The incredible quality of new and emerging musicians never surprises me, and I’m confident that 2018 has been another exceptional year for new music. So as it draws to a close we reveal our annual Alternative Friday Awards… so who are the winners?
Best Concept Release: Phil Simmonds – The Chronicles of Saint Arc
The three-part Chronicles of Saint Arc series, by the multi-talented UK musician and producer Phil Simmonds (now based in LA), is a stunning and ambitious piece of work. This is in part because the three tracks total an impressive 47 minutes, which was a brave but brilliant decision given that the modern era sometimes prefers instant gratification in music. Phil Simmonds has nailed it here though. My favourite ‘movement’ across the three parts is the mesmerising Drive, while you can find out more about both the artist and the full Saint Arc series in the Q&A I did with him in September.
Best Debut EP: River Purple – Excuses for Wasted Time
This 5-piece from the University of Warwick only formed a year ago, but they wasted no time (sorry) in recording and releasing their debut 4-track EP, which came out in May. It’s stuffed with four wonderfully varied indie guitar tunes, and the addition of some hugely melodic keys lift the songs even further. I’ve since caught them live – definitely recommended – while they’ve also ended 2018 with the release of three new tracks, which have reinforced my view that these lads make some truly epic tunes.
Best Cinematic Rock Track: The Howl & The Hum – Murder
This quartet from York have taken 2018 by storm. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, they impressed with the release of Portrait I at the start of the year, but it’s this track that really stands out for me. The song mixes bright & experimental indie rock with layers of darker post punk flavours, then adds Sam Griffith’s strong vocals and some wonderfully witty lyrics, and as a result they really hit the bullseye with Murder. Seeing them live was a treat too. Never have bus stops, pyjamas, & Tesco value lager had such an impact!
Best Urban Folk Song: Lewis Bootle – Flowers
The talented & prolific Lewis Bootle is no stranger to Alternative Friday, having appeared numerous times. This autumn he released an impressive mini-album series of urban dance tracks called #Gaps, but his award winner is the more folk influenced spring release Flowers. It takes his wonderfully poetic wordplay and adds a beautifully poignant guitar melody, before the toe tapping gets faster as his musical sibling Gecko joins proceedings. One to join in to at the top of your voice!
Best Afro Blues Composition: Kokoroko – Abusey Junction
This is a stunning array of beautiful sounds from the 8-piece London band led by trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey. It opens with some laid back guitar riffs by the track’s writer Oscar Jerome, before the graceful sound of the horns arrive to pull you in even deeper. Bringing afrobeat, blues, and soulful jazz flavours together, it is both an uplifting yet poignant piece of music. You’ll lose yourself in this.
Best UK Americana Song: Red Rum Club – Honey
I’m looking forward to Matador, the debut album from this Liverpool 6-piece due in January. Their sound isn’t easy to pin down, given its mixture of alt rock, country, and Latin flavours, so the ‘Scouse Americana’ tag they’ve previously been given is a big help! Their wild west vibes also get a real lift with the inclusion of a solitary trumpet which provides a rousing personality to their songs, of which Honey is my personal fav. When Scouse meets Spaghetti Western.
Best EDM Track: Kemback – Stepping Back
I don’t just stick to ‘alternative’ sounds on this site, but house & techno music don’t usually feature too often. This largely instrumental dance gem from Kemback, aka the Berlin based producer, composer, and violinist Geoff Wright, wins an award with ease though, as its hypnotic mix of electronica, percussion, and saxophones combine to create far more than the individual components. A dazzling track to fill any club floor!
Best Alt Rock Track: The Cheap Thrills – Codependence
The ‘alt-rock’ tag can cover a few different sounds, so it’s possibly unfair to pin Liverpool’s The Cheap Thrills in this bracket, as they also add bright synths and indie melodies into the mix to create a catchy set of tunes. Last year’s outstanding Sentimentality led the way, and was equalled when the anthemic Codependence came out this spring. I’ve managed to see them a few times this year, and they certainly bring the energy of the studio tracks to their live performances. A raucous treat!