We’re halfway through the year so I thought I would do a quick run-down of the music that has caught my attention up to this point. There are not a lot of albums on the list; for a variety of reasons I have not been knocking myself out seeking new music. But finding it is never a problem – there is far more great music out there than anyone could ever listen to, and many of my friends have reasonably decent taste. 🙂
It might be a short list, and not everything on there is going to make it across the finish line, but the quality of the releases has been outstanding. Let me put it this way: if this year’s no-hopers had appeared in 2014, my year-end tally would have looked quite different. Last year it was tough to come up with ten albums without padding the list; this year it is going to be hard to leave things off. If the quality of the upcoming releases is as high as what has already appeared, I may simply make a Top 15.
This is a year that demonstrates beyond all doubt that the best, most engaging, most sheerly awesome sounds are being made by people no-one has ever heard of, or who have been forgotten—folks who have nothing to lose and in the overall scheme of things (especially in the current musical economic reality) little to gain; when the icons seem to have become mired in hype and self-referential twaddle, and when genres have become meaningless (not that they ever were really meaningful, mind you).
So without further ado, here are the best (so far) of the maybe 16 albums I considered, in roughly reverse order. Needless to say this is subject to change at any time, and is pretty much bound to change as the new crop of upcoming releases hits.
Toundra: Toundra IV
Lush instrumental post – rock from this Spanish four-piece. This is good background music, with the occasional anthemic attention-grabber. Standout track: “Kitsune”
Steven Wilson: Hand Cannot Erase
Steven Wilson does elevator music. It seems that Mr. Wilson’s cachet, influence, and fame are much more impressive than his recent output. See the full review here.
This is one of four live albums that were up for consideration; some reviewers don’t consider live albums to be “new”, but I’m not one of those. And this album certainly brings something new to the table for Katatonia. I think though it probably has more resonance for people who were at the shows than for the rest of us. I don’t find myself listening to it through very often. However, “Teargas” is stunningly gorgeous.
Blindead: Blindead Live at Radio Gdansk
Blindead are a Polish dark atmospheric metal outfit, and technically this is a 2014 release, but it proved hard to get hold of for much of that year. I did not get it until late in December, so I am rolling it over into this year. I think it deserves to be heard. Dense and melodic and heavy and fierce, the live versions are pin-drop perfect, and edgy with raw energy. Guest players include Riverside’s guitarist Piotr Grudziński.
Thick heavy cheerfully raw sludge metal from a four-piece from Florida, ten brief pounding tracks on an album barely 40 minutes long. I’m not sure why I like this album so much, but I do, maybe because it has no pretensions. Outstanding tracks include “Minions”, and the epic “Restarter”.
Shriekback: Without Real String or Fish
These guys have been around for over 30 years, and in the 1980s even had hits. Michael Mann was a fan, and included their music in his tv show (Miami Vice) and movies. Hell, I was a fan. Their popularity declined but they never did, and they continued to put out albums. And then this one…invoking the best of their 80s vibe without sounding derivative of their 80s work. It blew me away. The distinctive bass-driven sophistication of the music, and the elliptical, obtuse but often brilliant lyrics—this is absolutely vintage Shriekback. Welcome back, boys.
Four guys from Sussex, playing instrumental post-metal, which seems to be a genre bursting at the seams with bands from all over the world. And so many of them sound so much alike it is easy to get a jaded trying to find something truly lasting. But Eschar manage to sound fresh, clever, lots of attention-grabbing riffage, and have put together a great first album. Read the full review here.
Klone: Here Comes the Sun
This album by an outfit from France just gets better with every play. Very lush psychedelic post rock but not of the noodly repetitive riffing type, dense and orchestral and heartbreakingly gorgeous melodies. These guys are intensely good musicians, and the bass player might be one of the best I have heard for years, with his subtly intricate and nuanced touch.
Sisters of…: The Serpent, the Angel, and the Adversary
This album is shaping up to be a complete monster. Two guys from Missouri, playing immensely heavy, black instrumental post-metal with influences from all over the metal realm, have created an absolute runaway locomotive of an album, relentless and compelling and utterly merciless. I play it and then I just want to play it again. “The Angel” and “Annabelle” take the definition of “earworm” to whole new levels. It is going to take a behemoth of a release to knock this album out of the top spot.
The year ain’t over, folks, and some of my most anticipated albums are yet to come. If there are any that have a chance of taking on Sisters of… it is likely to be one of these two:
Riverside: Love, Fear and the Time Machine.
At this point I shouldn’t have to explain how I feel about these guys. I’ve heard a couple tracks but I am reserving judgment until I hear the whole thing.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster
The guys who introduced me to post-metal, which has become my go-to genre. I’m stoked for this album.
Also expecting new albums from:
- Dead Letter Circus
- Hearts of Black Science
- Lion Shepherd
Gigs of the Year so far, best to not so best:
- Salt of the Chief Cornerstone
- Royal Blood
- Steven Wilson