Tag Archives: 2016 End-of-Year List

2016 Album of the Year

marillion-fear

And my album of the year, as one of two people have already correctly guessed, is Marillion’s majestic F. E. A, R. Or to give its full title, “F*** Everyone And Run”. It’s an album that sums up the despair of 2016

Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what The Guardian had to say

F. E. A. R. continues a late-career renaissance that began with 2004’s Marbles. It’s a totally uncompromising record; 68 minutes made up of just five lengthy songs with no obvious radio-friendly singles. Politically charged lyrics alternate between sadness and anger, and rich, layered instrumentation references common Marillion touchstones such as Pink Floyd and late-period Talk Talk, with the occasional hints of Van der Graaf Generator at their most grandiose and menacing. Keyboardist Mark Kelly is all over this record, going from electric piano runs to doom-laden organ, while Steve Rothery is also on top form with his evocative and lyrical guitar, exemplified by a wonderful solo on El Dorado. Things come to a climax with the The New Kings, which has singer Steve Hogarth railing at the state of the world and its corrupt, self-serving elites, all set to dark, intense music that’s as good as anything they have done. Quite possibly their best album in two decades.

Although in this case The Guardian’s reviewer was actually me.

The comments against the review make interesting reading. The vast majority are overwhelmingly positive, although you’ve got to laugh at the numpty who declared that five-star reviews “should be reserved for all time classic albums, not bands that slipped into musical irrelevance over 20 years ago” along with “And it’s not even a proper Guardian reviewer anyway” before compounding his idiocy by insisting that he didn’t need to listen to an album to know it can’t possibly be worth five stars. Sadly this is the sort of closed-minded prejudice bands like Marillion have fighting for decades.

Meanwhile I’m now getting blamed for their Royal Albert Hall gig selling out in minutes.

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Best Albums of 2016 – Not only but also

Under my own self-imposed rules, only full-length albums made up wholly or largely of new material quality for the album rundown. But amongst the live albums, EPs and records comprising largely of reworkings of older material can be found some gems that deserve better than being overlooked. It’s not in any way a definitive list, since there’s a whole slew of live albums released in the run-up to Christmas that I have yet to hear.

The Heather Findlay Band – I Am Snow

i-am-snowThe former Mostly Autumn lead singer’s second album of 2016 celebrates the semi-acoustic folk-rock side of her music, combining new songs with reworkings of older numbers, with arrangements emphasising flute and harp. There’s a beautiful cover of Sandy Denny’s “Winter Winds”, and the two new songs, especially the seasonal title track, are gorgeous.

King Crimson – Live in Toronto

king-crimson-live-on-torontoA live snapshot of the latest incarnation of the legendary progressive rock band from their 2015 tour with a setlist combining brand new material alongside classics from the 60s, 70s and beyond. The seven-piece band including Tony Levin, saxophonist Mel Collins and no fewer than three drummers creatively re-imagine the older material while remaining faithful to the spirit, and the largely instrumental new numbers are impressive too. A great document from a tour that was memorable for all the right reasons.

Riverside – Eye of the Soundscape

riverside-eye-of-the-soundscapePoland’s finest band released this ambient and largely electronic album to commemorate guitarist Piotr Grudziński, who died suddenly and unexpectedly early in the year. It’s a compilation of remixes and previously-released bonus material complemented by four completely new tracks, At times the shimmering electronic arpeggios and electronic pulsings are to Tangerine Dream what Riverside’s more guitar-based music was to Porcupine Tree, but as always they’ve far more than copyists.

Touchstone – Lights in the Sky

touchstone-lights-from-the-skyThis four track EP is first release by the new-look Touchstone with Aggie on vocals and Liam Holmes on keys. It’s a move away from the pared-back approach of “Oceans of Time”, with big guitars and soaring vocal lines, but the sound is still clearly identifiable as Touchstone, and they’re sounding like a coherent band in what is clearly a new beginning for the band.

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Best Albums of 2016 – Part Three

Into the top five now, as we count down from five to two. It’s a reminder of just how how much great music has been released this year that’s not on the mainstream radar.

5: Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze

crippled-black-phoenix-bronseAfter some rather turbulent times within the band, Crippled Black Phoenix bounce back very strongly with a powerful follow-up to 2014′s “White Light Generator”. Beginning with a track called “Dead Imperial Bastard”, Bronze is a dark, angry and very intense record that in places sounds like Swans jamming with Pink Floyd, filled with dense, boiling guitars and ominous electronic soundscapes. It’s the sort of record that leaves you exhausted by the time you reach the end.

