It is that time once again, when I gather together the music that I have liked over the past year, and give a brief explanation of why I like it.
This year feels like a good year, and that is because most of the albums I’ve included feel like they may just stick around longer than the time it took to get to know them well enough to talk about them. Other of my year-end lists do include entries that never made much impact beyond the listening and inclusion; as much as I thought I liked them at the time, they ultimately made no lasting impression, which is not what I hope for. This year, either the albums are better, or I have made more of an effort to exclude the ones that might be short-lived. Or both. Still, there are a handful at the bottom end of this year’s list that are unlikely to be long-term players, but that do have some good songs, so hopefully I will continue to sample them.
There are fourteen albums here that represent a relatively narrow set of genres compared to other years. There is a fair amount of prog, or at least a fair amount of music from bands with a proggy reputation, which might be a bit of a surprise if you know me. I do not consider myself a fan of modern prog and do not seek it out, mostly because I find the vast majority of it tedious and entirely predictable. However, there are a handful of bands who fall under that (admittedly rather broad) umbrella who can manage to sound fresh, so I can’t write the genre off completely. A few of them released pretty good albums this year. There is some industrial/industrial-related, some post-rock, and straight-up rock. No metal or post-metal this year, and no oddball genres.
In terms of the ranking… I’ve put numbers on them but except for the three or four at the bottom, those numbers don’t mean very much. It’s crowded at the top. There are some clear distinctions among some albums, but there are also places where making a choice is largely arbitrary.
Mariusz Duda: synths, keyboards, bass, vocals, all other instruments except
Mateusz Owczarek: electric guitar on tracks 1, 3, 4, and 8
Good Morning Fearmongering
Fake Me Deep, Murf
I Love to Chat With You
Why So Serious, Cassandra?
Mid Jorney to Freedom
Embracing the Unknown
Back in 2008, Mariusz Duda began Lunatic Soul, a project that was intended to be different from Riverside and showcase another side of his musical identity. Eventually though, these two “musical worlds” (as Duda likes to call them) turned out to be insufficient to contain his ever-evolving musical inventiveness. He created a third, under his own name, for ideas and projects that fit neither Lunatic Soul nor Riverside. At first the MD world was to contain one-off alt/pop songs (and a couple of those have been released), but Duda found himself driven to revisit his first childhood musical love, ambient electronica: and the minimalist, digital Lockdown Spaces project was born.
A few years ago, I started a series of posts in which I ranked and reviewed all of Riverside’s studio albums and EPs that had been released by that date (which I believe was 2015), and have kept it updated with each subsequent album. I meant to do the same thing for Lunatic Soul—in fact, it made more sense to do it for Lunatic Soul given how I feel about that project—but somehow it didn’t happen. (You can find the initial Riverside post here.)
I guess the problem is simply this: As deeply important as Riverside is, Lunatic Soul goes even deeper, is more profoundly a part of me, has captured me in a way no other music ever has. I have already reviewed (in either short or long form) all of the LS albums since the fourth one; the only ones I haven’t talked about are the first three. But those three are the albums that introduced me to the Lunatic Soul magic, and naturally they hold a special place in my heart. And I’m not sure I have the necessary literary skill to do justice to them. Perhaps something other than a standard review is necessary.
It’s a few months and releases later from the March overview, so let’s see what is going on and how the new stuff stacks up. I’ll also take a look at some upcoming albums. You can see what I reviewed earlier in the year, here.
Robert Szrednicki: guitars, keyboards, synths, various instruments
Krzysztof Drabikowski; Inga Habiba; Lunatic Soul
Sebastian Aleksandrowicz; Anna Drabikowska; Michał Górczyński; Mariusz Kumala; Dyba Lach; Mariusz Mielczarek; Nadhir; Maria Oldak; Tomasz Popkrzywiński; Kamil Popławski; Mariusz Rodziewicz; Igor Szeligowski; Krzysztof Szmytke.
