Complete 2013 End-of-Year List

A very personal and idiosyncratic list of albums of the year.

2013 Albums of the Year – Part One

It’s end-of-year list time again, when every music blogger is compelled to go back through the year’s record releases and try to pick out the best of them,

Let’s get the obvious disclaimers out of the way first. This is not intended to be a definitive list of the very best albums released in the year. For starters all preferences are personal and subjective. And secondly and more importantly, it’s restricted to those records I’ve actually had the chance to hear. There are no doubt a great many awesome releases I haven’t heard yet.

After many repeated listens I’ve managed to whittle the list down to 21 (Why 21? Why not?). The fact that it turned out to be very hard to restrict it to just 21 speaks volumes about how great a year it’s been. One or two big names ended up not making the cut.

So, without further ago, here’s the first half of my list,  Had I not abandoned trying to sort them all into meaningful order as an impossible task, they would be 21 down 11. As it is, they’re sorted alphabetically.

Big Big Train English Electric Part Two

English Electric Part 2The second half of English Electric follows in a similar vein to the first, with their very evocative and very English brand of pastoral progressive rock. The storytelling lyrical focus shifts to northern England and the twentieth century with tales of railwaymen, coal miners and shipbuilders, and it all sounds far more authentic than much 80s-style neo-prog.

Black Sabbath13

Black Sabbath 13Neither quite the masterpiece some hoped for nor the trainwreck some feared, the reunion of Ozzy Osborne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler still delivers a very solid piece of work that proves they still have something to say after all these years. If this does prove to be their final album, it’s a worthy addition to their legacy.

The Computers Love Triangles, Hate Squares

The Computers Love Triangles Hate SquaresThe best no-nonsense old-fashioned rock and roll record I’ve heard all year, by a band who sound as as though they have one foot in 1958 and one in 2013, full of short and punchy tunes that hit you right between the eyes. The end result somehow ends up reminding me of some aspects of very early Blue Öyster Cult.

CosmografThe Man Left In Space

Cosmograf - The Man Left In SpaceAn evocative and atmospheric album from multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Robin Armstrong. Though there are guest appearances from Matt Stevens and Nick D’Virgilio amongst others, Robin plays most of the instrumentation from guitars to drums to keys. The haunting title track is a standout, perhaps one of the songs of the year, and there’s a lot to like across the rest of the album.

The Fierce and The DeadSpooky Action

Spooky ActionMatt Stevens and his band in full electric mode mixing progressive rock, post-punk, indie/alternative and metal resulting in the instrumental record of the year. Narrow genre definitions cannot contain this record; it’s the sort of thing that ought to have a huge crossover appeal way beyond the narrow confines of the Prog world.

King BathmatOvercoming the Monster

KingBathmat - Overcoming The MonsterA powerful combination of grungy guitar riffs with progressive rock textures and melodies, sounding like what you might get if you combined Black Sabbath with Spock’s Beard. The end result is a record with a very contemporary feel despite its use of organic 70s sounds, old-school progressive rock reinvented for the 21st Century.

MaschineRubidium

Maschine - RubidiumThe long-awaited début from Luke Machin’s band combines some stunning instrumental virtuosity with a very mature approach to composition. Their complex and ambitious songs are a seamless blend of metal, jazz and rock into, with great use of dynamics and an ear for a good melody. This is the sound of a band from whom we can probably expect great things over the coming years.

Mr So and SoTruth & Half Lies

Mr So and So - Truth and Half LiesThe fruit of a successful Pledge Music project, Mr So and So’s fourth album is by far their most impressive to date. It’s a hugely varied record with some strong songwriting that uses their distinctive dual male/female lead vocals to great effect, and the harder-edged guitar-driven sound strongly captures the power and energy of their live performances.

RiversideShrine of the New Generation Slaves

Riverside - Shrine of the New Generation SlavesRiverside have always been one of Poland’s finest bands, and with the combination of 70s Deep Purple style hard rock riffs and Porcupine Tree style atmospherics they have delivered what might be their best album to date. They may wear their influences on their sleeves to some extent, but they have more than enough creativity of there own to be any kind of pastiche.

Rob Cottingham Captain Blue

Rob Cottingham - Captain BlueA solo album from Touchstone’s keyboard player, aided and abetted by a strong supporting cast including Touchstone guitarist Adam Hodgson and former Mostly Autumn vocalist Heather Findlay. It’s a concept album with a Gerry Anderson flavour, with music reminiscent of Touchstone’s early days, plus the occasional excursion into disco-pop.

Thea GilmoreRegardless

Thea Gilmore – RegardlessAn album of Americana-tinged songs with stripped-down arrangements that emphasise the fragile beauty of the Thea Gilmore’s heartfelt vocals, enhanced this time by a string section to add some extra colour.

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2013 Albums of the Year – Part Two

Continuing the end-of-year albums-of-the-year contdown with the the first six from the top ten. Like the first part from 21 to 11, I have listed them in alphabetical order rather than attempting to rank them, but if I had, they’d be #10 up to #5.

Also Eden[REDACTED]

[Redacted] Also Eden have significantly raised their game with this, their second album since Rich Harding took over as lead vocalist. Despite occasional echoes of Tangerine Dream, Porcupine Tree and even Trespass-era Genesis in the album’s quieter moments, this is a harder-edged and more rock-orientated record than their previous work. The result is powerful yet richly layered record, with Simon Rogers’ inventive guitar playing at the centre of the sound, and Rich Harding’s lyrics moving from the political to the personal.

