My annual review of what I’ve most enjoyed listening to during the last 12 months, and my albums of the year.
Since having children my album buying has decreased quite considerably—who would have thought.
Another factor is my 195 metal CDs project which sees me reviewing a different album every week—CDs that I got for free a few years ago on Freecycle. I did wonder if I was going to need to dip into that opus to make up my top 10 for 2014 but it turns out that I bought—or made,or obtained—more than enough.
Top 15 artists (Last.fm)
Before launching into my top 10 though, I’ve just taken a look at my Last.fm top 15 artists over the last 12 months. This reflects what I’ve actually been listening to over the last year and now that my Android phone can ‘scrobble’ tracks to Last.fm it’s much more accurate than ever before. I just need to get my car hooked up and the circle will be complete.
The chart is quite predictable, although I’m surprised that Iron Maiden are at #2, and I would have expected both Porcupine Tree and Lamb of God to rank higher, but perhaps I’ve played them more in the car than anywhere else.
- Opeth (356 tracks played)
- Iron Maiden (285)
- Testament (269)
- Exodus (236)
- Apocalyptica (231)
- Metallica (212)
- Mastodon (205)
- Slayer (199)
- Machine Head (173)
- Kyrbgrinder (164)
- Porcupine Tree (161)
- Lamb of God (160)
- Celtic Frost (159)
- Faith No More (155)
- Slipknot (154)
The notable artist there is Kyrbgrinder who were from my 195 metal CDs project. I knew that I’d played them a lot, but I would never have thought that they’d rank as my 10th most played artist of 2014.
But then take a look at this chart of the top 15 most-played tracks during 2014:
Kyrbgrinder features in seven of those 15 slots, as does Russian Circles (another of my favourite 195 metal CDs this year).
10. NYCGB Alumni—Live at Spitalfields, London
I’m going to start my countdown remarkably with an album that I’m singing on. In January I travelled down to London for the inaugural NYCGB Alumni singing day at Christ Church, Spitalfields.
This was the first time that I’d sung properly since the choir’s 25th anniversary concert in Birmingham in 2008 and it was blissful to be with such dear friends again and to sing such fantastic music, particularly “O Magnum Mysterium” by Lauridsen. I wept when I heard the recording for the first time. (During the performance I was so focussed on sight reading the score that I didn’t appreciate the overall piece.
You can download the concert for free on the NYCGB alumni website.
9. Pink Floyd—The Endless River
I’ve listened to this album quite a few times and while I do appreciate what David Gilmour and Nick Mason have done, and have done very cleverly, there is a part of me that is still a little disappointed.
I loved The Division Bell (1994) and as many of these tracks came from the same sessions I was hoping for something… more. The lack of vocals though, except on the closing track “Louder than words” is probably what I’m missing.
It is lovely, lovely, lovely though to hear my friend Louise Marshall on backing vocals.
8. Triptykon—Melana Chasmata
Celtic Frost were one of my favourite bands growing up in the 80s. Triptykon is latest project from Celtic Frost founder Tom G. Warrior. And it’s heavy; very heavy. And very dark.
I’ve probably not given this album enough time, it’s definitely one I need to listen to more in 2015.
7. Godflesh—Decline and Fall
This was the year that I was supposed to see Godflesh live. They are one of my all-time favourite bands and their album Streetcleaner (1989) is one of the best albums to code to.
Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Justin Broadrick disbanded Godflesh in 2002 to focus on his new shoegazing/ambient outfit Jesu. But he and G.C. Green (bass) are back together and as Godflesh is on my ‘bucket list’ this was the year to see them. They even played Glasgow twice! But marital difficulties and then viral meningitis got in the way… so it will need to be next year.
Decline and Fall (2014) is a return to form for Godflesh, and this EP was designed as taster for the full album A World Lit Only by Fire (2014) released in October. I have still to buy that one.
6. Machine Head—Bloodstones and Diamonds
This is a late addition to my MP3 ranks given that I only bought it on Boxing Day. But at #9 in my top artists of 2014 I’ve been listening to a lot of Machine Head this year, and this is a rocking album.