Furta 9. Chors
Świętowit 10. Zachód
Wschód 11. Kupałą
Swaróg 12. Południe
Mokosz 13. Łada
Północ 14. Weles
Perun 15. Rozstaje
Trzygław 16. Rod
Music Inspired by Slavs is the fourth offering from the Music Inspired By… trio, who have intermittently been releasing largely instrumental thematic albums since about 1999. The last one, 2016’s Music Inspired by Alchemy, is reviewed here.
As the title suggests, the core inspiration for this album are the various deities of the Slavic pantheon. It is meant to be a musical imagining of a distant Slavic past, before conquest, science, and the imposition of a foreign religion, and the release is accompanied by lavish and detailed notes and artwork. There are eleven tracks related to the gods, organized somewhat geographically, interspersed with short, directional interludes to guide us. And so we pass through “Furta” (The Gate) into this lost world. Continue reading Album Review: Music Inspired by Slavs→
Mariusz Duda: vocals, basses, electric and acoustic guitars
Piotr Kozieradzki: drums
Michał Łapaj: keyboards and synthesizers, Rhodes piano and Hammond organ
Maciej Meller: electric guitars
Friend or Foe?
Big Tech Brother
The Place Where I Belong
I’m Done With You
Age of Anger
Friend or Foe? (single edit)
Self-Aware (single edit)
Algorithms. Influencers and Curated Lives. How to Change Your Life in Ten Words or Less. Memes. Monetization. Tracking. Filters and Avatars. Targeted Ads. Conspiracies. Expectations versus reality. Who is real and who is not? How much control over our lives do we really have?
With ID.Entity, Riverside’s 8th album, Mariusz Duda and his bandmates explore these themes: negotiating virtual realities, hanging on to one’s identity and self, fighting the ubiquitous and implacable presence of the data collectors and algorithms that tell us what we should want, trying to deal with the polarization and angry echo chambers of the online world.
We get some hints from the outset that things are different: the cover is by Polish artist Jarek Kubicki and it thrums with life. This is not the dark, sombre palette of the covers of most of the previous albums. Bright, fragmented shards of colour fly out against a stark white background; we can glimpse shadowy figures in the background. Does this new vision reflect what is inside? Continue reading Riverside: ID.Entity→
I started this project near the time I started my blog, but … I didn’t get very far with it. The intention was to revisit albums I own that are old, or obscure, or need more exposure — or maybe just to remind myself how good they actually are. It is a fair assumption that any album that appears here is one that I think has some merit, and who knows? Maybe someone reading these will find a new favourite.
This is the fourth album in the series. The others are here, here, and here. I hope you will check them out.
Flying Doesn’t Help
Anthony Moore: Lyrics*, lead and backing vocals, keyboards, guitars and electronics
Bob Shilling, Chris Slade, Robert Vogel, Charles Hepworth: Drums
Festus, Sam Harley, Matt Irving: Bass
Laurie Latham: Sax and mouthharp, backing vocals
Edwin Cross: Backing vocals
*Lyrics to “War” by Peter Blegvad
Judy Get Down
Caught Being in Love
Girl It’s Your Time
Twilight (Uxbridge Rd)
Anthony Moore (his surname sometimes appears as More) is a British experimental composer and producer, although he has spent most of his career based out of Germany. He along with his school friend Peter Blegvad were briefly members of the British experimental avant-garde collective Henry Cow, but they soon left and in 1971 formed the avant-pop trio Slapp Happy, along with Dagmar Krause. Slapp Happy released several albums, a couple in collaboration with Henry Cow, but their eccentric and minimalist style, along with the fact that they refused to play live, caused the record labels to largely avoid them.
By 1977 Anthony Moore had returned to a solo career (he had recorded a couple of minimalist solo albums in the early 1970s); over the decades he has worked with Pink Floyd, Richard Wright, Kevin Ayers, Trevor Rabin, and Julian Lennon, and released a few more albums of his own.
