2019 in Sheffield will be remembered as one of the most incredible years in this history of the city’s wild and abundant music scene. The releases have been thick, fast and joyous: it’s been an incandescent 12 months for noises of all genres and flavours. Gargantuan love to all the creative sonic renegades on the list, to everyone who makes this city a more colourful and vibrant place to live! Legends all!
Today we announce our favourite 25 songs of 2019 birthed, recorded, imagined, dreamt in the city of Sheffield. For anyone that missed it, check out our feature on PROLE JAZZ Songs of Sheffield (#50 – #26) for the prelude to this final countdown from songs #25 to #1 of Sheffield 2019. There are so many supremely magical tunes this year ranking them is kind of irrelevant, an act of unimaginary foolishness, like comparing pizza and chocolate. But our Editor insisted and so under the threat of instant dismissal and pain of jazz death we crumbled, and placed numbers next to tunes. Time to unionise…
Want a listen while you read? Check out the Top 50 Spotify playlist here (*not all tunes available on this fairly compromised outlet though – follow the song title links to Bandcamp and you can listen and buy music there & support your lovely local artistes!)
& so without any further ado, Ladybirds & Gentlefolk, Friends & Amigos: we proudly present the PROLE JAZZ Top 25 Sheffield Songs of 2019!
In joint 25th spot (proof that no-one here at PROLE JAZZ can actually count…) is Night Drive. This is headphone music; as I listen a slightly disorientating tattoo of rhythm skitters and pulses between my ears above a distant drone. The ethereal vocal is submerged just beneath the surface of this atmospheric stand-out from New Ghost’s 2019 album, New Ghost Orchestra. It’s latent with buried emotion and shimmers like black sand on a forgotten horizon. A beautifully written, realised and produced piece of music.
There’s a lot of Moonbathing been going on here in Sheffield these past couple of years and Katie Pham is one of the sonic ringleaders at the heart of this blancmange-flavoured lunar craze. Like the musical equivalent of an insouciant shrug, Save Me Some Saucy is a lush nugget of dreampop indie, opening with Oxford Comma drums and flourishing into a gorgeously hazy Cardigans-esque tune, a slowly smoked cigarette of post-coital groove. Reverbed guitar wends its way around a lounge bass over jazzy chords and Katie’s impenetrable vocal, which sounds like it was recorded over a vintage telephone in 1988. It’s clever, too: there is no discernible chorus but this laid-back mist cloud of a song is catchy nonetheless. Hopefully the sign of more Katie Pham to be released in 2020!
This is political electronica, a musical defence of the defenceless. Over trip-hop beats and strings Sheffield’s beat-poet laureate Conor Nutt decries the polarisation of the people before No Mic drops a languid hip-hop verse and then it’s Avital’s turn to spin a melodic web. This is the sound of three diverse and incredible musicians making contemporary protest music. Aural salve for a divided nation.
Snake is jangle-pop platinum, DIY indie at its surfy best. The vocals are tantalisingly quiet in the mix, a silvered whisper above handclap drums that hold the whole thing together. It’s all 60s California sunshine and waves breaking on long golden beaches, it’s an indie-film soundtrack from the denouement of a Wes Anderson coming of age flick. The crazy synth line is possibly the best bit on the whole song; no-one is actually credited for even playing this instrument on Precious Metals’ Bandcamp page but it’s an amazingly uplifting, wildly retro serpentine touch that fills out and completes what was already an amazing tune. Plus the video is total genius! Album Herpetology is rumoured to be coming soon folks… be excited (we are)!
Here we have 3 minutes of fuzz-folk genius, outsider art made into a soundwave and transmitted through your stereo. Obviously we at PROLE JAZZ have a biased love of any music with dinosaur references but this is more than that – the crashing drums and theremin vocal and psychedelic lyrics reference the Elephant 6, it’s like a lost cut from On Avery Island, and an indie classic of the year here on SpaceShip Sheffield.
DIMITRI is an international man of mystery, a groove guru, a purveyor of bespoke sonic merch, a sophisticate on the hunt for new and wonderful sounds. Nightclub For Sale is all liquid synth and programmed beats and DIMITRI’s inimitable husky voice narrating this tale of champagne, lemonade boogie and nightclubs for sale. This is music that wouldn’t have been out of place in 1983, music you want to imagine played entirely on keytars by men wearing white suits and dark sunglasses. This transcends irony and is elevated to wild genius: DIMITRI has produced yet another classic tune. Seeking the jive? The jive is here!