I don’t think it’s as good as Unto the Locust (2011) or The Blackening (2007) but with tracks like “And now we die” and “Night of long knives” there are certainly some cracking tunes on that platter.
5. Exodus—Blood In, Blood Out
This year Exodus parted company with their vocalist of the last 11 years, which is a shame as I really liked Rob Dukes’ voice—to be honest I think Exodus recorded their best work with him.
This album, with the ‘classic line-up’ vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza back on the microphone isn’t their greatest, but it’s still pretty darned good.
With guitarist Gary Holt now splitting his time between Exodus and Slayer (following the sad death of founding Slayer member Jeff Hanneman in 2013) it will be interesting to see how that influences the output and activity of both bands.
4. Slipknot— .5: The Gray Chapter
Following the death of founding member, bassist, Paul Gray in 2010 there was some doubt whether Slipknot would ever record and release another album; a doubt that was reinforced again when drummer Joey Jordison was ejected from the band in 2013.
But here it is, dedicated to Paul Gray and it’s a crushing album of riffs and delicate melodies.
3. Opeth—Pale Communion
Following Heritage (2011) which saw Opeth move away from their death metal roots and embrace a more 1970s prog rock path, Pale Communion (2014) follows a similar mellow and retro route.
I know that Opeth have come under fire for their dramatic change of style, compared by some to Spinal Tap’s middle-life-crisis “Jazz Odyssey”, but I rather love it. It still contains the light-and-dark twists and turns of any other Opeth album.
This album is heavy in a different way to Blackwater Park (2001) or Ghost Reveries (2006) but if on their next one Mikael Åkerfeldt happened to stomp on his distortion pedal once or twice then I’m sure it would propel that album to the number one slot that year.
2. Mastodon—Once More ‘Round the Sun
This has been in many ways my go-to album of 2014. It’s the album that I’ve gone to sleep listening to more than any other, and it features my most-listened to song of the year: the opening track ‘Tread lightly’.
This isn’t the Mastodon of Remission (2002) or Leviathan (2004). This is a more laid back and melodic Mastodon, more progressive rock than metal throughout but it is still great music. (Even if the album cover is freaky and gives my children nightmares!)
1. Johnny Flynn—Detectorists
This folk-song theme-tune from the BBC Four mini drama Detectorists written by Mackenzie Crook rather took me by surprise. The writing and acting was exquisite, the theme song was short but sublime.
I wish there had been more—an album—rather than a single song but I’ve listened to this one track over and over again. Last.fm ranks it as joint #14 this year.
In what has been a generally very difficult year, it’s nice to have this gentle, romantic song as its counterpoint.
Bonus: Reuben Saunders—Oh I am a spaceman!
A special word must be given to the song “Oh I am a spaceman!” that my eldest son Reuben and I wrote back in May.
My wife Jane was away and while his younger brothers played a LEGO game on my PC Reuben asked if we could write a song.
Unsure about what we’d produce I said yes: at least it could be great fun. I had no idea that we’d produce something so fun. Most of the ideas were Reuben’s, I just shaped them into a song format and gave it a simple tune.
I’m in the process of illustrating the song to turn it into a self-published book for Reuben. But don’t tell him: shhhh! That’ll be a nice surprise for him next year.
You can hear our demo of the song (featuring Reuben on vocals and percussion) on SoundCloud.
This is a marvellous version of Mastodon‘s “Leviathan” on piano. As the video says on YouTube: “One amazing album, one uninterrupted take, one white whale.”
That’s the kind of performance that makes me wish that I’d stuck with piano lessons.
I didn’t think that I’d acquired many new albums in 2011, but I’ve just checked and my collection grew by 21 items (singles, EPs and albums), which was more than last year.
Here are my highlights, and unlike last year I’m starting with my favourite and working backwards.
