Nick Shane is one of those musicians who deserves to be better known. The Dundee based singer songwriter has been giving the world some rather solid mod-inflected pop/rock since the release of his ‘An Introspection of Now Here’ album in 2014, but hasn’t really reached household name status – at least outside of Scotland. Even 2019’s ‘Come Under Cover’ – with Nick falling back on the time honoured covers album to attract new ears – didn’t really gain the kind of traction it so warranted, and at the point where 2022 seemed ready to pull to a close, his Discogs page remained strangely incomplete. Nevertheless, the hard working musician isn’t without his share of fans, and at Scotland’s very first Rainbow Awards in 2015, Nick received an award for “Outstanding Contribution to Music & LGBT Rights”. For most, the road to stardom isn’t taken overnight, but quite why Nick isn’t thought of with the same reverence as Miles Kane is a mystery.
Roy Shakked’s ‘Know Nothing’ EP (released in 2018) provided a superb look into his idiosyncratic and varied writing styles. By pulling influence from Eels, Jack White and Paolo Nutini, it covered a broad musical range, but still sounded like the work of a man with his own set of talents. He then threw a massive curveball by releasing an album’s worth of waltzes (fittingly titled ‘Waltzes’) which blended some low key pop with piano pieces, and bits that sounded as if they were written with soundtracks in mind. For the more patient listener, it was an album that offered a few cherry-pickable treats, but it suggested that Shakked always made music for the love of the creative process rather than chasing easy fame.
Released towards the end of a troubled 2020, at a time when the Coronovirus global pandemic appeared to be at its height, Fred Abong’s first full length album ‘Our Mother of Perpetual Help’ was a suitably moody affair. Comprised of songs largely played from an oddly tuned acoustic guitar and featuring lyrics that captured a genuine emotional fragility, its lo-fi charms felt like a step up from his earlier, hastily recorded EPs.
When it comes to a Ryan Allen release, it’s never immediately obvious what you’ll get. His brilliant ‘Up Here’ EP from 2019 presented some brilliant punk-edged power pop via a song cycle regarding his divorce; the first of his 2021 releases, ‘What A Rip’ was a guided tour of his various poppier influences, and that year’s second venture, ‘Digital Hiss’, was an exploration of lo-fi, noisier work. That was also cool, but not necessarily what lovers of ‘What A Rip’ would’ve expected…or maybe even wanted.
The former vocalist with Irish electronica/alt-pop band Alphastates, Cat Dowling strikes gold on her 2021 release ‘Animals’. With its mix of jangling guitars, occasional dreampop-ish haze and a few busy rhythms, the core of the album’s best material shifts restlessly, but never in a way that seems showy, or ever feels directionless. Most importantly, Cat’s desire to constantly move between moods never detracts from some deftly written songs. Whether at the helm of loud-ish rocky numbers, or lending a sultry vocal to an ambling 90s influenced tune, or even tackling jazzy pop, the performer shines throughout, and her unshakable presence is vital in taking a genuinely mixed bag of tunes and turning that into something that sounds like a complete and coherent listening experience. The vocals are recognisable as being those from the Alphastates singer, but musically, so much of ‘Animals’ is a different beast; if you were feeling flippant, you might consider it a “grown up pop record”, but it’s so much more than that.