The Skinny's Top 5 Northern Albums in 2016
Bowie? Solange? Frank Ocean? Of course they all produced fine albums this year, but some fine music emerged from Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and their surrounding areas too. As voted by our writers, here's the five best Northern albums of 2016...
Off-kilter post-punk slams into Oh Sees-style garage rock and runs off with all their best ideas. Seems simple enough? Hell, Cowtown make it sound like a piece of piss, and manage to have all the fun in the world while doing so. Don't be fooled though; there are hearts and smarts at the root of their Devolved racket, and this fourth full-length may well be their finest yet. Perfectly imperfect pop from Leeds DIY stalwarts – now catch 'em live and grin yourself silly.
What we said: "Paranormal Romance is as audacious and frenetic as a teenage debut, but it carries the kind of clarity that only comes with hard-earned, hard-gigged experience... Concise, fundamental fun." [Katie Hawthorne]
#4 Money – Suicide Songs
If you thought Money were teeming with elegiac grace and a sense of mournful beauty before, Suicide Songs could only have thrown more petrol on that fire before littering the surrounding area with exposives and gathering its nearest and dearest round for a BBQ. Delving into the darkest recesses of their psyche, the Manchester band regrouped and re-emerged with a sublime collection of funereal balladeering and wide-eyed soul-searching. More of the good stuff, but somehow even better.
What we said: "The murky allure of the Northwest is still a prominent aesthetic, yet second time round they have the confidence to shed more light on what was previously kept quietly in the shadows... bigger, brighter and possibly even more beautiful than before." [Will Moss]
#3 MUMS – Land of Giants
Formed in Widnes and now dotted around various pockets of the Northwest, the band formerly known as Aeroplane Flies High deal in naught but the heaviest riffs and the snarkiest of attitudes. There's something lovable at the heart of long-awaited debut album Land of Giants, but you'll only find it by crawling through the murk and allowing yourself to be trampled on by the sheer magnificence of their deafening roar. Fans of the Melvins, Kyuss, Torche et al take note: here is your new favourite band, and they're cranked way beyond 11.
What we said: "Toiling in the Northwest’s 100-cap venues and pubs for a couple of years now, the challenge for the Widnes trio here was always going to be bottling the sonic ferocity of their live shows. They do an admirable job." [Simon Jay Catling]
#2 Låpsley – Long Way Home
Barely three years have passed since Holly Lapsley Fletcher became a radio favourite from the confines of her bedroom, but if the pitch-shifting sophisto-pop of first track Station pointed towards an artist with a bright future, it still couldn't have predicted anything this wonderful. Still barely out of her teens, with Long Way Home Låpsley turned in one of the year's finest debuts, coated with electronic textures and almost drowning in a deep sense of poignancy. With a handful of cuts side-eyeing the dancefloor, it's remarkable to think that this might still only be the beginning.
What we said: "Making her name, initially, with spectral, minimalist bedroom productions, Liverpudlian artist Låpsley explores new territory on her debut... A bold and confident first LP from a producer – and singer – with great potential." [George Sully]
'Electronic' might be the most immediate adjective you'd consider to describe Shield Patterns' dark take on pop composition, but it doesn't come close to describing the depth and breadth of their wide-reaching sound – nor, indeed, the universe sculpted by their superb second album Mirror Breathing. Fragmented sounds blur and interweave majestically, with drones and rattling, processed beats throbbing underneath sweeping cello (guest star Julia Kent certainly makes her presence felt, without compromising the band's sound in the slightest).
Perhaps you thought Shield Patterns felt like a prospect before; perhaps you absorbed 2014's debut Contour Lines and fell for its darkly luscious dreamscapes in all their woozy glory. Rest assured, Mirror Breathing is a step forward and then some, with Claire Brentnall's haunting vocal providing a thoroughly human warmth to so much gothic mystery. Where they go from here is anybody's guess, but for now, this is a compelling statement that stands proudly among 2016's finest.
What we said: "Rest assured, this one's from the heart. The twitch and burr of Richard Knox's beats and the elegant shadowplay of Brentnall's melodies find connection and harmony on this wide-reaching and accomplished work... A stirring confessional, a thrilling musical evolution, and an inch away from perfect. If that." [Gary Kaill]