1. Machine Head — Unto The Locust
There have been some great metal albums released in 2011, by some major bands. But for me this has been the best: solid, tight, melodic, dynamic, perfect.
I thought their last album, The Blackening, was great—it was awarded Roadrunner Records’ “Album of the Century” after all. They seem to have either equalled or even excelled with this one. It’s a cracker of an album.
During the intro and outro of “Who We Are” on the recently finished Eighth Plague tour, Machine Head displayed fan testimonials on their projection screens that had been captured at that nights’ show.
The shots featured die hard fans that had stood in line for up to 10 hours before the doors opened, who, for their their dedication and passion, had their faces and messages shown on the three on-stage screens.
They became known as The Faces of The Eighth Plague.
Stand-out track: Who We Are
2. Mastodon — The Hunter
My cousin Alan claims that Mastodon albums never release all their secrets on the first couple of listens. I like that quotation. There is an implication that there is a depth to Mastodon’s songs.
I’ve blogged elsewhere about this album, so I won’t repeat myself, suffice to say that even if the song Blasteroid is in the wrong place on the album this is one very solid, beautiful album.
Stand-out track: Curl of the Burl
3. Anthrax — Worship Music
I’m going to be honest: I was sceptical about former, ‘classic’ Anthrax-frontman Joey Belladonna returning to the fold; I always preferred John Bush’s voice. But WOW! they delivered one killer album, and Belladonna’s vocals are the best they have ever been on record.
Stand-out track: In The End
4. Metallica – Beyond Magnetic EP
The cynic might argue that Metallica only put out the Beyond Magnetic EP in light of the poor reviews and sales of their Lulu collaboration with former Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed. The official reason was that it was to coincide with Metallica’s 30 anniversary celebrations in San Francisco.
Whatever the reason: four great songs, and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next from Metallica HQ.
Stand-out song: Hell and Back
5. Voivod — To The Death 84
This is a demo tape that got lucky and it makes Voivod sound as new and exciting as when I first heard the opening chords of Killing Technology some time in 1987.
What makes it for me is vocalist Piggy’s spoken parts between songs: it’s up-close and personal, listening in to the Voivod rehearsal space. Great stuff!
Stand-out song: Hell Driver
6. Lou Reed & Metallica — Lulu
Let’s make no bones about it: this is not a comfortable album to listen to. But I can’t help liking it. In many ways it reminds me of some of the twentieth century composers whose works I used to sing in the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. Those were pieces that you hated on first sing-through but became a part of you the more you got inside them.
The critics have slammed this album. The fans have decried it and despaired about what Metallica will come out with next. But they miss the point: this is not a Metallica album. It’s a collaboration. It’s a Lou Reed album with the four members of Metallica as backing band. If anything it is art.
It’s bold. It’s different. And I really like it.
Stand-out track: Dragon
7. Opeth — Heritage
This album took a good few listens to, and a good few weeks of not listening to it in between, before I finally ‘got’ it. It’s a good album, not a great album, but I will continue to listen to it… even if I do really miss that Opeth fusion of heavy and quietly melodic.
Stand-out track: Häxprocess
8. Megadeth — Th1rt3en
If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed with Megadeth’s thirteen studio album. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great metal record. But for Megadeth it just feels… lazy. It doesn’t have the hunger of 2007’s United Abominations or the punch of 2009’s Endgame.
Guitarist Chris Broderick said that he could hear elements of the different eras of Megadeth in the various songs. I’m not surprised: some of these are ‘left-over’ songs from previous albums, and one (‘Millennium of the Blind’) is a re-recording.
Stand-out track: Never Dead
9. Radiohead — The King of Limbs
This was an unexpected album for me this year but it’s a great album for listening to in a darkened room late at night. It’s like 2011’s answer to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
Stand-out track: Lotus Flower
10. Cavalera Conspiracy — Blunt Force Trauma
For their second album guitarist/vocalist/song-writer Max Cavalera promised a shorter, more intense, in-your-face album than their debut Inflikted, which was one of my favourite albums of 2008.
