge from the city.
Polexia: Immolaton EP
With their debut release, the Immolation EP, the Liverpool duo of Johanna Connolly and Danny Welsby (who has since left the project and replaced by Jezebel Hale-Lagos) are some imprisoned brat pack unleashing twisted, sadistic rackets.
While their label mates in LONESAW may be well-versed with the cold blood-stained floors of an abattoir, Polexia seem more comfortable inside a burning aircraft that’s moments away from hitting a granite cloud; that’s exactly what Immolation sounds like.
It’s not one for the faint-hearted and, if anything, confirms that Polexia are the most exciting Liverpool act to be born out of lock-down.
Prison Behaviour: Secret Circus
Following the Snake Fever EP, Secret Circus is further proof that Mark Greenwood aims to push the Prison Behaviour project into new directions at every juncture.
It’s the most accessible set of songs Greenwood has produced under the Prison Behaviour moniker. Leaning on soundscapes of the past as the listener is showered with the sonic debris of ’70s/’80s experimental touchstones, Secret Circus is a 31-minute hybridisation of industrial, no-wave and pop.
The thinly barbed bedding of sound enables Greenwood to dispense his Machiavellian musings which have morphed and calcified over the past twelve months during lockdown – not least his frank observations of the Tory government which are firmly in his ire.
Reality Goggles: Rememberer
Following up his 2019 EP, Picturesque Industrial Wasteland, Nick Hunt reignites his Reality Goggles project with Rememberer.
Whilst dubbed as “bleak psychedelia made of trumpets, half-broken electronics and scuzzy drum loops,” there’s a surprising warmth that Hunt conjures up during these five compositions.
Whilst Hunt’s trumpet playing is the undoubted winner during Rememberer, it’s the cracked cinematic backdrops of sound that add the vital touch to these compositions. The end result is elusively striking, to the point where both artist and listener have stumbled across something assuredly unique.
Forming in 2019 in what seemed like an Eggy Records supergroup of sorts, Stores, Hannah Brown (formerly the mastermind behind Hannah and The Wick Effect) and Sam Warren (Eggy Records founder) strip it down as a two piece for their debut self-titled EP.
Merseyside’s answer to Courtney Barnett, Brown has been one of the up and coming talents around Liverpool for some time now, and alongside Warren the songwriting feels effortless (see Blue Sunday and Bones).
What we have here is countrified slacker reverence and if you’re looking for a good Sunday morning companion, look no further.
Unstoppable Sweeties Show: Analogy to an Allergy
3094869 Records DK
Liverpool’s Unstoppable Sweeties Show are probably the most unique band the city has to offer. Quite a feat considering L Town boasts the warped carnival of lunacy that is a.P.A.t.T. Fitting, as the latter’s driving force, Stephen Cole, is behind the studio glass on Analogy to an Allergy – the ’Sweeties latest offering of delta-blues avant-rock absurdity.
Beefheart-inspired, no doubt, however the Unstoppable Sweeties Show make the kind of racket that would have made Don Van Vliet and Frank Zappa very proud indeed.
Vocalist, Yashashwi Sharma, steals the show with a manic stream of consciousness sprawl that basically envelopes like an acid trip during a night out at the cabaret. Analogy to an Allergy. Gloriously mental.
Mike Blue: Dark Daze
Mike Blue has spent years toiling and dispensing civic vitally on the streets of Liverpool as a busker and on the final day of 2020, Blue released his follow-up to 2018’s The Demo Tapes in Dark Daze – Blue’s most journalistic and vexing set of songs yet. Not a 2021, you say? Technically no, but let’s not split hairs over 24 hours…
While it comes as advertised, having listened to Dark Daze first thing in the morning, and it’s the kind of record that hangs like a dark cloud for the rest of your day. As depressing as that may sound, that’s the feeling listeners should garner from good song writing.
For all its unevenness and ambition, Dark Daze is real in every sense.