Guest: Rafał “Rasta” Piotrowski (Vocals on Track 6)
Wings of Judgement
Bound to This Land
Take Your Pride Back
Jesus He Knows Me
Heart Attack is a melodic thrash metal band from Cannes, France, who have been around since about 2007. I first heard them a few years ago and was struck by their combination of strong melody and brutal heaviness; I liked them well enough to get their 2017 album The Resilience. And while that album is very good, for this new one they have really stepped up their game.
Negative Sun is an album of crushing riffs and brutal drums, and maybe some of the best metal vocals I’ve heard. Compared to the previous album, the songwriting has become very tight and focused: enormous wall-of-metal is surrounded by a sophisticated handle on melody, almost orchestral at times, and head-bangingly heavy all the way.
The album starts out with “Rituals”, an instrumental/folk-ish intro, and their instrumentals can be quite deceiving: slow and lush — but wait for it. With “Septic Melody” they kick into high gear and never let up for the rest of the album. There are ten tracks over 45 minutes, so the songs are short and to the point, but they still manage to fit a lot of killer songwriting into each track.
The best tracks for me are “The Messenger”, anthemic and dense, with choral growl vocals over powerhouse riffage, and “Take Your Pride Back” with its monster chorus. I find “Twisted Sacrifice” (featuring guest vocals from Decapitated’s “Rasta” Piotrowski) and “Bound to this Land” slightly less memorable — but that may be because the best tracks are so strong. The album ends with a cover of Genesis’ “Jesus He Loves Me”; the original is satirical enough, but turning it into a thrash metal song is just the icing on the cake <throws horns>.
This is my favourite album of the year so far. Heavy and unpretentious and full of massive riffs and earworms, I have not yet tired of playing it. These guys are hugely good, and while they seem to be getting attention in the European metal press, they deserve to be a lot better known on this side of the world. Hopefully they will make it over for some festival or another.
It is fair to say that, amongst a certain fan base, the most highly anticipated album of 2022 has been the new one from a newly resurrected Porcupine Tree. It is a slightly revised PT, however: for … reasons (given in various interviews from both sides if you are interested), Colin Edwin is not part of this version of the band, so Steven Wilson takes care of the bass playing. In recent interviews Wilson has also insisted that he never explicitly claimed that PT had ceased operations, and while this may be technically true, he spent a lot of the intervening years avoiding and redirecting questions about the band’s potential future, so the claim comes across as somewhat disingenuous, at best.
At any rate, huge excitement, hopeful caution, and downright cynicism accompanied the announcement of a new Porcupine Tree album and tour. Still, whatever one’s opinion about the reasons for the reunion, one thing was true — the singles that were released in the months preceding the album were not disappointing.
Well, it’s already May, and I haven’t updated the blog for a while.
What is new and exciting so far? There are a few new things to be sure, but not very many have caught my attention. I haven’t really had the time to dig in and listen to stuff, let alone search out new things.
That being said, some singles have hit in anticipation of new albums:
Porcupine Tree: “Of the New Day”
Steven Wilson and crew follow up the first single from 2021 with this one, much slower and more contemplative, but still managing to sound like a mash-up of earlier Wilson solo albums and Porcupine Tree — which is not to say that it is a bad or derivative song. It is not. Maybe not as instantly compelling as “Harridan”, and a bit more of a grower, but the two singles together suggest the upcoming album may be a pretty good one, whatever the reasons for its release.
Killing Joke: Lord of Chaos EP
There are two new tracks on this EP, and a couple of remixes of things from 2015’s Pylon. The new tracks are “Lord of Chaos” and “Total”, and these are worthy follow-ups to the angry melodic industrial post-punk of Pylon. It is, however, not clear whether a full-length album is to follow.
Decapitated: “Cancer Culture” and “Hello Death”
Technical death metal from Poland, beat-and-riff-heavy, relentlessly energetic, reminiscent of beloved early albums. “Hello Death” stands out because of guest vocalist Tatiana Shmayluk (Jinjer) who adds a whole level of richness with her soaring clean vocals, in opposition to Rafał Piotrowski’s angry growls.
