Listen with Monger - 2016 Honour Roll

This is the second year of this list and I’ve been looking forward to compiling it all year (seriously, I have, it’s all very sad). Now, we can all agree that 2016 has been a universally shit year and, more than ever, I have sought solace in music as the world goes mad and cancer decided to take hold in my groin. As always, music has come through though, with endless emails of great tunes and inspiring artists creating new and exciting sounds so here is my take on the best. The only rule is that an artist has to have been reviewed on Listen with Monger to qualify. Let the rejoicing begin.

Best Band: NARCS / Berries

There’s a very definite north south divide and a clear gender split between the two bands tied for first place this year. As with all things, ladies first: London all female trio Berries burst on to the scene this year with a series of incendiary performances and some excellent single releases culminating in a fantastic EP and a whole lot of promise for 2017. NARCS, on the other hand, are a Leeds quartet who managed to conquer that perennial 2nd album problem with ease as well as crowbarring in a whole load of political commentary and the kind of anger that the world has been crying out for right now.

Honourable mentions: Bleeker / DMA’s / Wildwood Kin

Best Solo Artist (Male): Jake Morley
Hands down this one belongs to Mr Morley in 2016. His album ‘The Manual’ had more ideas and invention than most bands come up with in a year but these all came out of one man’s troubled head which is, frankly, remarkable. Throw in some live shows which were, by all accounts, wondrous events and I don’t think any single man came close to Jake Morley in 2016.

Best Solo Artist (Female): Joanna Cooke / Lulu James 
A really difficult category this year as there have been many and varied female artists ploughing their own furrow in beautiful and unique ways. So, in my own indecisive way, I’m going to split the award between Joanna Cooke and Lulu James. On the one hand, you have a soulful Westcountry singer songwriter who can turn her hand to most styles and make something original out of her own compositions or the work of others, that’s Joanna for you. On the other hand, South Shields lass Lulu is creating soul infused alternative electro with tribal influences and a real sense of purpose and passion behind it. Two hugely talented artists operating at opposite ends of the UK but equally impressive, nonetheless.

Honourable Mention: Hilary Woods / Angie / Soffia Bjorg / Elle Exxe

Best Single: Mowbeck ‘Vaseline’ / Childcare ‘Cinema Club’
Surely the hardest category to contest with single reviews making up a huge proportion of the content on Listen with Monger, and there have been some absolute crackers this year. To make my decision, I had to go with the tunes that I’ve gone back to for my own listening pleasure and that has left me at two doors. Back in early November, I suggested that London outfit Childcare’s single ‘Film Club’ was a late contender for single of the year and it turns out I was right. The dark spirited indie romp was part of the reason that Bastille took them on tour with them and there is surely more to come. The co-winners of this award also came in November but from Nottingham quartet Mowbeck and their superbly infectious but super-bleak single ‘Vaseline’. A slick, stylish video and some aggressive but melodic song writing has made this one song I just can’t help going back to, time and time again.

Honourable Mentions: Velcro Hooks ‘Chinchilla Woman’/ Pattern Pusher ‘Layla and Madman’ / Hilary Woods ‘Bathing’ / NARCS ‘Bullingdon Boys’ / The Picturebooks ‘The Rabbit & The Wolf’ / Angie ‘Housewife Spliffin’’ / Bleeker ‘Where’s Your Money?’

Best EP: Bare Hunter ‘Dry Rot EP’ / Joanna Cooke ‘Wound Up EP’
The second toughest category for me this year after countless excellent Eps so, once again, I’m splitting the award between the excellent Joanna Cooke and London reprobates Bare Hunter. Cooke gets a nod for her ‘Wound Up’ EP which has rarely left my CD player since I got my greasy mitts on the four tracks that mix blues, soul, jazz and pop to create a wonderfully original sound with an edge that’s hard to place. Bare Hunter, on the other hand, are a raucous, rowdy trio of London gents with a knack for filthy, dirty blues rock with swagger and purpose which makes their debut ‘Dry Rot EP’ an absolute joy to behold.

Honourable Mentions: Alissia ‘Back to the Funkture EP’ / The Watanabes ‘Spoiled & Nostalgic EP’ / Berries ‘Those Funny Things’ / Kobadelta ‘The Metaphysical EP’

Best Album: Jake Morley ‘The Manual’ / NARCS ‘A Thinking Animal’ 
It has been amazing how many excellent albums there have been this year and the vast majority of them were self-financed. In fact, it’s been such a good year that I need to split the award for two very different albums. First up, Jake Morley’s ‘The Manual’ is an album all about introspection with some incredibly creative song writing and the only song I’ve ever heard featuring a duet between a man and his conscience. At the other end of the scale are Leeds lads NARCS with their long player ‘A Thinking Animal’ which takes a swipe at almost every authority figure and was the perfect antidote to a year where hate was given free reign and the best of the best seem to shuffle off their mortal coil with alarming regularity. Anger and introspection are the themes across these two albums – it’s been that kind of a year. 

