Ok, so time for my roundup of the best albums of the year.
I was not a fan, particularly, of the last Doves album Some Cities (released way back in 2005), so it had been some time since I really appreciated how good this band could be. My love of the band came rushing back upon hearing the title track, which was the wistful, sad comeback single. The rest of the album was pretty much just as good – particularly the sleek sky-gazing of opener Jetstream and the harmonies of Spellbound. But really, this was an album full of songs that should have made this band huge. Once again, they never quite managed it, but that's not for the want of trying.
Easily their best album since their debut, the band's promise of "bone-crunching beats" was met in some style here. And it wasn't just the rhythmic backbone that was so impressive – the title track is a breathtakingly powerful dancefloor track – the songcraft was broadly of a much higher level, too, with much greater variety in the beats, the lyrics, and the tunes. The sound of a reinvigorated band, this.
Not the only comeback in this list, but perhaps the most unexpected change of direction here, that's for sure – even if it only was a part-change. Half of the album is VAC as I've known them for years – tripped-out, trance-industrial, but it's the other half that gets really interesting. A huge Cure influence, more than anything, pervades these other tracks, along with unexpected undistorted vocals and acoustic guitars, to astounding effect. Far better than I thought this was ever going to be.
The turnaround in this band's fortunes in the past year has been astounding. From a nice bit of nostalgia, following the awful Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned all but killing their career stone-dead, to arena-filling band once again. And this was done simply by returning to their roots. Rave synths and old-school dance influences permeate almost everything here, not to mention a knowing wink that suggests that nothing here is being taken too seriously. I may be bored of Omen, but evidence recently suggests that club dancefloors are not bored of that or most of the rest of the album!
The single War on Error gave an idea of what was to come, and the album delivered as apparently promised – a stomping electro album bristling with political statements and righteous fury…and it was fantastic. Unlike the perhaps a little understated 1023, which never seemed to catch on despite a whole stack of great songs, this goes straight for the throat with everything made bigger and better. There are dancefloor stormers, epic pop songs, and for perhaps the first time even the ballads are brilliant. I'll even forgive them the title and lyrics to Gothic Paradise, the rest is so good…
Where Once Were Exit Wounds
…where Tony Young takes a turn into post-punk, and the change suits his music well. And despite the newly-shown influence on record, otherwise it's a gradual evolution on this album of the sound that has been developed now over four albums to ever-better results. So, what's next, Tony?
Mastodon continued their apparently unstoppable rise to the top of the metal tree with this album, a sprawling, lengthy proggy epic (seven songs, fifty-or-so-minutes) that actually contains at least one of the band's finest moments (the single Divinations, since you ask). Otherwise, it's business as usual for Mastodon – the technical ability is simply awesome, the songs are great, they are as heavy as the beast they are named after, and their quality control is pretty much unquestionable.
Tom Shear's electro juggernaut just keeps on going, with no dip in quality – in fact, at points this album is even better than Meta was – particularly in the case of career-highlight Collapse, the best song Shear has perhaps ever written. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, it's not hard to see why The Poison Moon was cast out as a B-side – he clearly had too many great songs for the album!
Twenty-five years, and a cracking way to celebrate. As I put it last week when I had Davai in my tracks of the year list, Blitz "had a whole host of storming tracks (in fact, I can't think of any filler at all other than the closer)", and not only that, the tracks with Lucia on lead vocals seemed to fit much better. Particularly when pouring scorn on the pro-gun lobby in the seething Me & My Gun, while otherwise the cover of Human League classic Being Boiled was a fascinating reworking, too. I'm not asking for another 25 years, but there is certainly a few years left in this lot yet.
I got into this late – only a month or two back – and I've listened to it a lot since. And yes, I love it. Shoegaze meets industrial meets pop, and comes out sounding pretty damned good. Heavy rhythms, torrents of guitars and huge, huge choruses would be nothing without some great songs, and there are loads here. Even if Dominos annoys you, give the rest of the album a chance – it's not all like that (and most of it is much, much better). Frisk really needs to be a single, though…
I wrote in my Connexion Bizarre review for this some months ago that this album was "one that wears its influences so obviously has no business twisting new and interesting sounds from such familiar raw materials in such style as this", and this comment still holds. An impressively nihilistic take on industrial, with dense soundscapes and clever samples taking centre-stage, not to mention a set of awesome remixes to round it off. And no "spookyness" or bad psy-trance beats required.