The angst-ridden Danes are back after several years, with a new album in the works, due to be released on May 27th. The single is very much in the vein of songs from 2017’s Goliath: darkly melodic and orchestral, dealing with loneliness and broken relationships. Christian Sindermann’s plaintive voice may be an acquired taste, but it does fit the mood of the songs.
Shearwater: “Xenarthran” and “Aqaba”
Jonathan Meiburg has been busy: he released his first book last year (the very excellent A Most Remarkable Creature — a book that has nothing at all to do with music) and is still promoting it; and he also managed to finish the latest Shearwater album (The Great Awakening) which will be released in June. The album was released to crowdfunders early this year, so I have been listening to it for quite some time now.
The singles give a taste of what the album is like. Slow, contemplative, rather more acoustic than the previous album, and it can sound deceptively sparse, but it isn’t really. It hearkens back to earlier albums: in fact, “Aqaba” has very much the feel of “The Snow Leopard” from Rook, and if you know that song, you know that is not a bad thing at all.
Mariusz Duda: “News From the World”
This song does not presage a new album, but winds up the Lockdown trilogy of albums that Duda composed and released over the past two years. And it is an interesting song to end with; rather than being more of the sparse, jittery electronica of the Trilogy, it is dense and analog, with the three-part structure common to Duda’s best Riverside or Lunatic Soul tracks. It is certainly full of electronic washes and soundscapes, and it even begins in a deceptively Lockdown-ish way, but soon a slightly jazzy bass riff and actual drums take over. Piano dominates the middle third, before heavy rolling bass-and-drum riffs return. There are bits reminiscent of Lunatic Soul, and Eye of the Soundscape; it is by far the strongest track of the entire Trilogy, probably because this is where Duda’s strengths lie. I could stand a whole album like this.
At this point most of the albums I’m interested in are in the future. I’ve only picked up three new ones to date:
Author and Punisher: Krüller
Author and Punisher is the nom de plume of one Tristan Shone, industrial musician who takes the genre descriptor literally: he builds machines that make industrial music. No guitars or drums on his stage, just huge metal contraptions that he works with hands, feet, and voice, to produce enormous swathes of massive sound. He came to my attention a few years ago via the Spotify algorithm, back when it seemed to actually work — for some reason it suggested I might like this stuff.
It was not wrong. Author and Punisher makes brutal, dense, angry electronic noises, at least at his best. I’m not sure, alas, that Krüller is his best: this album sees his material somewhat more melodic, and less brutal, and somehow less effective. For me, only “Centurion” really stands out as indicative of what he can do, perhaps followed by the title track.
The Finnish folk metal masters have released an album that is very reminiscent of Under the Red Sky, and that is fine with me, because I liked that album very much. These guys present deeply melodic and heavy folk metal, full of catchy riffs, and really the best part of these songs is how well Tomi Joutsen switches between growl vocals and a rich clean tenor voice throughout the songs. He’s one of the best in the business at that. This is a nice and easy album to listen to, head-banging all the way.
Marillion: An Hour Before It’s Dark
Marillion, the long-standing neo-prog outfit, is a band that never did much for me. The level of adoration from many of my friends does lead me to occasionally try out yet another Marillion track, just to see if something has changed — and since I tend to find Fish and Hogarth both annoyingly mannered vocalists, it shouldn’t really matter what album I pick. Pretty much every attempt has resulted in a bemused “meh”.
So yeah, I was rather surprised (as were most of the people I know when I mentioned it) when I actually took to the new album. I can’t remember why I listened to it — I think I just liked the cover — and somehow, despite Hogarth’s nasal whine, the album itself works. Now it is not one that is ever going to make my all-time best list by any means — it doesn’t have that kind of depth or thoughtfulness or originality — but it is certainly accomplished, smooth, with some pretty lush moments. It is a good album to put on and just play.
And no, I won’t be attending any Marillion weekends.