Well, what a bloody good year for music, if I do say so myself. Yes it’s that time of year to look back over the last 12 months and reflect on how all those sound waves reverberating off of my eardrums have done!
We’ll do the awards in reverse order starting with the ever so predictable individual awards before looking at the runners up and then the big top 5!
I will also post links to my recommended song on each album, so with one swift click you can check some of these babies out, sound good?!
So here we go then…
Most Disappointing Release
Opeth – Heritage
I’ve tried so much to get into this album, I love Opeth. Now when I say it’s a bit of a disappointment I’m by no means implying it’s rubbish. There’s a lot to like here, heavily inspired by 70s progressive music, it’s jazzy in places and technically fantastic. However if I wanted to listen to King Crimson, I’d go and listen to an album like ‘Red’. Therein lies the problem, it sounds like Opeth trying to not sound like themselves (they still do, but it sounds forced). Surprisingly for me it is the lack of death growls and heavy guitar passages that let this album down, and I’m not usually a fan of heavy for heavy sake. I will admit having a soft spot for the track ‘Folklore’ though!
Check out: Folklore
Best Album of 2011, not from 2011
The Cooper Temple Clause – Kick up the Fire and let the Flames Break Loose
Indeed. This album was released in 2003 and the band have subsequently split up, so what relevance does it have on this list? It is the album that I’ve been listening to for the past couple of weeks that’s practically become the background music to my life as we close off the year. Not a bad song on the album, and I find myself relating to every single tune on the album, it’s spooky! The first time I heard the melancholic opener ‘The Same Mistakes’ and the electro driven ‘New Toys’, I knew this album would quickly become an instant classic for me. I will certainly be checking out their other two albums.
Check Out: New Toys
Amplifier – Fractal
4 tracks of pure instrumental Amplifier genius, probably the only chance to catch them improvising extremely tight prog-goodness. The excitement a song like ‘The Chase’ creates is in complete contrast to the EP closer ‘Solaris’ which is more like music akin to listening to whilst sunbathing on the Moon.
Check Out: Executive
Band we didn’t want to see spilt up
Sad times. Well it is if two of your favourite bands decide to call it quits:
Oceansize called it quits in February (very quietly) not citing a reason for the split, entirely bizzare set of events considering their 4th album ‘Self Preserved Whilst the Bodies Float Up’ was a masterpiece of melody, texture and emotion. To speculate; I’m convinced that it may have been down to them not getting as much media exposure or popularity as they deserved. I’m of the opinion they are the best band to come out of Manchester (Oasis? Who are they?) it would seem they were just very unlucky with timing. I will lament their passing but I can always listen to their 4 albums and 2 EPs knowing they were one of Britain’s best kept secrets. Oh and Steve Durose has gone onto join Amplifier so not all is lost.
Check Out: Oscar Acceptance Speech
Pure Reason Revolution in the other hand announced a very amicable split citing it was just time to move onto other projects. Fair Enough. They did a farewell tour around the UK which I attended which was fantastic. I will miss not hearing how their sound would have probably continued evolving especially as they had started to incorporate more electronic elements. Still I can always go back and listen to a track like ‘Deus Ex Machina’ and smile lots!
Check Out: Last Man, Last Round
The following 5 albums came very close to entering my top 5, therefore they are all subsequently tied in 6th place you could say. These are the albums I’ve enjoyed thoroughly this year, but faced very stiff competition. I recommend them all HIGHLY.
Blackfield –Welcome to My DNA
There’s a lot to like about Blackfields 3rd attempt, whether it be the Arabian metal tinged vibes of ‘Blood’, the orchestral drenched ‘Dissolving with the Night’or the energetic acoustic arrangements in ‘Waving’. Not as strong as the first 2 albums though as explained in my full review here.
Check out: Blood
M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
Multi-layered, beautifully composed soundscapes with chilled vocals, I fell in love with ‘Midnight City’ the first time I heard it, the electro beats and childlike humour of ‘Raconte-Moi Une Histoire’ are awe inspiring and the album finisher ‘Outro’ is perhaps one of the soothing ends to an album I’ve heard.
Check out: Midnight City (Official Video)
Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Delightful, delightful, oh delightful Mogwai, they deliver something different on every album, and this one is no exception. Listen to a song like ‘White Noise’ and it’s hard not to fall in love with the ethereal vibes. Having a song like ‘Rano Pano’ on the same album certainly helps gear things up a notch, and the video (see below) is pure genious!
Check out: Rano Pano (Official Video)
Anathema – Falling Deeper
Running this risk of sounding like a complete girl, I listened to this album once on the way to work and by the time I arrived I wanted to quite literately weep. By taking old classics from the early albums and reaaranging them with such deep emotional changes (the addition of an orchestra helps) it’s hard not to be moved by tracks like ‘Sunset of Age’ and ‘Kingdom’.
Check out: Crestfallen
Lunatic Soul – Impressions
Mariusz Duda (The frontman and bassist from Riverside) certainly delivers with his 3rd solo album, it’s dark in places, beautifully haunting yet carries a positive optimism about itself in tracks like ‘Impressions Part 4’ and ‘Impressions Part 8’. Stick your headphones on and turn the lights off.
Check out: Impressions Part 4
HERE WE GO THEN – MY TOP 5 ALBUMS OF 2011!
