My top 20 albums of 2012 [5-1].
We’re now counting down to the big one in my Top Ten favourite albums of 2012. You can find the previous entries by clicking on the following links: 20-15, 15-10 and 10-5. So let’s continue the final countdown in reverse order…
5. Echolyn by Echolyn
Echolyn is the latest album from American progessive rock stalwarts Echolyn and the first time I’d heard the bands work (although they’ve released 11). It is a beautiful sounding record that veers between almost acoustic songs to grandiose prog-style string-laden movements. The band create a truly magnificent sound and successfully merge a myriad of bells, strings and piano with rockier guitar-based moments. That’s not to say this is a particularly heavy sounding LP (it’s not) but the longer, proggier tracks – such as opener Island – stand out from the crowd. There are groovy basslines and rhythms (Headright), intermingled with skillfull string arrangements (Locust to Bethlehem) and these keep Echolyn’s sound original and fresh. To be honest, this album doesn’t really need to be broken down into individual tracks. It sounds best when the songs merge into each other and become one long track. If you’re into heavier prog bands such as Dream Theater or Pendragon then you might find Echolyn a bit twee but everyone else can marvel at the band’s musical skill and beauty. Standout track: Locust to Bethlehem
4. Weather Systems by Anathema
Weather Systems by Anathema is the perfect antidote when you’re feeling down. There are songs about life, love, near death experiences and loss. The lyrics and accompanying music just make you feel better about your own problems. The opening two tracks (Untouchable Pt. 1 and 2) are the best that I have heard this year. They start quietly and move through the gears ending in a crescendo of sound. Essentially, these tracks are a duet between two lovers and the emotion in the vocals really tugs at the heart strings). Anathema’s sound is not metal but often veers towards the heavier side of rock. There are moments of Pink Floyd-ness (The Storm before the Calm) and the closing track, Internal Landscapes screams with emotion. This could so easliy been my album of the year but it just misses out. Standout tracks: Untouchable Pt. 1 and 2
3. One Eye on the Sunrise by Nine Stones Close
I came across this by chance on Facebook. I’d never heard of Nine Stones Close before but I thought I’d take a chance and I’m so glad I did! One Eye on the Sunrise has only been out since 6 November but I’ve already slotted it into my top three (yes it’s that good). It’s a prog-like album (yes another one) and it grabs you by the scruff of the neck right from the word go! It features the musical talents of Adrian Jones, Brendan Eyre, Marc Atkinson, Pieter van Hoorn and Peter Vink. Opening instrumental Faceless Angel starts quietly with gorgeous keyboards and builds into a wailing guitar solo. This segues into the haunting A Secret and Marc’s rich, soulful vocals come to the fore. Janus and …And Dream of Sleep offer an instrumental interlude that are impressively built around stellar guitar work. The production is so crisp and clear that you can literally hear fingers sliding up the strings. The title track is a monolithic twelve minute barnstormer. It begins as a slow acoustic mantra and soon builds into a bludgeoning metal monster with Marc’s voice straining over the guitars. It is reminiscent of Sabbath at their best. Once again (as with so many of my favourites) it is the longer songs that bring out the best of the band but it’s good that they’re not afraid to break things up instrumentally. This album is all about the musical journey rather than the individual songs and is all the better for it. Simply amazing! Standout track: One Eye on the Sunrise
2. All the Wars by The Pineapple Thief
All the Wars is a staggeringly good rock album from Somerset foursome The Pineapple Thief. If you search out other reviews of this LP you’ll see the band compared to Muse (unfairly) and labelled as progressive rock or Radiohead light. They’re not – they are a very slick rock band, with a 22-piece orchestra for company. Lead singer Bruce Soord has a gorgeous mellow, soothing voice and I suppose that’s where the comparisons started. Opening track Burning Pieces sets the tone with an initial acoustic set up before a blur of pounding bass and guitar riffs takes over. The orchestra really comes to the fore on tracks All the Wars, Build a World and Someone Pull Me Out (which has a sing-along chorus). Give it Back has a pulsing electronic rhythm and it’s edgy, rock sound bludgeons your ears (this is fantastic live). Final track Reaching Out is the pièce de résistance of this album and the musicianship is outstanding. Mellow acoustics and sexy strings start off proceedings and layer by layer is added as it builds into a rawkus wall of sound, complete with choir, violins, drums and virtuoso guitar solo (at ten minutes long is the closest thing to prog on the LP). I was lucky enough to get hold of a copy of the deluxe version of this album which includes acoustic versions of the songs and I’m pleased to say that they work just as well stripped back. The Pineapple Thief are undoubtedly one of the best British bands that you’ve never heard of. Check them out today! Standout track: Reaching Out.
And so what is my number one album I hear you ask? Well it’s the album that I HAVE to listen to everyday since I got it. It’s in turns mellow, rocky, atmospheric, soulful and so much more. Ladies and gentlemen I bring you Riversea…
1. Out of an Ancient World by Riversea
Every now and again you see an album cover and just know you’re going to love it. You unwrap the cellophane, pop it into the CD player and fall in love as soon as you hear the first few bars. This is exactly how i felt when I purchased Out of an Ancient World by Riversea. It’s the debut album from Marc Atkinson (vocals/acoustic guitar) and Brendan Eyre (piano/synths). They are joined by members of Nine Stones Close, Sad Café and Mostly Autumn amongst others. It’s also a prog masterpiece.
The overall production is the most impressive thing. There are layers upon layers of sound, vocal recordings, strings, drums – a positive wall of sound. Marc Atkinson has the most soulful voice and when he sings on If That’s What God Wants you believe that thats exactly what he wants. The Song builds from a string and keyboard piece, with a mellow vocal track into a pounding, wailing crescendo featuring Mostly Autumn’s Olivia Sparnenn. Halo is another piano led track that lets Marc’s voice come to the fore. It’s a Pink Floyd like track, with an extra special guitar solo that couldn’t have sounded better if Dave Gilmour was playing it. There are rockier shorter tracks such as The Fallen but the album is at it’s most beautiful when layered with piano, guitar and strings.
The album obviously borrows from progs illustrious back catalogue and there are nods to Marillion (Falling Stars), Pink Floyd (most solos) and more. But it blends these influences into a greater whole. I recommend you sit in your favourite chair in the dark with the CD on VERY loud. You need to FEEL it’s beauty. The drums MUST whack you in the chest, strings reverberate around you. I’d give you a standout out track but it changes from day to day and depends on mood. Honestly it really is that good!