This was an excellent year for music, that much is apparent. I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees with that sentiment. No matter what genre you’re into, it seems that most artists truly did believe that the world was coming to an end this December and stepped up their game to go out with a bang. Personally, I found there to be very few disappointments, and welcome evidence that today’s best music doesn’t necessarily have to come from the young. I don’t think it merely coincidental that almost everything that made my top albums list was created by artists in their upper 30s, 40s, 50s, even in their 60s and 70s. In the most resourceful musical minds, there exists a lasting creative energy coupled with a certain wisdom and discipline that builds with the growing of age. And this year, in my humble opinion, all those middle-aged musical talents showed the kids what it takes to stay relevant.
I must stress that this is a very personal list. I’m sure there are albums that made my list that many will disagree with, as I’m sure there are albums that I didn’t include that many will disagree with. And of course, I haven’t been able to hear everything. At the time of writing this introduction, I still haven’t heard the new Wintersun, so go easy on me people! I try to remain as open as I can when it comes to different genres and finding something good in everything I hear, but I do have my likes and dislikes. Also, this list isn’t in any top to bottom numerical order. I just can’t bring myself to rate music like that. However, I have divided my list between an ultimate top seven, and another five runners-up. And with all that being said, here we go!
Ulver –Childhood’s End
This is a cover album, of songs from really obscure late 60s psychedelic bands. So in a way, it’s almost like an album of new music. Stoned and whacked out pop and R&B songs are given the Ulver treatment, with a layer of dreary romance on the mellower tracks and carnival perverseness on some of the wackier ones. Garm’s deep voice is like opium, and the sound is like a slight overdose on pain pills. Wonderful.
Shearwater – Animal Joy
Many albums this year were a challenge. Repeated listening was required for the brilliance to show in even my top-most choices. This wasn’t the case here. This is just awesome songwriting, by one of my favorite American rock groups. There’s an energy, strength and playfulness in these songs and their catchiness is undeniable. I dare you to not get jumpy during “Animal Life” or moved to tears by “Insolence.” A fun and easy listen.
Devin Townsend Project –Epicloud
Well duh! Of course this was going to make the list in some way or another. And yes, this is Devin once again delving into uplifting pop music. But unlike his Addicted album, this one seems to hit on positivity and celebration on a spiritual level, and not just on a party level. Plus, there’s a great deal of diversity here, with songs ranging from dumb pop rock to 80s anthem to bubblegum speed metal to power ballads and the angelic Meshuggahness of the song “Grace”. But, everything also flows together effortlessly; a classic example of Devin’s talent in creating a complete showcase of a musical journey. Bravo!
Kreng- Works For Abattoir Fermé
Okay, this is technically a box set. 8 pieces of music over 20 minutes long sprawled over 4 discs. Yikes! Needless to say, this stuff requires patience and an appreciation for dark minimalism. This is a soundtrack made for a professional theater in Belgium that showcases dark fantasy plays. So you can probably guess that this is incredibly dark stuff, the sound of old black and white horror movies and the slow crawl of nocturnal monsters. The repetitiveness will turn some people off, but it also creates an entrancing, magikal atmosphere. The steady beat of a drum, the long drawn note of a clarinet, the guttural riffs of bass violins give the impression of an ongoing black magic ritual. Creepy…
36 – Lithea
I actually found out about this album from a playlist of Steven Wilson’s. I loved the album cover, with that thick billowing red and white smoke rising against a black background, but I didn’t know what to expect from the music. I was pleasantly surprised. What we have here is a noisy and ambient electronic album. This is atmospheric distortion and drones of heavily processed synthesizer and choir sounds like a three-way love child between My Bloody Valentine, Boards of Canada and Brian Eno. It’s incredibly enveloping and quite the aural experience with good headphones.
Stay tuned for the Top Seven, coming soon!