Night Is The New Day
This band continue to do no wrong, it seems. Little has changed musically – it's still gloomy, foreboding metal – but then when they do this so well why change things? Jonas Renkse remains the focal point as ever – his lyrics of alienation, despair and resignation fit the music perfectly, and his expressive vocals allow just a little light into the dark shadow of the music. Despite the stylings, this band remain unique and deserving of far more plaudits, perhaps, than they get.
Monoliths & Dimensions
A remarkably listenable album from a band who are, if I must try and describe them, ultra-heavy-ambient-drone-metal (with no drums in the usual sense). Broadening their palette for this album had incredible results – with choirs, the odd bit of percussion, god-knows how many guitars and other instruments, and the incomparable Attila Csihar providing more vocals from the pits of hell. Admittedly, many people will still hate it, but it's perhaps less divisive than The Black One, that's for sure!
Ten years since the brilliant Nord, comes an album easily it's equal, and is a tour de force of rhythmic electronics. Alongside bruising tracks like Bock and Ila, comes the choral-samples-meets-quasi-breaks of Gari, the whistled melodies that underpin Lorsc, the unsettling calm of Cling…this is an varied album that has clearly been given time to gestate. It's not going to resurrect an entire genre, though, but that's not important right now. It is, however, a reminder of how brilliant rhythmic industrial can be in the right hands.
I think there was a lot of trepidation when it was announced that the Manics were using the remaining lyrics left by (the now-officially proclaimed dead) Richey Edwards for their new album. It appeared to be initially suspected that this was going to be The Holy Bible MK II, but it was actually nothing of the sort. Granted, it had a similar, dry sound, and a fair number of relevant film samples, but it was nowhere near as bleak, and the music the band created around the lyrics was the freshest, most powerful and more importantly best they had done in years.
You Are Here [nowhere]
A chaotic, brilliantly varied album that took in seemingly as many genres and influences as it was possible to do, but somehow managed to be coherent and actually sound like a complete album. The best moments were very different – the dark lullaby of Angel, and the stampede of Relapse. Not perhaps to all tastes, this album, but well worth a try if you want to hear something different, that's for sure.
Revelations Of The Black Flame
The band did warn that something different was coming with their latest album, and they really weren't kidding. Rather than the furious, all-out "old school" Black Metal sound for previous albums, in conjunction with co-mixer Tom Gabriel Fischer they went for a grinding, slower sound that for much of the album was nearer dark ambient than black metal – and was an utterly enthralling and intriguing listen. The music may have been different, but the pitch black heart certainly remained. If only more bands took astonishing risks like this…
Cold and pitch-black in tone – and, indeed, even darker than Karin Dreijer Andersson's work with The Knife on Silent Shout, which was some feat. The vocals are treated to within an inch of their life for the most part, and at points it sounds as if you are intruding on Karin's fears and nightmares. Needless to say, this resulted in an extraordinary album that like so many great albums, takes more than a few listens to really appreciate it.
Depleted Uranium Weapons
This act have made political statements in their instrumental rhythmic-industrial-noise before, but none with as such eloquence and fury as this. A whole concept album regarding the titular weapons, from their use in Iraq to the after effects, to calls for certain ex-world leaders to be tried for war crimes. Well-placed samples and detailed sleeve notes provide the narrative, giving facts and figures, and the music provides an elegantly precise backdrop, with thunderous highlights like 700.000 Tons To Wipe Out Humankind actually sounding like a bombing raid.
Ok, so hands up who was honestly expecting this to be any good when we first heard the surviving members were working with a new singer for a new album. An inkling that we were in for something special came with the two new tracks debuted at Sonisphere in the summer, and then when the album finally arrived in late September the full force of what they had done was unleashed. Not a single note wasted, this is the sound of Jerry Cantrell and the band picking up where they left off in 1995, and making a brilliant, timeless metal album. Picking highlights is something of a pointless exercise with something this good, perhaps, but for me the woozy, anthemic Check My Brain, the fantastic grind of Last Of My Kind and the epic, monstrous Acid Bubble (just check that riff when it emerges from the murk for the chorus) are the picks. So, not an album I was expecting to be crowning album of the year, but definitely a worthy one.