2015's finest sounds from the Northwest

Our writers and artists including Outfit, Kepla and ILL get together to discuss some of the best noise from the Northwest over the past 12 months

Feature by Simon Jay Catling | 09 Dec 2015

You've probably already seen our rundown of the best albums of the year. Here we turn our attentions to the fertile swell of new music across all genres that has been bubbling along on the Northwest scene in 2015.

The doom and gloom has focused on the closing of established venues like The Kazimier in Liverpool and Roadhouse in Manchester, but the people who frequent the bricks and mortar have still shown a remarkable aptitude for ‘getting shit done’ – and as long as that desire to create, promote and participate remains, the region looks set to be alright, at least musically, for a good while yet. Together with thoughts from some of our favourite artists of the past 12 months, below lies a selection of tracks from our writers that remained with them when the hundreds of other YouTube links and SoundCloud streams had long since left their inbox....

Frequently featured in our online regional music column, Liverpool-based producer Kepla has made some of our favourite outsider music this year. Here he runs the rule on what’s piqued his ears in 2015...

Germanager – Egg Drum

Germanager's Smiles has been one of the most curious, playful records I’ve heard in a long time. What I’m mostly inspired by is his concentration on a sonic mise-en-scène, especially on Egg Drum and the longform melody as the centrepiece of the album's title piece that meanders with real purpose. It really deserves a video to go with it.

Dialect – Ghost of Red Hook

Dialect's second album, Gowanus Drifts, is similarly cinematic, although much more meditative. The album's single Ghost of Red Hook feels like a slow-motion gaze across a dock, or landlocked water reserve, watching unrecycled waste ducking and floating, interfered with by human activity. Best heard through headphones for sure.

Selected by our writers for both his solo material and the arresting art-pop of his band Outfit, Andrew Hunt talks us through one of the latter's most pivotal tracks on Slowness, their second breathtaking record:

Outfit – Genderless

Genderless started out as more of a concept than a song, an unrelenting pulse carrying a disembodied vocal. I wanted to try and write about the feeling of cutting off your body or feeling like your sexuality has become remote. It was important for the accompaniment to reveal itself slowly and remain ambiguous for as long as possible until the tension split the song in two. Unlike a lot of the other songs on Slowness this was mostly built in the studio and not something we played together much. It was an important song for us as it stretched our band's vocabulary and allowed us to explore forms which were new for us. It remains one of my favourites and I think the recording has a kind of weathered elegance which I love.

Paul Rafferty, from Merseyside noise rock trio Bad Meds, on his band's snarling Hoax Apocalypse, from their self-titled EP on Maple Death Records:

Bad Meds – Hoax Apocalypse

Imagine turning on a TV and the footage being a live feed of a time traveller's lost GoPro, misplaced in an empty, blizzard-buried Alaska sometime in the mid-1830s. Hoax Apocalypse is about science fact, science fiction and living a life at the edge of the end times in the noughteens.

Manchester's fearsome art-rock four-piece ILL on their ten-minute behemoth, Slithering Lizards:

ILL – Slithering Lizards

Slithering Lizards has been about for most of ILL's existence. Most of our songs evolve into their definite forms over time, but Lizards never co-operated and is still largely improvised live. Including our current artist and former band member Rosanne Robertson, and producer John Tatlock (think Tesla lightning machines and maniacal cackling), six of us put it together. Rosanne’s lyrics are about the nightmares of a guilty capitalist, fears of terrorism and war. Our keyboardist, Harri, wrote about the government's persecution of the poor over bedroom tax, and bassist Whitney heard the lizards slithering in the music. The lizards represent fear itself, 21st-century paranoia, equally ridiculous and terrifying.