This is another album that disappointed me on first listen—perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps I just wasn’t in the right head-space to listen to it. The album has certainly grown on me during the year.
Stand-out track: Warlord
Last fm charts
Of course, this year I’ve listened to more than just the music that has come out this year. Whenever I listen to music, and I’m connected to the internet, the tracks are recorded to my Last.fm account.
My top-ten most played:
- Opeth (579 tracks)
- Anthrax (518 tracks)
- Slayer (462 tracks)
- Mastodon (328 tracks)
- Queen (301 tracks)
- Lamb of God (301 tracks)
- Metallica (236 tracks)
- Machine Head (220 tracks)
- Testament (216 tracks)
- Big Country (201 tracks)
- Lamb of God — Sacrament
- Porcupine Tree — The Incident
- Opeth — Ghost Reveries
- Godflesh — Streetcleaner
- Slipknot — Slipknot
- A Perfect Circle — Mer De Noms
- Mastodon — The Hunter
- Anthrax — Worship Music
- Anthrax — We’ve Come For You All
- Opeth — Watershed
- Pantera — Mouth For War (60 plays)
- Opeth — Ghost of Perdition (55 plays)
- Opeth — The Lotus Eater (47 plays)
- Opeth — The Drapery Falls (46 plays)
- Opeth — Blackwater Park (44 plays)
- A Perfect Circle — Magdalena (43 plays)
- Opeth — Bleak (43 plays)
- Metallica — Nothing Else Matters (42 plays)
- Opeth — Dirge For November (41 plays)
- Porcupine Tree — Lazarus (41 plays)
What about you?
Have you blogged about your favourite music of 2011, then add a link to the comments below. If not, what have you really enjoyed?
Leviathan (2004), Blood Mountain (2006) and Crack the Skye (2009) are amongst my favourite albums of any artist. Until recently Mastodon was one of the few bands whose complete back catalogue I had on my mobile phone (I use it as my mp3 player, ever since my SanDisk mp3 player died… it has about 16GB more space on it too).
You could say that I like Mastodon.
Do you want to know my secrets?
My cousin Alan says about their albums that they don’t reveal all their secrets in the first few listens. That’s my experience too: you have to listen to them again and again, get inside them, live with them for a while.
So it was with some disappointment that I’ve struggled with their latest album The Hunter. I’ve listened to it again and again but there was just something about that collection of songs that didn’t sit with me.
Certainly, many of the previous albums have concepts that hold them together. Leviathan (2004) is about obsession, based loosely on Herman Melville’s novel of 1851 Moby-Dick. Blood Mountain (2006), according to bassist Troy Sanders, is about “climbing up a mountain and the different things that can happen to you when you’re stranded on a mountain, in the woods, and you’re lost. You’re starving, hallucinating, running into strange creatures. You’re being hunted. It’s about that whole struggle.” Crack the Skye (2009) is about an out-of-body experience, exploring the concepts of astral travel, wormholes.
The Hunter (2011) has no concept, other than the stripped back, less-progressive, riff-oriented approach that the band took when writing the album. I wondered if it was this that was standing in my way to enjoying the album.
Blasteroid into another space
This afternoon I finally figured out what it was about the album that I just wasn’t getting: it’s track #3 ‘Blasteroid’. I think it’s in the wrong place on the album.
To me it doesn’t belong after ‘Curl of the Burl’. ‘Curl…’ has a happy-go-lucky bounce but then ‘Blasteroid’ smacks you in the face, like a lump of concrete. Only then to be followed with the slower-paced, tripped-out ‘Stargasm’. To my ear it significantly interrupts the flow of the album.
I think ‘Blasteroid’ fits far better at the other end of the album, say between ‘Bedazzled Fingernails’ and ‘The Sparrow’. ‘Blasteroid’ kicks off with the energy of ‘Bedazzled…’ and ends with the gentleness of ‘The Sparrow’.
I’m going to create another version of this album on my PC that has that running order and see if I’m right.