Yes, it’s that time of year again, when everyone who fancies themselves as a music critic lists the records that have defined their year.
The usual disclaimers apply, of course. They’re selected from the albums of 2012 that I’ve actually had the chance to hear over the course of the year. It’s also a personal list of albums that have made an impression on me rather than any attempt to declare them the “best” of the year, whatever that might mean. Which is why there are very obscure independent releases alongside heavily-promoted major-label albums.
My self-imposed rules exclude both live albums and studio restatements of past material, although Steve Hackett’s “Genesis Revisited II” and Heather Findlay’s “Songs From The Old Kitchen” deserve mention.
It was going to be a top 20, but once I’d got my list finalised someone went and released a record in the middle of December that really deserved to be on the list. So now it’s a top 21. I’ve given up trying to rank all 21 album in any kind of order, and have gone for grouping them under Good, Great, Superb and Legendary, the last being my album of the year.
So here are the ten Good albums, which form numbers 21 to 12 in the list, ordered alphabetically.
Joe Bonamassa – Driving Towards The Daylight
Excellent album of guitar-shredding blues-rock from one of the most exciting guitar players of his generation, with electrifying takes on blues standards from the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon alongside a handful of original numbers. Yes, the ever-prolific Bonamassa can probably turn out albums like this in his sleep, but that’s just a measure of his talent.
Delain – We Are The Others
A seamless blend of in-your-face metal riffs and chart-friendly pop choruses, featuring the remarkable vocals of Charlotte Wessels, all of which makes it more of a mystery why a major label sat on this record for months before releasing it. If only daytime radio wasn’t afraid of big-sounding guitars.
Enslaved – Riitiir
Symphonically-dense wall-of-sound metal which mixes moments of brutal heaviness with a surprising amount of melody. There’s plenty of death-metal growling, but there are also passages that prove how well metal riffs and Gregorian chants go together.
It Bites – Map Of The Past
The 80s pop-prog veterans reformed a few years back, with the talented John Mitchell at the helm. Although the latest album doesn’t quite top 2008′s “The Tall Ships”, it’s still an impressive work that combines emotionally-rich songwriting with all the widdly soloing you could possibly want.
Mermaid Kiss – Another Country
A move away from the symphonic prog-rock of their previous album “Etarlis”, with a beautiful semi-acoustic record with touches of Americana and gospel. Not many bands have Cor Anglais as a principle lead instrument.
Sankara – Guided By Degrees
An impressive melodic hard rock début from former members of The Bluehorses and The Reasoning. It’s a rich, multilayered record in which Gareth Jones’s excellent vocal performance proves he’s more than capable fronting his own band.
Shadow Of The Sun – Monument
Former Reasoning guitarist Dylan Thompson returns with some prog-tinged hard rock/metal with guitars that go up to Eleven. A record that’s only been out a few days and I’ve only given a handful of listens. But that’s enough convince me it belongs on this list.
Howard Sinclair – The Delicious Company of Freaks
Lyric-driven semi-acoustic balladry from the Bristol-based singer-songwriter who supported Panic Room on their November tour. Some memorable songs, with one high point being the spellbinding “These Dark Hills” sung as a duet with Panic Room’s Anne-Marie Helder.
Squackett – A Life Within A Day
Two of the most distinctive instrumentalists in the prog-rock world combine their talents for a polished and song-focussed album. At times this collaboration sounds like Steve Hackett with a different bassist, at times it’s Yes with different guitars and vocals. “The Tall Ships” with it’s bass groove and soaring vocal harmonies is a particular highlight.
Winter in Eden – Echoes of Betrayal
With a great vocalist in Vicky Johnson, the Durham-based band prove if the songwriting is good enough it’s possible to do female-fronted symphonic metal without needing the choirs, orchestras and kitchen sinks of the more extravagant European bands.