Writers' Picks

Doctrines  Melt

This noisy quartet have been one of the best live acts in Manchester for several years now; a glorious throwback to Archers of Loaf’s gruff, collegiate bluster with hints of 90s emo knotted into their ragged intricacies. Melt (from the Dog Knights label’s superb split 12", also featuring Playlounge, Johnny Foreigner and the remarkable Doe) might just be their best track yet, a bruising catharsis wrapped up in hooks and heartfelt yelps. Making a gleeful singalong from the phrase "We fall into familiar patterns," it eventually grinds to a halt, collapsing into the sound of a vinyl record cutting out very suddenly. The relief that your turntable isn’t broken is matched only by the disappointment of realising the track’s come to an end. [Will Fitzpatrick]

False Advertising  Something Better

These Manchester-based nu-grungers caught the eye early in the year, and singles Wasted Away and Dozer marked them out as savvy tunesmiths. Sure, they had the chops, but it was starting to look like they had the songs, too. September's self-produced and self-released debut erased all doubts – heavy on the hooks, it's the spiky, leftfield detours that really grab. Something Better is a dozen songs in one. A tempo-switching thrill ride, the chorus wrestles with the twitchy, counterpoint guitars before a racing coda slams you to the mat. They're this good already? Staggering. [Gary Kaill]

Gnod  Control Systems

Everything about Gnod's past, present and future is encapsulated in Control Systems, a 17-minute track that takes in contributions from various residents at the group’s home and collective arts space, Islington Mill, drifting in and out of an ever-shifting landscape. With the band having spent the previous five years traversing from North African folk music to crunching industrial mechanics via fried space rock, Control Systems heralds an album – Infinity Machines – that sees Gnod throw the sum of it all at the wall and then some. [Simon Jay Catling]

Hartheim  When Did Your Last Rose Die?

This was supposed to be Hartheim's gateway into 2015. During the winter, their fiery live show saw them build a loyal local following. Their hunger and desire were colossal. When Did Your Last Rose Die? – a searing document of love among the ruins, an ersatz anthem, a vehicle for singer Mike Emerson's unflinching observations – was a stately masterpiece. But the story is soured: guitarist Gaz Devreede died in June, a shattering and irreplaceable loss for the band. Quite how Hartheim will continue is still, it seems, undecided. But this, in many ways, is Devreede's song, coloured by his clean and lyrical playing. [Gary Kaill]

Lonelady  Groove It Out

Groove It Out was the triumphant comeback single after five years away for Manchester singer-songwriter Julie Campbell, exemplifying the new funky, playful outlook to her post-punk model that would frame second album Hinterland. With a robotic, production-line drum beat, a two-note guitar riff and a bit of cowbell, Campbell gradually assembles Groove It Out’s components, weaving woozy synths and joyous acoustics to create a jubilant 1980s dance stomp brimming with life. The song even lurches into a brilliantly burbling bass solo midway. It’s Campbell’s paean to self-rejuvenation through industry, and a celebration of Manchester’s musical heritage, in six minutes. [Chris Ogden]

Peaness  Fortune Favours the Bold

It's difficult to narrow it down to a single song from Chester trio Peaness's immaculate debut EP, No Fun: each song contains more than enough subtle surprises to keep you guessing, both in their lyrical smarts and their smooth melodic effortlessness. Still, the joyous pop glitter bomb of Fortune Favours the Bold just about takes the prize, with wily power-trio interplay keeping the melody on an even keel, while pristine harmonies call to mind the classicist sensibilities of La Sera and Veronica Falls. Just to set your mind at ease, they’re a giddy thrill live to boot. [Will Fitzpatrick]

Stealing Sheep  Greed

"What is this pilgrimage you're on?" ask Liverpudlian psych-pop trio Stealing Sheep at the start of Greed, the adventurous centrepiece of their second LP Not Real. We found ourselves asking the same question. With its probing lyrics and droning vocals, Greed travels on a continent-hopping journey of discovery, as Eastern-tinged synths cascade over a clunking tribal rhythm that dumps you in the desert on the back of a camel. “Sometimes the truth is hard to find/But it's always there, maybe disguised,” the trio tease, before a reality-bending finale – with flecks of horn and flute – leaves us thinking that, maybe, we have found it. [Chris Ogden]