An unmissable musical highlight of 2016 can be seen in the form of Devon-based singer-songwriter Rosie Lowe. After the release of her EP, Right Thing, in 2013, the swift progress to the BBC Introducing stage at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Glasgow in 2014, and finally the release of her debut album Control only this year, things have been full steam ahead for the unique artist. After learning six instruments as a child from a pretty modest background and an early interest in music production as well as singing, Lowe’s talents have seen few boundaries so far.
Her atmospheric, soulful musical presence is encompassed fully in Control. With a combination of silky-smooth vocals, brazenly intimate lyrics, and an entrancing fusion of 90s R&B and synth-pop, Lowe’s talents draw on influences from the likes of Lykke Li and Little Dragon. Known to sing about intense and socially relevant topics, such as feminism and mental illness, Control could be seen to illustrate these issues in a very personal yet relatable manner. So Human is a personal favourite to look out for; one of her catchier, even slightly jazzy tunes with a dash of well-melded R&B through Little Simz’s rapping. The rest of her album ranges from sophisticated, feminist pop-ballads such as Woman, to more touching tracks such as Nicole, a devastating anecdote of a friend getting caught up in a bad relationship. All 11 tracks complement one another effortlessly, creating a dreamy yet down-to-earth album which perfectly captures her feminist spirit and a sense of self-assurance as an artist and a person.
So if you hadn’t already stumbled across her, you should know Rosie Lowe has definitely been one of the more distinctive local artists of the year with a promising future to keep an eye out for.
On the off-chance you haven’t already heard, it’s been a pretty good year for Semi-Toned. The university’s all-male a cappella group started strong in 2016 by winning the quarter-finals of the ICCAs and being making it to the semis, only to be beaten by the world champions. They then released their second EP, Sing Theory, early this year (to a glowing four out of five pears review from us at PearShaped) and proceeded to tour the USA throughout March. And then, because this clearly wasn’t enough, they entered The Choir, Gareth Malone’s nationwide singing competition that’s been all over BBC Two the last couple of months, and made it to the quarter-finals. And then the semi-finals. And then the finals… which they won. To top it all off, their debut video Rich Man just reached 100,000 views on YouTube, which isn’t too shabby.
Semi-Toned have spent 2016 jumping from good thing, to great thing, to amazing thing, an upwards trajectory that doesn’t look like it’s about to fail anytime soon. They’ve been described as “genuine[ly] emotional”, “brilliantly named”, and “the best thing to come out of Exeter since Caroline Lucas” by the national press, and it’s probably a given that 2017 is going to shape up pretty well for them too.
Who wants to like a band that perform in ill-fitting suits, use words like “zenith” and “nadir” in the same sentence, have a love song about fascism, and a diss track about the latest Beyoncé album? Who wants to like a band who say of themselves on their Bandcamp page (in third person of course): “They’re treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry”? Your gut instinct probably says (nay, screams), “not me!”
And yet, The Allergens are, quite possibly, the best band in Exeter. There, I said it. They were my local musical highlight of 2016. And not despite these deliberate provocations, but because of them. In an age when even punk ‘authenticity’ is mainstream, there’s something so refreshing about a bit of pretentiousness and, crucially, a sense of humour. Earlier this year they released their debut album, I’m Sick Of My Caring Sharing Lover And His Endless Foreplay, which demonstrates the range of their talents — most notably: infectiously catchy melodies, and brilliantly witty lyrics. From the lo-fi fuzziness of Not Just A Girl, to the beautiful Bowie-esque track, The Stars, their song writing abilities are quite brilliant. Indie-rock power-pop ear-candy is The Allergens’ bread and butter. However, it is their live performances that have impressed the most: Lead guitarist Billy is, onstage, relatively introverted, and frontman Oliver Rose is unwaveringly, flamboyantly self-confident. However, despite this opposition, together they are the Morrissey and Marr of Exeter.
Oliver told me recently to expect big things from The Allergens in 2017. Of course, he would say that. But if the quality of their musical output in 2016 is anything to go by, I’m taking his word for it, and I’m excited.
Seth Lakeman, born in West Devon, is no stranger to the folk scene. In fact, he’s an utter local as a seasoned virtuoso in the genre (a Mercury Music Prize nomination in 2005 attests to this). Since his break from working in a band with his brothers, his solo career has seen the production of eight solo albums with the most recent - Ballads Of The Broken Few - released this past year. His work on this record deserves special attention due to his collaboration with Wildwood Kiln, a female trio from Exeter. The melodic result of their combined voices is remarkably otherworldly and together produces a uniquely melancholic and jarring sound. According to a recent interview, it was the trio’s intuitive ability to create harmonies that enticed Lakeman to work together with them. When listening to this album, artists with a similar alignment to folk spring to mind: The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, but most definitely those who also feature a prominent entanglement of female-male voices like The Civil Wars. Want to witness this singer-songwriter live? He’s currently touring for his new album in England and Wales. Be sure to catch him at locations across the country - luckily he just announced new dates for 2017.
Listen to the PearShaped Local Music Highlights playlist below.