Well, that’s 2015 all wrapped up then, and musically speaking it wasn’t half bad at all. But, what will 2016 bring us? And who will be the artists and bands to watch out for? In an attempt to answer these burning questions I dusted off my crystal ball, muttered some incantations to the musical gods, realised this was all a load of crap and resorted back to good old fashioned gut feeling, common sense and a keen pair of ears to come up with my top ten artists to watch in 2016.
These are those artists who I feel are in the best position to break out of their own local and regional scenes and start making some waves on a more national basis. Generally they are the best of everything I personally have seen and heard in the last 12 months, and also the ones best equipped to break out. So this has been drawn from my own limited pool of experience and has not been influenced by any other sources, taste makers or media, and as I have already said, I have no particular foresight or insider knowledge other than my own instinct, experience and opinion. I have also omitted the bands I work with through Secret Chord Records as we all know they are the best of the best already! I present these in no particular order either; I am not daft enough to hang what reputation I have on one artist above all other. They are just listed in the order they came to me on New Year’s Eve as I sat quietly supping beer and reflecting on the past year.
So, please open your mind and your ears, check out the links and give some time to listen to my musical tips for 2016.
1 – Esther Joy Lane
For my first pick I have gone for the artist who was my Breakthrough Artist of the Year in The Ocelot Magazine, Esther Joy Lane. Oxford based musician Esther arrived with little warning in early 2015 at some open mics in the town. A summer then spent honing her live act and polishing her songs resulted in a EP of incredible pop music; interesting, exciting and accessible. The impact she has made locally has been huge, with all local commentators tipping her for a quick rise to the very top of the industry. Her music is essentially pop music, but pop music with style, skill and spirit. Soothing and soulful vocals with R’n’B flavours layered over intelligent electronica. It is lush, slick and dreamy but with a gloriously gutsy underbelly that keeps it real and anchored. There is a real commerciality about her sound, yet she has done it all the right way, the hard way, herself.
2 – Rewire The Time Machine
Pick two is much more my typical thing seeing as it involves guitars, big riffs and even bigger beards. Rewire The Time Machine are a simple beast on paper – a mighty slab of stoner rock and desert blues. But they are so much more than that with a heavy psychedelic streak the music has a delicious complexity to it that you lose yourself in and lyrical topics are deep and clever. It is a great combination giving them real depth, but at the end of the day, it really is all about those huge riffs, and I love them for it. They are putting the finishing touches to their debut record, and I really cannot wait to hear it.
3 – Lionface
Keeping it rocked up for pick 3 I have gone for Lionface. The first of our Bristol contingent, they blend rock, metal and industrial music skilfully and imbibe it with a real pop edge, giving them a curious blend of blistering heaviness tempered with delicious, fluffy melodies, kind of like a ghost chilli flavour candy floss. The combination of soaring female vocals, crunching guitars and heavy grooves gives a real air of Skunk Anansie about them, which when added to some Nine Inch Nails stylings creates an individual sound that still manages to have a comforting familiarity to it.
4 – Jemima Surrender
I am staying in Bristol for Pick 4 with a band who are the most recent addition to my favourite bands list although I am a tad late to their party as they have been perfecting their own unique style for a couple of years. Now expanded to a power trio, Jemima Surrender hark back to the glory days of the 4AD label, with obvious sonic parallels to the likes of The Breeders. But rather than the tones of Kim Deal over the creatively quirky music, vocally they present a rather different proposition, with a sound often more akin to Edith Piaf. The end result is very different and very compelling and different to almost anything you will have ever heard.
5 – Rain
It is much closer to home with pick 5 and Swindon’s own indie-fuzz champions, Rain. Theirs is a sound rooted firmly in the early 90’s with swirling guitars with huge amounts of fuzz and reverb fighting against dreamy vocals and pounding back beats. It is like shoegaze never went away, and is perfectly timed for the revival of a much missed genre (well, in my head). They play their first headline show on Februaryb 4th, but have already had radio airplay for the superb debut single, Slur. So don’t be silly and miss it if you are in their hometown area, these guys won’t be in small venues for long.
6 – Balloon Ascents
If dreamy, luscious pop music with multiple harmony layers, addictive, smooth melodies and plenty of clever and original flourishes is your thing please check out pick 6. Oxford’s Balloon Ascents are a bunch of young lads with talent aplenty and all the ingredients to hit the mainstream. They have the songs, the musical chops, the harmony vocals and contagious melodies, are young and easy on the eye and have great support from some heavyweight industry figures. They are a real chameleon band, taking on all sorts of guises in their quest to entertain and find the perfect pop hook. To put it simply, this band oozes class and has a real universal appeal. Destiny is calling surely?
7- Ruby Confue
Pick 7 is more pop, and incredible pop at that. From the musical boffins in the Lighterthief bunker comes Ruby Confue, a Shakespeare spouting urban mega-star in waiting. Cleverly blending elements of Hip-Hop, Soul, Funk and R&B with less obvious constituent parts such as spoken word, poetry and theatre into a strangely coherent psychedelic whole is an impressive feat, and one which is carried off with some panache. Perhaps the most commercially viable act I have heard in a long time, I was lucky enough to catch her first ever live vocal performance a couple of weeks ago and it was incredible! This is really something special.
8 – Echoic
Reading band Echoic are pick 8. A band that effortlessly blend some great rock chops with an amazing ear for a melody they are a band that also seem to work harder than most, so fully deserve the attention they get. A marvellous mixture of alternative-rock and smooth pop music again this is another band with a marvellously commercial side to them. But, they seem to keep enough originality to keep jaded new music fans like me excited, and keep it sounding fresh and interesting. If you want to find out for yourself it is a fairly sure thing that they are playing live near you soon!
9- Nasty Little Lonely
Back to Bristol again for Pick 9, and the superbly noisy Nasty Little Lonely. These guys have been around a little while and are made up of some fairly well seasoned musicians with pretty good CV’s. I like them so much they played twice for me last year. Their sound is a very dark and twisted metal tinted rock, dirty and with gothic tones and sharp, industrial edge. But the big secret is the groove that the songs are anchored too. It is really quite a moment when the jagged and abrasive guitars get pinned down by some quite filthy bass lines. I really think 2016 could be the year they break out of the local scene and into bigger things – their new material is apparently superb.
10 – George Wilding
I had something of a dilemma for pick 10, but I have gone with an acoustic based act that has been honing his craft over the last couple of years, but is poised to make some serious waves, and I know has a new record in the pipeline. He is a great songwriter and if he learns to tune and talk at the same time will be an awesome live act too (in joke). Yes, my 10 to watch out for in 2016 is rounded off by the brilliant and bohemian George Wilding, a songwriter who channels a spooky, Victorian sense of drama and tone. His songs are clever, witty, superbly developed and interesting and elevated far beyond the normal acoustic circuit fare. I think the stand out for him is he has his own voice, he is not pastiching anyone, unlike most of his peers and that is a rather surprising and wonderful thing.