2019’s Rap Poetics was a revelation, as it heralded the evolution of Otis Mensah from talented local rapper to possibly the best emcee in the UK. The production is top-notch here but the lyrics are the centrepiece. Mensah is totally in his own skin as cerebral poet (corridors of autumn flowers, reading Schopenhauer), social critic (kids want liposuction and a million likes) and off-the-cuff joker (woke up in the morning wearing courage trousers), his flow as smooth and effortless as a nonchalant grin. Damn he makes it sound easy, staccato bullet-bursts of self-conscious stream of consciousness lyricism, playful rhyme patterns, truth bombs. Musically right now Otis is unstoppable, and it’s a pleasure to watch him garner the critical acclaim beyond Sheffield’s city walls that he richly deserves.
Duck are rapidly growing into Sheffield’s most-loved noise-pop band. They returned in 2019 with the incandescent grunge-bomb of R*ck St*r, an overdriven, fuzz-soaked riff monster with more than the occasional nod to a 90s aesthetic and sound. Think MBV meets The Breeders but with an industrial drum machine as the foundation stone set beneath distorted waves of guitar and synth. It’s a fantastic evolution from 2017’s FaceAche, sharper production, chunkier vocals and an epic, classic feel to both R*ck St*r and its sister release Sirens. The new sound bodes well for a much anticipated sophomore album sometime next year.
A plaintive fiddle reveals a motif of moorland and fen, of faraway and close places distant from other folk, of ruminations beneath a wide sky. Before long Nancy Kerr’s lilting cadence joins this landscape of wending melody: an interplay of wood and voice which adorn a tale of battle and blood, cattle and inheritance. It’s an invitation to enter the whirlpool of this spiralled song, this dance of instrument and voice; an invitation to occupy a space beyond this land of phone screens and commuters and politics, to gather around a fire and be subsumed by music that has existed for hundreds of years.
Folkstress Rhiannon Scutt has had a fantastic year, playing gigs all over the place (including a slot at the Great British Folk Weekend) and culminating in the recording of her debut album (to be released in 2020). Stevie is an groove-folk ode to a rock ‘n’ roll icon and contains Scutt’s instantly recognisable smoke ring of a voice over wonderfully constructed guitars, drums and trumpet. Rhiannon’s song-writing is captivating, she weaves her story upon a compelling melodic tapestry, a unique voice expressing tales both universal and at once her own.
What begins as a tremelo-ed haze-dream rapidly ascends into the characteristically restrained indie-pop of Sheffield song gurus Oh Papa. This is a song about the magnetism of attraction, how falling into the gravity of another sends such wild perturbations through our small universes; it’s about the impossibility of avoiding the chaos of falling in love, how everything is preordained in those magical moments within the soft delirium of obsession. The attention to detail here, the nuance of the guitar sounds, the absolute control and delicacy and precision of those drums – it’s everything we’ve come to expect from Sheffield’s premiere indie band. Magnetic is a supremely gorgeous song made all the better with the collaboration with Before Breakfast. What we end up with is a song of almost Beatles-esque proportions that grows and lifts and fills, and finally ends as it begins, with shimmering, wistful tremelo.
This is dystopian jazz, beat poetry transmitted from beyond the apocalypse, art-rock experimentalism with a twitchy eye and an ear for dissonance. It’s insectile and unnerving, a political economy of noise. Traditional forms appear from the mist, the double bass writhes, the drums skitter. It’s Blade Runner meets Army Ants. Scorching, soaring and brave, this is the sound of William Burroughs’ fevered dope brain, an ecstatic degeneration. Wild stuff from these musical heavyweights.
One of PROLE JAZZ’s favourite pieces of 2019 musical news was that Nick Cox (Screaming Maldini/Sheffield Beatles Project) would be releasing original music again. Already responsible for the recording and production of a fair few of this city’s finest musical releases over the past few years, Minimal Animal has marked the end of a significant hiatus. Good news is it was worth the wait! EP I thought that we’d be happy here contains 4-tracks of exceptionally produced and wonderfully poised indie-electro pop. Nick’s Minimal Animal project weaves tapestries of impossibly catchy songs from simple piano and layers of vocal, with an almost The xx-like appreciation for the power of sparseness and dynamic. Of the two stand-out tracks on the EP, Happy Here is our fave here by a mellifluous whisker. And it’s the best pop song of the year by a mile.
One of the most exciting musicians of the past decade (Leafcutter John) moved to Sheffield this year, and released an enchantingly odd album about walking along the British coastline. Pillar is our favourite from a cohort of incredible pieces of music. It’s inventive and somehow captures the wonderment and gentle abandon of perambulating the wilds. It sounds like tranquil awe might sound: gulls wheeling in the skies, the dancing of moths above the sward, the shape of the cliffs and placid indifference of the infinite sea.
