This month, we check out Zuzu, Atlas : Empire, Tallies, Rosie Carney, Ibibio Sound Machine and All Get Out...
Sardonic scouser penning indie-pop bangers
Liverpool’s premier guitar-pop songwriter Zuzu Stranack is perhaps a little too wry and realistic to be a full believer in the Christmas wish come true, but she came pretty close in 2017.
“About this time last year, I was broke, I’d started working with new management and I needed money for Christmas,” recalls Zuzu. “So I applied for a job as an elf in town. It was mad - parents are crazy. So I was working as an elf, went down to London for a meeting, came back and had been offered a record deal. Bananas.”
Her festive single Distant Christmas (released last year, obvs) documented that weird period in the bittersweet fashion of the best festive tunes. More importantly, though, it topped an incredible streak of irresistibly catchy, grunge-y jangle-pop anthems released throughout 2018.
“Somebody once described it to me as 60s via the 90s, which I really like,” says Zuzu of her sound. “I’m really into the jangly seventh chords and some of the psychedelic kind of licks of the 60s, but I’m also into the grit and grunge of the 90s. I try to pull from both of those corners.”
You’ll hear as much Dinosaur Jr as Shangri-Las in her writing and delivery. Zuzu’s recordings - all captured in the band’s self-built Birkenhead studio - sound alternately light and throaty. There have been Courtney Barnett comparisons, but her aesthetic is her own. She adores Cardi B for being “unapologetically herself” and has a similarly magnetic demeanour - confident but she’s not above self-deprecation. And not afraid to slaughter a few holy cows, either, not least on guitar music’s crustier side...
“I just want to make something fresh,” she says, exasperated. “You don’t have to solely listen to things from the 70s. It’s alright psych bands - you can like other things!”
Atlas : Empire
Atlas shrugged? Nay, he moshed!
Glasgow’s Atlas : Empire offer an exciting take on contemporary prog, marrying post-rock expanse with the wilder, heavier sound of the likes of Black Peaks and At The Drive-In.
“I got my electric guitar at 17 so I was a late starter to that,” says guitarist/ vocalist Steven Gillies. “But then I got a DigiTech RP300 multi-FX, which had loads of phasers and delays and I would sit for hours with that. It was the experimentation - being able to create different textures and landscapes.”
Debut album The Stratosphere Beneath Our Feet is rooted in strong writing, but sees Steven and co-guitarist / vocalist Jamie Sturt melding ambience, multiple melodies and breathless dynamics.
“In five years I’ll make boring acoustic music,” jokes Steven. “But until then, I’m going to be that kind of player.”
- For fans of: Mars Volta, Black Peaks
- Gear: Fender Toronado
A Cocteau cocktail on the rocks
Tallies’ tone sounds straight out of 4AD’s 80s catalogue, yet they hail from Toronto and the same stellar scene that gave us Dilly Dally and Metz. Lead guitarist Dylan Franklin provides the rainy day chimes but combines them with sunnier surf influences, while vocalist Sarah Cogan holds down rhythm duties. Both players met in a sound engineering class, so perhaps it’s no surprise they sound so good.
“It’s definitely handy to be able to do a session on your own,” says Dylan, who coproduced their self-titled debut with Josh Korody. “On this record it’s been so relieving to have an extra set of ears and be able to just be an artist while still putting our sonic stamp on the recordings.”
How would they describe that stamp, then? “Simplicity with curves,” summarises Sarah. “Chords that strike you sideways are what linger with me the most.”
- For fans of: The Smiths, Cocteau Twins
- Gear: Thinline Tele, Epiphone Riviera
- Who: Ireland-dwelling singer-songwriter
- Sounds like: Gossamer constructions of incredible beauty - a fragile, contemporary take on the soul-searching songsmith
- Gear: Taylor 114e, Art & Lutherie Roadhouse, Strymon Big Sky and Flint, Roland Cube
- For fans of: Charlie Cunningham, Lucy Rose
- Hear: Orchid
Ibibio Sound Machine
- Who: Ghanaian guitarist Alfred Kari Bannerman
- Sounds like: An irresistably funky blend of West African disco, highlife shuffle, post-punk scratch and fat electronic squelch.
- Gear: Fender US Big Apple Strat, Marshall DSL40C
- For fans of: Songhoy Blues
- Hear: Basquiat
All Get Out
- Who: Nathan Hussey and Kyle Samuel
- Sounds like: That bombastic, but addictive line between first-wave emo and smarter, artier alt-rock.
- Gear: Nathan - Fender Telecaster, Fender Bassman ‘59 RI. Kyle - Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar, New Vintage Amplifier CK30
- For fans of: Manchester Orchestra
- Hear: Value