Tag Archives: New Dance Orchestra

Top Ten Albums of 2010

It’s that time of the year again. 2010 doesn’t seem to have been quite as strong a year as 2009, when I did a top 15 – this year I struggled to name ten. On the other hand, my top four are absolutely superb. A couple of 2010 releases are missing (most notably the excellent Satellite by Panic Room) because I included the pre-release editions in my 2009 list, and it doesn’t seem right to list them twice.

10: Tarja – What Lies Beneath

The second solo album from the former Nightwish lead singer has a massive production including orchestras and kitchen sinks as well as metal guitars, but never quite comes alive. There are some good songs in the mix of big rock numbers and power-ballads, but Tarja’s soprano vocals, while technically superb throughout, lack emotion too much of the time.

9: Rhapsody of Fire – The Frozen Tears of Angels

More Dungeons and Dragons operatic pomp-metal from the Italian quintet, again featuring narration from Sir Christopher Lee and a corny plot featuring a Dark Lord called “Necron”. All good fun in a cheesy sort of way, even if it doesn’t really break any new ground for the band. Twenty-sided dice are not included.

8: New Dance Orchestra – Electronica

An unexpectedly good album from Geoff Downes (the instrumental half of The Buggles) with the superb Anne-Marie Helder on vocals. Billed as “dance-pop”, it’s more 80s pop than Ibiza-style dance anthems, a great collection of well-crafted songs. This one’s a pre-order, currently available direct from the band, but won’t have a retail release until the new year.

7: Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here

The former doom-metallers return after a lengthy absence and drop just about all traces of metal from their sound in favour of atmospheric soundscapes. It’s a musical journey that works far far better as one continuous listen than as a collection of individual songs.

6: The Reasoning – Adverse Camber

The Cardiff band’s third album continues in a similar prog-metal vein as 2008′s “Dark Angel”, albeit with Rachel Cohen handling the majority of the lead vocals. A solid piece of work with some great songs, even if it doesn’t (for me at least) quite reach the heights of their first two albums.

5: Pure Reason Revolution – Hammer and Anvil

PRR describe their third album as “Disco-prog”, meaning they’ve put electronic dance, prog and metal into a blender. At times atmospheric, at times sounding like The Prodigy at their most mental, it puts the progressive back into prog.

4: Therion – Sitra Ahra

Not quite as bonkers as their last album “Gothic Kabballah”, this one is the slightly more accessible side of Therion’s choral metal. It’s still filled with complex multi-part vocal arrangements using multiple classically-trained singers, which when combined with twin lead guitars makes for a very rich sound indeed.

3: Black Country Communion

The combination of Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian is in danger of giving supergroups a good name with this album of classic 70s-style hard rock. Hughes, despite his age is on fine form vocally, Bonamassa shows he can do hard rock as well as blues, and Jason Bonham is in the same league as his famous father. Sherinian really only has a supporting role given that cast, but still delivers some great Hammond playing. The best album Led Zeppelin never recorded in the 70s? Maybe.

2: Karnataka – The Gathering Light

Five years in the making, the second incarnation of Karnataka finally deliver an album of old-school symphonic prog on a truly epic scale. Features heartfelt female vocals from the now-departed Lisa Fury and some fantastic guitar playing from Enrico Pinna, as well as guest appearances from Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes, and Hugh McDowell, formerly of ELO, on cello.

1: Mostly Autumn – Go Well Diamond Heart

OK, so you all know I’m a huge fan of this band. But this is the first time since I’ve been blogging that they’ve come up with my album of the year. It’s an immensely varied album containing atmospheric celtic moments, belting hard rockers, shimmering four-minute pop songs, and soaring ballads. They’ve managed to take the spirit of 70s classic rock and made it sound relevant for the 21st century with great songwriting, singing and musicianship. And they’ve done it straight after the departure of a much-loved lead singer too.

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New Dance Orchestra – Electronica

The New Dance Orchestra is a project by Geoff Downes of Asia and Buggles fame, which for this album features Panic Room’s Anne-Marie Helder on lead vocals. It was an unexpected surprise when I heard about it online, and I ordered it unheard based solely on the reputations of the people involved.

Billed as “Dance-Pop”, to my ears it’s more pop than dance, made up of well-crafted songs rather than Ibiza-style club anthems, Musically, comparisons with The Buggles are I suppose inevitable, but I can also see slight elements of late-period ELO when a disco flavour crept into their sound. The overall feel is certainly very 1980s, down to some synth sounds that are either delightfully retro or cheesily dated depending on your point of view. The arrangements are entirely keys and programmed rhythms, but one or two of the actual songs wouldn’t sound out of place on an Asia, or for that matter, a Panic Room album. Certainly the choruses of songs like opener “Shine On”, “Dance To The Music Of Time” or the gorgeous closing ballad “Golden Days” get lodged in the brain as earworms after just a few listens.

With Geoff Downes credited with all the songwriting, Anne-Marie Helder’s only contribution is as lead singer, and she gives a stellar performance on vocals; demonstrating once again what a versatile singer she can be. It’s quite a way from my usual tastes in listening, and an album I probably wouldn’t have given any attention had it not been for the people involved. But it’s still an enjoyable listen nevertheless.

Like many non-major label releases, it’s available as a pre-order now directly from The New Dance Orchestra website, and will have an official retail release in the new year. It gives no information about international shipping, or even which country it’s shipped from; Paypal billed me in US Dollars but the album turned up within 48 hours posted from a UK address. Don’t know what will happen if you order from the US.

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