On first listen I thought this was an ode to Sheffield’s City Centre-killing supermall, happily it isn’t! I am still no closer to working out what Medowo means but from the sound of things it’s probably something to do with sunshine. There are equatorial guitar lines which dance and skip over afrobeat snare hit polyrhythms like small, brightly coloured tropical birds. Kweku of Ghana’s vocals yelp and jump and emcee Franz Von delivers rhythmic verse over the bounce of an endlessly joyous bassline. Brass is courtesy of Leeds afrofunk legends Mansion of Snakes and Medowo’s trumpet solo is a stand-out, hands-in-the-air moment of musical bliss on this cut full of tropical sorcery. This is medicinal music, an antidote to world-weariness and cynicism, it’s a sonic invitation to dance, a melodic smile and a fantastic track.
This is simply wonderful songcraft from a group who excel in direct, tender, wistful songs. Buddleia is a cathedral of interwoven choral voice, sublime cello and gentle piano. It has exquisite poise and a fragile yet powerful dynamic, so full of restraint that even the smallest of builds yield beautifully emotive effects. The vocals are so clean they almost chime. This has been a great year for Before Breakfast in terms of the quality of the songs they have released, and Buddleia is PROLE JAZZ ‘s favourite of theirs in 2019.
This is twitchy avant-soul at its finest, all the disparate parts of this incredible band waltz around one another in a spiralling enchantment. It’s waif-like in its production, almost skeletal, a composite of Mark’s finger-tapped guitar, Conor’s soulful beatnik vocal and the almost ethereal backing of Orange and Rachel. A fine foil to the other stand-out track (Daylight) on their fantastic 2019 EP, a slice of intricate and evocatively unusual folk music.
This is the retro-futuristic sound of aliens descending on a bright new world, seeking meaning in the concrete lines and wailing trees and morning haze of Planet Earth. It’s an interplay of synth and saxophone, a cosmic exploration of texture and melody, a universe to be discovered and experienced, a cosmic adventure evolving. And a great tune, one of our faves of the year by one of the most inventive bands of 2019. Check it out, Earthlings!
What a total banger! Hope is a mad link-up between one of Sheffield’s finest emcees, Otis Mensah, and Leeds Jazz Royalty Têtes De Pois. From the moment the snare drops this is wild jive music, the band sounding fresher and edgier than I’ve heard them. An eerie sax line hovers over propulsive bass and skittering, beautifully rhythmic drumming. The band step back to allow rap-poet wunderkind Otis to take the mic and drop a series of lyrically complex verses, phrases full of surreal images (‘shackles made tambourines’), spitting lyrical acrobatics (‘the tongue that knows its cage and plays against its prison spluttering beauty’) all ludic philosophical right up to the sensual guitar motif which builds from a rumination and ends up a fist in the air. And all the way through this the drums like something you’d find sampled on Endtroducing, all wild funk and crashing hats. What a link up! Collaboration of the year!
PROLE JAZZ faves Ganglions dropped this hi-energy post-punk gem at the end of the year and it is a banger. Curious Crystals has got the trademark Ganglion mathiness to it, but as ever with this band the tune transcends its own potentially limited niche by being accessible and catchy as hell. It’s like listening to a group of joyous ADHD imps create a musical riot, a twitchy stop-start pop-punk tune full of fantastic riffs, clever changes and playful composition. And seriously those guitar lines! Woah! Yes!
Wanna be transported back to the sun-bleached hi-life jams of 1970s west Africa? Here’s a time machine, courtesy of afro-musical powerhouse ONIPA. Hop in and be thoroughly sunshined my friends! The guitar shines, the snare skips and dances, frontman K.O.G toasts and sings and raps. This band is a combination of some of the most exciting musicians in the UK melding global sounds, tropical musical magpies constructing shimmering towers of rhythm and melody from the ghost songs of our musical ancestors, using the past and future as building blocks. Maadi3 is a sonic delight, a triumph of respect and invention, a welcome dose of winter sun.
It all starts with a yelp and zany kazoo before descending into the meatiest bass-drum conversation I have ever had the joyous pleasure of eavesdropping. It’s cabaret noise-pop, psychedelic punk of the highest calibre. Nothing sounds like this – there’s enough disco and skronk to make this impossibly dance-able but it’s also beautifully weird and idiosyncratic, like accidentally tuning into some kind of alien rave being transmitted on space waves from a distant galaxy. The cherry on the cake is that beneath the madness and wilful obscurity is a really good song. This is pop music for freaks, a radical and ecstatic musical exposition of why living is strange (and good), a writhing pulsing life-affirming electric beast of sonic loveliness. One of the greatest tunes of the year from arguably the best live act in Sheffield right now. More please!
