Counting down from Five to Two, we get to the year’s Superb releases. In many previous years any of these might have been a strong candidate for my album of the year. Indeed, the previous album by one of these bands was my album of that year, even though the album listed below is the stronger album. That’s how good a year it’s been. Again, the order is simply alphabetical; these albums are so good it’s next to impossible to rank them into any kind of order.
Big Big Train – English Electric Part One
With music reminiscent of “Wind and Wuthering” era Genesis with hints of Barclay James Harvest and Gentle Giant and lyrics about the industrial revolution, this is a quintessentially English record steeped in the nation’s history and landscapes. With varied instrumentation including strings and brass, it transcends obvious influences and evokes the spirit of 70s pastoral progressive rock far more strongly than any 80s style neo-prog band can hope to.
Olivia Sparnenn finds her voice on her second studio album since taking over as the band’s lead vocalist, and makes her mark with some soaring leads that make it clear just why she was shortlisted for the gig with Nightwish. With their signature guitar-driven celtic-tinged classic rock on one side, and a more modern symphonic metal feel on the other, the result is a strong record with one foot in the past and one in the future. It delivers a powerful riposte to those who wrote the band off a couple of years ago.
Years in the making, the collaboration between singer-songwriter Marc Atkinson and keyboard player Brendan Eyre along with an all-star cast of guest musicians resulted in one of the progressive rock surprises of the year. Marc Atkinson’s emotive vocals recall Marillion’s Steve Hogarth and the keyboard-led arrangements range from simple piano accompaniments to moments of heavy symphonic rock. An album that proved to be well worth the wait.
The band that grew out of the short-lived final incarnation of Breathing Space get off to a very strong start with their début album. The combination of Heidi Widdop’s soulful vocals and Adam Dawson’s effects-laden guitar gives a rich sound based around big wall-of-sound rock ballads. There’s a hint of early Mostly Autumn in the Floydian atmospherics, especially with Heidi’s low whistle, but this is a band with their own sound and their own identity. It will be very interesting to see how they progress from here.