Honourable mentions: Son of Simon ‘Rivers/Pastures’ / A Band On Hope ‘A Band On Hope’ / Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer ‘There’s a Rumpus Going On’

Michelle O Faith
Best Video: Michelle O Faith ‘Lemonade’
The visual element has been strong this year and this has been a difficult choice but the classily shot and superbly performed video to ‘Lemonade’ is an intimate yet painful experience. Michelle O Faith is an up and coming performer from South London and on the basis of ‘Lemonade’ she has a huge future as a singer, a songwriter, a performer or all three.

Honourable Mentions: Angie ‘Housewife Spliffin’’ / Pistols At Dawn ‘Please Report Anything Auspicious To A Member Of Staff’ / Lulu James ‘Colours’

Most Viewed Review of 2016: Wildwood Kin (967 views and counting)
The Devon trio proved popular with you lot when I reviewed their stunning BBC Introducing show at the Exeter Phoenix back in May. Who says words can’t recreate a moment in time? Not I. A stunning show and obviously a stunning review to match, if I do say so myself.

Best Band Name: Taco Hell / Queen of Jeans / Yes Babez! 
It’s a three way tie between London popsters Yes Babez! (I’m a sucker for punctuation in a band name), the Nottingham punk crew Taco Hell who have a penchant for American fast food and Philadelphia indie-chill babes Queen of Jeans. You can pick your favourite from that lot, why should I do all the work?

Best Debut: Berries ‘Siren’ 
Those London ladies again with their single ‘Siren’ that turned my head within seconds and as a starting off point for a career there isn’t much better. They always say to start your set with your best song to grab an audience’s attention well Berries have kicked off their rock star lives with a corker but there’s already more quality emerging from the power trio.

Honourable Mention: W.H. Lung ‘Inspriration’

Best YearWildwood Kin 
If, at the beginning of 2016, you had told Exeter trio Wildwood Kin that they would have toured nationally with the prince of folk, Seth Lakeman, gained critical acclaim for virtually every note played and finished up the year with a sell-out headline show in their home town in a freaking Cathedral, well, I think they would have been quietly pleased. The two sisters and cousin three-piece have had a phenomenal rise this year and they’re showing no signs of stopping now.

Best PR: Wilful PR
At just 3 years old, London based Wilful PR is barely out of nappies but, despite occasionally soiling themselves in public, they have developed a canny eye for talent and diversity. The five talent scouts, marshalled by head honcho William Luff, have brought us the likes of Angie, Wildwood Kin, Bloom Twins, Bleeker, Elle Exxe, Hotei, Malka, Prophets of Rage, Reigning Days, Stealth, Rooney, Thea Gilmore and Wolfmother. Sure, they’ve developed a bit of a ‘thing’ for female Swedish pop singers of late but we’ve all been through a phase like that, right?

Honourable Mentions: Lost in The Manor PR / Gouldzilla PR / Pluggin’ Baby

Best Label: SuperFan 99
A small but perfectly formed label (their words, not mine, I just happen to agree) from London town who have a real knack for picking up oddballs and outsiders and giving them a leg up to something greater. The likes of Queen Of Jeans, Alessi, Dante Elephante and Uncle Luc have all benefited from the work of SuperFan 99 and we have benefited from the music so we should all be grateful.

Honourable Mentions: Clue Records / Lost In The Manor / Foof Records / My Little Empire

Best Southwest Artist: Joanna Cooke / Wildwood Kin
Pleasingly, the Southwest music has been picking up pace this year and even more pleasingly the quantity of new artists is matched only by the quality. However, for the second year in a row, the women of Devon dominate this award even though it is split between to artists. Plymouth based Joanna Cooke has impressed with an excellent EP release and a relentless gigging ethos in the region which will surely see her picked for more national success in 2017. Exeter's family affair Wildwood Kin have had a phenomenal year so it's hard to avoid voting them in as joint winners in this category as they've made that difficult transition from Westcountry favourites to national darlyings. Come on the lads for 2017, the bar is set high. 

Honorouble Mentions: Pattern Pusher / Hypophora / Chay Snowdon / The Malthusian Trap / Reigning Days / Jamie Yost

Best non-UK Artist: The Watanabes
Another toughie of a category this but my ears and heart divined me towards Japan’s native and adopted sons, The Watanabes. Two brothers once of Norfolk are now ensconced among the cherry blossom and rich cultural history of Japan making sweet indie-pop with their local friends and bloody good at it they are too. For those who haven’t had a listen yet could do an awful lot worse than giving them a listen.

Honourable Mentions: Queen of Jeans / Alissia / Angie / Bleeker/DMA’s

Best Live Performance: LWM @ Blogtober feat. Berries, Pattern Pusher, Seaker, Jamie Yost
& Rosa Belle
Sure, it’s easy to pick my own gig as best live performance of the year but when you get to pick five of your favourite artists and then watch them live surrounded by your mates then it’s hard to knock it. Berries rocked hard, Pattern Pusher were masterful beyond their years, Seaker had us spell bound, Jamie Yost is a soul singer trapped in the body of an indie kid and Rosa Belle has a beautifully innocent by polished voice.

Honourable mention goes to Wille & The Bandits @ Looe Festival / Reef @ Plymouth Hub / Mae & The Midnight Fairground @ The Inn On the Shore, Downderry/ Wildwood Kin @ The Phoenix, Exeter