This crew of intrepid tropical carnivalistas have been unusually quiet the past year on the music scene of Sheffield … tranquilo, eh! They have been on Mango time, creating sunshine musica in the studio to bring the party to your earlobes wherever you may roam. Summer is a state of mind amigo! Bingo is a standout track from their new EP Azucar, a proper banger full of mad party vibrations with percussive genius courtesy of fruity beat man Rob Nutt, an insane and virtuosic track-highlight bari-sax solo from Hannah Colombiana, the sensual basslines of LaCosta, the brassy joy-honks of brothers Jack and Dave, accordion a la Peligroso Judge, hip-swinging drums from Mango Mikey and sexy earworm vocals from Innovator Bossman Alex Del Mango and his Mangolitas ‘Donde es’ Lucy (Tropical & Practical) Corkers & Mango Mama Katy G. Released with an uncharacteristic lack of pomp earlier this year, the Mangos plan a massive tropical Cremorne take-over to celebrate all this lovely new music they made in spring 2020. Come along chicos y chicas! Bring your flamingo! Stay Tropical!
Parallel opens and it’s like entering some kind of trance-like space dream. This is future soul music for androids: sounds wash over and in you like a waterfall of kaleidoscopic synth and the effect is almost narcotic. It’s a mesmerising and hypnotic journey through some kind of glo-fi soundscape, Jackie’s vocals backed by a dozen sibilant robots and a deep, wandering bassline and then the density lifts and the fucking jazz hits and everything is rainbowed and magical. This isn’t as much creating music as it is creating an entirely new sonic world. Each sound is exactly as it should be, born to occupy this space. Visionary music from one of Sheffield’s most exciting artists.
Some of the best songs in the history of time have been composed using just a handful of chords, and this perfectly poised slab of DIY garage rock sits beautifully amongst such classics. It’s as catchy as fuck and simple enough to quite plausibly be the first song AGAC ever wrote; a fuzz-driven, tom-heavy anti-folk lament about messing up relationships. Stylistically this could be pilfered from the Juno soundtrack, it’s all post-grunge sass and low-fi hipster delivery, everything is wonky and gorgeous right down to the slacker distortion guitar and Apples of Stereo vibe and the chorus that makes a home in your ear for literally months on end. Like all of All Girls Arson Club songs, Untitled is unadorned and direct, the primary energy of the song emanates through the fuzz. Released back in spring on the magnificent Dark Fruits EP (courtesy of Delicious Clam records), this tune has been my favourite for most of 2019. To make something so profoundly wonderful from such simple raw materials is an incredible achievement. Plus their band tee is fucking awesome!
1. Dead Man – ‘Jimmy’
You will probably never hear (so-called) ‘Jimmy’s’ (so-called) Dead Man, because it is gonna be insanely obscure. I write this not to show off my hipster credentials nor to taunt those of you currently outside of the kooky celestial orbit of this magical and mysterious folk legend, but more out of frustration, as this is so fucking good it deserves to be heard widely and deeply. Kids across the land should be listening to this over breakfast eating their toast. It should be on Top of the Pops, played at Shea stadium to a thousand howling teenagers, launched into space in a bid to communicate with aliens; spread all over the radio, like strawberry jam. In real life this tape-recorded, vinyl-released tune from his recent EP is some kind of mad classic, from the beautifully poised dream-state lyrics to the timeless song-smithery to the intricate vintage production. Peppered with wonderful details – a touch of violin, a whisper of cello, some ethereal vocals from some unexplored corner of the song – Jimmy’s poetic singsong drawl nurtures magical imageries from the earth-clay of his creation. Listening to this is like being told some kind of wonderful kaleidoscope of a story that unfolds like a river flowing from some fundamental point that lies deep at the heart of all of us. Imagine a lost Bowie recording, you know the one in which him and Dylan get stoned in a spaceship and write a song about life and death and the world we live in. Kinda sounds like that. You wanna hear it? Currently it’s only available on hyper-limited vinyl (Spinning Discs have a copy) and is literally nowhere to be heard on the internet (except a rare live version), which these days is almost impossible to imagine. ‘Jimmy’ has no Instagram, no Facebook, no Twitter. If you can’t buy it anywhere, go see him play it live. Without doubt the PROLE JAZZ song of the year 2019! Genius!
That’s all folks! Did we miss your favourite tune off the list? Message us here…