It was extremely hard to choose just one single record as album of the year. Even after I had begun publishing the first few instalments of this rundown I hadn’t been able to make the final decision of which record out of at least three was the best of them all. Karnataka and Amorphis in particular have both made astonishingly good records this year.
But in the end, there can only be one, and it’s from Poland’s finest band.
Riverside – Love. Fear and The Time Machine
Riverside get compared to Porcupine Tree a lot. That’s both a fair comparison and an unfair one. They are the ideal band for anyone still missing Porcupine Tree, it’s true. But they are far more than a derivative copy. Imagine, if you can, a Porcupine Tree with Jon Lord on keyboards, Alex Lifeson on guitar, and a rhythm section with a sense of groove that few bands under the progressive rock banner can match.
Love, Fear and The Time Machine might just be their best album to date. They’ve taken a step back from the dense hard rock sound of the preceding “Shrine of the New Generation Slaves”, taking a pared-back less-is-more approach that gives everything more space to breathe. There are a host of 80s rock references; a guitar figure evoking early Marillion here, a post-punk bass riff or a bridge recalling The Stone Roses there. But it’s all anchored in Mariusz Duda’s distinctive understated approach to melody, Piotr Grudzińsk economical guitar work and and Michał Łapaj’s evocative keyboard playing. One highlight is the shortest and most minimalist song on the record, “Afloat”, which sees Mariusz melancholy vocal accompanied by a simple guitar figure and some atmospheric organ chords. But the whole album is superb, with restrained instrumental virtuosity and masterful use of dynamics.