The year that has passed in between Yews launching her alluring debut EP Selene at Blitz last January, and For Strings Inn dropping their Feathers & Stones album just a few weeks ago at Razzett L-Aħmar, has been an incredibly fruitful one for Maltese music, as I’m sure anyone who follows the local scene will concur. Compared to previous years, we’ve had a great number of albums, EPs, single and music videos released in 2014, and a good chunk of them of great quality too, with many artists raising the bar to make this a stand-out year on many levels.
Perhaps the most significant aspect is the fact that, of the 30 or so local album releases this year, no fewer than ten featured songs sung in Maltese. Most of these expressly reflected the pursuit of new areas where to take the Maltese language within the musical spectrum, and as a result we have further proof that, contrary to all the denigrating claims that our mother tongue is too harsh to sing, our language can and does indeed sit well within more contemporary sounds and textures, even those that are perhaps not so mainstream. Indeed, I dare say it probably fits in even better away from the mainstream, and much of the work presented this year has been essential in doing away with the detrimental novelty angle that had been hindering true and proper appreciation of the use of the Maltese language in modern music.
It’s always hard to pick favourites but this year has proved particularly harder as, from the moment Corazon released Hawn Jien, each Maltese language release has brought out new exciting ways to appreciate our language in music, perhaps none as fluidly as Plato’s Dream Machine’s shape-shifting Għera. Fastidju’s self-titled debut opted for a more primal yet equally fluid blend, while Kantilena’sSenduq focused more profoundly and rather effectively on a folk ethos. In contrast, Mistura’s U D-Dinja Tkompli Ddur saw our language given a touch of Blues and classic rock, and the much-lauded Ħabullabulojb from Brodu threw caution to the wind, adopting a 360 degree approach that embraced anything from punk to grunge to doom metal and folk ballads throughout its 60-minute emotive journey.
Of course, Maltese language albums aside, there were several other notable releases, The Areola Treat’s Walk into nothing and The Violent Violets’ Tame being among the forerunners on the indie side. Flying in under the radar, the young and immensely talented Robert Farrugia released not one, but two works of glistening ambient music. From a metal aspect there were just a handful of albums, of which Albert Bell’s Sacro Sanctus’ debut album Deus Volt, released only a couple of months ago, I found particularly engaging. Further to this, Saħħar’s two offerings, unveiling a new chapter in Maltese Black metal, along with Draugul's Tales of loot and plunder and Khaospath's Synagoga Obscura are also worth mentioning.
Airport Impressions’ Mariette consolidated their position among the A-listers of the local rock scene while The Rifffs delivered in full with their sophomore album Can’t stop the people, which looked to the past for inspiration while paving a favourable future for one of Malta’s most popular bands. Chris & Moira marked their recording return with Ninety Nights and a Monday and Gozo’s Divine Sinners gave us Losers rule, an album brimming with their signature melodic stride and tongue-in-cheek wordplay. The jazz scene too produced some fine records, my personal favourite being Nadine Axisa’s exquisite Velvet, but with Jes Psaila’s commendable debut and Vinny Vella Jr’s Another way clocking up a fair amount of spins chez moi.
Albums apart, there were a good number of EP releases too. The list being quite extensive, I’ll just list a few that I felt stood above the rest. Without a doubt, NoSnow/NoAlps’s Go Go Go Go reconfirmed the band’s verve and versatility while Norm Rejection’s The Radical Underground was a sturdy statement that all of the band’s metal and political roots remain intact. One of the biggest revelations was Juno & The Wolf’s debut, a collection of songs that hit as hard on record as they do in a live setting. Despite their lo-fi quality, China’s Take me to the beach and Kriz Haze’s Ad Hoc remain firm favourites that I would love to re-experience with some better production, something that might also benefit The Busker’s EP3 and Four, both awesome offerings of unbridled folky rock with the right tinge of pop. Dana McKeon’s Street Art offered a glimpse of what the future holds for this multi-talented artist and, rounding off the EPs, Jane Doe’s Homeostatic Cover is among my top picks this year, featuring a handful of tunes that point to much potential that I hope the band will be expanding on this coming year.
Last but not least, I must mention The Cosmic Erotic, whose music I was truly taken by and look forward to more of, along with a handful of the ‘singles’ and/orvideos that have helped keep the scene (not to mention my weekly radio playlists) interesting, colourful and alive. The first of these is Fuzzhoneys’ amazing Soul, surely a band to look out for in 2015. The second is Massacre House Party’s Uh Oh, another band that I look forward to more music from this coming year and third is Lyndsay’s Regent Street, a gorgeous slice of quirky, leftfield pop. Red Electrick’s Young again, though a tad predictable does its job well, and I’m really curious as to what the new album holds in store. Other tracks that made my list include new offerings from Jon Lukas Woodenman, They Come In Twos, The Cosmic Sect, Mind’s Eye Dub, Sempliċiment tat-Triq, Sonitus Eco, Chess, Stimulus Timbre, Rumbull and Lucy’s Last, the latter a band I’m also expecting more goodies from in the New Year. To round it all off, a quick nod to the incredible Caravana Sun and Nicky Bomba, who graced our shores with their explosive live performances this year and finally, a big up to all those who gave us some incredible live concerts and festivals this year. It’s going to be hard to top 2014, but not impossible!
An edited version of this article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (28 December 2014)