5. Mastodon – The Hunter
Perhaps the heaviest band on my list, I’ve always been aware that Mastodon are fairly prolific, but not a band I’d previously invested much time in. Let’s get one thing straight ‘The Hunter’ is a metal album, you’ll hear chugger-chugger riffs, metal screams and thundering flurrying drumming but it also has mellower moments. You’ll also hear some of the most refreshing progressive music of our generation, technically the band are on fine form here and also at their most experimental. Take a track like ‘Creature Lives’ for example that starts with the most crazy mindblowing bit of synth manipulation I’ve ever heard. ‘Blasteroid’ grabs you by the balls and doesn’t let up for 2 and a half minutes, ‘Stargasm’ is a personal highlight with contrasting heavy counter melodies dominating the track and then the relative gentleness of the album closer ‘The Sparrow’ proves that Mastodon are a band that think about the dynamic range of their sound.
Check out: The Sparrow
4.Thomas Dolby – Map of the Floating City
Well it only took him 20 years to release a follow up to his last album ‘Astronauts & Heretics’, but the man best known for electro-pop new wave hits in the 80’s with ‘Hyperactive’ and ‘She Blinded me with Science’ has finally returned. The reason for his long hiatus probably stems from the fact he created a company back in the 90’s now known as Beatnik Inc, they were the ones who created the .RMF (Rich Music Format) format for electronic music distribution, he’s largely responsible for creating the technology behind just about every ringtone in existence for mobile phones, a very profitable endeavour no doubt. His new album is spilt into 3 sections each covering a different musical genre (electro-pop, bluegrass & ambient) with songs like ‘Spice Train’ and ‘Evil Twin Brother’ certainly harking back to his glory days. Despite not being a massive fan of Bluegrass music, you can’t help but smile when you hear a song like ‘Toadlickers’. The albums most moving moment comes in the form of ‘Oceanea’ which is structured to a carefree perfection. The album also features guest appearances from many popular musicians such as Mark Knopfler, Regina Spektor & Imogen Heap.
Check out: Oceanea
3. Amplifier – The Octopus
The first of two double albums in this list, and bloody hell, what a double album! I’ve known Amplifier for a fair few years; I own their first two albums which aren’t half bad, just not masterpieces. ‘The Octopus’ most definitely is though and contains some of the best music I’ve heard all year. ‘Interglacial Spell’ contains magic by the tonnes, the title track ‘The Octopus’ is a pulsating odyssey with a killer bass line but the albums high point definitely reaches a climax with ‘Interstellar’; a song I guarantee would motivate the most lazy of individuals and get them air guitaring during the high peaks of musical pathway it soars. Sel Balamir and Co. really deliver on this release to say there’s only three of them, each one sounding brave and bold on their respective instruments. Atmospheric soundscapes, heavier bridge sections and lots of guitar effects make for quite a trip. Now that Oceansize have folded, Manchester’s best band? YOU BET.
Check out: Interstellar
2. Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning
You may be surprised to see Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) in 2nd place on my list, however that’s just the way it is, considering I think my number #1 album of the year is well deserved for the artist. It’s obvious though to anybody who knows me, that this album would make the list. Sounding completely different to his debut attempt (Insurgentes) for his double album Steve has embraced 70s progressive music and used influences learnt to create something rather refreshing in this decade. Full of jazz influences and free form movements thus witnessed in songs like ‘Sectarion’ and the epic ‘Raider II’, the album also contains more self contained pieces such as the deliously dark industrial sounding ‘Index’, the gentle to heavy ‘No Part of Me’ and the beautiful sadness of ‘Postcard’. As is typical of anything Steve releases, it is very well produced, it has a certain charm and warmth to it that endears me to the album everytime I play it. That and I got him to sign it when I met him earlier this year! It’s a great sophomore effort, and his best solo work to date. Can we have some new Porcupine Tree next year please Steve?!
Check out: No Part of Me
…and the winner is:
1.Tides from Nebula – Earthshine
This album IS 2011 for me, might come as a surprise, I wouldn’t imagine many post-rock albums by relatively unknown Polish bands would make the top of any Englishman’s list, but it’s in at number #1 on mine. Music for me is very much about how it makes you feel, and music to party to aside (for that has its place also) can also be an extremely private and personal experience. Everytime I listen to this album, nothing else matters, it’s like I’m floating in a tranquil sea, completely at peace. This is powerful music, entirely instrumental yet in this case the absence of lyrics enhances the experience for the music can be interpreted in so many different ways each time around. A Track like ‘Caravans’ was written to be listened to in the dark on your headphones as you float away laid on your bed. The guitars here are often used dynamically to build up layers and to set the scene, yet moments of ethereal heaviness come and blow all this away in moments of breathtaking clarity. This is not the most immediately accessible music, yet upon repeat listenings the most rewarding album of 2011. ’Siberia’ really does conjure up desolate arctic settings and ‘The Fall of Leviathan’ sounds like a battle of hearts and minds forever fighting and winding down. I actually reviewed this album in full here. I highly recommend investing in 60 minutes of your time, to get relaxed, turn off the lights and LISTEN – pure bliss.
Check out: Caravans
…and there we go folks, I hope you enjoyed seeing the musical word of 2011 through my eyes for a little while, certainly a year to remember for me. Lot’s more to discover next year no doubt, and I look forward to all the upcoming new releases with my usual excitment!