HakenThe Mountain

Haken The Mountain Haken are another band to step up to the next level with their third album. Previous albums had displayed some obvious influences, most notably Dream Theater and Zappa. But here, aside from a couple of nods to Gentle Giant, most noticeably on the completely bonkers “Cockroach King”, they develop a sound that’s all their own. There are metal riffs, church-like vocal harmonies, deep and complex arrangements and recurring motifs, resulting in a record that both progressive in every sense of the word, and very contemporary sounding at the same time.

Iain JenningsMy Dark Surprise

My Dark Surprise It was indeed a surprise when Mostly Autumn’s keyboard player released a solo album with very little fanfare early in the year. It’s a concept album with lyrics by vocalist Mark Chatterton, and guest appearances from Mostly Autumn’s Liam Davison amongst others. With its mix of hard rock and atmospheric ballads with touches of electronica it has many familiar ingredients, but it’s all put together in a different way and avoids sounding anything like a repeat of Iain’s earlier work. The way it seamlessly blends a lot of different styles demonstrates his skills as a composer and arranger. A dark surprise indeed, but a very pleasant one.

IhsahnDas Seelenbrechen

Ihsahn Das Seelenbrechen Ihsahn’s last couple of albums have been ideal for anyone missing Opeth from the time before Mikael Akerfeldt abandoned the cookie monster. But this album sees Ihsahn leave Black Metal behind, setting course for far stranger waters. There are still moments of ambitious prog-metal especially on the first half of the record, but this album also takes in avant garde noise, with storms of clattering percussion and passages of spooky atmospherics. It’s by no means an easy listen, but it does show how the more experimental end of metal can be far more progressive than many an act labelled as “prog”.

Magenta The Twenty-Seven Club

Magenta -  The 27 Club When it comes to old-school neo-prog, Magenta are still one of the best bands in the business. They’ve never denied their strong Yes influence. There are some very Steve Howe like phrases from guitarist Chris Fry, and Christina Booth often sings in similar register to Jon Anderson. although her performances have a lot more emotional depth. Their sixth album takes a position midway between the dark intensity of “Metamorphosis” and the commercial Magenta-lite of “Chameleon”. As a distillation of a lot of what’s good about Magenta’s music it makes a very good starting point for new listeners.

Touchstone – Oceans of Time

Touchstone_OceansOfTime SMALL Touchstone’s fourth album sees something of a change of direction, with vocalist Kim Seviour and guitarist Adam Hodgson taking on a bigger share of the writing. The result is an album with a greater emphasis on songwriting rather than prog-metal instrumental workouts, and a rawer stripped-down sound with a lot more light and shade that gives Kim’s vocals space to breathe without being swamped by the instrumentation. With their most mature album to date they deserve to win themselves a much larger audience with this release.

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2013 Albums of the Year – Part Three

We’re into the home stretch now, with three of the top four albums of the year. Again, their just arranged alphabetically, since they’re so different from each other it’s impossible to rank them in order. Well, that’s my excuse anyway…

FishFeast of Consequences

Feast of Consequences CoverFish’s first album for six years is an ambitious, raw and passionate record that combines many of the best elements of his later work. Lyrically it takes us from the trenches of World War One to the intensely personal, and yet again demonstrates Fish is one of the most underrated lyricists in rock. Musically it’s goes from celtic atmospherics and acoustic balladry to out-and-out rock’n'roll, with a stripped-down production that manages to capture the energy of a live performance. This is the best thing he’s done for a long, long time.

GoldfrappTales of Us

Goldfrapp - Tales of UsThis record is a thing of beauty. It’s a stripped-down acoustic record that has more in common with the likes of Odin Dragonfly than their earlier electro-glam. Arrangements made up largely of acoustic guitar and strings emphasise the beguiling melodies of the songs and beauty of Alison Goldfrapp’s voice, which reminds me strongly of Anne-Marie Helder in places. More mainstream, perhaps, than most of the other records in this list, but it’s still a great record.

Steven WilsonThe Raven That Refused To Sing

The Raven That Refused To SingSteven Wilson’s second album to feature the virtuoso band from “Grace for Drowning”, this is a far more focussed and concise record than its sprawling predecessor. It’s still the spirit of early 70s King Crimson reinvented for modern audiences, with a strong jazz flavour, plenty of Mellotron, and space for the soloists to work their magic. There are plenty of people who are still missing Porcupine Tree, but on the evidence of this record his new band is more than a fair trade.

The album of the year will follow in the next post.

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2013 Album of the Year

Luna RossaSleeping Pills and Lullabies

Luna RossaSomehow I don’t think many regular readers of this blog will be surprised at my album of the year. When I get comments asking what Panic Room would have to do to get a bad review, and get members of the band quoting those comments to me, I’m probably guilty as charged of being a fanboy. So don’t just take my word for it. There are many, many other people who agree that this is a stunningly beautiful work.

Luna Rossa are, of course, Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards of Panic Room in acoustic mode, with the focus on Anne-Marie’s voice accompanied by Jon’s grand piano, with strings, acoustic guitar, some electronic percussion, and all sorts of other strange instruments adding colour. Parts of the album have a Panic Room unplugged feel, others are more experimental with echoes of Kate Bush and Massive Attack. It’s the sort of record that ought to have a crossover appeal well beyond Panic Room’s rock audience.

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And where can you buy them?

People are asking how you can buy the albums listed in my end-of-year list…

While you can get some of them, including Haken, Touchstone and Maschine from HMV (that’s if you still have an HMV), quite a lot of these are independent releases that don’t tend to be stocked in the high street.

 

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