Following on from my list of ‘Highly Commended’ albums, we have my ‘Top 5 Contenders’.
The following five albums have missed out on a Top 5 placing by the slimmest of margins. Once again, they are listed alphabetically, not in order of preference.
For quite a while, this was a strong contender for my album of the year. That it doesn’t make my final Top 5 is testimony to the amazing quality of this year’s releases. The music here grabs you and stirs the soul just as effectively as 2010’s wonderful We’re Here Because We’re Here. but Weather Systems benefits from the more prominent role given to Lee Douglas, particularly on the haunting Untouchable Part 2 and Lightning Song.
A late entrant into my Top Ten of 2012. It’s a multifaceted, multilayered work and I’m still digesting it – else it might have crept into my Top 5. I love the variety here, encompassing classic prog complexity but also a much more contemporary sound. Different parts remind me fleetingly of Radiohead, The Pineapple Thief, Amplifier (circa The Octopus) and even Elbow, but the net result is something completely original. Stand-out tracks for me are Some Memorial and the languid Past Gravity.
Reforming with John Mitchell at the helm was a masterstroke, resulting in the excellent The Tall Ships in 2008 – but Map Of The Past is even better than its predecessor. It’s one of those albums that you simply can’t help singing along to and it never fails to put a smile on my face. Highlights include the lovely ballad Clocks, the thrilling prog of Meadow And The Stream and the deeply moving The Last Escape. Prog-pop at its finest.
I’ll confess I’m cheating slightly here, as this album appeared on Bandcamp in late 2010, but the CD from Esoteric is a 2012 release, so it qualifies as far as I’m concerned! It’s an album of strange but beautiful sounds, unusual melodies and odd rhythms. At times it calls to mind Porcupine Tree in their more reflective moments, at others a less layered, less electronic North Atlantic Oscillation. On top of this it has the acoustic feel and vocal style of Turin Brakes. Fascinating stuff.
This collaboration between Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt caused consternation amongst some fans of these artists when they discovered that it didn’t sound like the expected blend of Wilson/Porcupine Tree and Opeth. Personally, I love it. I certainly can’t do better than Alison Henderson’s pithy description of it as sounding like “Simon and Garfunkel on magic mushrooms”. A subtle and mysterious album, best listened to late at night.