4: The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness

the-pineapple-thief-your-wildernessThe Pineapple Thief have always represented the streamlined modern face of progressive rock, and this album is a distillation of the best elements of their sound. There are moments of fragile beauty, times when they rock out, and the whole thing flows seamlessly. The band have always drawn comparisons with Radiohead. But while “A Moon Shaped Pool” is a good album, “Your Wilderness” is a better one. But you have to wonder how many mainstream critics who put Radiohead high in their end-of-year lists have even heard “Your Wilderness”.

3: Opeth – Sorceress

Opeth SorceressMikael Åkerfeldt and his band continue to draw deep from the well of 70s underground rock and reinvents the sounds for the 21st century with his legendary mastery of rock dynamics. The result is a record that invokes the spirit of that decade while sounding like something that could only have been made today. It goes from thunderous heaviness to the sort of sinister and cinematic atmospherics that recalls his Storm Corrosion collaboration with Steven Wilson. This is their best album since “Watershed” and despite the lack of death-metal growls, their heaviest since “Ghost Reveries”.

2: Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

iamthemorning-lighthouseThe third studio album from the Russian duo comprising singer Marjana Semkina and classical pianist Gleb Kolyadin is one of those records that’s near-impossible to classify. Sometimes accompanied by a small chamber orchestra, sometimes with a rock rhythm section including Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison and Colin Edwin, the result is a kaleidoscopic record of ever changing moods taking in rock, classical and even instrumental jazz. Comparisons between Marjana Semkina vocals and those of Kate Bush are entirely appropriate. This is a record that takes a few listens to fully appreciate since there’s so much to take in; you can keep hearing new things even after many listens.

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Best Albums of 2016 – Part Two

We’re into the top ten now, and this time I’ve managed to rank the albums in order rather that just list them alphabetically. So with no further ado…

10: Rebecca Downes – Believe

Bebecca Downes BelieveDeserved winner of Best Female Vocalist and Best Breakthrough Artist at the British Blues Awards, Rebecca Downes has a great voice, with range and power as well as emotional depth, equally at home with soulful ballads as belting out hard rockers. When combined with her talented backing band result is a hugely varied record, combining blues with hard rock, funk and soul.

9: Tilt – Hinterland

Tilt HinterlandThe band including Fish alumni Steve Vantis, Robin Boult and Dave Stewart deliver a hard-rocking album. The layered sound and powerful bass grooves recall Porcupine Tree and Steve Vantsis’ work with Fish.

But Paul Dourley is a very different sort of singer; his soulful vocals have the occasional hints of Peter Gabriel and Lou Gramm, and if anything it’s his performance that lifts this record from a good one to a great one.

8: Ihsahn – Arktis

ihsahn-arktisThe fiendishly inventive Norwegian black metallers reign in the avant-garde experimentalism of 2013′s Das Seelenbrechen in favour of an album of more straightforward metal songs. But “straightforward” is a relative thing for a band like Ihsahn; there’s a lot of varied creativity on display here, balancing face-melting guitars with occasional moments of atmospheric beauty,

7: Mantra Vega – The Illusion’s Reckoning

Mantra Vega The Illusions ReckoningThe collaboration between former Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay and Sound of Contact’s Dave Kerzner results in a record with a strong 70s vibe.

There are nods to Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac and the rootsier side of Led Zeppelin, as well as the folky feel of Heather Findlay’s work with Odin Dragonfly and early Mostly Autumn. It’s an impressive work that’s as good as anything either of them have done.

6: Big Big Train – Folklore

Big Big Train - FolkloreBig Big Train continue to be better than anyone else at invoking the spirit of 1970s English pastoral progressive rock. Again the lyrics are steeped in English landscapes and socio-economic history.

The songs cover subjects from London’s lost rivers to World War 2 RAF pigeons, with music that sometimes evokes the mood of albums like Genesis’ “Trespass”, and at other times is closer to the electric folk-rock of bands like Steeleye Span.

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Best Albums of 2016 – Part One

It’s that time of year again, when music bloggers go through the year’s releases and highlight the best of the year. The usual caveats apply; these are the best records of 2016 I’ve actually had the chance to hear. I only have a finite CD budget, and even though I’m a part-time music writer, not every record company sends me free promos.

We’ll start with 25 to 11. Except that they’re not ranked in any order, because that would be next to impossible.

Update Because I missed out one record by mistake, this year’s list now goes up to 26. You will have to guess which one it was yourselves.

Continue reading

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