10th Place: Full Of Keys - Traces Of A Human
electronic, pop, alternative
About a year ago a friend of mine linked me to 'Desolate', a song by a Swedish singer. She's relatively unknown, but she's a tremendous vocalist and clearly knows how to write a catchy track. The problem I find with a lot of solo singers is that the music behind them is often pretty simple or boring, so as to avoid 'getting in the way' of their ability. Not here, though. The album has strong pop overtones but it's not simple, it's very much a partner to Anni Bernhard's skills. Great album.
Best Tracks: Desolate, My Little Ghost
9th Place: Diablo Swing Orchestra - Pandora's Piñata
rock, metal, swing, orchestral
Ah, Diablo Swing Orchestra. The only band I know of who combined metal with swing music. This is their 3rd album, and I'd argue it's the most consistent. The balance between big crunchy guitars, classical vocal lines and strings and other orchestrations is always tricky, and a lot of bands tend to favour one too much (Nightwish!) but here it's solid balance. It's a great album that doesn't take itself too seriously. Good stuff.
Best Tracks: Exit Strategy Of A Wrecking Ball, Kevlar Sweethearts
8th Place: Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud
Devin is really really good at making really really 'massive' sounding music. Over the last four years he released four distinctly different albums, all four of which really could have come from four different bands. This album takes all four of these styles and mixes them all together, resulting in a very diverse listen. It's both noisy and beautiful, features both complex progressive tracks and more straightforward rock tracks, and also uses the vocals of my still number one favourite female voice Anneke Van Giersbergen. It's a huge album that deserves and rewards multiple listens.
Best Tracks: Kingdom, More!
7th Place: The Gathering - Disclosure
progressive rock, atmospheric, alt rock
The Gathering went through a huge change a few years ago when Anneke (who I totally just mentioned!) left to follow a solo career. The album they released after that (The West Pole) had some great stuff but had evidence the band hadn't found new vocalist Silje's groove yet. This album does not suffer from that. It's not as catchy as their other stuff, it's more... 'spacious' if that's a word. Atmospheric. It's really relaxing to listen to.
Best Tracks: Paper Waves, Missing Seasons
6th Place: Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Lost in the New Real
Arjen's ongoing progressive rock opera thing Aryeon is decent, but it's so overblown and he really loves long drawn out complicated passages all over the place. This album does not bother with them. This album is straight up rock songs with lots of odd flutes and keyboard sounds. It's catchy and fun, instead of complex. That doesn't mean it's overly simple, nor does it mean Ayreon doesn't deserve listening to, but this album is great. It's also pretty funny lyrics wise. The second CD is pretty great too, especially the Pink Floyd cover.
Best Tracks: E-Police, Welcome To The Machine
5th Place: All Will Be Quiet - On The First Day
post-rock, indie, ambient
This is my underground hipster indie find of the year that you've never heard of. Finnish band All Will Be Quiet aren't really indie, they're more 'post-rock with vocals'. The music itself is kind of minimal, not a huge amount going on, but there's lots of spacy choirs and bells. It's mysterious music. I am aware how stupid that sounds but whatever it's my top 10 list not yours. Give them a go.
Best Tracks: Writing History, The First Day Pt. 1
4th Place: Anneke van Giersbergen - Everything Is Changing
You guys must be getting pretty sick of her but whatever. She's great, and this album is great. After she left The Gathering she released an album in a similar, slightly depressing lots of piano style (Air) which was great, and a straight up pop album (In Your Room) which wasn't so hot. This album is a mix of the two and it's fantastic. Her rock elements are back and they work. I've said it like a hundred times this list but the catchiness is what makes it work. I dunno maybe I am more simple these days.
Best Tracks: You Want To Be Free, Stay
3rd Place: The Chant - A Healing Place
rock, atmospheric, post-rock
Just like All Will Be Quiet this year, a few years ago The Chant's 'Ghostlines' was my 'awesome album out of nowhere', and just like The Gathering, they've gone all post rock atmospheric on us this time. It's a fantastic album with a bunch of really lovely guitar-and-strings combinations and really great soundscapes. Man this is pretty much the The Gathering review again. Just listen to it already jeez. It even has a saxophone in it!
Best Tracks: My Kin, Outlines
2nd Place: Coheed and Cambria - The Afterman: Ascention
progressive rock, metal
Coheed are one of those bands you like without ever realizing you're a fan of. At least for me. I never actually ever said to myself 'oh wow this is awesome' and yet a bunch of their albums get continuous play on my iPod. This is not the case for this album which has taken their previous works (except for Year Of The Black Rainbow which, whilst I enjoyed, doesn't really fit with their other stuff) and solved all the problems. The whining is gone. The Dream Theater style needlessly complicated solos are gone. Instead this is guitar led rock and it's brilliant. All of it. Oh god I can't wait for part 2.
Best Tracks: Vic The Butcher, Holly Wood The Cracked
1st Place: Anathema - Weather Systems
progressive rock, post-rock, atmospheric
Much like In Flames, Anathema are a band dogged by fans who demand they go back to their old style. They're famous for being one of the big British Doom bands that brought the genre to life, along with My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. But now they're miles away from that. Their last album 'We're Here Because We're Here' had it's moments, but overall it lacked the intensity they're known for. This album does not. Every single track has huge flourishes of energy in it. It's a long winding journey and it's so worth every moment. This band have had some issues finding where they were going, but if this is what's to come next, I've never been more excited. A fantastic album, and the best of the year.
Best Tracks: Untouchable Pt. 1, The Storm Before The Calm, The Beginning And The End
Huge Letdown Of The Year
Delain - We Are The Others
I like Delain. Their first album was gothic rock that didn't follow the same chug-chug sellout nonsense that Within Temptation and Nightwish have been putting out for the last five years. Their second album WAS more radio friendly but the vocal abilities and songwriting talent on show made up for it. This album is total shit. The song writing was so obviously rushed. Every song's chorus could easily be swapped with every other tracks'. I hate what the female fronted metal genre has become and this album is just the cumulation of the last 7-8 years laziness. I really hope the band disappear for a few years and get on with repairing their work because this is a tragic way for them to go.